Posts Tagged ‘Hope’

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Balance & Rhythm in Swimming and Life – July 1

July 1, 2014

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26

I had a great swim the other day. It was a swim that finally felt right after a week of unsatisfying attempts. I have been getting back to regular swimming. A week was lost to business travel and my post – Boise Ironman 70.3 training break had stretched out longer than originally intended, resulting in irregular pool attendance.

Swimming technique goes quickly with inactivity. The delicate balance and timing of a smooth swimming stroke can easily be lost to a few weeks without a reminder. However, it is a wonderfully meditative sensation when one finds that intricate rhythm of a smooth free-style stroke.

I found my lost free-style stroke the other day and it was wonderful.

reachThere are three basic aspects of a free-style stoke. (Just a disclaimer, I have never been coached in swimming. Everything I know about swimming, I learned on Youtube and blogs.)

The Reach: The forward arm enters the water at a point inside the shoulder line and only fully extended under the water. I like to feel the full stretch of my forward arm timed with the rotation of my torso and exit of my other arm from the water in the recovery. The reach is important because it helps keep you from sinking. Also, a long reach increases the length of your arm which gives more power to the catch and pull phase.

catch 2The Catch & Pull: The forward arm should stay fully extended for a brief moment before “catching” the water – this enhances gliding through the water. The forward arm then catches the water with the hand and the forearm. It is important not to churn the water but to “feel it”.  This is where the power in the stroke comes from. The arm accelerates throughout the stroke as you rotate your torso using the power of your core, right up to the point of exit, when the hand passes the hip.

recovery 2The Recovery: Once the arm is pushing back (when the hand has passed the elbow) the elbow begins to straighten. When the arm exits the water, the elbow immediately begins to flex again, staying high with the hand close to the body. The exit of the arm is important because it causes the rotation of the torso, which reduces drag through the water and sets up a long, stretching reach of the forward arm.  It also let’s you breath – which is important.

All the aspects of the free style stroke need to be synchronized and balanced for an efficient swimming stroke. I have read that a swimmer with deficient technique can expend 50% more energy than one using a stroke that is balanced through the various stages. Swimming is unforgiving of poor technique.

All the stages of the free-style stroke need to be in balance and in rhythm. When it happens, swimming becomes easy.

reach 2I was thinking about the Christian life as I enjoyed re-discovering the rhythm of my swimming technique. The Christian life needs to be a balance between the future, the present, and the past – all blended into a seamless rhythm of continued forward progress; otherwise known as sanctification.

The Reach (Future): We are told to set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13). We have to stretch for this hope. When we are reaching for the hope of the Gospel, it lengthens us; we can glide through troubles and not sink into the cares of this world. In addition, a hope that is set on the full assurance of our faith corrects selfish motivations and gives power to our service and obedience in the present.

catchThe Catch & Pull (Present): The power of the Holy Spirit is manifested in the present of the Christian life. The present is where we do the work of service and obedience. We reach forward to our hope, check our motivations and then catch the opportunities of our life. The power of our daily lives comes by faithfully using our God-given strengths, being sensitive to the Spirit (feeling His presence), and then pressing into our firm foundation. The key to a powerful present is consistently pressing into the Spirit throughout our day. We need to be consciously setting our mind on the things of the Spirit from the time we wake to the moment we close our eyes to sleep. That is how we make the most of the present.

recoveryThe Recovery (Past): The Christian has to learn how to handle the past. Lingering in the past will only drag us down. Therefore, we need to exit the past cleanly – forgiving who we need to forgive; confessing what we need to confess; correcting what needs to be corrected – and then immediately get back to the Hope that lays before us. It is this quick transition from past experiences to future hope that will lengthen our time for good works in the present, which give the Spirit more opportunities to manifest His glorious power in our daily lives.

The Christian life is a wonderful blend of future, present, and past. I know how easy it is to lose that precious rhythm:

I have neglected meditating on the Hope that I have been called to.
I have churned away trying to please God with my good works in proof of my salvation.
I lingered over thoughts of the past that have drug me to a stop.

