Stranded…Again!

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Driving down the road in the first big snow storm of the season, my oldest son says, “Hey Dad, I hope we don’t get stuck in the snow like last year.” To which I replied, “Well, if we do, let’s make sure we all handle it better than we did that time.” The incident he’s referring to was quite memorable -especially to small children-, but certainly not a highlight from my career as their role model and not one of our better moments as a family. We were driving in a snow storm and chose to drive up the steepest hill I’m aware of anywhere near where we live. And we had bald tires because I’m also not so great at the whole vehicle maintenance thing. Needless to say, we didn’t make it very far and ended up stranded part way up with children whining and mom and dad not so politely or quietly blaming each other for the predicament. As I said, not our finest hour. So, when I replied to my son that we should all do better, it was a sincere desire as well as a reasonable goal, but certainly not anything I wanted to test out in the near future.

However, fast forward a matter of minutes and we are once again stranded on a snowy road discussing our options for getting home. The situations were very similar, yet wonder of wonders, we did indeed all respond quite differently. Certainly I was frustrated that the vehicle was in all likelihood totally shot and my wife had her suspicions that I could have done something about it and the kids definitely were uncomfortable. Just like before. But unlike “last time” there was no whining, complaining, yelling, screaming or blaming. (And the kids did well, too.) There was laughing, joking, calm conversation about God’s plan and provision and even some prayer. After a good Samaritan stopping to help and a phone call to some great friends who came to our rescue, we finally made home. All in all, a good night.

We certainly aren’t perfect and probably didn’t pass with flying colors, but we responded better this time than last. And in this crazy journey of life, that’s a victory! Now, I’m not saying we didn’t feel discouraged and that we weren’t a little bit curious about how God would provide. Difficulties like this, though a fairly routine part of life, can certainly be frustrating. However, they can also be a reminder of God’s great love and mercy. You see, He didn’t give up on us when we failed miserably at responding to difficulty. He provided for us anyway. He loved us anyway. He gave us many opportunities to grow our faith. He showered us with His forgiveness and mercy and loving kindness for an entire year and then put us in a very similar situation to the one in which we failed so that we could see the product of all His hard work in us.

As you face whatever rough patches come your way, I encourage you to look for what you can learn and for how you can improve. Accept God’s forgiveness for whatever shortcomings you find and praise Him for His grace and mercy. Let go of the failings of yesterday and embrace the small successes that God brings your way. And most of all, trust His goodness even when you find yourself stranded for a little while.

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Peace in the Storm

1024px-Storm_in_pacifica_6 Peace! It’s a simple word and an attractive ideal, but it often proves to be an elusive reality. In a world filled with trials and struggles of all kinds and magnitudes, it is easy to view peace as a state that replaces those negative circumstances. In other words, we often live in the assumption that we can have peace after this trial, after this illness, after this struggle. I was recently reminded, however, that this is not biblical peace.

The reminder came through a sermon about Jesus calming the storm for his disciples. The story is a familiar one, but my attention was grabbed by the question Jesus asked afterward: “where is your faith?” In thinking about that question, I realized that Jesus really performed this miracle as a concession to their lack of faith. While we take great comfort from His ability to calm the storm, He was actually disappointed that it was necessary. Jesus’ desire for his disciples was that they would trust Him through the storm, not beg Him to end it! As John Ortberg says, they needed to learn that “peace doesn’t come from finding a lake with no storms. It comes from having Jesus in the boat.”

That, in essence, is biblical peace. Peace is not the absence of trial, struggle or illness. Peace is the calm composure of one who is resting in God despite troubles and difficulties. One of the great and marvelous blessings of being a child of God it that we can have peace during the storm. Though you may be tempted to look forward to having peace once our storm has passed, I challenge you to trust in God and experience His peace right now.

Photo By Brocken Inaglory (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Singing in the Pain

A brief glance at headlines these days can be a little disturbing. You will read of devastating earthquakes, riots, terrorist attacks, plan crashes, political scandal, social controversy and much more. Given the fact that these events always impact believers in one way or another, I have given a great deal of consideration lately to this issue of trials in the believers’ life.

One story the Lord has used to address this issue in my life is found in Acts 16:25-34. Paul and Silas had been arrested, beaten and thrown in jail for casting a demon out of a slave girl. Their response reveals two important truths about the way we should understand trials in our lives.

  •  Suffering is an opportunity for worship. The Bible records their response this way: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises to God, while the other prisoners listened.” It is dangerously easy to miss the simple power of what this story actually reveals about these men. They had been beaten. They were in jail. And they were praying and singing! Rather than feel sorry for themselves or try to fix their problem, they just worshiped.
  • Blessing is an opportunity for service. When God did deliver them, they didn’t high tail it out of there. They weren’t thinking only of themselves. No, they turned to the jailer – one of their persecutors- and had pity on him. They saved his life physically, and then shared the gospel with him. Paul knew nothing of the kind of Christianity that looks out for one’s own comforts and conveniences first. His priority was sharing the Gospel and he took every opportunity to do so.

I am convinced that for most Christians, a biblical understanding of trials will require a changed perspective on life in general. We must begin to see both our problems and blessings as opportunities to worship and serve others. If we continue to see life as all about “me,” trials will always be a frustration. God has a better plan. He wants me to look away from myself and turn my attention to Him and to others. This new perspective can keep any believer singing through their pain.

God’s Plan for Suffering

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“I love it when a plan comes together!” If you’re a fan of classic 80’s TV, then you recognize this common catchphrase from Hannibal Smith, the leader of the A-Team. If you ever watched the show, you also know that it never seemed like anything was going as planned. Each episode was filled with chaos and improvisation, yet in the end the good guys always won and the bad guys lost – the plan indeed came together.

I bring up this little bit of TV nostalgia because it reminds me of an important truth every believer should remember: God has a plan even when it doesn’t seem like it. One specific way this truth plays out frequently is in suffering. As we face hardships in our lives we may be tempted to view them as accidental or senseless, but we must remember that our suffering is not something that slips by God or is out of His control. On the contrary, God has a good plan for our suffering. The Bible is filled with affirmations of this truth, but one clear passage is 1 Peter 1:6-7: “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Notice how Peter says “necessary” in v 6 and “so that” in v 7. Isn’t it comforting to know that God is sovereignly working for your benefit even in suffering? We may not know all of the details, but Peter does share with us some of the plans God has for suffering in the lives of believers. Let me briefly summarize them for you:

  • Purification of our faith (1:7). Trials force us to evaluate our faith and can produce in us a more pure faith.
  • Strengthening our relationship to Him (8). Trials can increase our love for and dependence on Jesus.
  • Developing our holiness (1:15). Suffering is an opportunity to stretch spiritually. We can act on the holiness we have, producing a holiness that will show up in all areas of life.
  • Manifesting His love through you (1:22). God wants you to use your suffering to love other people. Suffering can be seen as a new tool for showing God’s love to others.
  • Increasing our appetite for His Word (1:24-2:2). Suffering can create in us a new and fresh desire for Scripture. God wants us to turn to His Word for satisfaction, comfort, wisdom and guidance and trials are often necessary to drive us there.

I suspect that in every trial I face, God has at least one of these purposes in mind for me. We may not know the entire picture, but it is a tremendous comfort to know that in the midst of the chaos of life, God has a plan. One day it will all “come together” in a way that is both for my benefit and God’s glory.