The Formative Power of Trials

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you

                                    1 Peter 5:10

 

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

                                    James 1:2-4

 

As I was listening to the story of Joseph from a bible study app, I was struck by how positive Joseph had seemed, despite all of the things that had happened to him: sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and subsequently thrown into prison, forgotten by Pharaoh’s baker and wine steward after having successfully interpreted their dreams, languishing there until Pharaoh has a need to have his dreams interpreted. I mean, if anyone had a reason to be down, it was Joseph—right? This young man went from being his father’s favorite child and in charge of his father’s flocks to a prison in a far away land, all through no fault of his own. His life was a figurative sine wave, as experience after experience happened to him, starting on a high note and bringing him down (sold into slavery), then up (overseer of Potiphar’s house), and again down (falsely accused and imprisoned), and up again (overseer of Egypt, second in power to Pharaoh). It would have been easy for us to understand if he’d gotten frustrated, or become angry, or at least stamped his foot and said, “Come on!! You’ve got to be kidding me. I helped those two goons and they couldn’t even remember me to Pharaoh like I asked?” (I can’t imagine having any other reaction than that).

 

But yet we know that Joseph had faith, and had a relationship with the Lord. His rebuke of Potiphar’s wife demonstrates the extent of his walk with God: “…There is no greater in this house than I, nor has he [Potiphar] kept anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” Moses records in two separate occasions in Genesis 39 that the Lord was with Joseph, and caused Joseph to prosper, despite the circumstances he was in.

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Accountability Groups

Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.”But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’  Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.  And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

                                    2 Kings 5:9-14

 

In just a few chapters ahead of where last week’s devotional was from, we find the story of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Syria. We learn that Naaman was an honorable man, one highly thought of by the king due to the Syria’s recent victory. He, unfortunately though, had leprosy. Because of God’s perfect planning, Naaman was able to learn about the prophet Elisha and the potential he had to heal Naaman. The Syrian king sent Naaman to Israel in search of healing. Through circumstances (ahem. Rather, God’s perfect planning), Naaman was sent to the prophet’s house.

Now, Elisha did not meet Naaman in person. Instead, he gave instructions to Naaman through a messenger. Naaman’s instructions were to wash himself in the river Jordan seven times. That’s it. Easy peasy. Apparently, however, Elisha’s methods offended Naaman’s senisibilities: first off, Elisha didn’t meet with him personally, and secondly, how everything happened was not how Naaman pictured it would be. Naaman assumed that Elisha would come to Naaman, pray over him, wave his hand, and heal his leprosy. Since he didn’t do that, Naaman got upset and returned home. There were, after all, rivers in Syria that were better than all the waters of Israel.

Had it not been for the boldness of Naaman’s servants to gently rebuke Naaman, he would have remained a leper. Instead, when he had returned home, his servants pointed out that had Elisha suggested that Naaman do a grand gesture to be healed, Naaman would have definitely obeyed. If Naaman would have been willing to do a large thing, why wasn’t he willing to do a smaller, simpler task?

Naaman must have seen the logic, and humbled himself to perform this small but important task. “And his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” Because of his obedience, and in great humility, Naaman’s health was restored. Naaman returned to Elisha with a new and thankful heart, one that declared that there was “no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

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Digging Ditches

And he said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Make this valley full of ditches.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you, your cattle, and your animals may drink.’ 

                                    2 Kings 3:16-17

 

I’ve written before how I’ve spent so much more time in the New Testament than in the Old, and have wondered what exactly I was supposed to get out of the Old Testament. Well, a while back the Holy Spirit piqued my interest about learning more about David, so I started with 1 Samuel, and have spent the better part of the past two months studying the old prophets and kings of Israel and Judah, and how they walked with or away from the Lord. I have found myself at times eager to get back to their stories and lives when I have days in which I don’t get to read the Word like I want to. It’s like returning to an old friend who has much to teach me.

 

In the third chapter of 2nd Kings, we find Jehoram, the son of Ahab and Jezebel, doing evil in the Lord’s sight and facing a rebellion from the Moabites, who have refused to continue to pay the nation of Israel one hundred thousand lambs and the wool of one hundred thousand rams. Jehoram partners with Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, as well as the king of Edom to fight against Moab. The three kings and their troops travel via the Wilderness of Edom for seven days, and there was no water for the army or for the animals. Frustrated Jehoram has given up, feeling that the Lord called the three of them together to deliver them into the hands of the Moabites. It is Jehoshaphat who suggests that they inquire of their next steps through a prophet of the Lord, and they are sent to Elisha.

 

Elisha shares with the three kings that they are to build ditches or trenches in the valley, to hold the water that he Lord would miraculously bring down upon them, through means other than a rainstorm with strong wind. The Lord, through Elisha, promises victory to the three, and instructs them to attack the cities and ruin the lands, leaving no trees and no water.

