Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Journey - The Precipice of Fear

A Journey - Walking Along The Precipice of Fear

When You're Between a Rock and a Hard Place. But now, GOD's Message, the God who made you in the first place, Jacob, the One who got you started, Israel:  "Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you.  I've called your name. You're mine.  When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you.  When you're in rough waters, you will not go down. When you're between a rock and a hard place, it won't be a dead end -- Because I am GOD, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior.  I paid a huge price for you: all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!  That's how much you mean to me!  That's how much I love you!  I'd sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you.  " So don't be afraid: I'm with you. I'll round up all your scattered children, pull them in from east and west.  I'll send orders north and south: 'Send them back. Return my sons from distant lands, my daughters from faraway places. I want them back, every last one who bears my name, every man, woman, and child Whom I created for my glory, yes, personally formed and made each one.' "

( Isaiah 43:1-7 - The Message)

As a Christian I know that I am no longer meant to live in fear (Romans 8 v 11-17) but it is something that I find to easier said than done. Judging by the conversations I have with other people, it would appear that I am not the only one in this predicament; walking the precipice of fear each day. While that may be some consolation, it is not a lot of help; rather like two people on the Titanic as it is sinking saying "never mind we are all in the same boat!!"  So why is it when we are meant to be victorious, living a abundant life in the knowledge of a God who loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die for and redeem us, that so often our lives seem to be paralyzed by fear?  Jesus' promise that we will live an abundant life (John 8 v 7-10) appears to be a distant concept that we cannot even contemplate. We are too busy trying to survive, desperately hoping that things will get better, but becoming increasingly resigned to the fact that they probably will not.

I would be deceiving you if I claimed to have a comprehensive answer, but I think that Isaiah 43 v 1 - 7 does start to provide some insight.  The first error that I find I often encounter in my thinking is that of always equating spiritual security with physical security.  Sometimes these two concepts do coincide but often they do not.  You may notice that at first glance, this passage from Isaiah does not seem all that re-assuring . from the perspective of physical security.  From a worldly standpoint one of the first steps with regards to physical security is to be aware of your surroundings and avoid bad places whenever possible.  People who don't follow such axioms are usually termed daredevils, crazy or, when things go wrong, stupid or irresponsible. In this context, phrases Isaiah seems to suggest that our physical security is going to be in jeopardy.  Consider such phrases such as:

"When you are between a rock and a hard place"
"When you are in over your head"
"When you are in rough waters"

All these phrases indicate that at times we are going to be in places that we would much rather avoid, places that are instincts may scream at us not to go ..... and yet it is expected that we will encounter them.  Why?

In such circumstances, rather than focus on the location of where we might be, it is more helpful to focus on the context in which we might be there.  Returning to the passage in Isaiah; what starts to come through for each of the phrases cited above, is firstly that God promises we will not be alone. However, more than that each of the situations we face are going to be faced in and with the full power of God. So often we assume that God has placed us in a situation with which we are ill equipped to deal to somehow solve it, as opposed to realizing that God wants us there to bear witness to the power, authority, compassion and might of the one who is capable of solving it. To paraphrase a little, it's almost like God is saying to us:

"What do I have to do to convince you that I have not brought you this far to abandon you and watch you writhe in your inadequacy?  Look at the lengths I've gone to get you back and what I am prepared to give in exchange for you?  I want you to see and bear witness to the fact that there is nowhere you can go or nothing that can happen that will separate you from me or my love for you (Romans 8 v 28-39).  All fear does is stop you from bearing witness to others about how much I love you and them. Instead of screaming to be removed from a situation, trust me and witness what I can do. "

This brings us back to the concept of physical security. God is providing us security by showing us that in Him there is no storm that we cannot weather, as opposed to letting us live in a constant state of fear that "it is only a matter of time before a storm will come along that will eventually overwhelm us"; in other words we are constantly living on the precipice of fear.  So what happens when we live constantly on the precipice of fear?  I can best illustrate this by perhaps sharing with you an event from my honeymoon!