20131001-235329Throughout those periods of life, I could feel that my spiritual life was not quite right. Consistency has always brought me back to the wonderful rhythm of a life synchronized with the Spirit. Whenever I am not feeling it, I still jump into the deep water of my Lord and Savior. Taking a break from God never is to your advantage.

Our helper, the Spirit, is the one who always corrects our deficient and inefficient living. Let’s get back to living in the Spirit, for His glory, in all the aspects of our lives – past, present, and future.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for allowing my life not to feel right. Thank you for giving me your Spirit to be my helper – to teach me and correct me.  Lord, continue to work in my life.  Show me where I am out of balance.  Help me to come into rhythm with your Spirit in all aspects of my life.  Give me a heart that Hopes in you.  Teach me how to exit cleanly from my past and immediately reach out to you.  Grant me the power of your Spirit to live every moment of my life for your glory. I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

Photographs: Swim Channel Facebook

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QUOTE (Helen Keller)

June 27, 2014

English: Helen Keller. Français : Helen Keller.

“For three things I thank God every day of my life: thanks that he has vouchsafed me knowledge of his works; deep thanks that he has set in my darkness the lamp of faith; deep, deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to–a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song.”   ~ Helen Keller

“Unless we form the habit of going to the Bible in bright moments as well as in trouble, we cannot fully respond to its consolations because we lack equilibrium between light and darkness.”  ~ Helen Keller

“If the blind put their hands in God’s, they find their way more surely than those who see but have not faith or purpose. ” ~ Helen Keller

In honor of Helen Keller, an American author, political activist, and lecturer, who was born on this day in 1880. She was the first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree.

Resources:
This Day in History for 27th June
Helen Keller>Quotes

 

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PRIZE OF THE IRONMAN – June 5

June 5, 2014

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

 “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
~ Mike Tyson, Mike Tyson explains one of his most famous quotes

Training has been done;
Miles have been logged;
Intervals accumulated;
Laps swum; and
Injuries avoided;

The sugar-plums of my dreams have been replaced by visions of the swim, bike, and run.

All that remains is to race.

Swim race start (ITU ) World short course Tria...

The race for me is the Boise Ironman 70.3  that starts a mere 2 days from now. It would be a lie to pretend that I am not nervous. I have never raced this combination of distances. Therefore, the unknown of race day looms large in my mind.

I would like to have more time for a half-marathon run to be comfortable.
I would like to have done an open water swim this year.
I would like to have stacked a few more bricks.

Français : Photo de Pierre Lavoie à l'entraîne...

Yet, all the things that I would like to have done, would not chase away the apprehension of race day unknowns I now feel. The challenge for a prepared racer is far less physical than it is mental. The body will perform how it has prepared. Muscles will pull and push to the levels they have been stretched. Lungs will exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide at their rate of capacity. Blood will carry all the essentials provided in order to accumulate miles at speed.  An athlete’s body will perform in accordance to the training plan it has developed under.

The mind is the unknown.130608-F-IZ428-500

What happens when you enter the pain locker?

 What happens when the fun stops and adversity begins?

 What happens when you feel like you have been punched in the mouth?

That is the test of the mind.

We all have a plan.
We all have visions of success.

Yet, the mind determines whether those plans will be abandoned in the face of adversity.

I think this may be why I am drawn to endurance events. I want to train my mind not to give up under adversity. I want the confidence that I will continue when the plan really matters. My race on Saturday does not really matter. There are no consequences for not finishing. I have no hope of winning.  I won’t even be competitive.

IMG_6459

The prize I seek from the Boise Ironman 70.3 is the realization that I can take a punch and still finish.

That is a prize that will reward throughout life. Life is full of adversity.

We will fail… be misunderstood… and ridiculed;

We will be disappointed… abandoned… and betrayed;

We will be attacked… face fear… and uncertainty;

We will make mistakes… experience loss…and know heartache;

We will be broken.

