So you think you’ve got troubles?

Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. (Isaiah 41:10)

Trouble? Really?

My wife just returned from the hospital to recover from a partial nephrectomy, where they removed part of her kidney to get rid of a cancerous tumor.  She had never stayed at a hospital for any health issue before.  So, after all these years, this initial admission was quite scary.  The fear of what the surgery might find, the actual pain of the surgery itself, her frightening experience with a bad reaction to her meds—were all new experiences to her.

Finally, after 5 days, she was discharged and headed for home-sweet-home.  Except she now discovered what 6-8 weeks of recovery meant.  The limitations included no serious bending or twisting, no lifting anything over 5 pounds and taking a lot of pain meds.  She hates swallowing pills.  It makes her feel like throwing up.  To avoid the nausea, she needs to have food in her stomach.  But it’s hard to put food in her stomach because it makes her feel like throwing up.  Kind of a catch-22.  None of which helps in alleviating her pain.  But she’s always been a tough person and she’ll get past all this—probably much quicker than the projected 6-8 weeks.  Certainly, much quicker than I probably would.

It made me think of the Apostle Paul.  Think of the trials he faced.  First, he was dumped of his donkey and was blind for 3 days.  He was put in prison a number of times,  he was whipped more times than he could remember, he faced death over and over, he received 39 lashes from the Jewish religious leaders 5 times (40 lashes were considered a death sentence), he was beaten with rods 3 times, he was stoned once, he was shipwrecked 3 times, he spent a day and a night in the sea, was in continual danger from rivers, robbers, from his own countrymen and everyone else, he was often weary, in pain, and without sleep. Yet somehow, he managed to write nearly half of the New Testament (13 out of 27), start at least 14 churches and then revisit many of them as they grew.

And sometimes I think I’ve got troubles?  Really?

 

Here Comes Trouble

I’m old enough to remember the comedy show, “Dennis the Menace.”  Dennis was the naïve and lovable young child who was always getting into mischief–especially with his elderly neighbor, Mr. Wilson.  It got to the point where anytime Dennis was in the vicinity, Mr. Wilson would think, “Here comes trouble.” Only Dennis’ innocence and cuteness kept him from becoming a permanent menace.

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The Butterfly Effect

I am neither a physicist nor a mathematician, but from what I have read about the “butterfly effect” is that it has to do with a seemingly inconsequential event or incident having momentous consequences. The “ripple effect” is similar in that it states that a single incident or occurrence may have consequences and ramifications beyond the scope of the original phenomenon. Apparently, these two concepts are part of “chaos theory.”

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A Battleground, Not a Playground

When God created the heavens the earth, He meant it to be the perfect place for man to live. Global warming did not exist. There were no holes in the ozone, no earthquakes, no volcanoes, no hurricanes, no cyclones, no tornadoes, or tsunamis. There were no floods or droughts. There were no rogue waves and no sinkholes. There were no contagious diseases or biting insects. There was no hunger or thirst. There was no poverty or greed. Nothing was in danger of becoming extinct. In fact, death didn’t exist. War and homelessness weren’t even part of the vocabulary.

So what happened?

 

Continue reading “A Battleground, Not a Playground”

The Perils of Paul(ine)

 

The Perils of Pauline was a 1914 American film serial shown in weekly installments, featuring Pearl White as the title character. As the old-fashioned damsel in distress, Pauline was menaced by assorted villains, including pirates and Indians. Unlike today’s weekly programming (and even some of our movies, Pauline never used the so-called “cliffhanger” format in which an episode ends with an unresolved danger that is addressed at the beginning of the next installment. Although each episode placed Pauline in a situation that looked sure to result in her imminent death, the end of each installment showed how she was rescued or otherwise escaped the danger.  It was such a new and unique idea that, years after, it was placed in the national archives as a cultural icon.

     

The apostle, Paul, had many such harrowing experiences.  Only he wasn’t like the “damsel in distress.”  He wasn’t cute and cuddly and looking for a hero to save the day.  The trials and dangers he faced were deadly and continuous.   In  II Corinthians he writes,  I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again.  Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea.  I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.  I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger? (II Corinthians 12:23-29)  He had enough trials to create a long-running series.  Yet God always rescued him.  Not some human hero.  No matter what the circumstance or situation, God was there with him.