For our honeymoon my wife and I spent two weeks in a place called Pula in the northern part of what was then Yugoslavia.  It was a  beautiful place accessible through winding roads through high mountain passes. At the airport the tour company through whom we had booked the trip, arranged for a coach to take us  and a number of other holiday-makers from the airport to our respective hotels.  I ended up being seated by the window that was next to the open side of the mountains. At many locations there were no safety barriers and the roads were so narrow that the coach used every last inch of the road, right up to the edge. On more than one occasion, as we followed the winding roads down the mountain, I looked out of my window to see the coach displace small rocks which immediately plummeted several hundred feet into the valley below. It was very disconcerting and I tried not to look out of the window too often!  Imagine that I choose only to fixate on the rocks, and how close the coach was to plummeting down the valley after the rocks it displace,  instead of seeing the beauty and majesty of creation around me and enjoying the start of my married life, I would have ended up only focussing on the precipice of fear which would have obliterated everything else!  That is what living on the precipice of fear does, it obliterates truths that you would otherwise see and be able to live, truths that you can experience peace, rejoice and feel secure and rest in God's love.  Christians often refer to the obscuring of those truths as "Spiritual Warfare"

I don't know what the precipices of fear you face in your daily life. Maybe it's the precipice of depression, the precipice of betrayal, the precipice of failure, the precipice of not being accepted or loved or the precipice of illness. These are only some of the precipices we might face, there are many others.  They can be difficult to deal with and very quickly we can be deceived into thinking that we are facing them alone. The question is when these precipices of fear appear are we going to choose (yes contrary to what it appears there is a choice) to face them in isolation or choose to go to God who has said:

"Don't be afraid, I've redeemed you.  I've called your name. You're mine.  When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you.  When you're in rough waters, you will not go down. When you're between a rock and a hard place, it won't be a dead end -- Because I am GOD, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior.  I paid a huge price for you: all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!  That's how much you mean to me!  That's how much I love you!  I'd sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you.  " So don't be afraid: I'm with you."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bullying - What About the Other People at the Party?

I woke up this morning to read about another young woman who had taken her life as a result of being raped at a party, having explicit pictures taken and circulated and then being subject to horrendous physical and virtual (on-line) abuse.  This is the third such case that had been published in a week. In all cases it appears that the women were first plied with alcohol to make them compliment - something that my gender seems to think is a means of exercising their manhood.  It is absolutely not, let's call it what it is abuse, criminal, despicable and a whole host of other adjectives!

As despicable as the act committed by the perpetrators is, I started thinking about the other people at the party. Surely, there were other people at the party who saw what was going on, who perhaps knowingly exchanged glances realizing what was happening but ultimately did nothing, didn't intervene but just stood by and watched not wanting to "get involved in the business of others", or perhaps more honestly fearful of what might happen if they did. How do I know this, because I have been there. I remember in my own youth when faced with bullying at school my aim was to fight back enough so I would be left alone and then steer clear of the bullies, just grateful that when they were beating up others, they were not beating up me. Intervene; not likely, my aim was to stay off their radar!

We, meaning all of us, need to do more than just be horrified each time this stuff happens and be photographed with tears of regret in our eyes; we need to stop it happening in the first place or if it is happening intervene. This stuff will not stop without each of us being prepared to do the right thing, even though it might involve an element of personal cost or personal risk. The recent loss of these three women shows that we can be passive bystanders no more. 

That is fine in theory you might say, but how does it work in practice. It works by each of us making a personal "Pledge-to-Protect".  This is not something we have to announce or sign a piece of paper for, it is a personal commitment that no longer are you going to stand on the side-lines and watch. If you see situations like this developing, intervene ... Take the potential victim home, call their parents or friends, call the police.  If you receive pictures or messages about such abuse, instead of re-tweeting them to others, re-tweet them to the authorities if possible identifying the source or the perpetrators; don't give the perpetrators a place to hide.  Above all, take the time to show true compassion to the victim, be a friend. They may well have made a mistake, who of us doesn't, but that doesn't justify looking down at them, sneering at them or adopting  a "they got what they deserved" or they "had it coming" attitude. Whatever, they may or may not have done, no victim deserves to be ostracized, isolated and re-abused to the point where the feel they have no alternative but to take their own life. 

