When the Escape Is to Endure

Man carrying large rocks on his back

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.   

– 1 Corinthians 10:13

Yesterday my wife had a meeting with her manager after work.  After that meeting she went home after almost 22 years of employment feeling unsure if she will have a job after a three month evaluation. This has brought some temptation into our lives.  What kind of temptation?  Well, the temptation to lash out, to run and hide, to fight for what we know as our status quo.  We feel a temptation to doubt God. To be angry at Him for taking our plans away.

The verse mentions temptations being common, and this one is certainly not uncommon, even in our lives!  Three years ago we were listening to the clock tick down on another three month period of evaluation.  We are painfully aware of how that went.  It ended hard, and it brough a lot of trials, struggles, and pain that still resonates with us today.  We are reminded of it occassionally when we try to do something to get a little farther ahead, but the past mistakes we made are still there making the road hard.

So, even though we know how that went, there are some things that are different now.  Back then we went into our trial with a load of debt that we had been carrying.  God has been very good to us and we paid off the last of that this week, so we now only have a mortgage and have been living without credit cards for three years.  God is VERY good!

Another diffference is that we can now look back and draw on past experience.  It was very frightening to lose my job.  There was a lot of things that we did not know, and it was paralyzing in some ways.  We now know that we got through it with God’s help, and we can do it again if we need to.

The biggest thing I see that is different now is that we are much closer to God now than we were then.  Through that experience God showed Himself to be so real to us and He worked in our lives and in those around us to care for us and to help us along.  We saw the reality of God’s love in real life.  I know that He will not leave me, and I know it not just in my head, but I have experienced it!  That is a very good thing to know.

Does this mean I can’t wait for something bad to happen?  Of course not!  I’m in no hurry to set myself up like that!  That would be foolish.  What I amrady for is to see what God will do.  He has a plan, and I want to see what that plan is.

The verse says that God will provide “the way of escape.”   Escape sounds really good!  “I’ll take the FastPass to peace and prosperity please, and can I get a window seat?”  Escape brings us the thoughts of an easy way out. It is quick, painless, and nobody has to get hurt.  Sounds good right?  What does it say next though?

“That you will be able to endure it.” Wait a second. Endure?  That does not give me a warm or fuzzy feeling.  That sounds long, hard, and painful.  That sounds like I will have no say in the matter.  That sounds like something to avoid at all costs.   Why would I want to endure that?

Well, when I think about this verse I see the way out as being the way of enduring.  There might be a faster way to think I am getting out of something, but that will likely be one of those frying pan and fire kind of deals.  Not something I want for myself or my family.  So, the other option is to find “THE” way of escape and endure.

Let me paraphrase the verse:

“Nothing is going to happen in your life that has not happened to somebody else, but God is never going to leave you.  He is not going to let anything happen to you that He has not checked first to be sure that you will be able to get through it, and He has given Himself to you so you can endure it.”

I see God’s presence in this trial as the way of escape.  We may or may not see any change in my wife’s job.  What I do know is that my only option (Remember it is “THE” way) is to stay close to God through this.  He is my guarantee.  He is faithful, and He wants me to grow and to learn how to trust Him in everything.  That is why these things are allowed in our lives. He gives us the opportunity to draw strength from Him so we can give Him the glory for it.

Escape by enduring.  Sounds tough, but I have read the Book, and shortcuts never seem to work out well for those foolish enough to to try.

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Have You Been to the Well?

TheWellThe purpose of a man’s heart is like deep water, But a man of understanding draws it out.

– Proverbs 20:5

Water is second only to air in our list of physical needs.  Our body is made up of 70% water, and without it we will die in a matter of days.  There have been stories of small wars fought over water rights.  People have been shot and killed for stopping up a river.

Living here in Northern Michigan, we are desensitized to the importance of water because it is everywhere.  I have heard it said that in the state of Michigan, you are never more than 5 miles from some body of water whether it is a stream, creek, pond, lake, swamp, river or spring.  It gets pretty easy to lose our hold on how important it is and how hard it is for some people to get hold of it.  There are many places where water flows, but then disappears during a dry season.  Rivers, lakes and streams just dry up and leave the area without any source of hydration for plant or animal life.

