Archive for the ‘Discouragement’ Category

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REVELATIONS FROM A BAD RACE – April 1

April 1, 2014

““Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” 1 Corinthians 9:24

In my last post (Race Day), I was in the midst of pre-race excitement and the unknown of never having competed in a cycling event.  I am now in the haze of reflection on a weekend of bicycle racing.

 

ToO Road Race 2014

I now know that my day-dream of standing on a podium really was a silly fantasy.
I also know the dreaded realization of being crushed by  “real” cyclists.

Time Trial:

I knew I was in trouble as I watched the other riders warm-up. I was impressed by the degree of aero-equipment that whizzed past me; TT bikes, aero-helmets, aero-wheels, and skin-suits of every variety and shape.  The vast majority of my competitors wore the gear of a cycling team and looked very fit.  I did not see any newbies, like myself.

The actual race confirmed my fears. They release competitors individually, in one minute increments. I was passed by three racers. In fact, I was passed within the first two miles by the guy who started immediately behind me, after I had been averaging over 23 mph.  I finished 10th…out of ten, in my age group, 76th out of 87 overall. However, I had personal bests on both climbs and I maintained my heart rate between 155-165 bpm. It was probably the best I could do.

I am satisfied with the race since my finish was strong (for me).

Criterium:

The crit course is located in the downtown section of a local town, in the form of a rectangle with two block straight-aways and 90 degree corners. It is flat and fast. From the whistle, we were immediately up to 25 mph. I managed through the first and second corners.  On the third corner, I was set up on the outside of the turn. I could not see very far ahead due to the group so I set my line base on the rider inside of me. We all leaned into the turn but I quickly released that I was being pinched into the curb as we were coming through the turn. I grabbed my brake a little too hard and felt my back tire slip toward the curb at which point I felt this sense of weightlessness. The next thing I knew I was standing in a grassy area adjacent to the course, inspecting my bike.

I had crashed in my first lap. Fortunately, I landed on the only grass aligning the whole course.  A rider with better bike handling skills and experience probably would never have crashed. I am a little disappointed that I did not get back on my bike and finish the crit – I probably could have. The crash rattled and scared me.

I did not finish well. In fact, I did not finish.

Road Race:

I didn’t want to do the road race after my experience with stages 1 and 2. I had been humbled and outclassed. I had done the pre-race ride and knew what a day on the road race course would be like.(Strava-Like Community)   A few friends encouraged me to continue and consider the road race as an opportunity to train and gain experience. I had no answer to their encouragement so I sucked it up and went for it.

To my surprise, I hung with the group until the climb at the end of the first lap when I was dropped and the group was gone. I rode in solitude for the next two laps, as I had expected, finishing 12th …out of twelve, in my age group, 49th out of 58 overall. I am happy that I persevered through the race even though my time was not competitive.

Measure the Heart
I was thinking about Paul’s encouragement to compete in a way to obtain the prize.  Thankfully, God does not judge our faith by outward appearance. He knows our heart. He knows the blessings and abilities that He has granted each one of us. He does not grant the prize based upon the external accolades from this race we call life.

God judges us based upon our heart.

I may have exhibited more heart and determination than my weekend rankings may have exhibited. I have not been blessed with much of the youth, experience, strength and athleticism on display by those real cyclists. I don’t have the luxury of time to put into dedicated cycling training necessary to achieve the sort of cycling fitness and power that I saw this weekend. But given where I am, I might not be in last place if heart were a category.

God judges us based upon our heart and what our love for Him motivates us to do with all the blessings and abilities He has given us. That is why we should not judge other people by their actions. We never know how competitive their heart really is. They might actually be running a better race of faith than I am without many of the advantages I have been given.

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Race Well
We are all in a race. The goal of this race is to persevere and finish strong in our faith. We should all be striving to hear the words, “well done, good and faithful servant”.

We may feel outclassed by other people’s faith and dedication.
We may have crashed our faith due to inexperience and poor decisions.
We may be rattled and afraid of where following Christ might take us.
Bad experiences may have us at the edge of wanting to give up.
We might feel discouraged as we slog along in solitude.

