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Pains that Come from God

Brother Lawrence, who wrote a marvelous book on Christian spirituality called The Practice of the Presence of God, suggested: “When pains come from God, he only can cure them. He often sends diseases of the body to cure those of the soul.”

To our ears, what a strange idea! God doesn’t send pains of any kind. To our thinking, the Lord is a good and wonderful being who wants nothing but the things that make us happy. Baloney! God wants what is best for us, and nothing less, ever. What is best is seldom painless.

Pain is part of every good thing we do. When we want to learn a new skill, language, or hobby, we go to great pains to study the subject thoroughly, and we enjoy every minute of the labor involved. We discover new aspects of the subject when we fail, and we repeat what broke down with modification until we master the knowledge we set out to acquire. A painful but necessary experience.

God sends us pain in other ways. When we discover in our devotional time that we’ve been far from patient, we set out to master this virtue. Learning to be patient is a pain! We have to put up with slipshod workmanship from others or ourselves. We have to tolerate accidents, delays, failures. We have to bear with so much that we don’t like or enjoy in order to be trained in patience.

Diseases are often part of God’s lessons in life. The reason you’re struggling with cancer is not that your body was invaded by a microbe or disturbed by an improper habit. You combat cancer and its pains so that you will learn the spiritual lesson you haven’t learned in less harsh ways. You’re finally still enough that God’s Spirit can teach you to surrender yourself wholeheartedly to him. Brother Lawrence was right. God frequently allows us to experience a disease so that our souls might benefit.

You see, we humans think that long living is good living, but this isn’t true. To live a long life means we must put up with agony of one sort or another for a lengthier time. Neither the quantity nor the quality of life makes life meaningful. The meaning in life comes from your relationship with God, and to develop the relationship the Lord wants with you may require him to inflict pain, just as a parent disciplines a child properly in order to create an adult who will always appreciate what he or she learned while growing up at home. Taking out the garbage or cleaning up your room may have been a bothersome chore, a pain, but it taught you habits of cleanliness that make life better.

Jesus Christ is the great physician, the one who will heal, but the healing is sometimes accompanied by pain. Don’t shy away from the agonies of life. Embrace them as gifts from God, and study them for the lessons God has for you. Pain is a scalpel in the healer’s hand, and he uses it skillfully to remove everything that harms your relationship with him.

 

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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Meaningless Effort

The days in which we now live go in circles, don’t they? Whirling tornadoes of activity. A person labors for a good life. People pour themselves into buying a home, raising children, belonging to groups of good friends, supporting a better community, doing all sorts of positive things. Yet all their labor seems to amount to well-meant but meaningless effort. It’s undone in an instant.

Look at the emptiness all around us. Every morning the news tells us about someone who was so desperate she robbed a bank or he raped a woman. The offspring from not only the ghetto shoot each other over nothing but also those of the middle class home shoot schoolmates. The world isn’t going to hell in a hand basket. It’s already there! A parent’s hope and dream for a child is destroyed, by the child’s own action, or someone else’s infantile deed.

Look at the emptiness. The excitement of so-called reality shows is artificial, unreal, yet they are popular evening viewing. People who seek meaningful relationships keep looking for them in one bar after another, and seldom find their “soulmate.” A lay-off at work is followed by arguments over money at home until home life is under-appreciated. Politicians spout the same causes as in the last election without the admission that nothing was done to improve on the problems, except to make them worse. The whirling circles of life spin the mind and heart until we are disoriented.

How can human effort become meaningful?

Write a self-improvement book. Develop labor saving products. Enter medical school. Clean up university locker rooms. On and on, we could list positive, life-affirming actions that people take. I admit that doing good works will improve the world. Something edifying always builds instead of tears down. Yet these actions don’t change much, don’t make permanent improvements in the world as a whole. A little good is better than no good, I suppose.

But how can human effort become meaningful for all time?

Only by improving the human being. And this takes a divine hand together with a surrendered heart. God must act to remake the human being, and the human being must cooperate through surrender. This happens every day. People finally realize all their efforts are meaningless, because they are mis-directed. So they give up in a positive sense. They give up to the Lord. They surrender their souls to Jesus Christ, whose Spirit has been prodding them for years to drop their guard and dare to believe. When they surrender, God is able to put new meaning where emptiness used to be. He is able to re-create the surrendered heart and make it consistently good. The divine effort and human effort then combine to remake the world. Even this is not a complete re-manufacturing of a broken world into a good one. There has to be an end made of the vain world, and this God alone can do and plans to do. For the moment, those who find Christ also find an abundant life that’s worth the effort.

