When love is challenged

Better to die than to love

At the most severe point of my mother’s struggle with Cancer, we all had many questions and doubts, but she kept all her questions to herself. Through the several years of suffering, I don’t remember her complaining or grumbling against God. It seems she took it all in stride, as part of her life. She continued to love God without any reservations.

Similarly, when Job was at the deepest level of his suffering, his love and commitment to God was questioned. “Then his wife said to him, ‘do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But he said to her, ‘you speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this, Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:9-10) His love for God went beyond his physical and financial condition. His circumstances were clearly in shambles, but his love for God continued intact. The words spoken by his wife would have pierced his heart more than all the tremendous losses in life. But his wounded heart held on firmly to the love he had for his God.

I’d rather die than not love

To what extent will Job continue to hold on to his love for God? We get a glimpse of the extent of his love when he said “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15a) There were no limits and certainly no boundaries to the love Job had for God. He considered it more valuable than life itself.

But really, can I be trusted? Will my love for God stay intact? What if I loose my job? What if my health deteriorates? What if my relationships turn sour? What if life itself simply falls apart? How will I respond to God?

How can you challenge true love?

Paul was a man who suffered constant setbacks and brokenness, but he said: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

Nothing can separate you from true love

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present or things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Wow. That’s confidence!

But what about me?

What about you?

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Becoming an Observer

When our kids were small, we visited our friend’s home whose children were in their early teens. We all had a great time together as we discussed various parenting struggles. The kids were there as well doing their own stuff.

About half way into the conversation, my friend switched to a complaining mode and began sharing how the kids were not doing well in school and how they are struggling to keep order in their home and wondering how they will make it financially, and a swirl of other struggles as well.  At that moment, in the midst of the games the kids were playing, his son turned around and said “Yea, he’s really just stressed out.” My friend’s face turned to an embarrassed look, realizing his son had correctly identified his real situation.

It seems we often get “broad-sided” and blinded by our circumstances. We get caught by the whirlwind or caught in the current of our situation. In the midst of that, we loose our perspective. It’s really an element of surprise coupled with confusion. Reality becomes difficult to gauge, and it becomes somewhat of a “pseudo-reality.”

Although this was the case with my friend, his son had another perspective. Very close and living under the same roof, their perspectives were quite different. He was in the midst of his turmoil, unable to see beyond it. But his son was like an observer looking at the situation from a different vantage point. His son’s perspective was broader and clearer.

So what does it take for us to step out of the situation and get a different perspective? Is it possible for us to step out? Is that even an option for us? Can we become an observer of our own life?

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What’s Your Excuse?

It was my third year in college and I was late completing an assignment for one of my classes. Although late assignments were not usual for me, this one was different. There was a class presentation to be given as well. I wrote the last few pages after returning from my night job at 4am. I had convinced the janitor to open the typing classroom a bit early so I began typing at about 6am. As I typed on that old manual typewriter, the ringing of the bell after each line (remember those?) gave me a jolt to move forward and finish. There was a sense of accomplishment after each bell.

After yanking the last sheet of paper out of the typewriter, I was headed out to the store to get copies made. As you would normally expect, there was a line of people waiting to make copies. Not having slept for almost two days and tired from working all night, my head was pounding. Nothing had gone into my stomach that day except a few cups of black coffee after returning from work. All of this compounded to create a tense situation for me as I waited my turn in line. Just a few more minutes for that class to begin. I began to think: “If this line doesn’t move quicker, I’ll certainly be late.”

At that point I noticed a sign on the wall: “A LACK OF PLANNING ON YOUR PART DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AN EMERGENCY ON OUR PART.” There were just two more people in front of me when I read that sign. By that time I was furious. I began to wonder why these people were so rude in putting up such a sign. In the back of my mind I knew there was much reality to what the sign says, but my frustration was turning to a rage by then. Finally when it was my turn to make copies, I was able to subdue my emotions. With a clear “attitude” to my voice I said “Oh by the way I like your sign.” The man just looked at me with a knowing smile on his face. I am sure he has seen plenty of students in a similar predicament. Each one had their story of why they were here at the last minute.

I was able to keep my composure up to a certain extent. Just a few grunts and moans came out while I collated and stapled the papers. I still felt that this man should not have put up that sign. I was furious while I drove back to the campus.

