Meeting God through my troubles.

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What happens in your gut when trouble shows up? Perhaps you feel like you are living in the lands of perpetual trouble! So, your gut hasn’t settled down in days. One of the important questions I’ve been asking myself as a follower of Jesus when it comes to trouble is: Ok, what can I learn with God in these days and through this struggle? The good news is that God has been meeting His people through struggle for a long time!

1“Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. 2Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. 5Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.

6“So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him.  Deuteronomy 8:1-6

Its tempting to rush through these famous verses. I’ve had to re-read them more than once. Did you see what God was up to when the children of Israel sojourned through the wilderness for forty years? Through those years in the wilderness God says He was building them up for a relationship with Him.

 

The wilderness — a land of struggle

The wilderness — the context for their struggle — served as the school for their character. So what was God developing in the wilderness? He was developing their character. Obedience to God is a character issue. Character is the grid through which you habitually respond to the stuff that comes at you in this world. A person who obeys God has a reformatted grid about themselves and life. Even their appetites have been examined in respect to God.

 

The anxiety in my gut!

In these verses Moses says their hunger in the wilderness served a purpose in God’s work. Their hunger was an opportunity to humble themselves and trust God. God abundantly supplied manna for their hunger and they learned to trust Him for their daily bread. But they also learned something about humanity: we cannot live on bread alone. We will truly live “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

When trouble comes, my gut tells me something is not right. The anxiety in the pit of my stomach makes my world and options seem smaller. But its in these moments that I’m learning to seek God. I’ll tackle what’s in my capacity to tackle by applying His Word to the situation. And, I will let God be God as I relinquish control to Him. That’s when the extra-ordinary provisions of God begin to show up!

 

Learning new reflexes built up by faith.

I love these verses from James, who having been trained by faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, could write the following exhortation to the Believers about troubles:

2Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 5If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. (James 1:2-5)

Are you in trouble of some kind these days? Perhaps you will be helped in prayer for the next month:  Lord I’m in trouble, what are You showing me about Yourself through these troubles? What do You want to build up in my character? I want to trust You as the good and loving God, so the Cross of Jesus Christ will be my reminder: you are my Deliverer. You are my Provider. You alone are God, worthy of my life and love. You are faithful. What adjustments must I make in order to be faithful, respectful, and full of love toward You?

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Jesus sees your faith even if we can’t.

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Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”  Mark 2:5

I’ve heard this story (you can get the whole story below) since I was a kid. I  have read Mark 2 a lot. I think about it often as a picture of genuine friendship and the incredible declaration of divinity made by Jesus when he forgave the man’s sins. But last night at our Alpha Course the Lord pressed me on another angle:

The paralyzed man had faith too.

In my mind and in most sermons its just been the faith of the four friends that Jesus saw.. because they were the ones in motion. They were the ones doing all the work. They were the ones tearing a hole in the roof. They were the ones finding a solution to the barriers between Jesus and their friend. But last night it hit me, Jesus saw “their” faith. There are 5 guys and some faith and Jesus saw them all.

The paralyzed man must have had some faith. He doesn’t seem to be protesting. There must have been a a conversation among the 5 guys beforehand. The man on the mat is a willing participant seeking Jesus.

I don’t know why but I never saw this before! But this realization is full of grace and delight for me! And I’m loving God even more today because of it!

When I can’t perform as others might want…

When I can’t move with grace and power…

When I can’t do everything I wish I could do…

When I can’t express all that I hope for…

When I can’t forgive myself…

When I can’t …

He can!

Jesus can act on the smallest glimmers of faith in Him that are in me.

Jesus sees past all that is left undone and He acts on the faith we turn towards Him. He does what seems impossible. And right there Jesus saw past all the “able bodies” and saw right into this man’s heart and did a miracle. Forgiveness! The miracle of a forgiven and cleansed life is priceless! And then Jesus showed the crowd He really did have the authority to do the larger and more costly act of forgiveness, when He healed the man of his paralysis.

Jesus will act on our faith even if for a time all we can do is lay in bed.

What little glimmers of faith in Jesus, the Creator, the Conquer of death, the Redeemer, the Shepherd of our Souls, are you turning toward Him?

He sees. He hears. He acts.
Mark 2:1- 12 NLT

1When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. 2Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, 3four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. 4They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.

5Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”
6But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, 7“What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
8Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? 9Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, 11“Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
12And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

Mysteries abound when kids are secretaries.

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Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. 7No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 9That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined

what God has prepared for those who love him.”

10But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.  1 Corinthians 2:6-12
Have you ever had the following experience upon arriving home?

One of the kids says, “Somebody called for you.”

Parent: Who called?

Kid: I’m not sure.

Parent: What’d they say?

Kid: I think, that you should call them back.

Parent: What’s the number?

Kid: I don’t remember.

Parent: Did you write it down?

Kid: No.