Remember, God does not judge the external results of your faith. He judges your heart. He knows the gifts He has given you. He knows the disadvantages you are overcoming. He knows the faith He has given you. He has you exactly where He wants you. He is providing you with experience and training so that you will persevere to the finish line.

So, don’t give up; look to other real faith racers as examples of what is possible. Take heart in knowing that God has given them the strength to follow Him as they do. He can do the same for you. Most likely, He is already doing it as long as you continue to show some heart – a heart dedicated to loving God more than anything.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for the opportunity to race this weekend. Thank you for showing me how important heart is.  Thank you for giving me grass to crash into.  Thank you for the faith that you have given me.  Thank you for the experience and training that you are putting me through.  Lord, examine my heart.   Give me examples to follow and be encouraged by.  Help me to suck it up and continue when I feel like giving up.  Remove all fear of following you with a wholly dedicated heart.  Help me to keep the prize of living well for your glory in sight. I want to embrace the hope of obtaining the prize. Grant me a spirit to race my life well. I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL – Mar. 9

March 9, 2014

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…”  Philippians 3:8

Angry Gopher

Angry Gopher (Photo credit: *~Dawn~*)

I walked my nine acres of unproductive farm-ground in hunt for the only thing my property produces in abundance – gophers.  The rains of March have cleared my land of snow and sapped the frost out of the ground.  As green sprouts begin to push out toward the surface, other monuments to spring have been appearing across my acreage – the miserable gopher mounds.  I have a gopher problem substantiated by last year’s trap total of 126 gophers.  I have written about my hate of gophers before (Trapped Like a Miserable Gopher).

In response, I have picked up my ritual of gopher trapping.  I walk across the fields carrying a five gallon metal bucket filled with traps and flags that creates a rhythmic beat as trap chains beat against the bucket’s metal side with each step.  My shovel acts as a walking stick, keeping time with each step across uneven ground as I scan the surfaces ahead for any irregularities.

glaukos / Foter / CC BY-NC

While I hate gophers, I enjoy gopher trapping.  The menial nature of trapping allows me to pray and think as I haphazardly meander from one suspicious dirt mound to another.  On this day, the beating of the chains against my metal bucket drew my mind to the song “It is Well with my Soul” and thoughts of this last week.

My week contained a very unexpected discouragement.  It was another notable discouragement in a series of discouragements that have spanned the last several years.  Therefore, the lyrics of this song became more of a question than a statement.

Is it well with my soul? 

Foter / Public Domain Mark 1.0

“When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot”…have I been taught to say, “It is well with my soul”?  I consider what has transpired over these last several years and contemplate much of what I have been taught.  I have not experienced anything even remotely close to the tragedy of Horatio Spafford, author of “It is Well with my Soul”.  I know how materially and relationally blessed I am.

Yet,I think that years from now when I look back on this decade of my life, I will recognize it as a time of sustained pruning.  I have been taught such important lessons through all these discouragements.  I have been taught that there is only one thing upon which we can place our hope.  My lessons have come by the loss of many things that I unknowingly held dear.  It was only through the curtailment of these treasures that I discovered just how much I overvalued them.  I have lost my health to cancer, wealth to business failures, respect to employee intrigues, service to a Church plant closing, and friendships to disregard.

As I cleared dirt from the gopher hole I had just dug up, I mentally tried to clear away the debris of feelings in my search for an answer to the question of whether it truly was well with my soul.  I look back at what I have learned from each of these experiences. Upon each loss, I have chosen Christ.  There has not been anything that I have lost that has made me question the love of Jesus Christ for me.  In fact, my disappointments have drawn me closer to him.  When I have been stripped of what I value, I have come to recognize that it is not precious in comparison to Christ.  I stood in an empty field as pockmarked with gopher mounds as my life with disappointments and I sang:

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

It truly is well with my soul.  I know that my losses are insignificant in comparison to some but I am learning to cherish each loss because of what I have come to deeply know through them.  It has only been through disappointment that I have learned to rest in the blest assurance of Christ.  I had not realized how blind I have been to my pride and discontentment.