But all this involves personal risk and time you might protest. That is absolutely right. However, until we all individually resolve to adopt and implement a personal  "Pledge-to-Protect", we are going to keep reading about such events, something which I personally no longer have an appetite to do. So if you are really sickened by this stuff, rather than just shake your head one more time, refuse to be one of the "Other People at the Party". Intervene in a positive way to diffuse or prevent a bad situation escalating towards tragic and irreversible consequences,  regardless of whether "the party" is a gathering of abuse in a social, work, school or home setting.  Please don't remain passive any longer!

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Journey - The Beginning

A Journey .... The Beginning

"They hit me when I was down, but GOD stuck by me.  He stood me up on a wide- open field;
I stood there saved-- surprised to be loved!   GOD made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before him.  When I got my act together,  he gave me a fresh start.  Now I'm alert to GOD's ways; I don't take God for granted.  Every day I review the ways he works; I try not to miss a trick.  I feel put back together, and I'm watching my step.  GOD rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.  The good people taste your goodness,  The whole people taste your health, The true people taste your truth,  The bad ones can't figure you out".

Psalms 18: 18-26 (Message)

Beyond salvage, yet loved
Broken, yet restored
Condemned, yet forgiven
Of little value, yet priceless

These are some of the contradictions that exist in my life, contradictions the show the difference between how I see myself and how God sees me.  Having been a Christian for many years, God truth's have managed to become "knowledge of what it should be like" but, if  I am honest, they have yet to consistently manifest themselves into my day-to-day life. Being aware of this gap I first tried to implement what I shall call the "Christian Character" under my own steam. When that inevitably didn't work, I resorted to faking it so I could have some "street-cred" in Christian circles. This leads to an increasingly downward spiral where the more you attempt to fake things, the more hollow and empty you become. As time progresses, this double life leads to a search for different ways to restore self-worth and in time the actual life you live as opposed to the spiritual life you fake becomes increasingly more difficult to distinguish from those who live entirely in the world ... The salt looses its saltiness.  Maintaining a fake spiritual life is exhausting and has a veracious appetite .... the longer you attempt to maintain it the more desperate and extreme you become in trying to find substitutes in an attempt to establish some semblance of self worth. 

This is where Psalm 18 kicks in.  The psalmist appears to have got to a point where his own resources had been exhausted (they hit me when I was down).  Just when it seems when he was at the end of his rope, God intervened in a way that truly surprised him.  The basis on which this was done is really interesting.  His life was made complete when he placed all the pieces before Him, the good the bad and the ugly!  This suggests both total honesty and total commitment. However, the offering of all the pieces appears to have come not when in the worlds eyes he had a lot to offer, but rather from a point of "God here are all the broken pieces of my life I cannot put them back together, can you do something with them?"  This brings us to a concept that I find both difficult and scary at the same time, that of total surrender to God.  

 The reasons why I find the concept of total surrender so difficult and scary have always perplexed me. Like many others I have heard many sermons and read a lot of books/articles on surrender. If you ask me as a Christian is it necessary I would reply "absolutely"; but actually doing it appears to be another matter.  My reluctance seems almost harder to understand in the context of God sending His only Son to die in my place, a supreme act of love, so why do I find it so hard to surrender to Someone who loves me so much and has my best interest at heart? In fact, if it comes to that why is it that the only way to move towards a whole life in Christ is through brokenness and surrender in the first place.  I often find myself thinking that surely there must be another less painful way, a way that allows me to salvage some semblance of personal dignity from life?  In truth as I ponder this concept, it seems to well up an anger and resentment towards God that as any good Christian knows should not exist; hence I do my best to suppress it as quickly as possible. The difficulty is that the more I suppress this thought the more frequently it seems to return and taunt me!