Although there was no outburst that would cause a scene, it was clear that I had no control of my emotions. My constant struggle had begun to take its toll on me.

In the Bible, Job was a man who expressed his struggles quite clearly. He said: “As God lives, who has taken away my right, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. Far be it from me to say that you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.” (Job 27:2-6)

Job’s condition was clear. He felt that God had taken away his right, and as a result, his soul was bitter. In spite of all this, he made a conscious decision to keep his integrity. He never used his situation as a excuse for loose lips or any other form of reactions.

Have you had an “excuse” situation? Share it here in the comments section of this blog post.

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Bounce Back

This week we have a guest post by Dr. Jeff Jibben who is my friend & former classmate. He is the founding pastor of freshwaterchurch.net, president of the church planting network paradoxplants.org, and adjunct professor of theology at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix Arizona. Check out his blog eCouragement.
“If you fall, I’ll be there.” ~Floor
For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again… – Proverbs 24:16
The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. – Psalm 145:14
The floor is very supportive, consistent, and always there for us. Falling and floor just seem to go together.
Also very supportive, consistent, and there is the Lord. He cares when we fall, he cheers when we rise. Our deepening relationship with the Lord – our righteousness – provides us the insight and hope to rise again. Our humility before God creates miraculous lift. The Lord – active and powerful in our life – gives us the bounce back stuff.
Just like in natural life, our bounce-back-ability is dependent on content of our character. Drop an egg to the floor and it will crack. Drop bread dough to the floor and it will splat. Drop a bowling ball to the floor and it will make a dent in your floor. But, drop a superball to the floor, and it will bounce back over and over again. God is in the business of changing our natural character into superball stuff. In times when we might have been cracked, splat, or dented others, we now bounce back because of what God has done in us.
Have you fallen many times? Good. You are normal. You are human. It is the nature of life. Need to get up again even though it is against all odds? Invite the righteous Lord into the depths of your soul. Your bounce-back-ability is about to change.
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What Are You Up To, God?

Once a man asked me: “So, you’ve done your doctoral work in Old Testament?” I said “yes.” “Wow, that means you know everything about the Bible.” I was stunned by such a statement and simply said “not quite” and smiled. I’ve had similar conversations on several occasions with people who were impressed with academic achievements.

For those of us who have preached and taught from the Bible for many years, there is the danger of thinking we know God. Some may begin to think they have God all figured out. Their knowledge of the scriptures may give them a sense of having a comprehensive understanding about God. But God has only revealed to us what our limited minds can understand. Only a fraction of the fullness has been given to us. But there is so much more.

Job recognized this reality and said “Behold, these are the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14 ESV). God’s power and capabilities are much beyond what we can understand. He has only let us in on the “outskirts” of the full reality.

In the midst of Job’s tragic life situation, he was trying to make sense of everything. His attempts to try to understand God and his ways failed miserably. Nothing made sense, and certainly God’s response was far from his expectations. His friends came and made their attempt to grasp the reality of what they observed. But they couldn’t make sense of the situation either. It was at this point that he recognized that there is so much more to God and his ways.

So, has God been confusing you lately? Have you wondered what he is up to? Maybe he has gone much beyond your understanding of him and has you wondering. Maybe that confusion you are experiencing is the attempt to understand “the thunder of his power” and his ways. But as children completely trusts their parents, let’s trust our heavenly Father. He certainly has it all figured out.

Have you had any confusing “thunder” experiences lately?
You’re welcome to share it in the comments section of this blog post.