Any of these adversities can feel like a punch in the mouth. Suffering and trials can hit us so hard that we are willing to abandon our plan, even our first love, to gain relief. How can you be confident that you will endure all things when it really matters?

This is the prize of suffering.

It is why I will rejoice in the pain that comes from the Boise Ironman 70.3.

It is why I rejoice in all the suffering that I have endured.

I rejoice because I have learned that I can take a punch and won’t give up. Throughout my life, I believe that the Spirit of God has used those punches to produce in me a character of endurance. It is a character, grounded in faith, which gives me a confidence based in experience. It is that character that produces hope. I rejoice in that hope. It is this hope that will never put me to shame because God’s love has been poured into my heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to me.

What about you?

Can you take a punch in the mouth?
Are you confident in your character?
What has your character produced?

I realize that endurance events are not for everyone. However, there are plenty of opportunities in life to train our minds not to give up. It is why sticking with the small things matter. They are all opportunities to train our mind – and that is a prize worth enduring for.

My hope for you is:

When it gets hard, you go deep;
When it hurts, you look beyond;
When it is inconvenient, you continue;
When others run away, you stand;
When you want to give you, you take another step.

My hope for you is that you will rejoice in all the adversities of your life…because they will produce hope.

That hope is a prize worth training for.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for what you have taught me in suffering.  While I do not desire adversity, you have shown me the value it produces.  Thank you for the character that you have developed in me.  Thank you for the hope that will never disappoint.  Lord, train me in those areas were I am prone to give up.  Build within me a mental toughness to take a punch when it really matters and to continue to follow you. I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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EASTER CHANGES EVERYTHING – April 20

April 20, 2014

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Corinthians 15:17-18

 Easter changes everything.

 If Christ had not been raised then…

… Church wastes a Sunday.
… prayer is merely meditation.
… the Bible is a best-selling self-help book.
cross… charity is a utopian ideal.
… faith is a crutch.
… self-denial is a waste of effort.
… happiness is fleeting.
… everlasting joy is a myth.
… peace is impossible.
… God is unknown.
… sin remains.
… God does not love us.
… suffering is without meaning.
… this is as good as it gets.
…our future is a grave.
… we are fools.

Easter changes everything.

Because Christ has risen, we know …

… He is the messiah.
… the prophesies have been fulfilled.
… the penalty of sin has been paid.
… the curse of sin is removed.
… death has been defeated.
… the kingdom of God will be established.
… all things are possible.
… eternal life awaits beyond the grave.
… glory will be revealed to us.
… suffering has purpose.
… we are loved by God.
… our faith is not in vain.
… we are not fools.
… we are children of God.
… we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

empty-tombEaster changes everything.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

(1 Corinthians 15:58)

PRAYER: Father, thank you for Easter.  Thank you for raising your Son from the grave.  Thank you for keeping all of your promises.  Thank you for redeeming me.  Thank you for giving hope and eternal life.  I praise your name on this glorious day for what you have done.    I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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QUOTE (Amy Carmichael) – Mar.6

March 6, 2014

Amy Carmichael with children

“Give me the Love that leads the way
The Faith that nothing can dismay
The Hope no disappointments tire
The Passion that’ll burn like fire
Let me not sink to be a clod
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God”
~ Amy Carmichael

In honor of Amy Carmichael, a missionary in India, who sheltered her first temple runaway on this day in 1901.  The runaways from the temples were young girls dedicated to the Hindu gods and forced into prostitution to earn money for the priests.

Resources:
Today in Christian History – March 6
Amy Carmichael>Quotes

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HEADWINDS TURNED TO TAILWINDS – Mar. 5

March 5, 2014

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  John 3:8

honeycut07 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

I really wanted to go for a bike ride over the weekend.