There are many people who have attempted to explain surrender and brokenness.  The explanations range from depicting God as being an "army boot camp instructor", an  egotistical being who wants to break you down and crush you to make sure you know you are worthless, that He is boss and once you get to that point He will put you back together; through to a God who although loving and dying for you as an individual might choose at a moments notice to break you and put you through immense suffering for the greater collective good.  In this latter picture you become an item of collateral damage, even though this seems to contradict the concept that God treats and cares for us all as individuals. As I have struggled with this whole issue, God has provided an illustration that has helped in providing some insight. 

By virtue of being an engineer,  I often become enthusiastic about assembling some item which I have excitedly picked up from a store such as a BBQ or a hi-tech gadget.  In my enthusiasm to get the item working I perhaps don't pay that much intention to the instructions, as after all I know how this item is meant to work; I just want to get it up and running.  Two or three hours later it is nearly complete and I just have to put the last few pieces in place when I find out that they don't appear to fit.  After several attempts to make them fit, I become angry and frustrated and focus my attention on the stupidity of the designer. How could the designer let me get so close to getting my item up and running only to frustrate me at the last minute because of his oversight and obvious lack of knowledge as to how these things really work?  Never mind, I can adapt and overcome such incompetence, let me take a closer look.  In taking that closer look, to my horror I discover that early on in the build process when I had stopped paying too much attention to the instructions, I had inserted a component the wrong way around .... completely understandable as despite what the instructions said it seemed to fit that way anyway!  Having discovered the problem I then try to circumvent it only to gradually realize that the only way this can be circumvented is to dis-assemble all my work of the last three hours, break it down to its basic components and start again, this time paying more attention to the instructions.  When my wife, having observed my endeavors from the periphery of my frustration, asks me what I am doing, I carefully explain that because the designer didn't have enough forethought to ensure this thing could be assembled the wrong way when you didn't read the instructions properly, I am having to reassemble this whole item again and although I don't want to do it there is no other way if the item is to function as intended. Six hours later, the item is finally up and running. I am inwardly humbled but, in an attempt to salvage some dignity regarding my assembly prowess, feel compelled to moan about the inadequacies/incompetence of the designer for the next few days. As for my wife, she just lovingly smiles as I vent and suggests that maybe next time we should pay closer attention to the instructions; it almost as though she has experienced this situation many times before!

I am starting to realize that my assembly experience might illustrate the dilemma that God often sees. As the designer of life He has provided instructions which for whatever reasons we sometimes choose to ignore. We are so anxious to get on with functioning as He must surely want,  we launch into a frantic assembly of our lives, based on what we perceive to be good Christian principles, only to discover that just when we to start to feel that we are nearly there, the last pieces don't seem to fit and our life is not functioning as it should.  We plead that an exception should be made, that somehow God circumvent the design.  After all it is nearly there and we have invested so much effort to get to this point.  God lovingly turns to us and says, I am sorry but it just will not work that way, that is not the way I designed you and you cannot function in that manner. Let me help you with the disassembly and put things back in the manner which they were always intended to be. That way you can live in the confidence of my design, experiencing the joy that in me you can be assured that there is nothing which you will encounter that can not be overcome and hence you do not need to lead a life bound by fear (Romans 8 v 26-38,  1 John 4 v 13-18 and Proverbs 3 v 21-27).

So I am slowly starting to discover,  what the Psalmist in Psalm 18 seems to have appreciated.  Giving God, who as stuck by me all the way, all the pieces and surrendering to Him is evidence of God's love aimed at giving me a life of true freedom as He always desired, as opposed to being an act of crushing me for no apparent reason!  As I go this route, really having nothing to bring to the table, much to my amazement I discover that the dark forest of tribulation and despair in which I have wandered for so long, opens up into a wide-open field where I can see and feel the sun and find out that God has truly loved me all along! I feel renewed and whole, as God graciously puts me back together to function as He always intended. Now having been lovingly assembled in the right way the next challenge is to make sure I follow the operating instructions and don't take "God for granted".  This is just the beginning!!!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Journey - The Starting Point

I Don't Feel Anymore (A Meditation)

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-- watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill- fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly".

