Idols Crashing Down

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In Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts, she talks about giving thanks for all things.  She spends most of the book focusing on gratitude for the small things like the moon and flowers and chocolate, but she includes the exhortation that is is necessary to give thanks even for tough circumstances.  She calls this hard eucharisteo.  It is hard to give thanks for the tough things.  How do we give thanks for a chronically sick child or a dying friend or financial devastation?  How do we go about actually feeling gratitude for those things?  Voskamp suggests that we begin with the words and the feelings will follow.  Gratitude opens our eyes to good.

If you are struggling to be thankful for hard circumstances, start by thanking God for the fruit.  When God brings you something that you do not like, something hard, we know that it is for our good.  As we thank Him for our circumstances, our eyes are opened to fruit in us that He is using this hardship to grow.  Pruning, although painful, produces a generous harvest.  But you may still struggle to see the fruit because it takes time to grow.  If you struggle to see fruit, give thanks for the idols that you see crashing down. I have often found my hardships to be perfectly aimed at my own personal idols.  I have found that God brings hardship to the area of my life which I have started to love more than Him.  The hardship tears my idols apart, until only God is left to bring me joy.

Before I had children, I loved saying yes to everything.  I loved being involved with every event that I could, I loved running events, I loved being involved with my church and school.  If there was something to sign up for, my name was on the list.  While this is not a sin, I began to make an idol out of it.  I found so much self-gratification out of serving the community this way, that it drove many of my decisions and even friendships.  I took great pride in being dependable.  Then God gave me a baby that needed more from me than I had imagined.  I found that it was nearly impossible to commit to anything.  I was home most of the time trying to figure out nap schedules and nursing and swaddling and how to comfort a colicky baby.  I was lonely.  I felt like I was not doing anything worthwhile because nobody could see anything I was doing.  God took my idols of “community involvement” and “people pleasing” and smashed them.  I had to look to Him for joy and value.

Seasons of life bring their own unique challenges and hardships.  We can welcome the hardships because we know that God uses hardships like a sword, tearing down all the things that stand between us and Him.  Give thanks for all the things that are falling.  Maybe you have are gifted athletically, but you have an injury that will take months to heal.  Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol out of fitness.  Maybe you have always wanted to be married, but the circumstances have not worked out that way yet.  Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol out of marriage.  Maybe you excel in hospitality, but chronic illness is keeping you from opening your home.  Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol our of hospitality.  Maybe you extremely talented in your field of work, but babies or aging parents are requiring you to spend more time at home.  Give thanks that God will not let you make an idol out of work.

 It is not uncommon for the Lord to test us on the things we love the most.  When He asked Abraham for the life of his son, He wanted to see Abraham’s devotion to Him.  God wanted to see that Abraham loved Him with his whole heart.  God wanted Abraham to see that he loved Him with his whole heart.  When you are asked to lay your most prized possession on an altar, prepare to see all your idols crashing down around you.  No matter how much joy they may bring you, when your idols crash you find that God is your only comfort, and that is the sweetest place to be.

Suffering for a little while

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire, may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ:. (1 Peter 1:3-7)

I have had this verse scribbled on the white board in my kitchen for a month, and I have read it at least 100 times as I scrub dishes and chop vegetables and brown meat and roll out biscuits.  I always stop at verse 6, “…though for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief and manifold trials…”  Peter is still in the middle of his greeting, but he is packing in a lot of information about trials in that little statement.  First of all, trials are “for a little while”.  He is saying that we have this great inheritance that can never fade, that is eternal, and the griefs and trials are actually the short chapter of the story.  Second, he says that we will have trials “if need be”.  This means that God will not send us a trial unless it is necessary .  Necessary for what?  For our glory!  The next verse Peter says that after we have endured various trails we will be “found unto praise and glory and honor”.  God will not allow a trial to come to us unless He intends to use it for our glory.  Our various hardships that we walk through are directly correlated to glory at the revelation of Jesus.

This is hard to understand because it is hard to see.  Sometimes see now how our struggles and trials strengthen our faith, and a greater faith will bring a greater glory.  When we walk through a valley we always learn something new, and when we come out the other side still singing God’s praises, we can see how His hand of goodness was guiding us the whole time.  We learn to trust Him in new ways.  We can see these things.  But I don’t think we can fully comprehend what it means that God will use these trials to bring us glory.  That is the conversation of Job.  He never was given a reason why he had to endure so much pain, but he learned to trust that God had something far bigger going on than he could comprehend.

For about two years I suffered from severe back and hip pain.  I sought help from a chiropractor, but the treatment that she gave me only made the problem worse to the point where it was painful to take even one step.  That is not to say that I stopped taking steps, but that most of my days for a couple of years were riddled with pain.  This seemed so frustrating to me at the time, especially with toddlers running around.  I wanted my health so that I could do good things.  I wanted to be able to move without pain so I could take care of my home and my children, so I could carry my chubby toddler without wincing.  But that was not the good work that God wanted to give me.  He wanted to give me greater glory, and greater glory meant that I had to walk through a physically painful and emotionally frustrating battle.  I don’t understand the glory.  I don’t see the full glory (except for the fact that I am far more thankful now for pain-free days).  But that’s what faith is all about.  Faith is believing in things hoped for.  Faith is being thankful for the trials because we believe that walking through them will bring greater glory when Jesus is revealed.

