Scars

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4

If you walk among the aspens, you’ll notice their scarred trunks. Many of the roundish blemishes are from branches that have fallen off, a natural part of the tree’s growth. Others, though, are more rugged. These irregularly shaped scars are usually the result of elk having chewed on the bark. Over time the wounds heal, but the scars remain as a testament of survival.

We all have scars. They are evidence of our past, and they make us unique. Our scars usually result from trauma – physical or emotional. For some it was abuse or neglect in childhood. Others of us carry scars from broken relationships, losses, accidents, illnesses, or threats. Many older people, looking back on their lives, acknowledge the pains they have endured, and still end up saying, “I wouldn’t change anything.” Why? Because they know they wouldn’t be the people they became over time without the events that sometimes wounded them.

We don’t have to be ashamed of our scars. They record our histories, they give evidence of our ability to survive, to heal. And they allow us to connect with those who recognize those scars as theirs, too.

Jesus was raised from the dead after a brutal crucifixion. He could have had any resurrection body he wanted, but he chose to keep his scars. They verified his identity to doubting disciples, and they still give evidence of his triumphant sacrifice for humankind.

Every scar we have represents pain that, by God’s grace, made us stronger, better, more like Christ. He didn’t hide his scars. We shouldn’t either.

Suffering is arguably God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us. – Joni Eareckson Tada

Don’t give up!

 “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you . . .” Psalm 63:1a

We are all working toward something. We have goals and dreams. Is God on your wish list? I heard a teacher say recently that we need to take God off any list. He stands alone as the one and only priority in our lives. When we make him that, he will become a part of and will invade every other aspiration we have. He’s not something to do. He’s someone to pursue.

We need to be patient in that pursuit because It takes time to get to know God. Don’t give up, though. He gives this promise, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13). It’s not that he’s hiding. It’s that he’s so great and beyond our understanding that he has to reveal who he is a little at a time. But his promise stands. If our hearts are right, we will find him. We will get to know him. We will find ourselves in his presence – a place of security, love, joy, and purpose. It’s a promise!

When we get discouraged with the process, we should remember that the Magi watched and studied the sky for years looking for the cosmological sign that would announce the coming of the Messiah. Then, one day, a star appeared. And, when it did, they followed it until they found Jesus, God in human form. So we keep looking, searching, desiring to find him, to know him, no matter how long it takes. We will never stop wanting more of him.

“Let all our employment be to know God: The more one knows him, the more one desires to know him.” ~ Brother Lawrence

What do you really want?

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45

A business man once told me that people make decisions based on emotions, not reasoning. If they want something badly enough, they will find a way to justify the decision and will think they are acting rationally. So I began to watch in the business world as people made choices that seemed to be because the numbers added up, but as I listened to what they said, it often became obvious that the decision was made mostly because they wanted to. Some even acknowledged that to be the case.

If we understand that our wants are going to steer our decision making, we realize we can’t reason our way into being better people. Emotions are stronger than logic almost every time. So what do we do if we know we need to change our behavior? We acknowledge that, since we will do what we want, what we want must change. And, as spiritual mentors have long taught, we change what we want by consistently practicing some simple, do-able things.

Liturgical readings and prayers, Scripture passages, creeds, or hymns sincerely repeated become powerful forces to mold our desires. Consistent, repetitive acts of worship, even using someone else’s words, invite God to reach into our hearts and tune them to loving the best things. Add Bible reading, prayer, and communion with other believers, and we find that, over time, these holy habits change us. God’s desires become our desires. We will do what we want to do and it will be good!

“A mistaken thought may be corrected easily, but an errant affection is nearly unmanageable.” – Watchman Nee

The Value of Time

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Have you ever heard of the time value of money? The concept is if you have a little money, invest it where it can earn interest, and let principal and interest grow together, eventually you will have a great deal more money than you started with. The key ingredient is time.

There’s a time value to spirituality, too. We begin with commitment to follow Christ. Then we learn a little here and there, adding to the knowledge we already have. We sense the foundation of our spiritual life is getting stronger. Then, we add experiences, sound teaching, spiritual practices, and relationships until, over time, we realize we’re changing (2 Peter 1:5-9). There are many behaviors and activities that contribute to our spiritual maturation, but time is a key ingredient to fostering true transformation.

