Cornered by God

What is that one thing that irritates you beyond all limits? I mean really, it gets under your skin and troubles you. You just can’t shake it off. You’ve tried, made decisions, made confessions, and even begged God, but this one thing does not change at all.

Maybe its something regarding your behavior or certain habits that just don’t seem to go away. Or it maybe its that relationship that is so difficult. It could be the job or the career that you’ve selected. You jumped into it years ago for various reasons, but now it seems just meaningless.
You need to identify that one thing. Oh, yes, for some of you, there is no need to try to identify it. It just has a huge place in your daily life that you can’t miss it. It’s just right in your face all the time.
You wonder if God doesn’t care, if he is not at all concerned about your struggles. Sometimes you wonder if God did it! Maybe he is the one who brought you into this mess and caused all this brokenness in your life. You are in this situation because you decided to obey him and to follow his ways.
Ultimately you feel cornered, with no place to turn. You have tried to “change” the people around you, but you realize that its impossible. Then you recognize that the problem lies with you. You are the one who needs to change. But you have come to the realization that you can’t change yourself either. Yes, you realize that you surely are cornered. Maybe cornered by God, but surely cornered by your own brokenness.
This utter helplessness and brokenness you feel is the very reason Jesus died on the cross. Whether this situation was caused by your sin or the result of the actions of others, the cross is the only answer. But then, you may feel that God is the cause for your plight, and you just can’t make sense of the situation you are in. Still, the answer is the cross. Go to him and ask him to help you sort out this entire mess you are in. He will enlighten your mind and soothe your emotions.
So, what is that one thing that disturbs you the most? I don’t believe you can make any sense of the situation by thinking it through. Just go “to the foot of the cross” with all your brokenness. He will place his hands on you. Everything still may not make any sense, but his presence will be enough.
It is difficult to describe the experience of calmness in the midst of the storm. But that is exactly what you will feel. The Holy Spirit will fill you with the realization that God is surely in control of everything in your life that you have no control over.
So, do you still feel cornered by God? Job did too. Listen to his lament: “Yet these thing you hid in your heart; I know that this was your purpose. If I sin, you watch me and do not acquit me of my iniquity. If I am guilty, woe to me! If I am in the right, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look on my affliction. And were my head lifted up, you would hunt me down like a lion and work wonders against me. You renew your witnesses against me and increase your vexation towards me; you bring fresh troops against me (Job 10:13-17 ESV).
Do you have a lament to share?
You can express that in the comments here.
Photo by r_stephen  Creative Commons

Guilt and Innocence

I was just nine years old as I stood on an over-pass above the highway throwing empty beer cans into the highway. Some of the cans bounced off the cars and then was crushed by other vehicles that followed. Other cans I threw fell right in front of the cars and was immediately crushed. Some just fell between the wheels and was only crushed several cars later as the wind blew the cans around. After throwing each can I stood there intently watching its movements until it was finally crushed.  

It was a fun and exhilarating experience for me as I threw each can over the fence until a man walked by who started yelling at me. He said something about damaging the cars and what a nuisance kids are these days.  I remember as I heard that man’s voice, I had two objections to his reaction. First, I did not see any damage to the vehicles as the beer cans bounced off the vehicles. Those vehicles just simply drove on.  Second, he used the word “kids” in plural. There was no one else with me as I accomplished this task. After some more yelling the man just walked away after giving me a warning. Then I threw one more can and ran in the other direction as I saw that man turning around to me.  

Maybe I was just a product of my environment growing up in the Bronx. As that man spoke to me, I just couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. As much as I could see, I was not doing any damage at all. Yet that man seemed to be so irritated.

There was a man in the Bible who was quite righteous in his ways. This was attested by God and he surely thought well of himself. But in his most gruesome situation, he had second thoughts and said: “Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me; though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse” (Job 9:20 ESV). In his own mind he seemed to be blameless, but in light of the holiness of God, he realized that he had no chance.