Matthew 11:28-30 (Message)

I don't laugh anymore, not sure when I stopped
Somewhere along the way life's worries and cares
Masked hope, sucked away joy
Now I don't laugh anymore. 

I don't cry anymore, not sure when I stopped
Somewhere along the way survival became a focus
Numbed feelings, suppressed emotion
Now I don't cry anymore. 

I don't listen anymore, not sure when I stopped
Somewhere along the way self absorption
Turned me inward, drained compassion
Now I don't listen anymore. 

I don't think anymore, not sure when I stopped
Somewhere along the way reflection became
Merely a source of more worry, a source of more pain
Now I don't think anymore.

Love,  joy,  peace all those things promised to me
Seem elusive as the wind, yet something I long to see
Where are you Lord, so often is my cry
That I never see you weeping by my side

I can no longer do this in my might alone
The changes I need seem to be very far from home
Attainable for others, but never quite for me
I feel so tired and defeated and anything but free. 

So this is where I start from
Drained as you can see
I've nothing left to offer, nothing more I can be
Do you really want to reach out, for someone wrecked as me?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Moses my Servant is Dead ...!!!!

The first interaction that Joshua has with God after the death of Moses appears in Joshua, Chapter 1 v 2 where God says to Joshua:

“Moses my servant is dead.  Now then you and all these people get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites”  Joshua C1 v 2 (NIV).

As the encounter continues God promises that nobody will be able to stand against Joshua and then twice in verses 6 & 9 tells him to be strong and of good courage.  In fact in verse 9 God goes further and tells Joshua to also not be terrified and not to be discouraged for He (God) will be with you wherever you go.

I suspect that these were just not platitudes that God was providing, but rather needed words as Joshua was looking at what lay before him and was probably feeling overwhelmed.  From a human perspective one can certainly understand why; Moses was going to be a hard act to follow.  Although Joshua had exhibited faith of his own went sent to spy out the Promised Land, even when others doubted God’s promise (Numbers 13 & 14), there had always been Moses around to mentor and to guide him.  Moses who was revered by the people Joshua was now meant to lead, Moses whom God had affirmed on so many occasions and now he was gone.  What is more, not only was Moses gone but God was directing them to move forward into the new land that He had promised them.  Change was about to take place.  Although the wilderness had been hard it was what the people knew and in a perverse way felt comfortable in, a place where they could survive.  It must have been very tempting for Joshua to say:

“Look Lord, you want me to lead these people.  They are going through change, a new leader.  Let’s not pile on too much in one go, let’s not make a precipitous or hasty decisions.  How about we stay in the desert for another year or so to facilitate an easy transition?  Then, when things have settled down and stabilized we can look at crossing the Jordan.  The last thing they need now is more conflict, more turmoil and to be upsetting people as we move into new territory”

Yet as far as we know he didn’t.  Joshua mobilized the people as God had commanded (verses 10 & 11) despite any fears, or concerns He might have had.  He was prepared to trust the God he knew regardless of whether he could see how things might turn out.  That trust was soon to be tested at Jericho were God’s plan for taking the city involved marching around it.  Not the most conventional military tactic!  I suspect that there must have been some who as they marched around the city must have been thinking or saying, “What is Joshua doing?  How are we meant to take a city just by walking around it?  Moses wouldn’t have done it this way … Oh if only Moses were here”.

In hindsight as we read through the book of Joshua, His leadership is seen to be exemplary even though it appears it was a role about which he had some trepidation.  Interestingly enough, Joshua’s starting point was not too dissimilar from that of his mentor, Moses (Exodus C3 v 1-12).  Both of them started from the place of fear and inadequacy of having to face the fact that in their own strength what they were being asked to do seemed impossible.  In God’s plan such a starting point is not uncommon. For example, in Judges 6 v 13-15  and 7 v2, Gideon finds himself in much the same position. 