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Being Hunted Down

Just the other day I sat with a man who has been struggling with numerous vices in his life. He really wants to leave the life of sin, but he just can’t shake it off. He just can’t walk away from the things that have gripped his life for so long.
As we sat together to talk and to pray, he said something to me with lots of frustration in his face: “Pastor, God is after me. He won’t let me go. I feel like I am being hunted down by him. Why is he doing this? What does he want from me?”
The book of Job recognizes that God reaches out much further than we can imagine. His “light” shines and searches out much beyond anyone’s reach (Job 25:2 ESV). Thus no one is beyond God’s reach nor His sight.
The Holy Spirit indwells the believer and works as a “counselor.” It is his job to convict the world regarding sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment. So, as a child of God, no wonder we feel guilty as soon as we are about to sin. Yes, it is as if we are being hunted down by God.
It is all part of God’s massive plan of ongoing redemption in our lives. So, once he finds us guilty, what does he do? Does he condemn us? Or, is his plan to destroy us? Neither. He gently leads us to the right path by his mercy and love.
But some of us are more stubborn than others and continue in our own ways of sin. Then, God understands that the pain of remaining in sin is greater than the pain of correction. So he decides to correct us with his love and a strong hand. He continues this process of correction throughout our lives. It’s a process of fine-tuning our hearts to line up with his standards. I suppose that process takes an entire lifetime. Then by the time he takes us home, or as he takes us home, he completes that process.
Until then, we continue to feel like he is hunting us down. Yes he is. But not in anger to destroy us, but in love to re-align us according to his will and plan for us.
Do you feel like you’re being hunted down?
Share your experience in the comments section of this blog.

 

Photo by indi.ca, Creative Commons license.
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Making Sense of Evil

It was with a BBC news App on my phone that I read about the three women from Cleveland USA who were held captive for ten years. I read the story about Ariel Castro’s crimes in disbelief and disgust. For days, I felt within me a sense of repulsiveness as they were just teenagers when they were abducted. I thought of my own children and their friends. I kept thinking about all the evil present in this world. But I kept checking the news about the crime to see the outcome, especially to see whether this criminal would be brought to a quick trial. Surely no punishment will be great enough to cover the intensity of the emotional, physical, and social damage that has been inflicted.
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But what about all the evil and wickedness in this world? Why is there so much of it all around us? Why must innocent children suffer so much injustice? Why can’t God – or why won’t God intervene in such extreme cases? We hear of many stories of rescue at the nick of time. But why not at this time?
The Biblical prophets of long ago spoke of the day when God’s Messiah (savior) would come and put away all evil for ever. He would establish God’s kingdom on the earth. On that day, there would be no more tears, pain, or suffering. In due time, the Messiah (Jesus) came and inaugurated the kingdom of God. But that kingdom has not come in its fullness yet. The final consummation of God’s kingdom will only occur at the second coming of Jesus. On that day, all evil will be wiped out. The evil one (Satan) will be restrained and put away forever. Then there will not be anyone to tempt and prompt people towards sin and wickedness.
For now, we are in an interim period where two kingdoms co-exist. The kingdom of evil (of Satan) was given an opportunity to enter and be set up from the time Adam and Eve sinned. In the same way, the following generations (including us) continued to give opportunity for that kingdom to prevail in this world.
The kingdom of God, which was inaugurated by Jesus, continues to rule in the hearts of those who have put their faith in Christ. As people’s lives are transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, they become a part of this awesome kingdom that Jesus has established.
So as we read of the wickedness and evil in this society, we recognize that there are two kingdoms in conflict. Those who continue a lifestyle of sin continue to give way to the reign and authority of the kingdom of evil.
But those of us who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ have taken that important step into God’s kingdom. We live with a different set of values that defines who we are and how we live.
So as we see the evil and wickedness in this world, be reminded of the second coming of Jesus. On that day God’s kingdom will be consummated in its fullness. All evil will be put away as the Evil One is removed from the scene. That is the future we can look forward to.
How have you understood the evil and wickedness you see all around you?
Share it in the comments section of this blog post.

 

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Live Generously

This week we have a guest post by Dr. Bob Logan . He focuses on incarnational missional ministry and multiplication. He is a church planter, coach, consultant, trainer, writer, mountain biker. He lives in Los Angeles, California USA, and blogs at loganleadership.com. You can follow him on Twitter @drboblogan
Living generously is more than a matter of specific actions. It’s an internal posture of openness that informs all of our decisions and the way we live our life. Are we willing to unclench our hands and recognize that all we have is from God? Our money, our home, our talents, our relationships – they’re not ours. We are entrusted with them for a little while with the charge to use them to benefit the world around us. We are stewards whose master will one day come home and ask us how we have invested what he left with us. If we can lay hold of this reality, we will be changed. We will live with open hands, blessing those around us with our words, our actions, our resources, and our time.
Ask each other these questions to help one another journey along the way in this area:
  • How can you bless people with your words?
  • When do you most sense a spirit of generosity in your life?
  • What do you have to give?
This blog post is part of a series of nine entries, each highlighting one of the nine Journey Guides. Each Journey Guide is a three-week discipleship study. They can be engaged in separately or as a series. If you want to take people through a 3-week journey on this topic, visit the Logan Leadership Store.
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Power and Gentleness