Many trials in our lives are like that – we don’t understand why they happen.  We have a hard time seeing the good that came of it.  There are some hard things I have had to do in my life that I still have not seen the good that God promises. (There are also many more hard things that I have seen almost immediate fruit from). But Peter tells us that when we walk through these hardships in faith, He turns our suffering into glory for us.  And that is where my comfort is.  He will not give me a trial unless it is necessary to give me great glory in the future.  These trials are short in comparison to the eternity of joy with God.

He will also not give others trials without turning them into glory.  We see friends suffer and suffer again and we pray for their relief and comfort.  We try to come up with words that will comfort them.  Our encouragement is often awkward.  We think of tangible comforts like “If you hadn’t lost your job, you wouldn’t have moved to this great new city.” Or “If you hadn’t struggled with your health, you wouldn’t be such a thankful person.”  Peter doesn’t say that we walk though trials to bring us to a point of satisfaction with our life, he says it is to bring glory and honor!    So many times there is no visible comfort to grief and loss, and it is audacious of us to try to find the “good end” in someone else’s story.  Maybe they will see how the Lord has worked this trial for good in their life, and maybe they will spend their days not knowing why they were afflicted.  The comfort isn’t always in what we see now, the comfort is in what we can’t see, the glory that is to come.  That is how we can echo the refrain of James and find joy and gratitude in the middle of various trials, seeing some of the fruit that these trials bring now, but keeping our eyes always fixed ahead.

 

 

 

 

Preachin’ to myself today…

“Be content with such things as you have, for the Lord has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” Hebrews 13:5

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Be content.  It’s a common slogan of advice given out by Christians, often applied to the size of our house or the year of our car or the color of our hair.  Be content with your paycheck.  Be content with your marital status.  Be content with your weight.  Why?

Be content.

Why? Because Christians shouldn’t store up treasure on this earth?

Be content.

Why? Because God is sovereign?

Be content.

Why? Because I can not loose my salvation?

Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon “Jacob’s Waking Exclamation” from July 21, 1861 said (quoting the 23rd Psalm) “‘Yea though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me’  Is the twenty-third Psalm the song of your faith? Have you consciously thought of God standing with you? Then it would not be so difficult to perceive the presence of God.  You will view it as so real that when you open your eyes in the morning you will look to Him in praise.  When you close them at night, it will be like resting under the shadow of His wings. How I wish we could get back to the spirit of the old Puritans who believed in a present God always…Oh to feel God everywhere in the little as well as in the great, in our rising up and in our sitting down, in our going forth and in our coming in.”

God will never leave you nor forsake you, that is why we are to be content.

Be content…because the Lord will never leave you, not today, in this moment, right here, with your unpaid bills and your headache and your graying hair.

God is standing with you when you open your weather app first thing in the morning.  He chose the clouds.  Be content.

God is standing with you when you are late and the traffic is heavy.  He gave you the traffic.  Be content.

God is standing with you when your hands are full of a crying baby and your toddler dumps her smoothie on the carpet and your phone is ringing and your other child is yelling for help from the bathroom.  He loves those children.  And He loves you. Be content. He is there.

God is standing with you when your churning head collapses on your pillow and all your regrets cloud your heart.  He wrote your story today and yesterday.  Be content.  He was there.

Our contentment is not only in cosmic faith, it is not only because ultimately, in the long run, everything will be ok. Our joy is that God is present with us now.  Our contentment is the peace that He is standing with us in our darkest valleys and on our brightest hilltops.

Be content, your Lord who loves you is standing by your side every moment of every day.  He pours blessings like rain on all your hours.  He can see your troubles.  He is watching.  He is planning your way of escape.  Be content.  Pass this test.  Move to the next one.  Victory to victory.

Joy Like Cake

Cancer is a slow cooker. It is a refinery for emotions and relationships.  My mother has been battling Cancer for almost 10 years. Its stress by far was and is one of the greatest trials and tribulation of my family’s life.

Growth in this trial was not voluntary. This was not a green pasture we wanted lay down in.  However, my mother’s and father’s gift from God was faithfulness, which has produced a joy. As of late there has been a joy at the home which was always there but this current joy contains a weight. There is joy that is light like frosting and then there is a joy heavy like cake.

My youngest sister was wedded this summer. My wife and I had our second daughter. My sister and husband had their third child- the first grandson. We have moved, my sister’s have moved, my brothers have moved, and my mother and father have stayed.

My mother and my father are not alone for there still stays a joy. This joy I am sure will continue to build and create over the next ten years another joy. A heavier joy. I look forward to what is cooking.