This model of leadership is almost completely foreign to what we in our culture, and dare I say even in our churches, promote.  We seem to get caught up in the idea that leaders are innately strong in character, have been trained at all the right educational institutions, have been successful in everything they have attempted etc.  With such an inaccurate picture, it is no wonder that many of us find it hard to believe that God can be calling us to exercise His leadership in our families, in our homes, in our churches in our communities.  We know we are not strong, that we are struggling to survive in the desserts we are in.  While we often long and pray to leave those desserts, we feel secure in them, after all “better the devil you know …..right?”.

So what is the secret behind leadership?  There are many facets, but I think we get a good sense for what it involves in Joshua C1 v 7-8:

“Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or left that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful”  Joshua C1 v 7-8 (NIV).

At first glance this may seem to simply be an admonishment to keep God’s laws and read His word.  While keeping God’s laws and reading His Word is something we should all be doing, I would suggest that this passage goes far beyond those actions alone.  This passage is really imploring Joshua to spend time getting to know and fellowship with God, to understand His ways and as a result be successful.  It is encouraging a commitment to relationship that as it grows and is nurtured will allow Joshua to understand God’s perfect ways and be successful because he is walking in God’s light and understanding seeing things as the truly are, not as they appear to be.  It is an approach that is encouraged many times in the Bible.  For example see:

·        Proverbs C3 v 5-8;

·        Matthew C7 v 7 -12; and

·        James C1 v 2-8

All of these passages encourage us to seek out God’s understanding of situations not our own.  As we do, so we will be brought to a place where God directs us to act.  While our nature is to want to know the outcome before we act, God’s way is to get us to act based on who we know (God) as opposed to what we know.   This is the definition of faith (Hebrews C11 v1).

It’s not often easy when we get to the point where we are sat in the desert knowing and feeling comfortable with what is behind us while at the same time looking at the Jordan in front of us not necessarily knowing what lies ahead.  While we may have been praying about our situation for a long time during which God may have blessed us with mentors, a comfortable lifestyle, good health, little or no conflict for a season, He now challenges us:

“Moses my servant is dead ….Now you and all these people get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites”

It is now between you and God as He calls you to move on and be His leader in a new area with which you may not be familiar or feel qualified; to move beyond the Jordan, often beyond your comfort zone, even though you might not feel equipped/ready to go.  His plan is for you to know and live life in all its fullness lies beyond the wilderness in which you have resided for so long, it lies in ways you have not even seen or begun to comprehend beyond the Jordan!

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”

Inadequate as you feel, the Jordan lies ahead of you.  You will not be asked to cross it alone, but you will be asked to cross it.  As you take those first steps to cross, God will go before and with you, strengthen you and provide for you, even though you might not presently understand how.  The only question is, if God is calling you are you prepared to leave the “comfort and security” of the familiar and walk towards your Jordan?

“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and the gospel will save it.” Mark C8 v 34b-35 (NIV).


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Living in Uncertain Times

A combination of  bad economic forecasts, job security or lack thereof, sensless acts of violence and and other things have contributed to many of us facing uncertain times and the assocaited stress /anxiety that goes with it.  As a Christian I am often left with this nagging feeling that I should have more faith and not be impacted by all of this, yet in truth find I too often get drageed into anxiety/panic in uncertain times.  In addition to the adverse physical/emotional drain that such anxiety can cause, I also end up feeling more defeated and feeling I should have a stronger faith..

Recently, I have been looking at some Psalms and if you get chance today compare and contrast Psalm 44 and 46.  Psalm 44 is a Psalm of despair/realization/frustration.  Despair, as at that time it appears hard for the Psalmist to see God.  Realization, in that the Psalmist appears to begin to understand that the resolution of tempestuouds circumstance lies not  with the guile/agility of men (see v 3-8).  However,even with this head knowledge you stiill see frustration and despair creeping in as he struggles to understand why things are still going "wrong" even though he apparently has done everything right (v 17-18).  Yet, two Psalms later in Psalm 46, although things still seem to be tempestuous as ever the Psalmist appears to have gained a new perspective (See verses 1-3).  It appears that as the Psalmist works through the uncertain circumstances in which he finds himself, it strikes him that it is God who will solve the problem, his role is to testify to just how great and caring God is, even during adversity (see v8 -9).

