Living From Abundance

1 Thessalonians 2

Most of us go through life working hard, trying to get ahead.  We all define “getting ahead” differently.  Some strive for money, others look for more time, we even throw family into the mix.  We think that having more of this one thing will give us the life we dream of.  We think it will bring us abundance.  Sadly, it never comes.  In fact, the harder we chase it, the more elusive it becomes.  For example, our toil for more money never reaches abundance.  John D. Rockefeller confirmed it.  When asked, “how much is enough?”  He replied, “just one dollar more.”   The Apostle Paul, however, knew better.   Simply said, Paul worked out of his abundance, not for abundance.

In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul tells us how he works from abundance.  To start, he reminds us of his terrible sufferings and mistreatment.  How can that be abundance?  Obviously, Paul’s definition of abundance did not look like ours.  His definition sounds more like righteousness.  Now before you check out because you are not righteous, consider this.  Paul references the righteousness of Abraham in Romans 4:21.  He says that Abraham was granted it by having “no unbelief to make him waiver concerning the promise of God” and that he was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”  The result was righteousness.  Paul shared in God’s righteousness as well.  This righteousness is exactly what allows him to live abundantly in any situation.

When we are fully convinced, like Abraham and Paul that God is able to do everything he promises, we too will be able to live from abundance.  In fact, Jesus promises it specifically in John 10:10.  Like Paul, when we live in abundance, no adversity, no pain, no suffering or mistreatment will ever discourage or destroys us.

 

Is It Worth It?

2 Corinthians 11

What can I physically and emotionally endure? How much pain, stress, and anguish can I take? Well, probably not as much as Paul. He states in this chapter five times he received thirty-nine lashes by the Jews. Three times he was beaten with rods. He tells us here he was stoned which we remember from Acts 14. Stoning is intended to kill a person. Three times he was lost at sea and shipwrecked. He references threats from both his own people, the Jews, as well as the Gentiles, the Romans.

Let’s stop and reflect on that for a second. The two dominant groups at the time were the Romans who wanted to kill Christians for denouncing that Caesar was God and Jews who wanted to persecute Christians as well because they did not believe Jesus was the true Messiah. Both wanted Paul dead. He also references danger from the wilderness, hunger, thirst, the cold, and not to mention false brothers here. Whew! Quite the list!

Let’s revert to Acts 14 where Paul was stoned in Lystra for a moment. They dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead (Acts 14:19). He was not though, and we are told by Luke here in Acts that not only did he get up and go to Derbe to preach the next day, but when he was done there he went back to Lystra where he was just stoned! We are told in Acts 14:22 he was “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

I recently finished a great book which I highly recommend called What Is God Really Like? Each chapter is written by an all-star team of pastors. One pastor gives an analogy by asking the question whether you would tell a surgeon operating on a loved one to save their life to hurry up? I don’t know what you are going through right now, and it may be something very terrible and for that I am extremely empathetic and sympathetic so I hope this is not taken the wrong way. But, whatever pain and anguish Satan is causing you (because it is not God..see Romans 8:1), God is using that which Satan thinks is for his glory to positively shape your heart and soul into the person he wants you to become and to impact those around you. He is performing a delicate surgery in just the right amount of time to make it a perfect and successful one. Although God may not reveal the answer now or even in this lifetime, we must ask ourselves what God may be wanting to do in our lives and the lives of those around us through this to reveal his glory?  Let’s learn from Paul. Would you be ok with your present or future suffering if through it you could help just one person know Jesus and have eternal life in Heaven? If not one, what about ten people…or one thousand… or maybe even ten thousand people?

God is the supreme potter. He is shaping what looks like a mess of sloppy clay which is your life into his masterpiece. Have you ever looked at the backside of a beautifully crocheted piece? It looks like a huge jumbled mess with colors in the wrong places and different size strands hanging off of it everywhere. This is how we see our lives and how Satan wants us to see it. Flip over that crocheted piece, and what do you see? Again, it is a perfect picture, a masterpiece. THAT is what God sees because he sees our entire life and the lives of those around us.