Paul made these statements to a church he had already visited twice and was planning a third visit.  This letter was dealing with the fact that the Corinthians were being mislead by those who claimed to be followers of Christ, but who were taking credit for what Paul and others had accomplished.  They mislead the people into believing that Paul was not an apostle.  They said that he had no authority, was too timid, and that he did not speak with flowery words.  Paul responded to these accusations by writing, We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do.  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. And after you have become fully obedient, we will punish everyone who remains disobedient. ( II Corinthians 10:3-8)  He was an apostle of Christ Jesus appointed by God. (II Timothy 1:1, I Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1) and as he continually exercised his faith, his life was filled by signs and wonders.

Today there are many that claim to be followers;  A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!”  Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this.  But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?”  Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered. (Acts 19:13-16)

In the end, all those who have appeared to be “angels of light” will be destroyed.  And so will those who chose to follow them.  The difference? Look at the obvious facts.  Those who say they belong to Christ must recognize that we belong to Christ as much as they do.  I may seem to be boasting too much about the authority given to us by the Lord. But our authority builds you up; it doesn’t tear you down. So I will not be ashamed of using my authority.  (Corinthians 10:8)

As Christians, we have this authority.  I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.  You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.  Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! ( John 14:12-14)

Is your faith accompanied by signs and wonders?  Not necessarily the “show-stoppers” like being raised from the dead, but the daily things that take place in our lives?  Does it build up individuals and the body of believers?  If it doesn’t, exercise it or lose it!

Out of the Frying Pan…

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).

In Italian, it is “dalla padella alla brace.  The first recorded use of it was in a Greek poem as early as 15BC.  The first to adapt it into English was Roger L’Estrange in 1692.  The Romanians claim it as one of their ancient proverbs.  We’ve all heard it and probably used it at some point in our lives.  “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” means leaving a bad situation only to find yourself in one that is worse.

 

Out of the frying pan

I’m reminded of a story one of my former pastors told (repeatedly!).  A man driving his car too fast, couldn’t make a sharp corner and drove the car off a cliff into a deep canyon.  He fell out of the car and by some miracle was able to catch hold of a tree branch sticking out some 500 feet above the bottom.  He wasn’t far from the road above, but the steepness of the cliff was too much for him to climb.  He began to squirm as his arms began to tire and called out, “Help! H–e–l–p–p!  Is anyone up there?  He continued to squirm and cried out, “Please help!  My arms are killing me.”

Suddenly a deep and rumbling voice answered, “I am here.  I am God and I will help you.”

The man was so relieved as he said, “That’s great!  What are you going to do?  I can’t hold on much longer.”

The deep voice then said, “Let go of the tree.”

Terrified, the man answered, “What?  I’ll fall 500 feet to my death!”

God then asked, “Do you believe in me?”

The man hesitated, but said, “Well sure.”

Then God replied, “Then you have nothing to fear.  Let go of the tree and I will save you.”

The man paused and then said, “Is anyone else up there?”

It’s a cute story, but one that has some serious underlying truth.  How many times have we found ourselves in a situation that was so bad that we felt we had to do something about it?  And when we did, we realized that our plight was worse than before.  Think of Abraham in the Old Testament.  After God convinced him to leave Ur and with promises of land and many descendants, the word of God came again to Abram in a vision and repeated His promise of the land and descendants as numerous as the stars.  The problem was that no children came.  Year after year the problem remained the same.  That was the “frying pan.”  Then his wife, Sarah, volunteered her servant girl to serve as a surrogate and the girl bore him Ishmael.  Though it didn’t seem that way at the time, that would be the “fire.”  That wasn’t God’s plan.  Later, when God miraculously allowed a very old Sarah to bear Abraham’s son, the stage was set for the Israelites (Isaac–the son of the promise) to be at odds with the Arab peoples (Ishmael–the son of their lack of faith)–even to this day.  But God was faithful and Abraham gained the land and the descendants God had promised.