Just like my experience at the age of nine, we simply don’t recognize our own sinfulness. Through the years, we become “acceptable” to most people, and those are the people we spend most of our time with. Thus we loose that critical element in our relationships and we are not able to recognize our own faults.

Among many things, there are two factors that help us to have that critical element. Involvement in small groups, and meditation of the Bible. In a small group based on relationships, the chances are greater for the rough edges in our personalities to begin to rub against each other. This will result in some form conflict that eventually needs to be resolved within the small group experience. In a loving and accepting group, one has the freedom to open up and share weaknesses.  Along with this, a daily reading and meditation of the Bible has great value. While we read, meditate, and pray, the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to work within us.  He will highlight and convict us regarding those things that needs correction.

We may be innocent in our own eyes, but before God, we stand guilty.

So, do you have any stories of “innocence” to share?

Leave your comments here.

Photo by Doug Kerr

Has Life Broken You?

While I was a college student I took classes in Psychology as well as counselling.  In one of those classes, we had to do a test to analyze our emotional and mental temperament. There was a questionnaire with lots of topics and a list of life experiences for which each experience was given a number according to its intensity. The purpose was to grade the effect of difficult life experiences on an individual. When I filled up that page at the age of 20, the totals were quite large. According to those numbers I should have been an emotional wreck many times over.
Through the years I remembered that test many times.  Especially when I experienced excruciating pain as a result of the pressures in life.  For a long time that pain was emotional, then for about seventeen years it became increasingly physical.
The emotional pain was mostly ignored due to a strong will that allowed me to move on.  I was aware of that pain, but I never allowed it to inhibit me in any way.  When the pain became physical, I was still able to ignore it until I was bedridden.  Now that changed everything.  Every movement of my body caused me excruciating pain.

It was in my late teens that I heard the saying: “Life is not out to break you but to make you.”  This statement has helped me tremendously over the ears as I faced numerous struggles in life.  I would remember the words of Jesus: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)

When the pain became physical and I was bed-ridden for months at a time, I began to question my own perspectives.  “Maybe life is out to break me, not to make me.”  I helped so many others to find hope, but I ended up in a hopeless situation.

Through numerous tragedies in her life, Lee Ezell in her book, Finding Hope When Life’s Not Fair, says: “…it may be way too early to judge whether or not this catastrophe in your life will ultimately be devastating.  Perhaps you will soon see how God is working it into His plan for you!  Both the good and the bad may be woven together into the beautiful tapestry of our life.”

So what if you think life is out to break you, not make you?  Remember that Jesus has overcome the world and he offers us his peace.  If you can wait long enough, he works it out in our lives so that it becomes something beautiful in his eyes, either here on earth or beyond.

How have you handled your situations where you felt that life is out to break you, not make you?  Do you have suggestions for others in the same situation?

Leave your comments below.

Photo credit michael pollak Creative Commons.

A Surprising View of Leadership Development

Jesus only spent three and a half years with his disciples. He developed them and trained them to do the tasks he did. After his departure they were to carry on the work through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had complete trust in the Holy Spirit to guide his disciples.
In my years of teaching in a seminary and pastoring, I have been involved in training and developing people for ministry. This, I have found to be quite a challenging task as the people come from various backgrounds.
There is often a huge gap between my expectations and theirs. When tasks are assigned, and goals are set, I remind myself that my expectations may not always be met. Their growth and development as leaders may be well below my ideal for them. I know they could do better.
Jesus expressed a similar frustration when he said “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you…” (Matthew 17:17 ESV). Jesus knew that his time with the disciples was limited, so he wanted to make sure they were prepared to carry on the work he began. But the performance and the responses of the disciples were certainly not according to his expectations.
In such a disheartening situation, Jesus expressed unwavering trust in the Holy Spirit and his disciples. He told his disciples that they will do the works that he did, and even greater things will be accomplished through them (John 14:12 ESV). Then he promises them the Holy Spirit who would remain with them forever (John 14:16 ESV). He also said that the Holy Spirit will teach them and remind them of the things that Jesus taught them (John 14:26 ESV).
These words of Jesus were not a blind “shot in the dark” just to give them a positive feeling. Rather it was a definite trust in the Holy Spirit to teach, empower, and guide the disciples. Jesus completed the task, and now it was up to the Holy Spirit to carry them further.
Jesus’ approach to training the disciples was expressed systematically by John Maxwell in his book Developing The Leaders Around You. He gave a clear five step approach: Model, Mentor, monitor, motivate and multiply. Jesus initially modeled the tasks while the disciples observed. Then he mentored them and taught them what to do. Then Jesus monitored their performance and asked questions regarding their experiences. He also provided motivation for them to do the tasks on their own by sending them out two by two to all the villages and towns that Jesus would visit. Finally he asked them to multiply themselves by making disciples.
What a great approach and an awesome trust in the Holy Spirit and the disciples. So those of you who are in the process of developing leaders, we have an important lesson to learn from Jesus’ attitude towards leadership development: Relax and trust the Holy Spirit.
Tell us about your leadership development experiences.
Leave your comments here.
Photo by TheMinuteIdea. Creative Commons.