I can relate to this guy!  So often I am tempted to get  anxious, frustrated and despairing about a situation that I can do little or anything about and quite frankly has overwhelmed me.  I have done everything I know to do the right thing and yet still everything seems in turmoil and not working out and I ahven't been able to so"solve" it.  Thankfully, at times like these a small voice reminds me that the battle is God's and my role is just to bear testimony to those around me; to my family and others whom God has placed in my path; as to  how God is working and caring for each person even when it seems our world is turned upside down!

So at times when I feel I have no insight or control as to i how things will work out or what will happen in a given set of circumstances, what I can do is let God know that my desire is to focus beyond the turmoil and bear witness to God in a gentle way to those He puts in my path.   As I choose this over the temptation to panic or fear, time and time again God shows himself to be faithful. 

My next challenge, to remember to give things over to God as my first course of action as oppossed to my last .... something with which it seems I am still struggling!.

In Jesus Precious Name.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Bread of Adversity

There is nothing more fundamental to the sustainment of life in our thinking than bread (or a similar staple such as rice) and water. Providing these elements are present we can live and grow; without them we die. While in the western world we consider only having access to such elements to represent a life of hardship, in many places in the world they constitute the provision of sustenance for which people are continually thankful; a lesson that we in the western world so often loose sight of.

In Isaiah Chapter 30 and verses 15-21 there is a reference to bread and water which we probably would prefer not to think of too often.

In verses 20 & 21 we find the following:

"Although the Lord gives you the bread a of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying 'this is the way, walk in it'"

The concept that adversity & affliction can be the elements through which our life is sustained and probably even grow is something that we would rather not contemplate. Moreover, the passage also suggests that they also an integral part of our learning process and guidance (verse 22). While in hindsight many Christians will acknowledge that times of significant growth most often occur during times of adversity/affliction, it is not a state they relish nor a state in which they desire to stay. In fact, generally speaking, affliction and adversity are states to which we devote significant time and energy trying to avoid and/or exit as soon as possible. Consequently, we are left with a dilemma; the situations during which we grow the most and learn a lot are the very situations which scare us the most and in which we want to spend the least possible time! Why is this? Does God have some perverse characteristic that enjoys putting us through spiritual boot camp? Is it a way by which we are meant to show what we are made of; a proving ground if you like? This is a question that many before me appear to have struggled with, as evidenced in books such as the Psalms (eg: Psalm 38) and in the New Testament letters of apostles such as Peter to the church which by this time has been scattered all over the place as a result of persecution (1 Peter C5 v 6 - 11).

Today you only have to visit your local Christian bookstore to find a plaethora of books dealing with suffering. The explanations/ exortations provided in them are extensive ranging from "we are to expect it, so bring it on so we can grow", "God causes suffering so that we can grow", "our need to be broken/crushed before God can use us", "spiritual warfare", "there must be something wrong you haven't dealt with ( along the lines of Job's comforters)" and "trying to survive as best you can until the trials have passed". While there may be some elements of truth in some of these explanations, they offer little consolation while we are passing through adversity. Furthermore, many of these explanations leave me struggling with how this is consistent with a God who right from Genesis through to the death and resurrection of Christ has consistently demonstrated how he loves each one of us, desires to have a relationship with us and sacrificed His Son to make this possible.

Some insight into these issues can be found in the beginning of Isaiah 30. If you go back to the beginning of the Chapter you discover that God's chosen people are at a stage where they are trying to solve their problems by consulting with and/or making alliances with everything and everyone but God. In fact by the time you reach verse 10 they have reached the stage where they no longer wish to hear what God has to say as they no longer want to look at what is actually facing them, but rather "pleasant things (NIV)". In verse 12 it becomes more apparent that they have been bound and determined to solve problems in their own way, using their own resources. This ultimately leads to the statement in verse 15 where God says:

"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of if (NIV)"

As a result of God's children choosing not to follow God's direction we see that they become fearful( verses 16 & 17).