 

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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God and Evil, and Human Beings

A blog I recently read made the point that evil is the absence of God. I responded to it, and I thought I’d also share my answer in this blog. So here it is…

Evil as an absence of God. This is certainly true. But the presence of God would also be the absence of evil. The two thoughts in tandem explain why human free will is so risky. By acting in an evil fashion, a human takes himself out of the presence of God. He is too holy to tolerate evil in his presence. However, does choosing good automatically bring a person into the presence of God? Perhaps not. It at least allows God an opportunity to admit the human being to his presence, but something more appears to be required: a cleansing. The evil that was chosen must be purged, because it has left a mark upon the human soul. Christ enters to provide this cleansing, along with the Holy Spirit to help maintain the purity and expand it throughout the whole human character. This is a signal of the sovereignty of God. By his trinitarian actions, he restores the human to relationship with himself and makes possible a consistent choosing of the good. Yet this work of deity is not completed until a period beyond human time-bound experience. Until then, we continue to struggle with good and evil.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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Immersed in Words

None of us escapes being immersed in words. From the time your ears hear their first sounds until the final syllables you think, words are building blocks or stumbling blocks in your life. They articulate your happiness and define your chagrin. Words overlap all around you, a cacophony of personal shouts and whispers mingled with voices of loved ones, strangers, neighbors, and God.

Sometimes you’re so overwhelmed by verbiage, you seek silence, but even in secluded places with only the songs of birds and squirrels for company, language intrudes before you notice. Your mind starts a conversation that trips you up or directs you into new knowledge. Vocabulary is friend and foe, but always words are present. They’re the essence of your humanity. Almost without willing it to happen, human beings express themselves.

Not all the words in your life can be your own. Others have words you need to hear. What’s said may or may not be to your liking, and how the thoughts of others are couched may not suit your taste. You’d speak the thoughts differently, with less vehemence or more compassion. You’d stress different points, but regardless of how or why or where or when someone else’s words are delivered to you, an overarching obligation presses on you—the need to listen.

Words are spoken for a purpose. The speaker wishes to communicate with you. The information might be important, exciting, life-changing, hateful or boring. Yet you should listen. Words are the stuff of human existence. From the words that bubble around you comes the focus of your daily activities. Thus you must listen.

Those who don’t hear are soon devoid of friends or isolated from meaningful encounters. Life becomes humdrum, and the non-listening person slips into a mental, emotional, or spiritual coma. Words swim around, but they don’t make sense. They float in a rolling, dark emptiness. The person being addressed isn’t listening, isn’t awake.

Where’s this rambling headed? To the word of God. The Bible. If it should happen to be true that the words of scripture are God’s words to humanity, shouldn’t you and I listen carefully?

Below the surface of my Christian faith, the word of God rests as a major stone in the foundation. Without its presence the whole structure of my life would be immeasurably weakened. Through long experience reading, studying, and wrestling with the Bible, I’ve seen how precious its pages are. The words pouring from scripture immerse my mind and heart in God’s thoughts. He speaks to me! He doesn’t speak to me because I’m a saint or even a good person. God speaks to me through his word because he loves me.

His conversation is intended to be heard by everybody. He loves each human who reads his message. He loves those who ignore a holy book with ancient names they find hard to pronounce and so refuse to read. At the root of all the words God utters to humanity is his love for each person.

God wants us to know what’s in his mind and heart as well as our own. So he immersed us in words.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Why I Like Winter

Is winter ever mentioned in the bible? This question came to me. So I looked up the word winter in my Bible. In the New International Version, it occurs only seventeen times. God promised Noah, after the flood, that as long as the earth endured, he’d be certain to send humanity seedtime and harvest. He’d give us times of cold and heat, the seasons of summer and winter. Even day and night would never stop happening. (See Genesis 8:22.) Isn’t wonderful that we can count on the seasons to turn every year? It’s a sign of the Lord’s commitment to us.

The ancient poet who wrote Psalm 74 also considered how God watches over humanity:

          It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.
                                                              Psalm 74:17 (NIV)

The psalmist praised God’s creativity, especially as it related to the seasons. The Lord made summer and winter.