What Are You "Made" For?

There was an elderly couple in our church who were in their mid eighties.  Once I asked this gentleman how he is doing physically, and how he gets around town.  His reply caught my attention: “Physically I am fine.  If I need to go somewhere close, I walk. Otherwise I ride my bicycle.”  At that time our church met on the second floor of a hotel, and he refused to take the elevator (lift).  He also would not allow anyone to help him down the stairs.  He was determined to go up and down the stairs alone, without any assistance.  
I appreciated his bravery and resoluteness   In fact, even after his wife died, he lived alone in the house till the end.  He was determined that he should not be a burden to  anyone in his later years.  When asked about physical ailments, pain, and other challenges, his response was resolute.  “Yes, the challenges are there, but I can’t dwell on those things.  I’ve got to move on.”

His wife had similar characteristics as well.  Even while she battled cancer, she was determined to remain standing during the entire worship time.  It was her own way of expressing her heart’s gratitude to what God has done in her family through the years.

Growing older doesn’t have to be a scary and difficult situation.  Sure, as you move up in years, you’ll have more physical limitations. But instead of being discouraged, it should be a time to re-focus your approach.

Several years ago I wrote a blog post called Has Life Begun? I had just turned forty that day, and wanted to share some of my thoughts.  The most significant idea for me was that I wanted to focus my time and energy on things I am “made” for.  The idea is to focus on the core of what you do, the most essential matters only.  Let all other things have a secondary status.

When you try to do everything as before, the situation becomes problematic.  You just may not have the energy or stamina as in your earlier years.  Make your goals more realistic with the primary focus on the essentials.  These essentials are in effect what you are “made” for.

All the experiences you’ve had over the years have built you and prepared you for the important task of focusing on your essentials.  Now, it is time to narrow your focus and put in your best.  Your later years can be the most strategic and productive.

What are the things you feel you are “made” for?

Please leave your comments here.

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mcohen.chromiste Creative Commons

The Risk of Kindness

I heard about a man who has a special place in his heart for beggars. He once asked a beggar on the street his name. The reply of the beggar was: “Name? I don’t have a name.” When I heard that, I was utterly astonished. A human being without a name? I’ve never heard nor imagined such a situation. Most probably he was born on the streets and was handed off to someone to use as a begging “tool.” Beyond that he had no value as a person.

When we see a person begging on the streets, our reactions may vary. We are unsure if we want to take the “risk” of talking to them.  Even if we have been kind to them in the past, our response may depend on the emotional situation we are in. Most people ignore them and hope they would go away. But as we ignore them we feel a sense of guilt and uneasiness.

As we look at them we realize that many are physically fit and capable of holding a job that would sustain them and their families. Surely someone could give them a job and help them to get on their feet. But of course that someone cannot be me. I’m just too busy. Maybe someone else.

Some have deformed limbs and other shocking deformities. We have heard stories about those who intentionally “deform” or damage the limbs of small children to make them more “marketable.” That is hard to imagine and certainly hard to believe. Certain situations and utter hopelessness can drive people to do the unthinkable. But who knows?

