Archives For lessons

Everybody loves Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you, and not harm you. To give you a future and a hope.”

We eat that stuff up like delicious, delicious candy.

Or what about “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me?”

That’s a good one, too!

“Taste and see that the Lord is good, and blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” That’s a great one, which has adorned many a pillow down through the years.

How about “God is faithful in that, with every temptation, He provides a way of escape that you may be able to bear it?”
That’s a good one! And it’s probably the genesis of the oft-quoted (but less than biblical idea) that “God never gives us more than we can bear.”

Poppycock, I say! Tis pure balderdash!

Is this the same God Who says “In this world you will have tribulation?” Is it the same God that admonishes us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?” Is is the same God Who promises us “they shall hate you because they first hated Me?”

When the last time you saw that cross-stitched anywhere?

Or taught about in your church for that matter?

What about the epistle of First Peter, where we’re told “after you shall have suffered, God will?” We kind of gloss over that don’t we? Nobody wants to suffer, endure pain, or hardship.

But God promises it.

We shall be delivered up, the world shall hate us. Some of us will even die for our faith–be martyred.

Cheery thoughts, I know. These are the not so precious promises of God. The ones we don’t like think about.

Here’s another one: “Whether we live, or die, it is for Christ.” And “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Fact is, nobody wants to die. But sooner, or later, we all do. There’s no avoiding it. Whether by “famine, or nakedness, or sword, or peril” nothing is able to separate us from his love. Not Ebola, or ISIS.

OR ANY OTHER THING ANYWHERE.

Here’s a promise you can stake your life (and afterlife) upon:

“Fear not him [ISIS, disease, the devil] who can destroy the body, but Him Who can destroy the soul [God].”

What’s your favorite not-so-precious promise of God?

Your friend Ricky Anderson calls the gym the “hurting place.” He’s not kidding! In the last week, you’ve:

Sprained your back

Sprained your foot (in the locker room. No, you don’t want to talk about it).

And you’ve  come down with the aptly (yet oh-so-understatedly) named “exertional headaches.” For the Star Wars fan, it feels like Alderaan exploding inside your head. Or maybe the Death Star. One of the two.

It hurts.

A lot.

The first time it happens, you’re like Is this an aneurysm? Am I having a stroke? Did Freddie Kruger somehow slip his gloved hand into the dura mater? Inside my skull? All you know is your world is pain. One thousand suns have gone super nova at the base of your skull…

You babble the Pater Noster, crawling into a dark and quiet place. The back of your head all the while hammering a staccato rhythm in time with the beating of your heart. It throbs, it pulses, it pounds.

You do all you can to just breathe. In, and out. In, and out. You’re calmer. You open your eyes.

That’s when you notice the halos. Everything–every bright thing–is ringed with a glowing halo. But the centers of those rings are mushy, indistinct.

Blurry. Yes, blurry. That’s the word you’re looking for. Even with your glasses on, the world is both bright, and blurry.

But you’re not dying. No grey matter has begun leaking from your ears (although you halfway wish some would–it would relieve the pressure). You want nothing but a bottle of Ibuprofen, and some rest (you settle for two pills, and let your wife drive the car).

The headache eventually subsides, leaving you with an aching, stiff neck. You read somewhere that rest is the only cure for exertional headaches.

So you take a day off.

One day off working out, and a day off of your supplements.

Then you’re up bright and early for your cardio… And you did it! No headache. This gives you hope for lifting day. You’re smart about it: you drink your protein shake, washing down two ibuprofen with it. You wait a bit, and then head out to the gym. Instead of pushing yourself, you opt for about seventy-five percent of the level you were at before. You take it nice and slow.

Your reps are slow–up, and down; up, and down. All the while you’re controlling your breathing. A headache threatens to come on. You breathe through it, gently working your neck. The pain subaides, and you continue your workout. You’re very conscious of:

Your form

Your breathing

Your blood pressure

You make it through! Congratulations!

You didn’t let the pain get you down.* Whether you worked out as hard as you wanted, or not–you did it.

You’re a champion in my book.

*Whatever pain, or hard thing, you’re facing friends: stare it down, master it. Push through to the other side. Whether it’s working out, writing, painting, cleaning house:

YOU CAN DO IT!

Master your gym today.

Admit it. You’ve heard it. You’ve said (or at least thought it). It’s cliché: Jesus came to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

But somewhere along the way, we often get lost, get comfortable. Too comfortable.

In fact, we maintain a tacit dislike of things which make us uncomfortable. If something doesn’t fit into our neat religious categories, we’re apt to do one of about four things:

1) Ignore it, hoping it will go away.

2) Actively shun it, shut it down, drown it out (this is but a manifestation of denial).

3) Label it, trying to make it fit into our “recipe box” of life (like forcing a square peg into a round hole). As of life is supposed to fit into our categories.

4) Crucify, and vilify, it. Actively speak out against whatever it is.

We give lip service to that cliché (“comfort the afflicted… “), but don’t like to made to feel uncomfortable ourselves? Why is that? What did we think? That coming to Jesus would solve all of our problems? That being in the world, but not of it means that somehow we’ve now arrived in Happy Land?

Jesus didn’t view the world that way; in fact, he’s on record saying that those upon whom the Tower of Siloam fell were not worse sinners. Things happen in a fallen world.

And coming to Christ doesn’t make us “in right, outright, upright, downright happy all the time.” Coming to Christ doesn’t mean we get magically delivered from the consequences of living in a fallen world. There is pain, suffering, evil… in short things we can’t understand, or explain.