Several years ago we lived in a town that was adjacent to a community where they had a special place for elephants. At this place, elephants were bred, raised, and trained for various purposes. These elephants were used to carry heavy loads, and to carry people on their backs. They were also dressed up and displayed during festivals and celebrations.
The strength of these beasts is amazing. Once in a while, an elephant would go out of control. Seemingly in a sort of rage. At that time, they really display their true strength – much beyond what you could imagine. People get thrown around like dolls, trees get plucked from the ground like plants, and trucks get flipped over, and complete havoc is the result.
But when these animals deal with their young, they are amazingly gentle. Their great strength is set aside for a soft and gentle approach. Just to deal with their young, they are willing to come down to their level rather than expecting their young ones to come up to theirs.
In the midst of his greatest struggles, Job looked to God and had an inward confidence. The confidence was that God would pay attention to him and come down to his level. Job said “would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me. (Job 23:6 ESV) His friends had accused him of severe negligence and sin. They said that all his “righteous” acts were just a cover-up for his sinfulness, and that his sins finally caught up with him. Now God is dealing fiercely with him according to his sins.
But Job had a confidence that God would understand his weaknesses and limitations. He knew that God would come down to his level and would listen to him. Although his friends could not understand, he knew that God would.
I am reminded of the concept in proverbs: “…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24b ESV) The best one to do that, is God himself. He is the one who knows us fully. He knows all our weaknesses and sins, but continues to love us and draw us closer to him.
So, in the midst of your greatest defeat or sin, remember the words of Job. “Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me.” (Job 23:6 ESV) Go to him. He will certainly pay attention to you.
Share your experience of God putting aside his great power to deal with you in gentleness.
Share it in the comments section of this blog post.
Photo by helga_ni Creative Commons license.
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The Mercy Gap

I still remember the words quite clearly: “Alexi, I don’t know what it is that I did to deserve this severe condition.” She was a precious child of God who had lived with pain for several decades. Now, for the last several years, she was bed-ridden most of the time. She had practically no visitors since her condition was so bad. For many hours of the day, she was alone in her room, silently experiencing the pain throughout her body.
In every area of her life, she had a positive influence. She was a good mother to her children. And in the churches she and her husband pastured  she remained active as long and as much as her body would allow. But the questions remained not only for her, but for me as well. Why did she have to suffer so much? I’ve known her since I was seventeen. I know that there is nothing that would warrant such pain for such an extended period of many years.
So there I was, standing by her bedside listening to some very difficult questions for which I had no answer. I am sure she had similar questions during these years that I’ve known her. But really, is God full of anger and violence? We see in the Old Testament that God had set some high standards for his people and expected them to live up to those standards. We also see him punishing those who do not live up to those standards. But between the high standards and the punishment, there is a lengthy time of waiting with patience. God wants his people to come to repentance, but his method is through showing mercy and kindness.
Job talked about rebellious people and their arrogant words against God. Then he acknowledged that God “filled their houses with good things.” (Job 22:17-18a ESV) Throughout Israel’s history, we see that “Mercy Gap” of time where God waits and expects to see repentance as a result of his mercy.
The writer of Romans also expresses the same idea with more direct words and says that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4b ESV). Thus God continues to extend his mercy to us in the midst of our sin, disobedience, and even rebellion. When we look at the history of the people of Israel, we realize that the “Mercy Gap” is quite an extensive gap where God stretches his patience beyond all limits. Then, when that limit runs out, it is still his mercy that drives him to punish. But that punishment is not meant to destroy but to build up and eventually bring us to repentance.
So, what about that lady who lived with pain for so many years? Since our God is a God of kindness with a large “Mercy Gap,” her problem was not due to the judgement of God. That we can safely rule out. She was a child of God who experienced much pain because of the brokenness of this fallen world we live in.
How have you experienced God’s mercy in your life? How large was that “Mercy Gap” for you?
You can share that in the comments section of this blog post.
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