Here are a few examples of how that might help:

  • Temptation that is persistent tests us, grows us, and invites God to intervene. We shortchange ourselves when we give in to temptation without a fight. If we resist and trust God, we get stronger (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  • Faith that has to wait for fulfillment grows deeper with time. If all our prayers were answered immediately, our faith would be fragile. As we learn to trust God’s timing, our faith grows (Romans 4:20).
  • Spiritual fruit comes only after seeds are buried and the plants mature. Growth to the point of fruitfulness in God’s Kingdom takes time (Mark 4:26-29).

We want to encourage our own spiritual growth, but we can’t hurry it. Most of the highly valued things in life take time. Don’t give up!

“Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.” – Author Unknown

Expectations!

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, . . . She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” – Proverbs 3:13 and 15

We bought a pail of sand for our grandson from a rock shop in Colorado because we had been told there were stones to be found in the sand if the recipient was willing to dig for them. He was!

One by one a wide variety of rocks were found – everything from tiger eye (his favorite) to obsidian to geodes. Each was greeted with appropriate appreciation and, sometimes, awe. As his treasures were washed and laid out on a towel to dry, I thought of how different the result would be if he had not been willing to take off the cover and begin to dig.

Why did he bother to open it? Because he expected to find something. He believed if he dug deep enough, there would be treasure.

I couldn’t help applying that thought to the Bible that sits next to my chair. Why do I choose to turn the cover and read it every day? Because I expect to find something. Something I will value, something that will please me, something that will correct me, something that will add to my knowledge or will give me direction. And I am never disappointed!

Do you see what I mean? The treasure is there, but we have to be willing to dig for it. So, let’s keep reading God’s Word, believing he has a message for us there every time we open it. Soon we will have a collection of understanding, promises, and encouragement that will make us wise and our lives beautiful!

“Our pursuit of God is successful just because he is forever seeking to manifest himself to us.” A. W. Tozer

Why a mountain?

You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. – Exodus 15:17

My husband and I had the privilege of retiring to the mountains two years ago. We had both lived in the fairly flat Midwest all of our lives and were ready for a change. The mountains called and we came.

Over time, I’ve realized how important the mountains seem to be to God. It was on a mountain that Abraham offered Isaac and later on that same mount where the Temple was built and the people of Israel (and others who would join them) worshiped God.

It was on a mountain that the law was given to Moses, including the Ten Commandments that have been the foundation of laws in many countries today.

It was on a mountain that Elijah, standing in a cleft of the rock, heard God’s quiet voice speaking to him.

It was on a mountain that Jesus taught his followers in the greatest sermon ever given.

On a high mountain in Israel, Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus in all his glory as he talked with Moses and Elijah.

And, of course, it was on Mount Calvary that Jesus was crucified for the sins of us all.

Why a mountain? Maybe ascending to the height of the mountain is the farthest we can get from the distractions of this world, the concerns of this life. Whether on a mountain or in a quiet room, getting away to get nearer to God – to hear His voice, to see His glory, and to receive his instruction may be the finest thing we can do today.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” – William Blake

Need a leader?

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1

Need a story of hope, today? Try this:

God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, but King Saul was mad and determined to kill David before that could happen. Early in David’s fugitive life, supporters began to gather. Before long, he has a ragtag “army” of about 600 men.

And “ragtag” might be the right word. The Bible tells us they were people who were in debt, distressed, and/or “bitter in soul”. David must have sighed deeply when they met for their first strategy meeting! These were all people who had been battered by life and were, in fact, not responding well to their circumstances.

Fast forward a few years. By then, there were thirty choice soldiers known as “David’s Mighty Men”. The rest were the support team, but all were disciplined, useful, and loyal. They were willing to risk their lives for their leader. Many, in fact, became part of David’s leadership team when he was crowned as king of Israel.

Where are you today? Getting beat up by life? Finding some bitterness in your heart? Discouraged?

If there was hope for change for David’s ragtag men, there’s hope for you, too. Suggestion? Ask God for a modern-day David, a mentor, to walk alongside you, teach you, and encourage your relationship with God. You may be surprised at the amazing changes coming your way!

