Category Archives: Hardship

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…

In our convenience-driven, consumer-dominated society, patience is often in short supply.  This is especially true when we are tested.  The Bible tells us that we are to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3).  Notice that these trials are not one’s that you seek out.  In other words, don’t go looking for trouble and then decide that God is testing you for your spiritual development.  Secondly, “meeting” a trial indicates an encounter, not an avoidance.  Yet we often buy in to the lie that just because something is difficult, it must not be God’s will, or must not be worth the effort.  When God appoints a trial to greet you, according to Scripture, it is with the intention that you will confront it, learn something from it, and the result will be steadfastness.  To be steady is to be constant, solid, strong, and certain.  Verse four says that when steadfastness has its “full effect,” you will be complete and lacking nothing.  It is not speaking of material wealth, but intangibles that are beyond value.  In fact, the next few verses speak directly about wisdom – an intangible that applies to every other area of your life.  Who possesses it? God does.  Is He stingy?  Never.  He “gives generously to all.”  Notice that full steadfastness lacks nothing – that includes wisdom.  The number one obstacle to becoming steadfast and managing trials is often a lack of wisdom.  The one condition for receiving wisdom?  Believe and do not doubt (verses 6-8).  Keep your eyes focused on Jesus – the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Don’t get distracted.  Remain steadfast and the ultimate reward is a crown of life.  Is it a physical crown?  No.  The crown is not of gold or silver, but of “life.” What does it look like to be crowned with life?  Doesn’t that sound awesome!?  Rather than simply envisioning a fragrant garland of flowers, I imagine a legacy of bringing life to others, hope, compassion, and the love of Jesus.  I picture Mother Teresa, Oskar Schindler, and more recently Gary Sinise.  What an incredible legacy – to have so many lives touched in potent and eternal ways.  That is the kind of crown that far exceeds anything created by precious metals and stones.  So how do we sum up this loaded short passage of Scripture?  Be joyful – content and at peace, with thankfulness – when you are tested.  Ask the Lord for wisdom as you confront the challenge, and remember the lessons learned from it.  Over time, you will become more steady, patient, confident and complete.  This transformation is not going to happen overnight, but it will happen if you keep your eyes focused on Jesus.

 

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The Path

So, I pulled up Bible Gateway this morning, and I see the verse of the day listed as Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 which reads, “This is what the Lord says – he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland’” (New International Version).  This sounds like an appropriate and motivational message to focus on for the New Year, right?

Part of the problem we have in western society is that we have developed an incredibly short attention span, and don’t read things in context.  We want bite-sized nuggets of wisdom that make us feel good for short periods of time.  We don’t bother to memorize anything or seek real wisdom because we can simply “Google it” when we forget.  Personally, I cringe every time I see those commercials where a dad is reading a bedtime story to his little girl and she asks him question after question about something in the book, but he doesn’t know, so he has to ask Siri.  If I were that kid, all that would teach me is that my dad doesn’t know anything and I should ask a robot instead.  But I digress…

If you read Isaiah 43 in its entirety, the Lord is indeed telling them to leave the past behind and look forward, but there are some critical details missing if you only extract the above segment.  First of all, God is speaking to Israel, America does not exist at this point in history.  Secondly, what was in the past that they need to forget?  The previous chapter explains that Israel has been blind and deaf and embroiled in war, but “did not understand…they did not take it to heart” (Is. 42:25).  Chapter 43 is not so much about trying to comfort Israel after-the-fact, but it is about reminding them of who God is – “I have redeemed you…I have summoned you by name…I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…I am with you…apart from me there is no savior…from the ancient days I am he.  No one can deliver out of my hand.  When I act, who can reverse it?”  As a parent, I’ve have a few conversations where I’ve reminded my children that I am in charge of the schedule, resources, and provisions.  And it is often a poignant reminder to me of where I’ve fallen short in my relationship with the Lord!  For example: Say that Kid D wants to get together with friends and tells them that she’ll be there on Saturday at 11am, but didn’t ask ahead of time, and I had somewhere else she needed to be that she’d forgotten about.  While she’s busy considering plans she wants to make, she’s not stopping to consider the bigger plan.  How often do I do the same thing to God?  I make plans and organize schedules for the four kids that we home-school, get people to and from soccer, tennis, gymnastics, taekwondo and teach a few classes a week all while working on my 2nd master’s degree.  Insane much?! Yep!  When carrying a lot of little things, they start to pile up to your eyeballs and then you can’t figure out which one to put down first without dropping the whole pile of stuff.  Just like my kids not putting the family schedule and my relationship with them first, I can get so wrapped up in my own business that I don’t stop to ask God about His plan!  People are self-consumed creatures that have to be reminded of their relationships and responsibilities to authority figures.