When I was a college student, I used one of my vacations to try to personally understand the plight of these people. I spent a month and lived in a “rescue mission” that reached out to the homeless. It was a tremendous risk for me as I became one of “them.”  Living with them as one of them brought a new sense of awareness in me. These were all real people with real life situations as you and I. But life just got to be too much for them. They did not have any hope that things could get better. Debts, job loss, death of a major wage earner, drug addiction, alcoholism, and other debilitating situations just drove them to the streets. As I interacted with them as their “equal,” their hearts really opened up and I was able to see them as a real person just like me.

A clear picture of street people and a clear analysis has been given by Roger S. Greenaway in the book Cities: Missions’ New Frontier. He gives a clear analysis and suggestions for reaching out to homeless and street people. After reading that chapter or other such material, think about what you can do. What about your family or the church? What steps can you take?

Maybe you can begin by treating them kindly. Take that risk of kindness.  Ask their name. That interaction with them will really help to change our minds as well. Then certainly ask if you can pray for them – but whatever you do, make sure to reach into your pocket as well. Be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful. God has a special place in his heart for the poor.

What kind of experiences have you had in dealing with such people?

Leave your comments here.

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What’s The Use of Discipline Anyway?

Painful, confusing, and frustrating are three words we would use to describe discipline. The difficult circumstance we are in often causes severe pain. We want to hear from God and get some clear direction or clarity regarding our situation, but nothing seems to make any sense. Everything seems confusing. But all of these struggles just don’t seem to match up with our expectations and dreams about how our life should be. So we end up with lots of frustration. Sometimes it seems to be a never ending cycle of pain, confusion, and frustration.
But the Bible seems to describe such situations as “discipline.” But whatever label we put on it, that doesn’t make our situation more bearable. The Pain remains, leading to further confusion and a heightened level of frustration.

Somehow we’ve got to see God’s purpose in all of this. It’s like the individual strokes of the artist’s brush. To most observers, each stroke by itself would make no sense at all, but in the mind of the artist, there is a beautiful image that he is working towards. In a similar way our pain stands in the way of knowing that the artist is aiming toward a goal.
We have numerous expectations of how our life should be. But God has his own plans. It really takes a lot of work disciplining us to get us to his Goal. We fail to realize that his plans for us are the best and that it really is for our own good.

But when we experience all this pain, confusion and frustration, we wonder if it is worth it. Our emotions impact our ability to think logically. Years ago Andre Crouch wrote the song Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Will we learn the lessons that God has for us? Will we learn to trust him? Will we grow in his plans for us? Or will we fight it till the end and stay in our current situation? God wants to take us to another level in our maturity as well as our relationship with him. But that only happens as we learn to be quiet before him as he teaches us his ways.
In what ways has God disciplined you? What has been the outcome of his discipline in your life?
Leave your comments here.

Photo by Sander van der Wel Creative Commons

Unanswered Prayers: A Blessing in Disguise

Several years ago I was talking to a young man about someone I knew who had an accident and the doctors were ready to amputate one leg from above the knee. The severity of the situation and the possible future consequences just overwhelmed this young man as he pondered the issue. Then he responded and said: “I would rather die than face something like that.”

In the midst of such a tragedy would I come to such a conclusion? Would you? This is where unanswered prayers become a blessing. God’s graciousness is extended to us in such circumstances. But such requests for death may be more common than we imagine. We may have longed for it just like Job in the Bible. He said “why is light given to him who is in misery; and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?” (Job 3:20-23 ESV)
In the midst of tragedy, at the point of desperation, we may not be able to see beyond our current struggles. Like Job, our only hope may be death and nothing else. As a matter of fact, it may be the ultimate longing of our hearts. But somehow God ignores such pleas. He overlooks such responses of our emotions to the tragedy we face.
Then God takes this opportunity to guide us and mold our thinking. He first allows our emotions to settle and teaches us that our true hope is not in death, but in God alone.
It was Saint John of the Cross who held strong through a life full of tragedy and struggles. He grew up in extreme poverty and later in life faced numerous rejections. Even those in his own religious order took him captive and put him through torture by public beatings and isolation in a small dark cell. The book Dark Night of the Soulexplains how this tragic life produced much good for so many people, and continues to do so through his writings.
In the midst of tragedy, the longing for death may be a natural emotional response. We may cry out to God and plead with him for death. It is during such times that God blesses us with unanswered prayers. He chooses to lead us through a more difficult path in which he can do things in us and through us that are much beyond our thinking.
Have you ever longed for death? What has these unanswered prayers taught you?
Leave your comments here.
Photo credit Ashley Rose