Foter / CC BY-SA

I gazed at my house in the distance and know that I have so much more that can be lost.  I mentally imagined losing it all – would it still be well with my soul?  Can I count all that lay before me as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord?  I cringe at the thought of walking the same path as Horatio Spafford.  I immediately know that I could not endure that on my own but I also know that I would not have to.  Today’s troubles are sufficient for today, there is no need to fret about the losses of tomorrow.  My Lord’s hand is strong and he will provide the strength needed at the precise time of need.  Therefore, I sang:

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

I know that my days of trouble are not over.  I have many disappointments in my future that will teach me many lessons that I have yet to learn.  My hope is that I will learn from these previous disappointments in order to handle future losses in a more God glorifying manner.

This recent loss has revealed another blind spot in my life.  I thought that I was living joyfully.  I thought that I was showing to the world that I cherished Christ more than the treasures of this world.  However, I have learned that the imperfect manner in which I let go of those things that I highly valued, had more of an effect on people that I care for than I had realized.

I have grumbled about unfairness.  I have moped over what should have been.  I have withdrawn in sadness and defense.  I know that I have walked joylessly for significant periods.  I guess I had hoped it had not shown.  I have learned that my sinful response to loss has been a discouragement to others with considerable ramifications.  I unknowingly allowed loss to become a repelling stench to some rather than a God glorifying aroma that draws others to my Lord and Savior.

Foter / CC BY-SA

I have learned the importance of being a shining light in this world particularly in times of personal loss.  I am prone to selfish navel gazing.  However, God is most glorified when others can see us counting everything as loss in the mist of the loss.  There are consequences to wallowing in our despair.  Others are encouraged in their faith when they observe us holding firmly to Christ and allowing the cares of this world to easily slip from a loose grasp.  It is our losses where we can show others the great hope that we have.  I cannot change the past but I can plan for the future.  Therefore, I hope to learn from my past and embrace future losses with an eye to glorifying God in all circumstances.  May the Lord grant us all the strength to look beyond our loss, and demonstrate to the world watching where our true hope resides.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for all the losses that you have allowed in my life.  Thank you for revealing to me what I have been esteeming more than you.  Forgive me for holding on too tightly to the things of this world.  Forgive me of my pride.  Forgive my of my lack of contentment in you and you alone.  Father, forgive me for missing the opportunity of glorifying you in my losses and showing the world around me how wonderful you are.  Protect and encourage those who I have let down and discouraged.  Lord, I praise your name (It is Well ~ Kutless).  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

Resources:
How to Count it All as Loss

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“SUMMER HEAT” – August 14

August 14, 2013

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  He is like a tree planted by water that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”  Jeremiah 17:7-8

Utah desert Mist

Utah desert Mist (Photo credit: Loco Steve)

My personal battle with gophers continues but the media has changed.  The gophers continue to mound the debris of their subterranean creations on the surface of my field.  However, these mounds are no longer heaps of malleable brown clay containing the lingering moisture of a long winter.  The heat of summer has wrung the soil dry.  My field is speckled by tan mounds of wisping dust, dug from earth hardened by months of unrelenting heat.

The sun scorches this field in its natural condition.  Agriculture fruit does not sprout from its soil since irrigation water is beyond the reach of even the most adventurous root.  The green along the ditch banks stands in sole defiance against the brown of August heat.  A canopy of green aligns the irrigation waste ditch running below this waterless field.  Trees have sprung up to the sky and their leaves remain green no matter the number of days whose temperatures eclipse the century mark.

English: Oasis near Ica in Peru

English: Oasis near Ica in Peru (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The heat cannot brown the leaves of these trees.  These trees have sent out their roots beneath the source of sustaining water.  These trees have no reason to fear the bleakness of their surroundings because all that can been seen is not what is ensuring their life.

We all go through dry times.  We all will experience the spiritual bleakness of an August month.  The heat of circumstances can feel as if it were wringing dry the freshness of our soul.  As the spiritual drought comes on, we might have the tendency to panic.  We might become dejected and anxious.  We might allow our eyes to go in search of refreshment to stave off our parched sensibilities.