I stepped outside and walked to the edge of the porch only to have a cold westerly wind change my mind.  A few moments of gazing at the trees bending under an unseen load convinced me that I did not want to venture out into that kind of wind. So, I returned back to the serenity of indoors.  I did this analysis three times before I rationalized my cycling kit on and grabbed my bike. I know that riding in the wind is not much fun, but I just wanted to get out of the house and get a work-out in.

The soundness of that logic was questioned throughout the first few miles of my ride as tree limbs bent into the roadway delivering a moaning question as to why I had ventured from my protective walls. I fought that wind for miles upon miles, grinding away in my smallest chainring, hoping to at least match my forward speed to that of the wind in my face. There was no escaping the relentless resistance of that wind since the route I had decided upon took me directly into it. I tried to stay low and ground away with each pedal stroke in anticipation of the turn.

The turn is when you pass the half-way mark and start to head home. Better yet, the turn would put my back to the wind on this day. I made my way with eagerness onto a road that would connect me to the turn. It also had the benefit of taking me out of the frontal assault of the wind. It was on this road that I felt the first few drops.  In my battle with the wind, I had not noticed the dark clouds that now barred my return.

ryanmatthew21 / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I summited the last climb before the turn with the full knowledge that I was going to get wet and this ride was going to get really miserable. The skies opened up on me as I descended to the turn. Water rolled off of my chin and down my back as my wheels spun a whisper of spray that appeared to double their size.  I quickly lost all concern for wind as I made the turn, for my mind had shifted to the concerns of slick pavement and the hope of home. I dipped my head to keep the rain off of my glasses and grabbed a harder gear – I needed to get home.  I focused on my cadence as I continued to work through my gear cassette until I could not shift anymore.

I was in my hardest gear and pedaling freely. I don’t know how fast I was going since my speedometer had quit, but I must have been tickling 30 mph. I rode like this for several miles, maintaining a speed on the flats that I could never hold by myself. The only reason I was being hurried home was because of the wind. That very same wind that I had fought all the way out, was now lifting me to a speed I could never do unaided.

afphotography / Foter / CC BY-NC

That ride home was fun. The very same wind that had caused me such misery going out, provided great joy on the way home. In fact, wind transformed what normally is more miserable than a head wind, a cold ride in drenching rain, into an exhilarating experience that I will remember.

This love / hate experience with wind spurred my meditation of the workings of the Spirit of God in those who are His.  I believe that there are times in our spiritual lives when we are walking directly into the resisting force of the Spirit that is intent upon changing our direction.

 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. (Acts 16:6-7)

I don’t know how the Spirit resisted Paul but it seems like Paul’s path became too difficult so he changed it. I believe that the Spirit still works that way. We just have to discern when to follow the guiding blow of the Spirit and turn out of the wind to the path of less resistance. That is not always easy to discern because the Spirit might have other purposes.

I believe that there are times when the Spirit blows in our face not to get us to change to direction but in order to strengthen us. The trials and temptations of our lives could simply be removed by the Lord, but often He does not. Frequently, He allows them because we need the work-out.

 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

The Holy Spirit guiding us through suffering is evidence of God’s love for us.  God loves us too much to leave us as spiritual couch potatoes. There are times when we feel resistance in our lives because the Spirit is blowing into our face in order to build endurance, which will produce character, and from that character will emerge God glorifying hope, and everyone needs hope to persevere to the end.  In these instances, we should not turn from the path that we are on. We need to grind on. We need to get low and endure. We need to accept the love of God through our suffering.

We can accept our suffering as the love of God because we, by faith, know that the power of the Spirit is actually what is carrying us home. While the Spirit is allowing and guiding us through difficult times, it is also the Spirit who is powering us through those very same difficulties.  It is because of the tail-wind of the Holy Spirit that we can endure longer than we could ever do unaided. It is because of the power of the Spirit that we can perform beyond our abilities.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)

Therefore, we are driven to hope when we grind into the Spirit’s head-wind and when we experience the powerful effects of the Spirit pushing us home.

