Valleys, Furnaces, & Pits Part II: Contentment in God’s Sufficient Grace

Are you dealing with trials in your life? The trial of living with chronic, debilitating pain, has been life-altering. Honestly, I have frequently found myself to be discouraged, frustrated, and confused. At times I have been discontent and unhappy with the whole painful thing, but…

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Recently a couple of verses have softened my heart and changed my attitude. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 Paul is writing about some revelations shown to him and that, in order to keep him from becoming conceited about knowing those things, God put a thorn in his side, a messenger of Satan to buffet him. After Paul pleaded with the Lord to remove the thorn in his side, the Lord responded and said My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. God’s grace was all Paul needed in his infirmaties and trials. God didnt remove the trials, instead he comforted and encourage him by reminding him that in His grace alone, Paul would find contentment in the midst of his trials. That was enough for Paul.

The question for me and perhaps for you is simple…can God’s grace be sufficient in the midst of life changing trials?

Paul’s response has humbled and encouraged me. He writes “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The words gladly and pleasure just jump off the page for me. There is true joy to be found in the midst of my trials. Whether in the valley, the furnace, or the pit, in those places in my life when I am weak, it is there and at every other turn, that the matchless grace of God is demonstrated and realized. This world teaches self-sufficiency in all things. For Christ’s sake, I need to remember and live the truth that there is true contentment in the all-sufficient grace of God. The trials in my life are a gift from God and in them, His grace is gloriously demonstrated.

In the hymn God of Grace, Keith Getty and Jonathan Rea wrote these practical, liveable words:

God of grace, I trust in Jesus; I’m accepted as His own.
Every day His grace sustains me, As I lean on Him alone.

Amen.

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Hanging in the Balance

Sometimes it can seem like the challenges in your life are so heavy and you are standing on a branch that is just too small.   It feels like your whole life is hanging in the balance.  If you move forward you have to let go of something.  If you stay where you are…well, you can only do that for just so long before something is going to force you off that branch.  Sooner or later something has to change.

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Whatever the situation, seriously WHATEVER it is, God is bigger, he is trustworthy, and he loves you.  Psalm 147:3-5 gives us this assurance and truth:

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.”

So when that branch seems just a bit too small or the weight of the world seems too much, remember that the same God that raised Jesus from the grave, is the same God that understands your situation better than you can possibly fathom, is more powerful than anything in this world, and he most certainly can help you, especially when it seems that your life is hanging in the balance.

Thanks

The song “Give Thanks” by Don Moen that you may have heard starts like this:

“Give thanks with a grateful heart Give thanks to the Holy One Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son…”

Sometimes people can be ungrateful.  Sometimes we might do something special for someone else, something above and beyond, and we do it because we care…because we love them.  Do you expect anything in return?  Do you expect a “Thank you” or perhaps a “Wow, that was so kind or generous of you.”  Should we expect anything?

How do you think God looks at us when we have been given the gift of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with Him?  How should we respond?  Do we sometimes forget the eternal blessings that are ours in Christ and because of His ultimate sacrifice on the cross?

Colossians 3:15-17 says this…

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the LORD Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Our lives are to be lived with perpetual thankfulness for what Christ has done for us.  “Whatever you do” means all of life, whatever we are doing.  Work, play, singing, worshiping, giving to others, caring for family, changing a dirty diaper, whatever it is we do it in the name of the Lord while giving thanks to God for what he has done for us.

Today you will do a lot of things, some pleasant, some unpleasant.  Some fun, and some that are not so fun.  But whatever we do today our heart is to be filled with gratitude and thanks “…because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son“!

Amen!

Valleys, Furnaces, & Pits

Sometimes the trials in life are brief and sometimes they last for a lifetime.   There are no limits it seems to the types and durations of trials.  One thing is for certain we know they are going to come and we know sometimes they are going to seem overwhelming.  The bible is replete with trials of all sorts, the fiery furnace of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, to the pit of lions that Daniel found himself in, to Job’s loss of nearly everything.  What about David who met the trial of fighting Goliath with confidence but who ran and hid from Saul in fear for his life.  And then there are the trials that Paul…imprisonment, beatings, whippings, stoned, shipwrecked, robbed, lashed, starved, adrift at sea, and without clothes.

But God is the God of hope.  Romans 15:13 says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Each of the individuals above trusted in God during their times of trial and suffering.  We too must have faith and trust in God to sustain us during those times of trouble.  In them we can have joy and peace by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul writes “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”   Gold-Scales-Of-Justice-Icon

Not only are these trials momentary in the view of eternity, but they also achieve for us an “eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (NIV)  Another translation reads “an eternal glory beyond all comparison.”  The eternal glory that is ours from faithfully enduring our trials in life is immeasurable, it is far greater than all that we might endure on this earth.