We have no need to fear when we trust in the Lord.  When we place our trust in the Lord, it is like roots sunk deep under a mighty river.  The refreshing living water that will sustain us through any scorching trial comes through the conduits of trust.  A Child of God can continue to be a productive oasis even in the bleakest of desert because they are not nourished by what is on the surface.  Their trust is in what is unseen.  Their assurance is in things hoped for.

I have walked through many a dry spell.  Those have been discouraging times that I have not enjoyed.  However, there have been lessons for me in each exposure to the intense heat life.

The most important lesson of these trials has been trust.  When I feel a drought coming on, my tendency has been to get anxious.  I don’t like the heat.  I don’t like the discomfort that I know is coming.  I love the freshness of a spiritual spring.  I relish the vitality that comes to me when my surroundings are drenching me with the water of encouragement and joy.  New growth and fruit comes naturally and easy in the spring of my soul.

I then have to put my trust in the promises of God.  Trust in God pumps His living water to a soul being wrung dry from the heat of a dry season.  That is why we are blessed.  We are blessed because through the power of a great and living God we can thrive through any barrenness.  We are blessed because we have a Father in heaven who gives us what we need, when we need it.  He is the one who sustains us when we feel like we are going to shrivel up and blow away.

We just need to continue to trust Him.

PRAYER: Lord, you know how much I dislike dry seasons.  However, I know that I need them.  I know that I need to learn how to trust you more.  I know that I don’t trust you like I should.  Help me to trust you more.  Thank you for all the blessings that flow from trusting in you.  You are so good to me.  You have sustained me through so many droughts.  I know that you will carry me through the dry seasons that are yet to come.  Thank you.  Help me to be fruitful in all seasons.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“A GLORIOUS WARM-UP” – June 26

June 27, 2013

“For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten.  How the wise dies just like the fool!  So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:16-17

Civil War Veterans

Civil War Veterans (Photo credit: Tipton Genealogy)

Old black and white photographs have a way of capturing my imagination beyond any portrait painting.  Gazing into images of real people with stern and dower expressions cause me to wonder about by-gone ages.  I am easily entertained speculating about what their thoughts and dreams might have been; hypothesizing as to their adventures or romances.  Had they been respected or despised?  Were they a hero or a coward?  Did they have a sense of humor?  What did their laugh sound like?  Were they kind?  Did they love?  Were they loved?

Unfortunately, one cannot deduce much about who a person really was from a photograph.

My parents have many such photographs hanging on their wall.  Their hallway has a gallery documenting my family lineage.  The characters in those images have names, many of which I cannot remember.  They have titles such as great-great-grandfather, great-grandmother, cousins, uncles and aunts who passed decades ago.  They represent a vast network of expanding branches emanating from what is my family tree.

However, these images don’t connect with me beyond a fascination that I contain some of their genetic composition…which is not very comforting considering the general unattractiveness of many of my fore-fathers.

Any connection to these images only begins towards the end of the hallway with the images of my Grandparents.  I knew them.  I played games and laughed with them.  I worked with them.  I listened to the stories that they told.  I knew of their thoughts and dreams.  I was told of their adventures and romances.  I knew that they loved me.

They were so much more to me than an image in a photograph.

Yet, I realize that they are but another image in a long line of images to my children.  My children never knew my grandparents.  Their connection to my grandparents mirrors my own connection to the portrait of my great-great-grandfather.  I am saddened to know that the memories of people who I loved are being lost to unrelenting pressure of time’s passage.

The speed at which we are lost to history is astonishing.  The majority of us will be consumed into the fog bank of the past within a generation or two.  The knowledge of who we really were will simply fade away as age catches up with those who actually knew us.  The brevity of our lives in the span of history might be depressing if this world was all there was.

Fortunately, a life span on planet earth is not all that there is for those who are in Christ.

MSO warm up

MSO warm up (Photo credit: vigilant20)

I have heard this life described as the warm-up for the symphony.   As we move along the narrow road, we are fine tuning our walk; we play our part of the score on our own or maybe with a few others; we might strike the wrong note; we might play with poor timing; we might play with near perfection.  However, no musician has ever laid down his instrument and walked from the stage after a perfect performance in the warm-up.  They don’t take a bow after tuning-up because they have not come for the warm-up.  They are there for the symphony. For those in Christ, our symphony gets its full voice when we take our place among the redeemed.  The beautiful sound of the redeemed praising their redeemer will be a performance beyond what this world can even contain.  Paul tells us that nothing is this world, not even his suffering, is worth comparing to the glories that will be revealed to us.  Those are the glories that we are currently warming-up for.  It is for those glories that we continue to diligently and obediently follow our Lord through this life.