Parent: When did they want me to call back?

Kid: I don’t know.

Well maybe you don’t have kids. It could have been a roommate! Before the advent of caller ID and everybody having a personal phone attached to them this was a dead-end conversation. Dead-end conversations — that’s sometimes how people see the journey of getting to know God. But that’s not how the Apostle Paul sees it. He believes the messaging of the Gospel specifically dispels the fog regarding God and His intentions. God hasn’t called on you with the Gospel in order to create confusion. No, God has called on you with the Gospel of Jesus in order to dispel some mysteries and to transform your loves.

The Gospel message is much clearer than our secretarial kids.

Who called? God.

What’d He say? The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is His plan for including people in a relationship of love and and in His long-term plan to redeem Creation.
What do I need to do next? Receive Jesus by faith; He gives His Holy Spirit to help you know the wonderful things He has freely given us.

When? Now.

The Gospel has a very specific view of the work of God. The cross of Jesus stood upon terraferma in a specific period of history in order to reveal and make a way for people into the King’s mission. The Gospel is the message and Jesus’ people are now the agents of His message: God is doing something good on your behalf; he is preparing something good for you who love Him. The journey now with the Holy Spirit is to live from and into the good He is giving us.

Ah, Dear world, here’s the challenge for me and even for the church: sometimes I still feel like a kid trying to convey the message. I may not be clear. My lack of skills and the imperfections of my life may create confusion. I’m just a kid secretary, still growing up! And sometimes I struggle to find the words to describe the love, joy, peace, change and hope I have found in Him. But I’m trying. So I go back to the Gospel message. And I know its not all up to me. Its a good thing God is giving His Holy Spirit to help you… and to help me! Of this I’m sure: ’till Jesus Christ returns, God is going to keep calling on people through His Gospel and His Spirit!

Digesting Disappointment

 

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Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Ephesians 4:1-2

When people disappoint us we enter a danger zone for relationships. It’s tempting to turn our disappointed expectations into a blanket statement regarding the person or persons. Here’s how I’ve seen disappointment poison relationships: instead of digesting my own feelings of disappointment, I can label the other person as a disappointment and make them the cause of my pain, totally ignoring the reality of my own expectations as the major player here. That’s a danger zone!

When we view a person as a disappointment we are in danger of loosing love to the grim reaper called pride. We will invoke shame as a weapon and turn to violence of speech or action in order to vindicate ourselves and try to get the other person to make us happy — or go away.

Healthy relationships do have expectations. The Apostle Paul has expectations of the church. He hopes for them to live up to and into the calling they have had from God through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:1). Like him, we do look for each other to live up to the callings of our relationships by keeping commitments and demonstrating value for the person. However if we demand perfection to our expectations will restrict ourselves from love; we will not be able to accept each other in our weakness, warts, and all!

So when I’m disappointed here’s what helps:

1. First admit I’m disappointed and keep it to myself first.

2. Humbly examine my expectations with the Lord. Its here that I have to figure out what story I’m making up about the situation and the person.

3. Resolve to treat the other gently, not as an object for my happiness, but as a person who is deeply loved and valued by God.

4. Explore what kind of adjustments, allowances, or space, I can make for the faults (weaknesses) of the other. As Brene Brown’s husband Steve says in, Rising Strong, “All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”

Having said that, even in disappointment I can and must determine the scope of my boundaries and gently and firmly reaffirm them. What the Apostle Paul encourages here in verse 2 is that we make allowances for other person’s faults because we love them.

5. And then if need be, discuss the situation with the other person without condemnation, truthing in love. This is the difficult but crucial conversation that must be waded into. But I think the health of our lives and relationships depends on our courage to do so. Digesting disappointment guards the heart against resentment and the many disorders of the soul that accompany such festering pain. Digesting disappointment creates space for us to grow in love.

When it comes to digesting disappointment, what have you found helpful?

Holy Spirit recall.

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Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.  Proverbs 25:11
I love it when the Holy Spirit brings to mind God’s Word in the moment when I needed it. When I needed encouragement or correction, guidance or wisdom, God’s Word was brought to the front of my mind by the Holy Spirit. It’s a golden word for me, of immense value, and life-giving.

Spiritual formation takes place over time. The formatting of my mind by the Gospel is a work of the Spirit to which we are called. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul exhorts his listeners to cooperate with the Spirit of God:

1And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  2Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  Romans 12:1-2

 

You can be a part of the Holy Spirit’s work by memorizing and meditating on Scripture . Psalm 119 is a celebration of God’s gift of His Word and there the Psalmist joyfully declares, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Holy Spirit recall occurs when you have His Word in your mind available for the right, apt, moment.

Want to get started on memorizing Scripture?

Here’s a set of verses organized around the acrostic, G.L.O.R.I.F.Y.T.H.E.L.O.R.D., to help you get started.