By taking this verse out of context, there is a third element missing: What is it that He is making new?  God explains that He has not placed harsh requirements or demands upon Israel, that He has protected and provided for them over and over.  Verses 14 through 28 illustrate God’s faithfulness, even though Israel has not been faithful in return to follow simple instructions.  Even though they have been dishonoring Him, they still burden Him with their sins and offenses.  Again, He demonstrates mercy and gives them another chance.  What is “new” is the understanding that Israel, and indeed the whole world, will gain at the coming redemption through Jesus.  All of Chapter 42 is a description of how to recognize the Deliverer when He comes!  Based upon the many foretellings of Jesus, He should have been easy enough to recognize. “Do you not perceive it?”  But we are blind and deaf even today!  The wilderness and wasteland may be literal in some cases, but here it is also a metaphor for the human heart.  God is not telling us to forget the lessons learned in 2016’s modern-day America, and look forward to health, wealth and prosperity in 2017!  He is telling us that whatever you owed for your past sins has been paid in full by Jesus, and that our “new” future is focused on Him as the tangible image of God!  You can move forward, and not dwell on the past, if you will focus your eyes upon Him.  You are not in charge of the schedule.  You are not capable of removing your own soul-blemishes.  You do not have the authority to pardon yourself.  Jesus does all of that.  The focus for 2017 is not about you “making a way in the wilderness,” but about learning the path that Jesus has already laid out.  And for some of us it also means putting our bundles down so that we can see that path clearly, hear His voice, and follow without turning back.

1/2 Marathon

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It was December 2010 and I had determined to cross “half-marathon” off of my bucket-list. With a house-full of kids, carving out time to train was exceptionally difficult, but I kept at it and trained up through about 7-8 miles.  I felt pretty good about my progress since my previous record was only a 5K, so race day came and I joined the hundreds of other runners on that frigid morning with great expectations.  The starting gun goes off and it takes another ten minutes to cross the starting line. The crowd opened up after a bit, and my pace increased. I passed my 5K record feeling great. Mile five and six were even enjoyable! Rounding out mile number seven, my left hip popped and soreness immediately threatened my course completion. By mile eight I was doing that funny looking limp-run-walk where you pull the arms up tighter to give yourself and others the impression that you are actually moving faster than you are. By mile nine, I was numb, but still walking.  My mp3 player had recycled the same set of songs at least three times, so they were now far more annoying than motivating. All the blood in my body had migrated to my lower extremities, which were pulsating and heavy. By mile eleven, I was ready to call an ambulance. After all, my husband had stayed home with the kids and I had no one waiting to cheer me on at the finish line. No one would know if I gave up except for me. Could I handle giving up? How disappointed would I really be in myself? I was debating whether or not I would really follow through with making a “maybe sometime in the future” second attempt, when I noticed that even the sound of my labored breathing was like fingernails against a chalkboard, and there was no water station anywhere in sight. When I thought I couldn’t go another step, I hear a voice on my left, “Hangin’ in there?” “Barely,” I confessed.  She admitted that it would be nice to have someone to talk to on the final stretch. Tired and sore we made it through the last two miles. When I looked up and saw the finish line, I nearly cried with joy. She turned to me and said, “Finish strong?” Neither of us was certain whether it was a question or a command, but I replied, “definitely!” We burned up the last ounces of energy we had picking up the pace, and to this day I don’t know what my time was when I crossed the finish line. I wouldn’t have been able to meet my goal that day had it not been for her. She could have done what every other runner did, and just pass me by. She could have passed judgment on my inadequate training or simply kept quiet. By speaking up and coming along side me, her encouragement made all the difference. I haven’t done any half marathons since then, but in considering life as a race, I strive to take her example into every relationship and to help others finish strong.  So hang in there.  God’s not done with you yet.