The full symphony is coming. 

The time when we will be freed from this sinful flesh to fully glorify our Lord and Savior is not far way.  I don’t believe that there will be any of the redeemed who will be disappointed that their warm-up was forgotten when they raise their voice before the King of kings.

In glory, they will know that the Most High never forgot their warm-up.  They will know that their Shepherd will have brought them to that moment for that purpose; the purpose for which we were created and will finally and fully fulfill.

When compared to the glories that we are being called to, the value of being remembered by this world is but a trinket.

So, let us keep this world in perspective.  Let us not mourn over its brevity or our insignificance.  Let us warm-up well.  Let us set our hope on what is coming.  Let’s enjoy this life and the works that we have been given but may we never forget:

 the best is yet to come.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for giving me so much to look forward to.  I can’t wait.  Lord, come quickly.  Help me to make the most of the time that you have given me here.  Help to warm-up well.  Help me to make the most of all the opportunities that you provide.  Help me to glorify you in all that I do in anticipation of the glories that are coming.  I long for the day that you bring me to my place among the redeemed.  You truly have blessed me in abundance.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“MADONNA’S BABY” – June 11

June 11, 2013

“Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?  Their offspring are established in their presence, and their descendants before their eyes.”  Job 21:7-8

Baby's cradleA little more than a decade and a half ago, my wife and I were without children.  This was not by choice.  We had been hoping to be what so many couples seemed to just become.  Yet, the gift of a child remained a mere dream.  Our friends and family would decide to have a baby and a couple months later they were pregnant.  We waited.  We watched the world growing around us and we waited.  Our waiting involved doctors, schedules, temperatures, medication, procedures, and prayer.

My wife and I were on a cycle induced emotional roller-coaster.  We received an unwanted answer to our prayers every month.  The optimism of getting the science right was always ground away in the reality of the elusiveness of life.  The hope of God doing a miracle was dashed against the hard answer of no.  Every month tears would be shed quietly in disappointment.  The question of why, was underlining many a cry out to God.  My wife and I would push back the feelings of hopelessness and try again for another month.  That was our walk through infertility.

It was during one of these low points when the answer of no was still bruising our hearts that the media heralded an event that pierced me through.  Madonna, the “Material Girl”, the woman who had published a sex book, the performer who had been fined for the explicitness of her concerts, was pregnant.

God was allowing Madonna to have a baby.

English: Madonna performing "La Isla Boni...I remember being incredulous about that news.  It was just wrong.  We loved God.  We were striving to follow Christ and glorify Him through this path of infertility that He had given us.  We were children of God and yet this woman, who denigrated the name of the Lord and His people, was being blessed with a descendent.  It was too much.  I was angry with God and the seeming injustice of His plan.  The unfairness of that news was palpable.

I remembering questioning, just like Job, why the wicked prosper.  It is so difficult to wait patiently upon the Lord when those who want nothing to do with God are still healthy and prospering.  They seem to be doing extraordinarily well without God.  It is easy to even start to admire and envy the success and freedom that those who oppose God seem to possess.

We are in trouble if our hope turns to a prosperous and healthy earthly life.  We will struggle if our joy and happiness lies in being materially prosperous between now and the grave.  The reality is that the wicked do prosper and the godly do suffer.  All you have to do is be observant to discover that there are not always detrimental material consequences to sin.  The good and righteous don’t always have the storybook ending in this life.  There are some whose sin does cause them to suffer in this life.  However, there are others whose sin is the source of their material success.

I don’t have an answer as to why the wicked are allowed to prosper on this earth.

“Will any teach God knowledge, seeing that he judges those who are on high?” Job 21:22

I do know that we all, wicked and righteous, will lie down alike in the dust, and the worms will cover us (Job 21:26).  Christ did not come into this world to make our lives better.  He did not become righteousness for us so that we would be prosperous and successful.  He came to save us from the grave and the punishment due our sin.