For instance, a lot of you won’t go see a movie like The Conjuring, because you don’t do “horror.” It makes you too uncomfortable. Yet you’ll watch the evening news every night without batting an eye. And talk about horror! This despite the fact that both deliver the bad news in showing that yes, there is inexplicable evil in the world. Yet only one shows there is indeed a power greater than evil.

And it ain’t the evening news, folks.

The ironic fact of the matter is that sometimes it’s only through fiction that we can get to the heart of reality. We have to be willing to embrace discomfort if we want to grow. Growth doesn’t happen without pain.

But I’m not just talking about our media choices, rather about stepping outside our comfort zones. About reaching out in love, about doing that sometimes most difficult of all things:

Listening. Before we offer a snap judgment, or jump to an unfounded conclusion. For instance, and this is crazy! Sometimes (most time) people are just sick, and aren’t “harboring uncontested sin” in their lives. Or are not demon possessed (remember, “greater is He Who is in me than he who is in the world”).

If we are going to say it (“comfort the afflicted…”), let’s act on it, okay?

The simple fact is that things (and people) don’t fit into our neat little boxes. God’s a person, too (the Person), and can we fit Him into one of our boxes? I don’t knew about you, but I’ve been trying all of my life, and he keeps shattering all of my paradigms…

My point in this rather long, rambling, post is this:

Do you want to be a shiny, plastic person with all the answers, or someone who embraces the uncertainty? It’s not all happy, but it can be holy.

My challenge to you today: do something outside of your zone.

Thanks for reading!

As a small child, I suffered from anemia. So much so that I was
frequently made to toddle across the street to the neighbor’s (a
nurse) house for iron shots. I guess I did not have a problem with
this for two reasons:

1) There was a cookie in it for me; and,
2) Prior to being diagnosed with anemia, there was a trip to the
hospital with my dad…

I remember the sharp tang of antiseptics, the scent of Pine Sol used
to clean the corridors, an endless descent down in an elevator, and a
long walk down a dimly lit hall. I was five, and I was to be getting a
blood test. At the time, I did not know what a “blood test” was
(having never had one). Honestly, I do not recall what I expected.

The stark reality was a cold metal chair under a sun-bright medical in
the middle of a chilly room. I was not, as they say, “down with that.”
I struggled, resisted, fought with every ounce of strength I possessed
to keep from being poked with that sharp, scary, needle.

“Keep him still,” the doctor said to my dad.

“I’m trying,” he replied. In the end, I was too much; I thought I had
won! There would be no needles piercing the delicate flesh of my inner
arm!

How wrong I was! My dad found an off-duty police officer (working
security) in the corridor, and invited him to assist with the
procedure.

I was sunk! Despite my best efforts, two grown men proved to be too
much for me. The needle delicately made its way into my young vein,
and…

I said, “That wasn’t so bad.” All of that fuss, all of that fight, and
it was not so very bad at all. I never feared needles again.

And yet…

How often do we, who should know better, react as I did under threat
of that dreaded needle, when Jesus promises to bring change (and with
it perceived pain)into our lives? We duck, and dodge Him, hoping to
avoid it.

And in the end, only manage to prolong the process, thereby making it
worse. God says that all things work together for the good (not that
the bad things are good–that would be insane) for those that love
Him. The fundamental issue, then, is that, as when I was a boy, we
fail to trust that Father knows best.

We kick, we scream, we fight, when what Father desires is our trust, our surrender. We fight because we are stubborn, willful, creatures–creatures wanting our own way.

And that includes avoiding the pain of growing up. It is past time to face facts: growing is inevitable, and we can either embrace the discomfort, or try to run from it. Either way, it will hurt.

But the path of willing surrender hurts ever so much less. Because it means we are humbling ourselves, surrendering our pride, and no longer
trying to hide.

It means we are partnering with a loving Father Who truly does know best.

The pain, the disappointments, are His appointments–and our opportunities to do that one thing we do not wish to do:

Exercise faith.

Because that means we are not in control.

But that is right where Jesus wants us: broken.

Speak on it: Where do you resist being broken in your life? How is that working out? Is God’s way really so scary?

I play Words With Friends. Everyday. At any given time, I’ll probably have twenty games going.

I like playing with words.

I do.

The challenge of finding the right combination of letters, swooping in, making the big score.

It appeals to me.

I play defensively, competitively. But I don’t always win. Because I often play people who are better than me.

And this has been good for my game. Very good–it’s made me a better player.

The same is true of life. If bad company, as the scriptures say, corrupts good character, is not the inverse also true?

What does affiliating with those who are successful in life do for us? Make us want to live better, right? Do better, reach higher.

At least I think so.

This year, I’ve been privileged to engage in some brief correspondences with some authors I admire. Besides getting to interact with some cool people, what is the net effect of this on me?

It makes me want to write better. It’s encouraging to know that these people–pros–struggle with some of the same insecurities. They’re people like you and me, and yet have pressed through the resistance.

Just like playing Words with better players makes me better, so does getting to know other writers make me want to step up my writing game.

But more than that, there’s a drawing near to Christ that elevates us into a higher kind of life. Getting to know him makes me want to please him. He makes me want to be a better man.

The point of this post is simply this:

Who we hang out with often determines in large part who we are–and who we want to be.

Agree, or disagree? The comment section is open, and the floor is yours.