I often don’t know where or how the Spirit is blowing in my life.

I find it difficult to know when the Spirit is guiding me to turn in a new direction or to grind on.

I regularly fail to realize the power that is pushing me forward as I labor to follow Christ.

I am quick to grumble about trials rather relishing all the joy and peace in believing.

However, the mysterious winds of the Spirit, in all their forms, are a blessing for those who are in Christ. The Spirit is our gift to help us through this fallen world.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:5)

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world give do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:26-27)

We never have to be discouraged or afraid. We have been given the Holy Spirit – our Helper.  He is the One who will do all that is necessary to get us home – guide us in the right direction, build hope in our hearts, and carry us when needed.  Praise God that we have not been abandoned. We are loved and cared for by our Helper who will be with us forever.  Now, let’s go live our lives relishing all the joy and peace in believing.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for sending us our Helper. Thank you for the work of the Spirit in my life – guiding, correcting, stengthening, and sustaining me.  Lord, teach me to rely upon your Spirit in all conditions.  Teach me to live in your joy and peace.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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“BROKENESS WITHIN GLORY” – July 8

July 8, 2013

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”  Isaiah 6:3

I survey the activities of this earth with a flick of the remote or a click of the mouse.  What I see draws me to the conclusion that I live within a broken world.

I see a burned wreckage of a plane; glory does not come to mind.
I read of the violence in Egypt and Syria; descriptions do not sound glorious.
I observe the continual subterfuge of politics; I see no intentions set on glorifying.
I know many are dying from disease; glorious does not enter the terminology.

Many view the world with eyes from the same perspective as my own.  The most common accusation against God emerges from the observations of a broken world.

If God is a loving god, then why would he allow so much pain and suffering?

Isaiah could have questioned the bleakness of his world.  King Uzziah had died.  The nation was surrounded by enemies and its destruction was not far off.  Faithlessness, oppression, and arrogance were the fruit of the land.

Yet, there was a song being sung at that very moment in Isaiah’s life.  While Isaiah was physically in a bleak world, God’s holiness was being proclaimed in the heavens.  While Israel was on the threshold of being crushed, the world was proclaimed as being full of God’s glory.  God was on the throne in all His holiness, reigning as the Sovereign ruler of the whole bleak universe.

The song of the earth is quite different than the song in heaven.  The bleakness of this world causes many to curse rather than praise.

Curses come from a perspective that is plagued by our inability to see God’s manifested holiness.  I look and see glimpses of holiness but the unholiness seems overwhelming.  The limitations of my flesh blinds me to His glory.  When I look upon this world, all I tend to see is brokenness.  That brokenness does exist.

There is evil in the world.
There is rebellion in this world.
There is hate, pain and suffering all around us.

However, all of that unpleasantness does not cancel out God’s glory.  Far from canceling God’s glory, all of this brokenness exists within His glory.  It all resides within God’s plan of redemption.  The redeeming of an unholy and rebellious people by the holy and sovereign Lord of hosts can only be described as glorious.

The whole earth is filled with brokenness.  The whole earth is full of His glory. 

These contrasting perspectives are so difficult for me to comprehend.  I do not claim to have understanding or insight of how this can be true.  I accept it by faith.  I accept that there is a glory around me that I cannot see.  I praise God when I get glimpses and I long for the day when the redeemed are called and the fullness of His glory is revealed.

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  Isaiah 11:9

Until that day I will live by faith; I will have a conviction of things that I cannot see.(Heb. 11:1)  I believe that the glory of God is all around me.  I do not need to see it.  The Spirit confirms within my spirit that it is truth.

Until that day I will live by faith; I will place my assurance in the hope of the day without hurt and destruction. (Heb. 11:1)   I hope in the days when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.  I look forward to the day when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb; the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the cow and the bear shall graze together; the day when violence, pain and suffering are covered with comfort and peace.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples – of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.  Isaiah 11:10

Until that day, those who follow Christ live in a broken world while walking by faith in the glory of God.  I don’t know how that works.  I just know that it does and for that I praise the Lord.