Death does not respect wealth or poverty.  It is not swayed by age.  It is not delayed due to a person’s happiness nor is it hurried by another’s misery.  Death comes at its appointed time to all.  Our faith in Christ is what matters at that time.  Our hope is for our reward beyond the grave that Christ saves us from.

Until that time, we are clay in God’s hand.  While we are on this earth, God will do with us as He has planned.  He will use circumstances to exposes areas of our lives where we have misplaced hope.  He will use suffering to show us where we love something more than Him.  He may use our misery for others in ways that we will never know.  We may struggle in our existence for a purpose beyond our comprehension.

Are you really ready to teach God how He should run the universe?  Do you think that you can educate God on fairness?  It did not work out well for Job when He tried it.

Our faith is so intertwined with our trust in God.  They are one and the same.  You cannot have faith without trusting in the promises of God.  We are told that God is working out everything for our good.

My wife and I have seen the faithfulness of God in our infertility.  We were blessed with two children through adoption.  He blessed us in a way that we had not anticipated.  I cannot imagine being a dad to anyone else.  I can now see God’s hand working through everything to bring those wonderful children into our lives.  Infertility and all of its disappointments and struggles was part of that process.  Now, I still don’t know why.  I don’t know what God has in store for my kids.  I don’t know the legacy that will come from them being raised and loved by my wife and I, but I do know it will be good.

My hope and prayer for them is that my Redeemer will be theirs; that their hope will be as mine, beyond the grave in the everlasting and loving arms of Jesus Christ.

I do know that God’s plan will be so worth it all.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for giving me a hope that is beyond this world.  Forgive me for getting so focused on what is happening to me that I lose focus on who You are.  Thank you for having a plan that is for my good.  Help me to endure well for your glory in all that you have called me to be a part of here on this earth.  Lord, use me; mold me; make me into a vessel of value for your kingdom.   I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?” – Mar. 19

March 19, 2013

“But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing he was dead.  But when the disciples  gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.” Acts 14:19-20

Why does one person persist when others quit?

How are some able to push through pain and discomfort to continue when others beg for a break?

Why does discouragement cling like Velcro to one but never seems to find a crevasse to hide in another?

Where does the fighting grit come from when the majority shout out in surrender?

I am amazed and humbled by Paul’s example.  I have never had a day like Paul had in Lystra.  I have never been dragged from my home for what I have preached or written.  I have never had a crowd try to execute me for what I believed. That was Paul’s day.  The crowd beat Paul to an unconscious, lifeless, state with rocks.  Stones were thrown with workman strength that struck his skull, lacerated his skin, caused trauma across his body allowing blood to seep. They abused Paul until they thought that they had killed him.

By God’s grace and protection, they had not killed him.  Paul got up and went back into the City.  We are told that the next day, “he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.”  We are not told what Paul looked like.  However, we know from other passages that Paul was not spared the scars of his mistreatment.  I think that Paul was a bloodied and bruised mess that day when he left Lystra with Barnabas.  I imagine that he was sore and tender.  He probably was suffering from the effects of a concussion and had a horrible headache.  He may have had some broken or cracked bones.  He probably was nauseous and weak but he got up from his bed and walked on.

He had no Advil or Tylenol.  He certainly had no Vicodin.  Yet, he continued.  He walked about 65 miles from Lystra to Derbe that next day.  When they got to Derbe, they preached the same gospel that got him nearly executed in Lystra and made many disciples.   Paul continued when most would have at least taken a break for the season.  I am amazed at the determination of Paul.

I am equally humbled by Paul’s example because most of us are detoured by much smaller degrees of discomfort.  A poor night sleep can put me off my game.  A hang-nail can preoccupy my senses.  Indigestion can be my excuse to stay home.

An unkind word can dissuade me.  An angry look can induce me to start brushing the dust off my shoes.  A lack of appreciation can make me give up.

I wonder what Paul would think of our perseverance in the face of discomfort and tribulations?

I think that Paul might preach to us the same message that he preached to the believers in Lystra.  They had returned from Derbe to the believers in Lystra and encouraged them by saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.  The believers in Lystra would have known what had happened to Paul.  Many may have seen him stoned and left for dead.