And, if your life is on an even keel, maybe you are the leader God is calling to help someone else. Be open to that call. You may be the change-agent someone else is crying out for today.

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion.” – John Stott

It’s a battle you can win.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:57

We often struggle with the way we behave, live, feel, or think. There are things we would like to change, but, after trying too many times to be better, some of us decide we simply are who we are, and there’s nothing we can do to change.

We have have have at issues that plagues us: bad habits, phobias, obsessions, fears, or substance misuse (alcohol, drugs, food, nicotine, caffeine, etc. ). We really don’t want these “enemies” in our lives, but we’ve decided they’re too big, too strong, or too comfortable to get rid of. So we live with them.

That sounds a lot to me like the rationale the Israelites gave when they stopped short of driving the idol-worshiping Canaanites out of the land of promise: They’re big, they’re strong, and we think we can just learn to get along with them. They forgot God and his strength. Do we, too?

With God, freedom can be ours. We can conquer the things that disturb us, weigh us down, distract from full life, and hold us back. We don’t have to live with our enemies!

It will take . . .

. . . consecrating ourselves to God,

. . . obeying his guidance (which often includes counsel and/or community), and

. . . persistence.

If we do these things, we make room for God to act on our behalf, and when he does, we find the enemy we face becomes a little weaker. Soon we notice we have strength to say “no” at least some of the time. When we can do that, we are on our way victory! We don’t have to settle for less than God’s best for us. Believe that.

“Willfulness must give way to willingness and surrender. Mastery must yield to mystery.” – Gerald May

Much more on this topic can be found Addiction and Grace, a book by Gerald May.

Why, God?

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

In the year 2000, a small group of devoted monks moved from the relative comfort of their lives to Norcia, Italy to re-establish the monastery founded there long ago by St. Benedict. Their sole purpose was to love and serve God through the solitude and simplicity of the ancient monastic life.

Then in October of 2016, the Basilica of St. Benedict, built in the 14th century as the center of this monastery’s worship, collapsed in an earthquake. It was a shocking tragedy. The monks couldn’t help wondering how God could allow the destruction of this cathedral when it was built by, and then used for centuries by, those who loved him sacrificially.

They mourned the loss of this great place of worship, but soon all their spiritual training kicked in, and they began to make plans for starting over. One writer described their reaction as “receiv(ing) this catastrophe as a call for deeper holiness and sacrifice.”*

Is that how we respond to crises in our lives? As a “call for deeper holiness and sacrifice?” Not usually. More often our response is “Why, God?” I think it’s OK to ask, but if the answer doesn’t come (and often it doesn’t – at least not right away), we need to accept what has happened and move closer to God as we pick up the pieces.

One of the monks said, “These are mysteries which will take years – not days or months – to understand.”*

Do you have an unanswered “why?” in your life? Let’s not let God’s silence stop us from answering his call to deeper holiness. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

“Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” – Sam Storm

*Both quotes are cited in The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (Sentinel Books: New York, New York), 2017, p. 243

Sailing or Drifting?

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” – Hebrews 2:1

Years ago, I had a friend, Phyllis, who owned a small sailboat, and we shared some sunny afternoons on that boat, sailing across Spring Lake and back.

When we pushed out, Phyllis would choose a spot across the lake and set her sail toward that point, making corrections along the way to keep us on course. Working with the wind to move us in the right direction required constant attention. But we always reached our destination and always returned to our home port safely, and usually dry!

There is a spiritual truth here. Generally, we don’t turn around and sail away from God. Instead, we drift away. One day we wake up and realize how far we are from him. What can we do?

Be intentional: Phyllis always had her eye on the shore, skillfully keeping us on course. Spiritually, we need to keep God always in focus, adjusting our activities, decisions, and relationships to be constantly moving toward him. It won’t just happen. We have to work at it.

Pay attention: If we ever take our attention off the rudder or the sail, we drift and the results can be disastrous. We must not let distractions interfere with our goal.

If we have drifted away from God, let’s get back on course. We can place him in our mind’s eye and keep him there. Then we pay attention by filling our mind with the important and by not being distracted by the inconsequential. Set the sail and stay on course. He’s worth it!

“You either line yourself up with the Son of God . . .or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”– Elisabeth Elliott