PRAYER: Holy, holy, holy are you my Lord and Savior.  The whole world is full of your glory.  Forgive me for all the times that I have lost sight of that.  Forgive me for not being in continual praise as those who are in your presence.  You are great and highly to be praised.  Father, help me to keep my eyes on you.  Help me to keep my mind-set upon you and your glory.  Keep my faith secure in all that I cannot see and my hope in you and you alone.  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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“DON’T PUT YOUR FOOT DOWN” – May 18

May 18, 2013

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Romans 5:3-5

climbingI have a bicycle ride that I think of as my little hill of pain.  This ride has a short span of road that is only ¾ of a mile long but it has three switch-backs and a continuous grade of over 10%.  We recently rode the ten miles out to this location of personal affliction and then up my little hill twice.

Oh, how I suffered.

On our initial ascent, I was very quickly down into my lowest gear and standing on my petals in a personal battle with gravity.  The grade is unrelenting and with each foot of elevation gained my poor legs increasingly voiced their displeasure.  In my desperation not to tip-over, I began to zig-zagg across the width of the road in a pathetic attempt to find some relief from the vertical grade of the road.

When I got to the top, I was a mess.  My feet were a little numb, my thighs stung from way too much lactic acid, my calves were threatening a massive cramp, and my lungs felt like I had just cooked them over a campfire.  I found a nice easy gear that allowed me to spin away my nausea as I joined my riding buddy.  He was riding back to me in annoyingly good spirits and asked me the question that I knew he would ask, “wanna do it again?”

The look on my face was sufficient to convey my displeasure and caused my buddy to laugh at me.  After a few more moments of spinning, my lungs were once again capable of powering words.  I explained to my compatriot that there is a difference between wanting to and knowing that I should.  I did not really want to ride up that hill in the first place but I knew that I should ride back up that hill.  It would be good for me.  So, we turned around, raced down the hill, and experienced the joy of hill climbing one more time.  It was worse the second time.

71472755_0Climbing hills on a bicycle is just not very fun.  It is particularly not that much fun when you are training to climb hills.  The reason I go out to this particular hill of pain is because I have a hope for July of this year.  There is a ride called the Four Summit Challenge.  It is a ride over to two ranges and then back again.  The total ride has 5,714 feet of vertical climbing over 72 miles.  From what I understand, it is an absolutely beautiful ride.  I am looking forward to it.  It should be a fun day.  However, I do not have a lot of hope in being able to do that ride unless I can get some climbing training in before July.  I will not be able to enjoy the beauty of that ride if I am in agony.  Therefore, I am training on hills.

The key to climbing is to understand that it has less to do with what is going on with your muscles than it does with what is going on in your melon.

My little hill of pain is training me mentally just as much as it is training me physically.  I know that by being able to recover in a couple minutes that I can physically ride up this hill.  I have the physical endurance and strength to do it.  I am now working on the character to do it.  There are a variety of times when I was climbing my hill when I really wanted to put my foot down and end the discomfort.  I could stop it at anytime by just lowering my foot and admitting defeat.  However, I would never make it to the top of the hill if I gave up.  I would never attain what I am hoping to attain in July.  Suffering on my bike makes me stronger and gives me endurance; endurance gives me confidence and builds my character; character allows me to hope; without hope I would never try anything.

Suffering is just a fact of life.  No one likes suffering.  If you like suffering for suffering sake, then you are a little bent in the head.  However, suffering is unavoidable.  Everyone will go through difficult periods in their lives of varying degrees and durations.  Since going through some form of hardship is guaranteed, then we should determine beforehand what we are determined to gain from it.

We are promised that our souls can benefit from suffering but that gain is not guaranteed.