In those dry and arid climates, you need to have a deep water source.  A place you can go to when you are thirsty that will not go dry.  It gives security.  It often leads to a community as people will congregate around a source of water (they don’t call them water cooler conversations for nothing).

As I read this verse the other day I was brought back to it several times.  There is some very significant truth here, and I wanted to pass it on.

Purpose – the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used

What do I want to be?  What is my purpose?  This verse says that my purpose is like deep water.  It is that well that I can go back to time and again when the droughts in my life are wearing thin.  By reflecting on that purpose I am energized. I get direction. I get encouraged that I can make it another day!  My purpose in life is that important!  If I lack purpose I will flounder, and I have done that too often.

Over the last couple of years I have been actively searching for my purpose.  It is not a “what I want to do” thing, but a “what I want to be” thing.  I want to be a man that loves God and is directed by Him!  I want to be a man that is close to God. I want to be a man who loves and leads his family.  I want to be a man who encourages and helps others do the same thing!  When the discouraging times have hit in recent months I have been able to bounce out of them faster by going to that purpose and dinking deeply.

Another thing that struck me was that you could read that verse as one man or as two men.  If you read it as one man I think it is possible – since all things are possible with God at work in them – but is it as likely?  I don’t think so.  Why?  Because it is hard!  Unless you have an extreme will to dig and keep going, you will eventually tire if you go it alone.

I see it more as a two man thing.  The man mentioned in the first half of the verse has a purpose, but he has not tasted it yet.  He knows he has a need, but is unclear how to get to it.  That is the importance of the second man – the man of understanding.  The second man has been to the well.  He has tasted the water, and he now sees people that have that need and wants to help them taste it as well.

For me I have spent most of my life trying to figure out what I was going to do for God.  I fell into the trap of spiritual busywork.  If I do enough things for God I will eventually do the right thing for God, and if I do the right thing for God, then He will be happy with me.  How did that work for me?  Well, it led to a Christian that was burnt out and discouraged by those he saw in the church.  Was it all their  fault?  Not all of the time. I had a large part in it because I was basing everything on my performance.  It was the frantic searching of a thirsty man.

It takes someone who understands that feeling to recognize it for what it really is.  A search for purpose.  When the man of understanding looks at that frantic spirit he remembers the frustration, the doubts, the desperation, and he acts.  He draws it out.

Draw – To cause to move in a given direction or to a given position, as by leading

When the second man enters the picture things start happening more quickly.  I’m not going to say more easily, because the struggle will always be there.  The second man comes alongside and shares himself, his struggles, his experiences in an effort to teach and encourage.  The work continues to be hard, and there are always setbacks, but the man of understanding stays in the game because he understands the process and uses it to teach.

I thought it interesting when I looked up the definition of “draw” that one of the definitions not used often is “to disembowel”.  This was funny for me as I have talked with my man of understanding about the process  he has been working with me, and how at times it has felt like handing him a knife and asking for him to gut me like a fish.  Gruesome description, but sometimes that is what it felt like!

So, as I look at the verse I see it as a circle.  I am living my life right now as the first man, but I have now tasted my purpose.  It gives me the drive to keep digging and guarding the well form those who would tamper with it.  Now I am learning to be the second man.  I want to be that man of understanding that can come alongside others and help them draw out their purpose.

It is discipleship, and real discipleship is relationship.  It was modeled by God Himself in the garden when He walked and talked with Adam.  Christ did the same with His 12 disciples, and more specifically with three of them.  Engaging at the heart for transformation through exposure to the truth of God’s Word in transparent relationships.

So, what do you want to be?  Have you been to the well?