When God told Jonah to go preach to the people of Nineveh, he didn’t want to go.  Nineveh was a large and wicked city and Jonah felt that it deserved the wrath of God.  So he ran away from God’s assignment.  That was the “frying pan.”  While sailing away, a great storm caused the ship he was on to begin to sink.  The captain and the crew tried to determine why this calamity was happening to them.  Jonah admitted he knew that he was the cause for refusing to go to Nineveh.  So he allowed himself to be thrown overboard to save the rest of those on board.  Then he was swallowed by a great fish.  That was the “fire.”  Yet God caused the fish to vomit him up and gave him another chance to accomplish his mission at Nineveh.  The city repented and, by God’s grace, they were saved.

In the first little story, in God’s promise to Abraham, and in Jonah’s assignment, the main character was promised or assigned something by God.  In each case, they believed in God.  But when things didn’t go the way or in the timing that they wanted, they lost their faith in God’s ability to make good on His promise.  And then they tried to make things better by doing it their own way.  I can’t tell you the number of times that I have found myself in the trials of the “frying pan.”  And like the stubborn New Englander that I am, I have tried to solve the issues myself.  Invariably, I would end up in the “fire.”  And, when all seemed lost, God would faithfully resolve things His way.  But because of my stubbornness, there were always consequences because of  my efforts to do things myself.

So, how do we avoid the frying pan and the fire and the negative consequences that usually follow?  Turn the “frying pan” into something positive by trusting God first and waiting for Him to show you what He wants you to do.  This can certainly be a scary thing.  You have to let go of yourself and open yourself completely to God.  And then, jump into the “fire” of His Holy Spirit and let Him fill you with faith, understanding, and power to follow and do the will of God.  And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven (Luke 24:49).

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true–it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ (I John 2:27)

If It Weren’t for Bad Luck…

According to Wikipedia, Tsutomu Yamaguchi was a survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings during World War II. Although at least 160 people are known to have been affected by both bombings, he is the only person to have been officially recognized by the government of Japan as surviving both explosions.  A resident of Nagasaki, Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on business for his employer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries when the city was bombed at 8:15 am, on August 6, 1945. The following day, he returned to Nagasaki and, despite his wounds, also returned to work on August 9, the day of the second atomic bombing. In 1957, he was recognized as a hibakusha (explosion-affected person) of the Nagasaki bombing, but it was not until March 24, 2009 that the government of Japan officially recognized his presence in Hiroshima three days earlier. He died of stomach cancer on January 4, 2010 at the age of 93.

Can you imagine living through those horrific experiences?  Or picture Job losing everything in rapid succession?  Or the children of Israel slowly coming under complete Egyptian subjugation?  Or Joseph begin sold into slavery by his brothers?  Or how about Paul?  I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again.  Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea.  I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers.  I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles.  I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas.  And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. (II Corinthians 11:23-28)  There are many examples of “bad luck” in both the Old Testament and New Testament and certainly many instances in our own lives and the lives of those around us.

But the thing to remember is that God always made a way for those who suffered the bad luck to make a come-back. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:1-11)  Job ended up with more than he had to begin with.

When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes.  In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before! Then all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home.  And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him.  And each of them brought him a gift of money and a gold ring.  So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning.  For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys.  He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters.  He named his first daughter Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch.  In all the land no women were as lovely as the daughters of Job.  And their father put them into his will along with their brothers. (Job 42:10-15)  Moses led the children of Israel on a 40-year exodus that eventually led to the Promised Land.  Joseph became the most powerful man in Egypt after Pharoah.  But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. (Genesis 50:20) Paul became one of the greatest evangelical apostles and wrote much of the New Testament. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. (II Corinthians 12:9) Even Mr. Yamaguchi survived with his wife (who survived Nagasaki) to have two children–both girls and remained a successful businessman throughout his long life.

So if your circumstances seem to be running toward the negative for a long stretch of time and you feel beaten and worn down, comfort yourself with the knowledge that God has everything under control.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:8-11)

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34)

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)