The reality is that suffering has caused many people to quit on their faith.  It has caused many to give up on their hope.  Hardship has resulted in some putting their foot down and stagnating in their faith for years.  Suffering is not just about enduring until life can get back to normal.  Life may never get back to normal for some. Trials are given to us to mature our faith in a way that only difficult times can do.  Suffering trains us mentally.  I don’t want to diminish physical pain and heartache, but the implications of suffering to our faith come from how we approach it in our minds.  Suffering can cause us to grow in our faith if we fight the battle of the mind.

We will probably go through struggles in this life that are beyond our strength.  God did not give you specific trials because He knows you have the strength to handle them.  They are given to us to teach us that we do not have the strength to carry them on our own.

“You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.”
Corrie ten Boom

Suffering causes us to seek strength outside of ourselves.  God has promised to be our strength when we have no strength.  His strength is all that we need.  A lesson of suffering is that we should not be living in our own strength at any time, much less when we face hardship.  The strength to endure is never in question for the child of God, who is trusting in their Lord, because we have a source of unlimited strength from our Father.  Suffering forces us to draw strength from beyond ourselves.  Hardship trains us in how to rely upon God for everything we need, including the strength to endure in difficult times.

Therefore, our challenge is to not give up. 

This is where character comes in.  Suffering sculpts our character.  Suffering teaches us who we can rely upon when the going gets tough.  The character of a child of God, who has been trained by suffering, is formed by faithfully following Christ through pain, discouragement, loss, and tears.  Their hope is grounded in a character that knows that they don’t have to put their foot down no matter how bad it gets.  They are confident that they will have all the strength that they need, when they need it.  They know that their Savior will be with them through all the pain and anguish; that He will never leave them nor forsake them.  Their faith can survive anything; they can endure anything because their hope is secure.  The Savior is sufficient.

Suffering teaches us that our hope is attainable.  How can you be confident that you will persevere to the end?  If you have never suffered, than your confidence is theoretical.  Suffering puts theory into practice.  Suffering shows us that our hope is not a fool’s dream.  It grounds us in the confidence that God can and will bring us to glory and we have the strength to fight the good fight to the end.  It is when we have endured through hardship that we learn from the practice of our faith that nothing can pluck a child of the King from His hand.

If you are currently blessed with a period of tranquility, then prepare yourself.  Determine in your mind now, to make the most of the suffering when it inevitably comes.  Prepare your heart to be trained and taught by hard times.  Draw your strength from God in the good times so that you will be ready seek your strength from Him when you need it most.  Stack the kindling of the goodness of your Lord and His word around you now so that when the darkness of trials come, the Spirit can ignite the treasures stored in your heart to be your beacon in the night.  Learn to recognize your Savior’s voice on the mountain top so that you can follow His whisper through the valley.

If you are enduring hardship at this time, then may I encourage you to lift up your eyes to your Lord and cry out to Him.  He is faithful and He will give you the strength that you need.  He can sustain you in your weakness.  He will sustain you for He loves you.  Don’t give up.  Don’t put your foot down.  He is sufficient and He will turn all the suffering you are going through into something gloriously good.  Hang onto the only one who can sustain you.  Don’t give up; Don’t put your foot down!

“Hardship often prepares ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
CS Lewis

PRAYER: Lord, I don’t want to suffer.  Father, you know that I don’t want to go through trials and tribulations.  However, I know that You will never leave me and You will never forsake me.  I know that You will give me the strength that I need, when I need it.  Forgive me for living in my own strength.  Lord, prepare me for the trials that I have ahead of me.  Teach me how to rely upon You in all things, at all times.  Prepare me to suffer well to your glory.  Help me to be a beacon while I walk through dark times.  Thank you for the assurance that it will be well with my soul no matter what the future holds.  I praise  you O’ Lord and pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“SPIRITUAL MUTUAL FUND” – May 12

May 13, 2013

“…that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons.”  Ezra 6:10

Retirement planning can feel very much like gambling.

New York Stock ExchangeIf I had gone to work for the government or a large corporation, I would probably be eligible for a pension.  I did not, so my retirement has to be funded upon my initiative.  A pension should be a predictable stream of future income.  A 401K plan is not as predictable.