Unlovable People (Like Me)

IMG_5180I have often told my children, “Don’t expect people who don’t know the Lord to act as if they do.” People that know the Lord have a hard enough time acting appropriately as His ambassadors. It makes it far easier to be loving toward others when we’re not focused on their actions as being prerequisite to our willingness to extend grace. After all, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While it’s been relatively easy for me to teach this lesson to my children, and to live it out generally myself, God has found someone to test me in this. There is a member of my family that knows all the right things to say regarding faith and was brought up in church, yet has no understanding or interest in what it means to follow Jesus as Lord. I have never encountered an individual that is more self-centered, inconsiderate, and all-around toxic than this particular person. At Bible study, the question was asked, “What distinguishes a “good person’ from a Christian in the eyes of unbelievers? Is there any difference?” The difference is Jesus, but what does that look like? First of all, Christians are not perfect – let’s just address that myth right now. We are hypocrites, broken, disturbed, incomplete people in need of spiritual guidance, and love – the same as everyone else. The difference is that we follow Jesus because He knows how to take care of all those ailments. Not all hurts will disappear this side of heaven just because we begin following Him either – we still live with the consequences of sin, our own and others. But He shows us how to live and grow and love in the middle of the struggles. And today, He’s working on me.

I was self-centered, but He loved me selflessly.

I was concerned with personal gain, but He gave to me without restraint.

I was consumed with my busy schedule, but He pencils me in without appointment.

I made mess after mess, and He cleaned them up for me.

I was ignorant of His presence, but He knew right where I was.

I tried to ignore Him, to run, but He stayed right by my side.

I was harsh and irritable, but He is patient and gentle.

I asked Him why He’s so willing to deal with fools (temporarily forgetting my place), and

He reminded me, “I get the last word.”

“Lord, help me to love this unlovable person the same way that you’ve loved me. Help me to extend grace in the face of indignant arrogance. Teach me to give with no thought of return. Help me to forgive foolishness the same way you’ve forgiven mine. You willingly went to the cross, were beaten and bruised to carry a punishment that I deserved. Then you looked down from that cross as I sat there in judgment, and said, ‘Forgive her, Father. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.’ You paid a debt that was too mountainous for me to bear or repay. You stood before the Great Judge as my Advocate and offered to pay my bail. Help me to love like that. Help me to serve like that. Help me to extend mercy where it is anything but deserved, because You did that for me. I need Your strength, Lord – Your compassion.”

Yours eternally,

Rebecca

In the Middle of the Storm

178294-e7dd0b80-12d9-11e4-9633-5d2eb5bc90d6In the Middle of the Storm – You are there

When the Wind is a Gale – You keep me grounded

When Debris wounds my Spirit – You sustain me

When I can’t Catch my Breath – You fill me up

When I can’t see my way through – You can

When all seems lost – There You find me

When I can’t hold on – You take my hand

When my song is a whimper – You give it life

When my Endurance fails – You are my champion

In the Middle of the Storm – You are there

You hold me close

You are my strength

You are my Advocate and Judge

You are my Father and my King

Lord, Jesus, I will praise You always

Through the tears – I will praise You

Though bruised and battered – I will lift up Your Name

You are more magnificent than the greatest tempest

And Only You can calm the Storm

In the meantime, Stay with Your student and be my Teacher