Alright, Soldier, You Have Your Orders. Now Do It!

drill-sergeantBut prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. – James 1:22

Several years ago I was challenged to teach an adult Sunday School class.  I wanted no part of it!  I finally agreed to fill in when the “real” teacher was not able to be there, but that was all I was willing to do. Then I filled in for an extended period of time, and before I knew it I was hooked.  It wasn’t so much that I wanted to teach as I was loving the opportunity I was given to read and study God’s Word.  When it came time to give it back to the other guy I decided to keep going because I loved having the chance to sit and talk about what God was telling me.

I picked up an old Swindoll study called “Hands-On Christianity” and decided that we would go through this study.  I remember being absolutely floored by the practical truth in the book of James.  It is a book that I can read over and over again and be challenged each time.  I think it was a pivotal study for myself, and I know for a cousin of mine as well.  As we have gone on, we each are still drawn back to the pages of James because of the truth that speaks to our hearts.  I welcome the pain of the changes it brings in me as it cuts to the marrow in an effort to remove the things that hinder my relationship with God.  My cousin periodically “shouts” on Facebook that she thought she ripped that book out of her Bible, but there it is again!

Today I read this verse in my quiet time.  The devotional that followed talked about James as a spiritual drill instructor.  I thought that was an amazing picture of how James addresses some of the topics in his letter to the church.  He gives them direction that is clear and easy to process.  The guy did not use a lot of flowery language in how he spoke.  James 1:22 has stuck with me, but with more of a modern selection of words.

“If you are going to just listen to the things that you are taught from God’s Word without doing anything with it then you are just fooling yourself.”

A drill instructor is not there to coddle or to make you feel good about yourself.  The job of a drill instructor is to tear you down and to build you back up to fit an ideal.  Anything you bring that is less than that ideal needs to be taken away.  If that instructor allows you to believe that reading about running 5 miles in full gear is the same as doing it, then he is allowing you to fool yourself.  That is not how they do things. They tell you what to do and then they tell you to show them.  If you get it wrong then you are given an opportunity to do it again! The process will only stop if you quit or you graduate!

So that is where I am in life right now.  I read God’s Word and I personalize it to my life to build up the good stuff and to tear out the bad stuff.  When  I understand what the Word says then it is time to DO IT!  James is reminding me that if I sit there and feel all happy about how what I have learned has made me a good Christian, then I am just kidding myself.  Then I hear him say, “You heard it, now DO IT!”

I will never be a perfect Christian, but I can be a good soldier by never giving up; pushing forward in doing the things that I have been taught to do.  God has brought several drill instructors into my life that are not content to let me sit on my knowledge, but push me to act.  Not to act for the sake of action, but in a purposeful way that will bring honor and glory to God.  I have, and will continue to make mistakes, but I will not quit trying.  One day I will graduate and I will then stand before my Savior.  I’m looking forward to hearing Him say, “At ease, Soldier.  Well done!”

An Eternal Weight of Glory

 

An-Eternal-Weight-of-Glory (1)Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, – 2 Corinthians 4:16-17

I’m going to steal a couple of quotes from my devotional this morning:

“If you are a follower of Christ, the only reason you get to draw another breath is for God.  Only be considering why you are here, what life is really about, and where you will be going very soon, can you consider your trials as joy.”

Recently my wife had a cyst removed from her thyroid.  We had been to the specialist and had heard all of the information about what was going to happen in the surgery, how large they thought it was, the chances that it was cancerous, and a whole lot of other details that the doctor gave us in hope of setting our minds at ease.  He gave us the good, the  bad, and the ugly of what could happen in order to give us all the info we needed and to answer any questions that we might have.  I thought it was interesting that we really did not have to ask any questions because he covered everything so well after doing it for so many people!

As family members, friends, and co-workers started asking us about the procedure and we gave them the answers to their questions, I began to see a great deal of anxiety in some of their faces.  Not for themselves, but for us.  I thought it was interesting that we were facing this, but we had a complete sense of peace about it.  Naturally, as the time got closer, there was an uptick in our anxiety just because it was time for Tammi to have her first real “knock her out and cut” surgery.  Even then, we had no doubts as to the outcome of the surgery.