Ultimately, all we can do in tough times is go back to the only truth that exists and that is the Word. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose.”  I don’t know what pain and suffering I, or you, may go through in this life and quite frankly I don’t want to think about it. Jesus tells us not to worry about it (Matthew 6:34). But, I know one thing, my life here on Earth of somewhere between 33 and hopefully 80 to 100 years is like one grain of sand amongst all the beaches of the Earth when compared to the length of eternity. Romans 8:18 tells us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” A week ago we read 2 Corinthians 4:17 which says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” I struggle with this like most, but I am growing to try to enjoy the precious present of each day, and I am extremely grateful for Jesus’ saving grace on the cross. When we see his face and spend eternity with him and others who the Holy Spirit helped be saved through our earthly lives, there will be no doubt to the answer to the question, was it worth it?

 

 

The Purpose of Comfort

Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are painful to read.  Yesterday David asked if any of us had ever experienced having a person we were trying to help question our motives and speak negatively about us to others.  I sadly answered yes in my heart as I read David’s prompting.

That experience was difficult for me.  Today’s reading challenged me to grow. Especially verses 3-7.

3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

God is our comforter.  Παράκλησις, translated as comfort here, could also be translated ‘encourage’.  It holds in it the element of acceptance, council, and courage.  As if to say God is the one who finds our sorrow acceptable (or not) and strengthens us to continue on (if it is acceptable, more on this latter).

Παρακαλέω, translated as comfort three times in verse 4, could also be translated as urge, implore or exhort.  This helped me understand the activating (or reactivating) nature of this word as if strengthening one to get back in the fight.  God provides us the strength to continue Glorifying Him.

4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

‘That we’ is a purpose clause.  God strengthens us so that we may be strengthened and encourage others.  Citing God’s character as the Comforter; the source of strength gives God glory.

5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

This was the most challenging part for me.  The comfort supplied has no limits, so long as our sufferings are in Christ.  Put another way, God supplies us with all the comfort we need for righteous suffering.

The question then became, what if the suffering was not righteous?  That is, what if the suffering was actually a result of my selfish ambition, seeking my own glory and not God’s?  This was my wake up call.

If I did not receive strength and comfort for the sorrow I felt, does it then mean that it was chastening rather than suffering for Christ?  I am inclined to consider this deeply.  Afterall, are we to believe that all suffering is because we are seeking Christ glory perfectly?  If not, as I reflect on a past wound that lingered too long, that sapped my strength when I know it shouldn’t have, I am inclined to think it was due to my sin and pride.

Ouch and amen! God is the righteous One who judges.  I am the sinner who is judged.  God is the Merciful One who gives grace.  I am the one in desperate need of His mercy and grace.   Admitting this depravity is the first step to receiving that which I need from God.  Confessing our Sin is our humble gate that protects God’s glorious reputation. (see extra credit below)

6 And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.

We are to thank God for the righteous suffering.  We will know it by the degree to which we are supernaturally strengthened.  This is to be shared with and passed on to those who suffer.  All the time giving glory to God as the Strengthener.

7 And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.

 

Extra Credit: God’s Glory and Confession of Sin

All things were created for God’s glory. (Revelation 4:11, Isaiah 43:7)  The proud are too busy seeking their own glory to give God His glory.  Confessing our sin proclaims God’s character as holy and His Law as right. (Luke 23:41)  Not confessing our sin is a way of blaming God for sin.  Notice the first sin and how Adam blames God. (Genesis 3:12)  Confessing our sin humbles us and gives God glory. (Joshua 7:19) In summary, when we do not confess our sin it is disagreeing with God, a form of attack on His reputation.  When we say, “God I deserve this” it agrees with God and brings Him glory.  We were designed to bring God glory.  This is one way we can do it.  Confessing our sin.  

The world says, ‘find your strengths and play them up.” the Word says “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2Corinthians 12:10)

Desert Places

Crack soil on dry season Global warming / cracked dried mud / Dry cracked earth background / The cracked ground Ground in drought Soil texture and dry mud Dry land.

1 Samuel 1; Romans 1; Jeremiah 39; Psalms 13–14

When was the last time you felt like you just couldn’t win?  Did you face reality head on or did you run from it? For me, the answer to that question can often be found in my activity level. If you catch me running, scattered from task to task, without a minute to spare, it’s likely that I am avoiding some reality of my life. A second indicator that exposes my avoidance of reality shows up when I am reading. I love to read. Reading helps me think and process the events of my life. I can do it in almost any environment. That is, unless, I have something weighing heavy on my heart. In these times, I cannot focus on reading. Sure, I might go through the motions, but I cannot hear the words. Nothing gets through. My general reaction is to go, busying myself with things that do not need thought or thinking. This avoidance leads me right back to the first scenario. I am not unique. I am sure that you have a coping mechanism as well. According to today’s reading, Hannah had one too.