Paul’s message to them was that tribulations, like the one he experienced, are part of following Christ.  I believe that Paul’s example was borne from a mind-set that understood that everything he was experiencing was part of being a Christian.

We get ourselves in trouble when we begin to think that the Christian walk is supposed to ensure that we will not experience troubles.  The Christian walk draws in troubles and tribulations.

When we understand that tribulations and following Christ go together, then we should not be shocked into giving up when bad things happen.

Our ability to mentally handle suffering is tied very closely to our expectations.  The Spirit has never failed in provide the strength to a child of God to endure any tribulation; even tribulations that lead to death.  We are the ones who tap-out.

Paul @ Bundoran

Paul @ Bundoran (Photo credit: bettlebrox)

Our expectations must not be set in this world.  Paul did not have his expectations set upon the people of Lystra.  He was looking forward to the glory of God.  He was able to suffer a stoning because it was worth it in comparison to the glory of God.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Romans 8:18

I get myself into trouble when I overvalue what is happening in this present time and undervalue the future glory that is to be revealed.  I stumble when my expectations are placed in the present and not in future revelation of God’s glory.  It is easy to give up when discomfort seems more important to me than the Kingdom of God.

Our hope is not in this world.  Our expectations of this life can never surpass what God has waiting for us.  That makes all of the tribulations that come with following Christ so very worth it.

PRAYER: Lord, the bright and shiny things of this world’s are nothing in comparison to the glorious radiance of your Son.  Yet, my tendency is to act like they are equivalent.  Father, I pray, as Jonathan Edwards before me, for you to write eternity on my eyeballs.  My expectations are nothing less the to experience the full revealing of your glory by your grace and mercy.  I long for that day.  There is nothing that I will trade.   Lord, help me to leave all of my expectations with you; right where they belong.  Amen

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“THICK SKIN – FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT” – Mar. 2

March 2, 2013

“The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.”  Proverbs 12:16

“You are going to have to grow some thicker skin.”

That is a saying that I have made to younger, discouraged, engineers on many occasions.  It was a statement that was made to me.  We usually receive this bit of wisdom after someone in our office has experienced a particularly harsh exposure to the public, delivered the bad news to a short-tempered contractor, or had to eat the fruit of a client’s bad day.

Unfortunately, rude and insulting people are not limited to the work environment.  The world seems to have an endless supply of rude and insulting people.  They are in stores, restaurants, automobiles, sporting venues, the internet, family trees, and the Church.  We have all clashed with that person.  If you have not, then you might be that person, which is a blog for another time.

“Thicker skin” is a universal need for everyone.

However, “thicker skin” is a misnomer.  It does not mean that if you have “thicker skin” you will not feel the intended sting of a particular insult.   “Thicker skin” means that we have the self-control to adapt, understand, and respond to the negative.

Just as we can get a bruise in our skin, we all can be bruised emotionally.  There are some who bruise easier than others.

Your day may be ruined mulling over the meaning of a snarky remark;

A nasty email may be pondered upon for weeks;

 A negative assessment may make you want to give up;

The critical opinion of one person may bankrupt your self-worth.

If you have ever felt anything like that, then you have been bruised emotionally.  Those are all examples of letting a bruise go too deep.  We all need to learn how to minimize the bruising.

The reality is that everyone knows when a “thin-skinned” person has been bruised because they let everyone know about it.  The Bible calls such a person a fool.  The fool is the person who immediately over-reacts to an insult and leaves a wake of destroyed relationships.  That is not the type of person we want to be.  We want to be the prudent person who has the ability to ignore an insult.

There are some who have developed the ability to ignore insults by not caring.  They don’t care what other people think about them so what they say doesn’t matter.  I have a difficult time squaring that attitude with the second greatest commandment.  I don’t know how I can “love my neighbor as myself” and not care about what they think of me.  We are to love people.

Others ignore insults by being so very confident in their own opinions that the negative opinions of others can simply be discarded.  The problem with that attitude is Proverbs 12:15, “The way of the fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”

How can you ignore an insult without being unloving or arrogant?