The more we allow God to refine us through “momentary afflictions” in our life, the more we look like Christ and the more glory we, and others, bring to God.  Second Corinthians 4:15 says… “For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.

As Paul said, do not lose heart…persevere; be steadfast in your faith in God knowing with full assurance that these things, as brutally hard and crushing as they may seem, confirm in us and for us a future of weighty glory in heaven with our Lord.

A Healthy Diet

I went to my regular doctor the other day and after talking about the various aches and pains, medications, and so on, he made the comment that I would be well served to lose some weight.  I can’t argue with him.  Losing weight would help to reduce some of the pains I was experiencing.  I knew it before I went in there and I know he sincerely wants me to be in the best health I can be.  There is just one problem with losing weight…me.

ice cream cones (2)Losing weight involves a bunch of things like exercise, good sleep, and of course a healthy diet.  My recent back surgery and arthritic ankle make the exercise thing a serious challenge, but I can ace the sleep thing! The biggest challenge…the diet.  The problem is that diets require me to stop eating those things that are so appealing to me.  Things like ice cream, cookies, bread, and pasta.  My body craves them far more than things like celery, carrots and sprouts!  But the kind of diet, one that is good for physical health, requires deliberate choices every day and that is not always easy.

In the same way, a healthy spiritual diet and lifestyle is a deliberate choice.  It takes time, effort, and choices that seek to achieve those God honoring short and long term spiritual healthy goals.  IT means filling my life with the “things that are above” rather than the things of this earth.  Colossians 3:1-17 is replete with instructions for how to have a healthy spiritual life.  It talks about stopping the consumption and practice of those things that are not healthy such as evil desires, sexual impurity, lying, anger, and several others.  Those things are so damaging to spiritual health and simply they must go.

The passage continues with exhortations that focus on those things that typify a healthy spiritual lifestyle and diet.

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We are more than just individuals though; we are members of the family and body of Christ.  Our spiritual health and diet, not only help us to grow and mature individually in our faith and in our knowledge and understanding of our Lord, but it also impacts the spiritual health and wellbeing of our larger family.  The verses above provide specific and achievable goals in our spiritual life that we can all be working on and incorporating into our lives that will help us to all to be spiritually strong and healthy.

May God bless us today with the strength and burning desire to begin anew today striving to “…put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”   Amen.

Busy as a Bee…not!

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The age old idiom goes “Busy as a bee”.  But when the cold weather sets in the cool morning forces bees to slow down, conserve energy, and then, as the day warms they become more active.   Today was our first cool morning of September and this little bee was camped out on our porch waiting for the sun to warm the air and it’s little fuzzy body.  Personally, I thought it was dead, but first impressions aren’t always what they seem to be are they.

Far too often it seems many of us feel that we have to be as busy as a bee all the time.  It’s the pattern of our society to push, stretch, and wring every morsel out of every waking day.  Jesus didn’t see it that way, nor did his life demonstrate a state of constant busyness.  He often rested and restored his soul.  He made time to pray and to  be alone.

John 12:36 says that Jesus “…went away and hid Himself from them.”  In Luke 4:32 it says “When day came, Jesus left and went to a secluded place…”  In Mark 1:35 it says “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” It is a behavior that was modeled by Christ, so shouldn’t we consider it to be an important part of our lives as well?

Sometimes bumble bees need to simply enjoy the gracious gift of warmth and rest that God provides to them without their even asking for it.  Sometimes we need to be at rest and be thankful for the blessings that God provides to us that we don’t even ask for.  In those quiet moments we can warm ourselves in his loving kindness and grace.

Creation Scale Wisdom

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”  James 1:5

How many times have you found yourself desperately in need of wisdom from God and praying like James describes in this passage?  I have found myself in recent days struggling with some complex and challenging issues.  By nature, I am an analytical, problem solver kind of person and it drives me nuts to not be able to figure something out or know how to fix it.  As I wrestled in my own power, I was reminded of the passage in Proverbs 3:5-6 about leaning not “…on my own understanding…”  My reading lead me to read all of Proverbs 3 to put that passage in context and maybe give me a bit more help with my issues.  No surprise, the Lord had a more significant lesson in store for me.

In Proverbs 3:19-22 it says “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.”  I have read that verse many times but this time the words grabbed my heart, soul, and  mind.

The Lord got me to thinking about my human wisdom (or lack thereof) and then my thoughts quickly turned to the nature of God’s wisdom.  Quite honestly, I don’t think I have ever given much thought to the wisdom of God.  I just knew He had it and I needed to ask for it.