 

We don’t have any insight as to the kings’ reaction; we have only their obedience on record. One has to wonder, though, at the enthusiasm by which they and their troops met the challenge to dig trenches all over the valley. Remember, they had marched for seven days through the wilderness without any water to drink. The physical toll such an exercise had to have taken on them was extreme. Perhaps there was grumbling and resistance. Given Jehoram’s quick declaration of defeat, and the assumable lack of belief on the part of the king of Edom, I would presume that the lion’s share of obedience and faith rested in Jehoshaphat and that it was through his ability to encourage and inspire that they were able to build the ditches for the promised water.

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Self Assessment

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

                                             Revelation 3:6

 

I have always been fascinated by personality tests like Myers Briggs (I’m an ISFJ), Personality Plus (it’s been a while but I believe I was a Peaceful Phlegmatic but I think I’ve changed some since), and the Four Quadrant Personality Matrix of Analyzer, Controller, Supporter (c’est moi), Promoter, to name a few. My new team recently took a personality quiz (Lion, Otter, Golden Retriever, and Beaver) at work to help us get to know each other better, even though I’d taken the test about eight months prior. Interestingly, I went from being primarily a Golden Retriever with Beaver a close second to reversing those two assessments.

 

I consider myself quite self-aware (sometimes even overly), and love exploring chances to be aware of my blind spots and “opportunities”. I also get insight as to how those with whom I interact at work, or even live with at home, are motivated and how they view interactions and people.

 

I’m well aware that there are those who don’t like such tests, as they feel that such tests put a label on them, or that the test results are so generic that they can apply really anyone. And that’s okay; to each his own.

 

There is a “test” that I would like us all to consider…well, more of a self-assessment, if you will. This came up this past Sunday in Sunday School as we were discussing if modern America’s churches carried the proverbial flag of “Jesus Christ is Lord.” I questioned rhetorically if our church did, and to take it one step further—with which church of the seven addressed in Revelation 2 and 3 do we as a church identify?

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Survivor’s Guilt and Hope

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

                                             Romans 8:28

 

Back in May of 2001, when I had been working at USAA for almost 15 years, I moved from a management job in a call center area into the world of projects and project managers. It was an utterly different skillset and thought process, and I was overwhelmed but thrilled to be in my new area and learning new things.

 

A mere six weeks later in July, USAA had its first ever round of layoffs. I was convinced that I would be one of the first to go, given the typical “last in-first out” type of action that I wouldn’t have faulted anyone for. The day that it happened, we were all told to stay at our desks and that management would be calling those who’d been laid off (my team was especially skittish and worried, as our Assistant Vice President had been let go just days before when layoffs at the executive level had begun). Meetings were cancelled and everyone just sat at their desks, praying for their phone not to ring. As the day passed, two of my co-workers were called and the remaining were told to go home for the day to allow them to clean out their desks in peace and privacy. The layoffs were complete, and I was left unscathed. Well, I was left unscathed physically, since I got to keep my employment; but mentally…that was another story.

 

Even though the layoffs were difficult and unheard of prior to this time, those of us who remained understood that they were a necessary evil, albeit traumatic for most involved (some of the more tenured employees who were close to early retirement were able to retire early with a full benefits package, so I don’t think that they were overly traumatized at all). My mind still reeling at the unfathomable thought that I got to stay as such a newbie in that area and others had to leave, I would walk through the halls where friends from other areas would tell me that they were glad to see me, and I’d tell them that I was glad to be seen! The company even brought in counselors to help those who suffered from survivor’s guilt. I did not partake of the counseling at the time, though admittedly I probably should have. I continued in my new job, going through training to learn it as well as a couple of other roles, to do what I could to ensure that my value to the company was left intact so that if subsequent layoffs or RIFs (reduction in force) occurred (which they did and I survived each time). Survivor’s guilt motivated me to make sure that the company would be pleased with the choice they made to hang on to me.

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Worries Be Gone!

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6: 27 & 34

 

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.

                           Psalm 34:4       

 

When I was pregnant with Troy, I had all the routine prenatal tests done. I was told by the doctor’s office that no news was good news, and when I didn’t hear anything after having been out of town for a week, I breathed the proverbial sigh of relief and prepared to get ready to go in to work in the afternoon (I worked the late afternoon and evening shift. It was a killer on a pregnant woman with sciatica!). When the phone rang mid-preparation and it was my OBGYN’s office, telling me that I had to have an ultrasound, apprehension flooded me.

 

I was to drink 32 ounces of water before the ultrasound that was scheduled for later that afternoon, and I was not allowed to go to the bathroom until after the appointment. As I lay on the table, the clear gel allowing the ultrasound wand to glide over my belly, all of the what-ifs raced frantically through my mind. I had returned to church only a year and a half early, and had not walked that far with the Lord. My husband was stoic as he held my hand, and we endured the ultrasound, looking for any positive sign on the technician’s face.

And then we heard her say, ever so quietly, “oh no.”