Afterwards I had several opportunities to talk to co-workers about it, and several asked me how we were able to be so calm.  Some of them were so sure that it would be cancerous, and how would we handle that?  I did not realize as we were going in that I was projecting such a confidence in the the outcome being exactly what we expected and anything less would have been ridiculous!  It was nice though, because it gave me an opportunity to share my confidence in my God.  I believed without a doubt that things were going to come out just as we had been told.  I had been praying about it for a couple of months as we knew it would be dealt with, and by the time it was time to actually do it, I had already put it behind me.  God was glorified in that!

So, how do I do on the things that don’t seem to clean up that easily?  Not so good, but I am getting better with God’s help.  Financial problems, work issues, relational issues, they all present trial and struggle.  It is easy for me to get discouraged in them, especially those that are long-running!  It is even harder for me to bear up the right way and give God glory when I am the one that caused the problem in the first place… Happens more often than I would like to admit!

I don’t believe I am supposed to go through my life wearing my trials on my sleeve for everyone to see.  That would be a bit self-serving.  However, when I am involved with a person in some form of friendship or relationship and the opportunity to share what God is doing through a trial comes up, I should do it!  It is not about me, but it is about God.  Taking the time to make an eternal investment in someone else’s life by sharing with them the confidence that God gives me.  It is my reason for being here!  If I’m not going to be doing that then what purpose do I serve for God here on earth?  I guess I will just say it again:

“If you are a follower of Christ, the only reason you get to draw another breath is for God.  Only be considering why you are here, what life is really about, and where you will be going very soon, can you consider your trials as joy.”

Mindful of God

thFor this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. – 1 Peter 2:19

I read this verse last month, and I remember that my thoughts on it were along the line of, “It is good when I get to suffer for things that I don’t deserve to suffer because this gives me a glimpse into the suffering of Christ.”  Is this wrong?  No.  The verses following reinforce that this is actually a gift of God to allow us the opportunity to share in His suffering, to walk in His steps!

As I read it yesterday in my quiet time I saw the phrase “mindful of God”, and I thought about what that means in the face of a real or a struggle.  Am I being mindful of God in the trials I face?  I think this is the most important part of a trial.  You could say that it is what makes it worth going through, or a painful (sometimes literally) waste of energy and time. This is the mindset we need to have in order to follow the instruction of James:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. – James 1:2

If I am mindful of God, I am looking at His attributes and how they are going to be a part of my trials rather than doing the opposite.  If I look at my struggles and the pain, discomfort, and hurt they bring while trying to see God through all of that mess, then I am trying to force that pain, hurt, and anguish into the character of God.  My trial is pain, it is hard, it exhausts me, it can cripple me.  How is this like God?

When I go through my life in contact with God through His Word and through prayer I am better prepared to face the struggle.  My mindset is already on Him, so when the pain comes I might be able to see that it is coming and I can prepare.  His Word will speak truth in to my heart that will calm me. It allows me to say that there is a reason for what is coming, or what I am in.  He loves me. He is faithful – He won’t leave me in this.  He’s my provider – He will meet my needs.  He’s my Father – He will watch over me.  He is my protector – He will not alow me to fall.  He is my strength – He will give me victory.

I might not “deserve” my trial in the human sense of the word, but as a sinner, I deserve nothing.  As a child of God, I am allowed to partake in the sufferings of Christ.  It is not to bring me pain, or to give me bragging rights.  It is to bring me closer to Him. To let me understand His love in what He did for me.  He is allowing me an opportunity to live as His Son did.  To hurt, but still follow. To cry out, and be heard. To die to my own desires, and to be given the victory.

Peter, Paul, and Me?

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1Pe 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

As I read 1 Peter 1:13, I had a thought go through my head that only registered briefly, “Okay, we are done with the salvation message, let’s get on with how I grow as a believer!” It registered in my mind, but I pushed it aside. Not the kind of thing I wanted to think about as it makes me feel guilty. I don’t feel like evangelism is a gift that I have, so why bother? I should focus on what I am good at, right? It reminded me of an exchange earlier in the week.