Far too often I make God too small and forget the unlimited scale and power that he operates with.  As I read through chapter 3 of Proverbs, I came to realize that when I ask God for wisdom, I am requesting wisdom from the God who, in his wisdom and knowledge, created the earth, the heavens, the seas, the sky, the dew, everything.  From the immensity and choreography of the universes, to the amazing beauty of a baby being conceived.  From the created beauty and grandeur of the bluest of oceans and snow-capped mountains, to the diversity of biology that sustains and mystifies us.  All of it was planned, designed, created, and sustained by the wisdom of God.  How amazing.  How wonderful.  How humbling.

Realizing just a glimpse of the magnitude of His wisdom, has changed my thinking completely.  When I am in need of wisdom to deal with a trial in my life, why would I even think for a moment about trusting in my own wisdom.  I simply need to turn and humbly ask God for His wisdom, the very wisdom that created the earth in which I live.  He has perfect creation scale wisdom in unlimited abundance and he is ready and willing to share it with you and me.

That is the God that loves us, that cares about us, and that will give wisdom generously to all that ask.  Praise God for his lavish gifts that he gives us each and every day.

A New Creation

It is absolutely incredible that some creatures are created by God to shed their entire external shell to become a new creation! Right down to the little hairs on their face and pinchers on their nosa shell of a bug 2 (2)e!

Jesus’ death on the cross provides forgiveness for a sinner to repent of their sin and shed that sinful shell and become a new creation too!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  2 Corinthians 5:17

Romans 10:9 says “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Jesus offers us a new start…to become a new creation in Him.  Praise the Lord for his gracious gift of salvation and the wonderful gift of becoming a new creation in Him.

 

Grace & Perfection

There are some passages in Scripture that will take an eternity for me to fully fathom.  Second Corinthians 12:9 is one of those passages.  It is a truth statement from the Lord to Paul addressing the nature of His grace in the life of Paul as he deals with the reality of his “thorn in the side”.  The Lord tells Paul

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I kid you not…it will take an eternity!  There is so much to this verse.

First there is the sufficiency of God’s grace.  Whatever the situation, whatever the need, whatever the sin, whatever the failure, whatever the trial, whatever the time, no matter how high the mountain is or how low the valley goes…His grace is sufficient for me.  His grace covers my sin.  His grace grants me an eternity in His presence.  His grace lets me see past the fog of fear and beyond the perils of pain.  His grace is sufficient when mankind is ungracious.

Second, His grace gives evidence of His perfect power in wren on rosemy weakness!  When I try to fix things on my own, remove the trial on my own, I fail to give God the opportunity to demonstrate His perfect power.  Think about that for a second….my weakness is an opportunity to lean deeper still into His grace…into His perfect power and in that solution there is perfection.  I can do nothing perfectly no matter how hard I might try.  But by trusting in God’s grace in my weakness His perfection thrives.

I still do not understand it fully…but I understand it a little better.  Every day, every trial, every weakness is yet another opportunity for me to look at those “thorns” in my life and to trust wholly in the powerful, all-sufficient, perfect grace of my Lord and Savior.

When Will It All End?

Matthew 24:7-14 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. 9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

We read this passage and often we focus our attention on the events that will be happening in the end times.  We read of the wars, famines, earthquakes in the news daily.  We see or perhaps experience persecution and tribulation constantly.  We see people hate each other in some of the most violent and abhorrent ways.  With the reality of all of those truths bombarding our eyes, our minds, our hearts every day, we read with hope and expectation the words of this passage and are encouraged by the conclusion that we must be living in “the end days”.

We are reminded to endure to the end; to persevere in our faith; to run the race so as to win.  Amen and Amen to all of that.  May we all be found enduring, running, battling, striving, abiding in the name of Christ and for His glory and honor.

But if we read all of that and miss the exhortation, no…the command of Christ found in verse 14 then we miss our living purpose.  Christ declares “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”   

The evil and wickedness that pervades our world will not stop the truth of the gospel of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ from being proclaimed.  It must be proclaimed!  IT WILL BE PROCLAIMED!  But it isn’t going to happen on its own.  God expects us to be His mouthpiece to the nations of the world.  Second Corinthians 5:20 says as ambassadors for Christ, God is “…making his appeal through us.”

The assurance and hope that is found in Christ’s return, that time when the end will come, is directly related to our proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world; proclaiming the truth about Jesus’ amazing grace.  The truth of His loving sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of sins is the hope that this world needs.

Let’s get busy and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and tell others what He has done for us so that the world may hear, so that our testimony may go to ALL NATIONS, and then He will return!