Elkanah’s wife, Hannah, did not have any children. As a result, she was given one portion of meat to worship with as a sacrifice to God at the Temple. Elkanah’s second wife Peninnah, however, had two children and, therefore, received three portions with which to worship and sacrifice.   For Hannah, this time of annual worship and sacrifice served as a cruel reminder that God had not given her any children. To make matters worse, Peninnah made fun of her for it, continuously deepening Hannah’s wound. Her reaction, year after year was to cry.  In fact, she would make herself so upset, that she couldn’t even stand to eat.

We all get to choose how we respond to life’s circumstances. Whether your reaction is more like Hannah’s or mine is irrelevant. In the end, they both lead to the same place. Nowhere good. Hannah finally figured this out. Eventually, she looked to God.   As she offered her sacrifice, she looked to the Lord, and through her deep anguish and bitter weeping, she prayed and with all of her heart and laid her cares upon God. Similarly, David’s heavy heart pours out through prayer in Psalm 14. In these moments, Hannah and David both relinquish their futile attempts to change their own reality and instead, depend on God.

Have you ever prayed like that? Seriously, consider for a moment, right now, what it would feel like to spend a few minutes, a few hours, or a whole day, detaching yourself from the activity and crying so that you can give it to God. Why not? Are you afraid of what you might hear? I am here to tell you that the best time to do this is right now, in the midst of the current gridlock in your calendar and in the middle of your deep anguish. If you are praying to the same God that I am, He promises to give us an answer.

My rumination on Hannah and David pouring out their hearts to the Lord has encouraged me to pray similarly. I’m also praying that God urges you to do so as well. As you do, I will be praying for you, as Eli did, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”

But What You Will

Today’s Readings: Judges 15, Acts 19, Jeremiah 28, Mark 14

“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)

I’ve read Mark Chapter 14 over a few times this week. It’s dark, it’s desperate and the more time you spend with it, the more visceral it becomes. I’m not sure that I’ve ever taken the time to just read this text and absorb it. I began the week with lots of notes, scrawls and scratches in the margins everywhere. I wanted to really “bring it” today as I feel that this is one of the most important moments in the Bible. I decided though, this morning that I’m not going to bring it all. I can’t. Instead, I want to invite you to get on your knees and pray how Jesus did.

Now.

So really, join me. Stop what you’re doing and get to your knees. Say it in Jesus’ words:

Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.

When I consider Mark 14, I really identify with Peter. Poor Peter, so earnest in his pursuit of total devotion to Jesus Christ. Jesus predicts it. He tells him flat out, you will betray me. And Peter, so sure of himself, so sure of his commitment says:

“If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (Mark 14:31)

When I read that, my heart is in my throat. You see it’s not that he is lying here. He is so sure of himself, so sure that nothing can take him from the side of Jesus. But then… How many of us can see the reflection of Peter in ourselves? How many of us are so sure on Sunday morning, hands outstretched to the heavens only to back away, hands hanging, head down on Monday morning. Me. That’s me. So often we hurt the people we love the most. Hurt and betray the people we’ve promised “only you” for life. There’s only one person that has the power, the strength the grace to keep his promises. It’s Jesus.

Marks shares with us this tiny glimpse. Like a beam of light, shining like a sliver on the floor of a dark room. He shows us a vulnerable Jesus. A Jesus that has no one in the dark night but his Abba his Father. In a few short words, he surrenders. He knows what’s to come and he accepts it. He asks to be relieved of the pain and the fear but then he turns it all over. I think for me as a growing Christian it’s so important to pause at this point and realize that God didn’t take Jesus’ suffering away. In fact, there really is no noticeable transcendent answer to his pleading. We know what comes next. We know that Jesus walks willingly into his own death on the cross. What a valuable lesson for us. God doesn’t answer our desperate prayers immediately, but he hears them.

Yet not what I will, what you will…

Jesus overcame fear and hesitation in the garden at Gethsemane. As that night wore on, his disciples betrayed him but he was not alone.

Abba, Father, give us strength to stand strong at the side of your son Jesus. Hear our prayer this week that it isn’t what I will but what You will. Give us long-range vision. Help us to understand in our darkest moments that you hear us and that in our surrender to you we’ll find rest.