I have to make decisions about where to make my retirement investments.  I sit before a list of investment alternatives and try to make an informed decision but it seems more like playing roulette.  I have less information and analysis than people who make their living manipulating money and they still get it wrong.  That does not give me much confidence in my own abilities.

You can increase the odds of winning in roulette by picking a color.  You hedge your bet with a color pick because there are more opportunities for the ball to roll into a winning slot.  The odds are against you if you pick a singular number.  In a similar way, I hedge my bet in planning for my retirement by investing in mutual funds.  Mutual funds are an accumulation of stocks from a variety of companies that have something in common.

If you think that the technology sector is going to boom, then you pick a mutual fund full of tech stocks.

If you think that the economy is primed for innovation-driven growth, then you might want to pick a mutual fund full of small business companies.

If you think the Asian tiger will roar again, then mutual funds made up of companies in Asia is the place to rest your money.

If you think the market is going to crash, then fleeing to a fund made up of bonds might be ideal.

If you just don’t know, then a large cap fund that tries to buy stocks from across the genre of stocks in the market is the greatest hedge available.

You can hedge your retirement bet to your own personal level of risk.  If you are absolutely confident in the future performance of a company, then you should put all of your retirement in that company.  This strategy has the highest potential for return but also the highest risk.  A person who invested everything they had in the formation of Microsoft would have been very well rewarded for that risk.  A person who made a singular investment in Enron would have lost everything.  You have to pick well with this strategy.

Most of us do not have the confidence to bet our future retirement on one company, so we hedge.

The kings of Persia did this sort of hedging with the gods of the people they conquered.  They did what they could to appease these foreign gods; just in case.  They were hedging.  They created a mutual fund of gods.  They made an investment of resources to their spiritual mutual fund in hopes that this myriad of deities would bless or a least not curse their kingdom and rule.

That is what Cyrus and Darius, Kings of Persia, had in mind when they decreed that the Jews should be allowed to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.  What could it hurt to keep the God of the Jews appeased?  It would be another altar, to another god, where offerings of pleasing sacrifices to the deities would be made in the expanse of their kingdom.

They were hedging their spiritual bets.

The problem for the Persian Kings was that the God of Abraham will not be held in a spiritual mutual fund.  He only accepts the sacrifices of those who have gone all-in with Him alone.  He does not allow Himself to be hedged.  He requires a complete investment of everything we have and are.  He tests our confidence in Him by demanding all.  The degree to which we try to hedge on God is the degree to which we trust His promises and Him.

Jesus is the singular investment of our lives.

Now, I don’t know of anyone who lives with a spiritual mutual fund like the Persian kings.  We are more inclined to have a happiness mutual fund.  We make our investment in the variety of hopes, including God, that we expect will bring a good return of happiness and well-being in the future.  Once again, God does not respond to a mutual fund approach to life.  He is our sole source of joy. It is through Him that all joy originates. He will not be hedged against the possibility that He will prove unfaithful.  He knows what unbelief is in all its forms.  Spiritual backup plans are a form of unbelief.

Where have you made your spiritual investments?  How many avenues hold your future hopes and dreams?  Are you hedging?  Is your approach really that different from the kings of Persia?

We can have complete confidence in the God of Abraham.  He is faithful.  He is trustworthy.  He is the most secure investment for our lives that this world will ever know.  Your investment in anything other than God is guaranteed to be lost.  A singular investment of your life in Christ Jesus will yield a return of eternal life.  That is an incalculable return.  However, it requires a singular investment; Christ requires your complete confidence.  No hedging is allowed.

Are you willing to invest all that you are in the great I AM?

PRAYER:  Lord, forgive me where I have hedged.  Forgive me where I have not trusted fully in You.  You are my all in all.  You are my one and only.  You are God and God alone; In you I place all of my trust, hope and dreams.   I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen

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