“Thick-skin” is a fruit of the Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” Galatians 5:22

It is the Spirit that enables us to respond to rude and insulting people in the “prudent” manner.  It is a work of the Spirit in our lives to be able to love the snarky, to be patient with the aggressive, to be kind to the rude, to be gentle with the rough, to control ourselves when attacked.  Responding as Christ would respond is a gift from God.  It does not mean that we don’t feel the bruising but it means that our response is coming from God’s new creation within us.

I don’t have this down.  I do not demonstrate the fruit of “thick-skin” like I know I should.  Therefore, we need to be intentional about what we build into our lives that enhances our walking in the Spirit.

Know Where Your Worth Is

We need to keep the big picture in mind. Our worth lies in our relationship with God that comes through Jesus Christ. We can be called all sorts of things but that does not change how God sees us. It is when we start allowing people to assign our worth that we get bruised deeply. I do not seek my worth from any man. I am a wretched person. I know myself. My worth does not come from myself or other people. It is because of what Christ has done for me while I was yet a sinner that allows me not to be overly concerned with the detractors. Our worth is not of this world.

A Nurturing Core

We must not be a lone Christian.  We need other mature believers in our lives who love us and are there to support and encourage us.  These are not a group of “yes” men.  They are people who we know are for us and want the best for us.  They are persevering with us.  They are the ones who can tell us whether a criticism has merit or not.  They are advisors who can speak truth and wisdom into our lives.  The reality is that some of the insults that we receive may be true.  We need to have people in our lives who we know love us, agonize over potentially hurting us, and will still tell us the truth.  The wise person will have this core group.

Know Your Path

 We can so easily focus on the negative.  Our memories have an affinity for failures and stumbles.  We need to learn how to battle our own inner critic.  We need to preach to ourselves the faithfulness of our Lord.  We need to refresh our minds with the blessings that have been shown to us; those past victories and affirmations that our Lord has provided through us.  We need to treasure the assurances of our faith.  We are all imperfect and being sanctified.  We need to reassure ourselves of God working in our lives by acknowledging how far he has taken us.

Forgive Quickly and Completely

There are times when a bruise goes deep because it is simply piling onto a hurt that was never dealt with.  I have never found that time has helped me forgive.  The longer I wait the more opportunity there is for misunderstandings and bitterness.  The best medicine is forgiveness quickly applied.  Jesus forgave those who were crucifying him while He was being crucified.  Stephen forgave those who were stoning him while he was being stoned.  It is when we hold onto hurt and forgive partly, that we are quick to associate the negative and suddenly we are feeling something so much larger than the particular issue.

Know Yourself

We all need to be nourishing our souls and our bodies.  We need to know our spiritual well-being.  Since responding appropriately is a fruit of the Spirit, how are you doing in your walk with Lord?  If you have ground to a halt in your Bible reading, prayer life, worship, fellowship, then you are probably not going to be showing the fruit that you want.

We need to know our physical well-being.  Are you getting enough sleep, are you eating nutritious foods, are you exercising, are you sick?  We never respond well when we are worn down physically.

We need to know our personalities.  If you are not a quick thinker, then don’t put yourself into a debate.  If you have a tendency to be blunt, then don’t put yourself into a situation that requires an immediate response (sleep on it before shooting off that email).  If a particular person has a way of bruising you deeply, then position yourself so that they don’t have a clean shot at you.

This life is full of rude and insulting people who have the ability to bruise us.  It is inevitable that we will be bruised while we are out being faithful to the second greatest commandment – loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We will take some shots.

However, those bruises will not go deep enough to really hurt if we are walking in the Spirit, have the fruit of the  Spirit, and are wise about the paths that we take.

PRAYER: Father, forgive me for those times where I have not responded as I should.  Forgive me for all of those time where I have allowed myself to be discouraged by an unkind or insensitive word.  Lord, I know that my worth is found in You.  I know that You love me.  I know that You are doing wonderful and good things through this life that I am in.  Lord, please continue your work of sanctification in my life.  Lord, I pray that all the fruit of your Spirit will be evident in my life.  Give me the “thick-skin” of  a child of God who is filled by your Spirit.     Amen

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