A Moment of Silence, A Moment of Comfort

It was another afternoon of weariness, sleepiness, and the struggle to stay awake and study. My college days were a constant struggle for survival as I worked a job most nights till four in the morning. A few hours in the afternoon was all I had to study and to sleep. That was a difficult choice to make when tests were coming up and assignments and papers were due, but sleep was important as well.

One particular afternoon the door to my room opened without a knock. My friend walked in and sat down silently for a few minutes. Although I kept reading I was waiting to hear him speak up and say something. Not a word was spoken as he sat there in silence. After several minutes he got up quietly and left. I began to wonder why he came and why he had said nothing at all. That’s when I realized that my weariness and sleepiness was gone. Most importantly, there was a sense of self-pity that was increasing that day as I struggled to stay awake and study, after which I would be returning to work for another night of physical labor. Suddenly I realized that the self-pity had lifted and I felt refreshed. All of that just because a friend walked into my room and sat silently for a few short minutes?

In the Bible, Job was a man who experienced horrific tragedies in his life. He lost all his children, wealth, and his health. His wife was the only one left, but even she turned against him. Three of his friends came and sat with him silently for seven days. Now that’s much more than the few minutes my friend sat with me. But I am sure the level of struggle was so much more intense for Job. Certainly the presence of his friends was comforting for him (Job 2:13 ESV). But finally his friends broke the silence and each one began to speak in turn. But their speaking turned out to be disastrous for a man in such a circumstance (Job 16:2-3 ESV).
It was only several years later that I learned about silence and solitude from Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline.That’s when I realized the value of silence and how it benefited me when my friend sat for a few minutes in my room. Silence and solitude can be one of the most valuable steps to take in our lives.
So go ahead and cut out the distractions and spend some time alone with God in silence. That’s when he will speak to you and bring you the comfort that you desperately need. His presence will do all of that for you.
Have you learned and adopted the discipline of silence an solitude? How has it helped you?
Leave your comments here.

What Does Worship and Tragedy Have in Common?

I’ve heard it said that a major part of worship is thanksgiving. But what if you can’t find anything to thank God for? What if the turmoil you face within you and the struggles of daily life have just strangled you? In fact, the tragedy that gripped your life is just too much to bear. You are not even sure if you are alive. Then…what is there to be thankful for? In worship we are supposed to express our thankfulness and love for God. But why should I worship?
Lots of questions but the answers are few. Isn’t that how life is? So in this situation worship seems to be the most impossible and illogical task. During such times I would much rather wallow in my sorrows. At least it feels good to express my grief. Even if no one is listening, at least I can get it off my chest.
But when you share it with others – its fine the first few times, but not constantly. Yet my struggles seem to be never ending. How can I continue approaching people repeatedly? After a while they’ll get tired of it and begin to avoid me.

There was a man whose first response to tragedy was worship. He lost all his children and his entire wealth in one day. When the reality of this tragedy struck him, his first response was worship. With his life experience he knew there was no hope anywhere else. So why bother? The only logical and fruitful response for him was worship. “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20 ESV). Many years ago, Philip Yancey impacted my thinking greatly through his book Where is God When it Hurts? It’s a challenging book that changed my thinking and my responses to life as well. But the struggle continues as I train myself to shift my focus from my problems to God.

How have you responded to tragedy?

Leave your comments here.