Remembering Our Fathers

My journal today was originally written as a response to the hatred, in the violence, recently experienced in the Orlando Club Massacre. When I realized my post fell on Father’s Day; since I had already goofed up my Mother’s Day post, blogging about driving expensive sports cars in Las Vegas, I needed to focus on Father’s Day! Not only am I a father, but I know a bunch of ’em. Some are better than others, but we all have the privilege of profoundly impacting the lives of their children. What an AMAZING thing this is!

On a very personal note, I have had three Fathers. All of whom are deceased. Because of them, my life is rich with great memories. I deeply miss them all! With each one, I shared a special relationship. With each there was a bond of trust and loyalty. With my biological father, the bond was forged before I knew it; always there and never broken, despite separation, divorce, alcoholism and mental illness. I remember once, when I was eleven, calling him from a pay phone in Canada, at a park ranger station, after having almost drowned in a waterfall. I wanted to come home from camp so badly, yet he encouraged me to tough it out. It’s only another forty five days. You’ll be glad you stayed. And he was right.

The bond of loyalty with my two step fathers was forged in time. With John, my first stepfather, just when our relationship was at its best, he died unexpectedly. He was in his thirties, and I was fourteen, just returning from summer camp in Canada, after winning all the awards he had encouraged me to compete for.

In honor to all the fathers who cannot be with us, I wanted to share part of that story. Partly because he helped define me, and also as a cautionary tale, because, in my grief, instead of turning to God, I turned away. This was the begining of a long journey to restore my faith and trust in God. Something I never should have doubted.

“To say I was stunned to discover that my thirty-eight year old superhero had suffered a major coronary and was in a coma, would be an understatement. This had to be some weird dream that I kept trying to awaken from. I was in shock.

My grandmother took me to her house and told me which room I would be staying in. She asked me if I wanted something to eat.

Can we go to the hospital? I asked.

Not just yet. I can take you later. You should wash up and have something to eat.

I had lost my appetite, so went upstairs to take a shower. As the warm water poured over me I cried out to God in anguish, please God, don’t let him die! I’ll do anything. Take me instead of him! We are all so happy, everything is so perfect. Please, please, please let him be ok. God please let him live!

When I saw him at the Intensive Care Unit, he was on a respirator along with the usual web of tubes and wires for comatose patients. That was the last time I saw him, barely alive, supposedly brain dead, perhaps already beyond this world. His discolored form lay on that hospital bed, pretending to breathe with the help of a machine.

After he passed my mother returned home, weary and broken down. She was thirty six. We finally had time to talk, amidst the planning and the calls. He knew about it you know, all your awards at camp, he knew what you did, she said.

How? I asked, mixed with skepticism and grief, still in utter shock.
I told him. I kneeled down and whispered in his ear and told him how well you did. She reached out and pulled me close. When I told him, he cried. He knew Ricky, he heard me. And as she hugged me, we sobbed together, sharing each other’s pain and grief. I cried because I was grateful, because I was sad, and because I knew this man that had made everyone in my life so happy, if only for a brief chapter, was gone and he wasn’t coming back.

My sadness was shared by many on the day he was buried, at the Pioneer Cemetery. He had been a descendent of the first settlers and his final resting place was the historic Fuller family grave yard, at the end of a road in the middle of Hinsdale. An hour earlier at Grace Episcopal, our old Tudor style Anglican Church, for the first time ever I saw my stoic German grandfather cry like a baby. John’s body, in its casket, was ceremoniously born down the magenta runner, out of the big carved doors, towards its final rest, as we sang the “Battle Hymn of the Republic:” My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of The Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on:
Glory, glory hallelujah …..

The cradle of mourners at the wake eventually thinned out, later that day and over the weeks and months. My grief was my own, not understanding how to reconcile the sadness and devastation, that had suddenly broken my world. Nothing that had come before had prepared me for this. If anything, I had felt set up, to be torn down. God was there for me, but in my grief I held Him responsible.”

Looking back now, I finally realized that God was always faithful and present. It was in the struggles of life, in its hardships, that we are offered opportunities to grow spiritually. Having a Heavenly Father that can be trusted is a gift beyond measure, but it is one that must be received. It is the most valuable relationship we will ever have, and it is one that must be pursued if it is to become what it is meant to be, in all its power and blessing.

May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. -Psalm 115:14-15

Today’s Reading: Deuteronomy 24; Psalms 114–115; Isaiah 51; Revelation 21

May your Father’s Day be filled with grace, and gratitude for your earthly father and awe and reverence for your Father in Heaven. Amen.