And this is one reason I live in the northeastern United States. I love my seasons! One of my daughters has lived in Arizona for most of her adult life, and I love to visit her any time of year. But I’d rather live where frequently in winter the snow falls and the winds blow cold. (I know Arizona gets snow sometimes, but not often enough for me.)

With the ancient poet, I rejoice in God’s creativity.

When God was angry with Israel for its sinfulness, the seasons figured into the background. Through the prophet Amos the Almighty said:

           I will tear down the winter house
               along with the summer house;
           the houses adorned with ivory will be destroyed
               and the mansions will be demolished,”
                                          
declares the Lord.
                                                      Amos 3:15 (NIV)

Owning a summer and a winter house was a sign of the luxury in which many Israelites lived, but when they forgot God, they’d have to surrender their summer and winter luxuries—a warning about the season of wrath and judgment. Even Jesus used winter as a warning of impending disaster. Speaking about the end times, the Savior said, “Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath” (Mt. 24:20, NIV).

I have no idea where these thoughts are leading, except to say that winter is a gauge for human spiritual vitality, just as much as it’s a sign that changes come. In winter, one day may be dreary or rainy, snowy or sunny. The only sure thing is that tomorrow will be different. Winter weather is difficult to predict. And so is life…and judgment…and much more.

Winter teaches me to trust God better, and to be prepared for the day of judgment by the goodness of my life now.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Temptation

G. Campbell Morgan wrote about the nature of temptation: “As to the purpose and method of Satan, his first purpose is to lure man into some position outside the will of God. His method is that of appealing to something perfectly lawful in itself, but suggesting that it should be satisfied by an unlawful method.”

 
 

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Have you read Nahum lately?

Nahum 1:1-3:19

Have you read Nahum lately? He’s another of the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament who dealt with Nineveh, but his obedience was quicker than Jonah’s answer to God’s call. Nahum is regarded by some scholars as a sequel to Jonah. The Ninevites repented when Jonah preached, but their turn around was temporary. Years later, God raised up Nahum to condemn them and announce their doom.

Other scholars see Jonah as more of a short-story that deals with what God would do if Nineveh, Israel’s enemy, repented. It’s meant to explain the merciful nature of God. His grace reaches even people we hate. But Nahum’s prophecy is considered more realistic for the historical times. He proclaimed Nineveh’s end which was caused by its persecution of God’s people and others in the ancient world.

It seems to me that we need to separate the two prophets in our minds as well as in history. Jonah does have the character of a good story about a moral truth as opposed to a report of an historical, literal event. Nahum is a prophetic message in line with the rest of the Old Testament prophetic writings. His message both condemned the Assyrians (Nineveh was their capital city), and consoled the Israelites who suffered much at their hands.

In chapter one of his prophecy, Nahum expresses the vengeful nature of God. “The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nah. 1:3, NIV). God is mightier than the forces of nature. A nation that is ruthless toward its neighbors, conquering them as Assyria had done, will experience his wrath.

In chapter two, Nahum narrates the coming siege of Nineveh. The city gates will be overrun. “Nineveh is like a pool whose water is draining away” (Nah. 2:8a, NIV). No one can stop her from being pillaged. The Almighty Lord is opposed to Assyria and her conquest. He will repay her plundering of other nations by plundering her.

In chapter three,  Nahum decries Nineveh as a “city of blood” and announces God’s unchangeable decree. The city will die. “‘I am against you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame’” (Nah.3:5, NIV). Nineveh could not be cured; she has been injured fatally.

Nahum presents God as an unstoppable terror to sinners. Those who treat their fellow human beings tragically will come to a tragic end themselves. This is not a book of grace, but wrath and judgment. Why? Because the Lord, despite his willingness to forgive, cannot forgive sin that continues and overwhelms with no genuine repentance on the part of people.

Is this a book for Christians? Definitely, it is written for any and all who wish to deal with God as he is, rather than as they wish him to be. God is holy and righteous. He cannot tolerate evil, and he will punish those who perpetrate evil on the earth. Sin is a genuine experience among humans, and God must eradicate it from our characters. For Christians, Peter spelled out an judgment’s reality: “…it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pt. 4:17, NIV).

Our judgment is  tempered by grace. Can you imagine what it would be like to meet the just Judge of humanity without grace to buffer his harshness? Nahum will teach you.

 

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Behind the Bible...

 

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