It strikes me that this so often resembles my own walk. God points me towards a path that I can see requires me to face adversity and affliction and my first instinct is to run the other way, to use my own guile to develop solutions which I perceive will minimize my own pain anything to try and avoid the direction in which I am being pointed. Why do I do this? If I am truthful I think it is most often because I realize that the situation is too hard for me to handle, something about which I feel too vulnerable to handle or something which previously caused me a lot of pain and which I vowed I would never deal with again. What I have forgotten to factor into my assessment at this point is Paul's observation that we can do all things in Christ who strengthens me (Philippians C4 v 13). You would think that such a promise would excite me, but too often it makes me start to realize that my life in Christ involves becoming dependant on him and giving up any pretence of personal control; a pretence that although in my heart-of-hearts I know is false and ultimately leads to failure I for some reason still choose to stubbornly cling to. Instead, of following God's direction to return to Him and His way and rely on and trust Him to address adversity (paraphrase of verse 15), I panic, start flayling around and end up in a constant state of fear as I alternate between gingerly approaching and rapidly retreating from the adversity/affliction that I perceive lies ahead. All the time I am asking, or probably more accurately yelling, at God about why I need to face such adversity/affliction in the first place?

A partial answer to this may lie in an example from my profession. I am trained as a aircraft structures engineer. Part of my job involves helping to evaluate structures through both analysis and test to ensure they will not fail in flight. How is this accomplished?; by loading up the structures beyond the anticipated worse loads they will see in service to validate that they are indeed capable of taking those loads. The general public expects that such testing will have been carried out and verified before they get on a plane. Can you imagine what would happen if you and I were traveling together on a plane and upon finding out what I do for a living you ask me is this plane safe? If I replied "I expect so, but we haven't really tested it out but it will probably be OK", you would probably have some serious reservations upon getting on the plane. Furthermore, if after further reflection, I then turned to you and said "hmm .... as we haven't actually tested the plane I will skip this flight so that I can observe what happens. When you land safely you will know that the plane was OK", you probably wouldn't want to get on the flight at all! Conversely, if I explained all the testing that had been done to substantiate that the aircraft could survive all conditions it was anticipated to encounter in service, you would feel a lot more cmfortable getting on the plane, regardless of whether you had a detailed understanding of the engineering or not.

If you compare verses 15 and 18 & 19, I think that in a similar way to my description of aircraft testing God might be trying to show us that although in this life we will be confronted with adversity and affliction we only have to call out to Him, He will provide all the help and resources to deal with whatever we are facing whether we understand the "Engineering" behind it or not. The net result is that at the end of the day we know that we can totally rely on God as oppossed to our own "Egyptian Alliances" (guile and resourcefulness). This is something that the apostle Paul discovered as evidenced by passages such as Romans C8 v 26-38. So perhaps what we are seeing in Isaiah C30 is God encouraging us not to flee in fear from adversity and affliction when it presents itself to us but rather to approach it in God's strength so we can truely see it for what it is, see that God can deal with it and subsequently be freed from any fear or other hold it might otherwise have over us. This also helps us to atart making more sense of the passage in 1 Peter C5 v 6-11 alluded to earlier in this article. As we allow God to teach us with the bread of adversity and the water of affliction and not rely on our own guile and resourcefulness, so we humble ourselves before God, cast our fears to Him who is able to resolve them. This allows us to resist the Devil and not giving him a foothold of fear. Ultimately this will lead to is being restored, strong and steadfast (Compare Isaiah C30 v 15 with 1 Peter C5 v 6 & 10).

Maybe what we most need to learn is that the bread of adversity and the water of affliction are only something we need to fear if we attempt to face or deal with them by ourselves as opposed to realizing that our salvation lies in giving up our self-reliance, turning to Him and seeing our strength come from trusting Him as He works in our lives(Isaiah C30 v 15). While I am starting to realize that this is the way we need to go, I for one am certainly not there! In that regard the prayers of those of you who read this would certainly be appreciated!