I was meeting with my mentor friend, Lou the other night, and he sat down with me and said that there are three things that a good disciple needs to teach those he is working with:

• How to study God’s Word and make it real in their life. How to develop their character and conduct through honest meditation on God’s Word

• How to develop relationships that are open and healthy

• How to share the saving grace of God with others

He followed that up by saying that he didn’t see himself as one that was gifted in evangelism. He struggled with it early on, but eventually was shown a way that he felt comfortable with doing. That made the difference. Someone discipled him in that third thing, and he decided it was time to do that with me. I listened and learned it, even went so far as to practice delivering it with my wife and a friend, but I will admit that I still had that feeling of it not being who I am.

So, back to reading 1 Peter 1:13. I saw a cross-reference to 2 Timothy 4:5 and thought I would look at what that said:

2Ti 4:5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Then it really hit me. I have always thought of Peter as the epitome of what a disciple should be, and I thought Paul was the perfect picture of an evangelist. (I say perfect picture because growing up hearing evangelists at my church the examples were pretty much all the same – overweight, loud, red-in the face men in three piece suits with vest buttons straining with each breath and/or pound of the pulpit.) I never wanted to be a Paul, just as I never wanted to be one of those evangelists. I wanted to be something different. I wanted to be a disciple like Peter. I mean, yes, he did speak to some large crowds and saw literally thousands come to Christ at a time, but he still just seemed like a “normal” guy.

When you look at these two verses though, their message is almost identical, but you can see the personalities of the individuals in the way they present it. As I reflected back on this for a couple of days, it started to hit me that they are two sides of the same coin. Both men wanted nothing more than to bring others to Christ. That was their passion. They just did it in different ways

Paul speaks as one driven toward reaching others for Christ. There is a need that exists, and we need to get to work at it. He was an amazing missionary! In reading the epistles of Paul I also see that he places a high value on growing in Christ. We need to discipline our bodies and minds for service. He tells his readers about the importance of growing in faith and enduring trials and experiencing grace. I see Paul as a guy that sees discipleship as an essential step toward evangelism. Evangelism is his goal, and discipleship is the path.

When I look at Peter, I see a man that is open with is failures and embraces them. He sees his need for Christ and has experienced, both before and after Christ’s death, the power of Christ working in him and through him. He has sat at the feet of Christ and learned. I see proof in his life that he did not see that as his only source of education as he quotes the prophets when he would preach. Peter was a learner, and he was about relationships too. In Peter I see evangelism as an outcome of his discipleship. Discipling others in the life of Christ will eventually and naturally lead to evangelism. Discipleship was his calling and his goal. Evangelism was the fruit of it.

I have always liked Peter. He has just been the guy that I identified with because I have been headstrong and bungled things badly. I speak up being sure that I have the answers that people are looking for, but I find out I am speaking out of myself and my desire to be heard. I make mistake after mistake in my desire to do what is right. The nice thing is that I want to follow Christ like Peter did.

So, now I see that evangelism is not something I can ignore. It is part of what I am striving for as a disciple of Christ. It should not be viewed as a separate thing; it is part of the Christian life. Others might be called to it specifically, but as a believer it is something I need to learn and do. So, as a disciple of Christ, I need to:

• Grow deep in God’s Word. Read it and study it to allow it to permeate every aspect of my life and to change my character and conduct.

• I need to build strong relationships with others. I need people who know Christ in my life so they can challenge me and help me. People who want me to grow! I also need to build relationships with people who don’t know Christ yet. Not acquaintances, but real relationships. Having them will give me opportunities to speak to the most important need they have in their lives.

• Share the Gospel. Share it with an attitude of grace and concern for them. Show them the love of Christ that I have been able to experience.

When that is done, teach them how to do it too! That was how Christ did it. What better model do I need?