 

After those two words hit my brain, all I wanted to do was yell, “You don’t say that in the company of a pregnant woman who is freaked out at the thought of something being wrong with her baby—don’t they teach you that in technician school?!?” Of course I didn’t. We asked her what was wrong. She said that she couldn’t tell me, but that there was some abnormality, and that she would have to get the doctor. She excused herself and left us our lives and sanity hanging frozen in the air around the table. We were both silent as we waited for the doctor to come over and look at the screen to interpret what the technician had seen.

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Even If

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Daniel 3:17-18 

 

“What if” = fear.

“Even if” = faith.

I found that saying on Pinterest when I was looking last week on what to put on the church marquee (I would’ve put it on there, too, if I’d had one more of the letter Q, since we don’t have an equal sign… sigh).

This quote resonated with me, and immediately brought to mind the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. You’ll remember the three young Jews brought into the service of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in his defeat of Judah. These three were found to have violated the king’s decree of bowing down to the large gold image of Nebuchadnezzar, and were brought before the king to explain themselves, and to listen to the king give them one more chance to bow to his image, or else they would be thrown into a blazing furnace.

I have always been in awe of their response, and frankly, a little envious, too. I never imagined having the comfort and courage with which to say, “But even if…” to any situation I have faced, much less a life-or-death matter such as the ones they faced, straight to the person issuing the decree.

How about you?


Walking the Talk

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

                          Matthew 5:14-16

                          

 

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.  Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.  But if anyone obeys his word, love for God truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him:  Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

                           1 John 2:3-6

 

I have started to follow a Christian satire sight on Facebook by the name of the The Babylon Bee. It’s similar to The Onion, and just as clever. Its satirical articles are maybe 150-200 words at best. Some examples of the headlines include “Church Seniors Involved in Low Speed Race to Golden Corral”, “Church Tech Team Introduces Helpful Bouncing Sing-Along Ball”, “Satan Promises to Match All Donations for Jesse Duplantis’s New Private Jet”, and “Bill Clinton: ‘I thought #MeToo Was a Pokemon’”. The writing is ingenious and witty, and frankly some of the most creative writing I’ve ever read. (On a serious note, though, their Good Friday article entitled “Report: It Is Finished” moved me to tears and demonstrated their beliefs in our Lord Jesus Christ). The articles are clever, and the Facebook comments are themselves treasures.

 

Sometimes the content hits so close to how the world perceives Christians that people jokingly comment that they can’t find the satire in it. One such example is a little blurb I read a couple of hours ago entitled “During After-Church Lunch at Applebee’s, Local Christian Scolds Waiter for Working on Sunday.” It jokingly included such comments as the woman telling the waiter, “Why are you not at church? Don’t you know today is the Lord’s Day?” the woman said, raising a judgmental eyebrow. “Also, bring me another salad. This one’s all wilted and not fresh at all. Honestly, who runs this place?”. She further wonders aloud (after sending back her entrée a third time) why restaurants are open on Sunday in the first place, blaming the phenomenon on “our godless culture”, and later grumbles, “This place we’re eating at should be closed to honor the Lord.” The satire piece ends with “Sources also claim [the lady] left a dollar tip, later revealed to be a gospel tract rather than actual, legal tender.”

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Abba Father

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,Father.

                          Galatians 4:6

                          

And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 

                           Romans 8:15b-16

 

Now that I am at a point in my life where I feel like I’ve at least passed the midway mark, I realize that life’s days have seemed to have flown fly by, like the image of a desk calendar pages rapidly blowing off in old black and while movies to mark the passage of time.

 

My two children are on my mind a lot, especially in my early morning devotional time when I can stare at the various school-age photos of them on the large wall going up the staircase. I’m thankful to recall when each of those pictures were taken, both formal school poses and informal action shots of childhood activity. I’m completely smitten with them, both when they were children and now as adults, and I love them with a fierceness of a Mama Bear.

 

Since they are adults and have their own lives (25 and 20, living in their own apartment and home, respectively), I am always thrilled when I get to spend some quality time with them, either individually or together. The conversations now are obviously quite different. Since they are fewer and farther between than when the boys were young (logistics and stages in life being what they are), so I am thrilled to pieces when they do happen. I enjoy their company so much, and look forward to Sunday afternoons when Greg comes over and we all play games and have fun.

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David

And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.                     

Acts 13:22       

 

With my whole heart I have sought You;
Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.

                           Psalm 119:10-11

 

“David is both the man we want to be, and the man we are.” I heard this statement while listening to a radio sermon about David, and was immediately intrigued. I listened intently to the message, and knew that I would have to get into the Old Testament more than I’d ever been before. I wanted to know more about the man who was after God’s own heart.

You may be familiar with the story of how the Lord anointed David future king of Israel while David was in his youth. It is during the anointing that the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.

I’m sure that most of us know the story of how young David killed Goliath with just a single stone when none of the men in Saul’s army took up that challenge for forty days. Righteous anger, confidence, and faith in God were the provisions of his success.

As a young man, David was referred to as one “who is skillful in playing (the harp), a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the LORD is with him.”

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