It is a good time to stop and reflect on things during periods of transition. We often do this at the end of the year as we look to the beginning of a new one. My wife reflects at the end of a school year. Some people take the time to reflect at the end of a project. In my case, I am in the process of transition from a civilian pastor and US Army Reserve Chaplain to an Active Duty Chaplain. My ecclesiastical endorser requires an accounting of my activities semi-annually. It is no coincidence that the accounting is due right now. As I took the time to reflect on my activities over the past six months, I can look back, with some pride, what I have accomplished with God’s help and guidance.
I served as a Chaplain Candidate with the 332nd Medical Brigade in Nashville, TN under the supervision of CH (LTC) John Schroeder. During this time, I assisted in planning our monthly worship service, shared in worship, and delivered 4 messages in the absence of CH Schroeder. The Chaplain also provided mentoring and additional instruction from his experience in both the regular Army and the Reserves. In May, my unit conducted its Annual Training between our home location and Fort Campbell, KY. CH Schroeder and I visited with our unit while they were conducting training at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital (BACH) at Fort Campbell, KY. In addition, I had the opportunity to work with CH (MAJ) Hernandez, BACH Chaplain during a Mass Casualty Exercise. During this exercise, I observed CH Hernandez as he provided religious support to patients and staff of the hospital. I shared in the after action discussion as well learning what worked and what did not work during the exercise. During May, the unit also worked on Warrior tasks including weapons qualification (the Chaplain and I provided a ministry of presence), team building on the Air Assault Course at Fort Campbell, KY, and Suicide Prevention Training (I assisted the instructor). Beginning in June, I was asked to serve with the Family Readiness Group (this had not been active for several years) and working with other members of the units and spouses, we began to plan and organize events with the Family Readiness Group. Throughout my monthly weekend drills, in addition to worship responsibilities, I strived to meet with each Soldier during the monthly drills to see how they were doing, if they needed anything from me, and how their month has been. I made it a point to be visible and present not only for the Soldiers but also for the command staff as my responsibilities allowed.
It is interesting to stop and write down your accomplishments and then look back over them. As I read my notes, I see God’s presence in much of what I have accomplished. There is a good foundation of learning and experience that I will carry with me to Fort Hood, TX when I begin on Monday. I may not know everything but I am prepared to do what God has called me to do. As long as I remember why I am there and who has called me to this work, I have nothing to fear.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. ~Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)
It has been an interesting few days (you can go back and read some of the previous posts for more information). I have been through waiting (also known as the valley) and now to active duty (also known as the mountaintop). God is guiding us in a new direction and I am starting to get excited. Now that the news of my selection for active duty has begun to take root, I find myself feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything that needs done. It could be time of stress but we are going to take this slow and steady (after all the tortoise did win the race by being slow and steady).
So where do I begin this process of transition from civilian to military chaplain?
- Uncluttering/Packing: that’s right. We have accumulated stuff – again. When we moved to Nashville in 2005, we cleaned house (literally) and managed to get rid of a lot of stuff we didn’t need. We vowed it would not happen again and yet here we are in 2012 with the same issue. I have 87 days left until I report so it is plenty of time to begin to unclutter and pack and donate things. I plan to go through my closet in the coming days and truly decide what clothes I never wear and get rid of them. There is no need to have as much as I do – especially if I am going to wear a uniform every day.
- Running/Exercising: While I find myself in decent physical shape, I need to do more and do better. I want to be able to hold my own when I go to my new unit. I don’t want to embarrass myself. Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with me. The better I do in PT, the more relevant I become to my Soldiers. If I am one of those broken down chaplains, they are not as likely to relate to me as they would otherwise and so I am going to run more and do more push-ups and do more sit-ups.
- Reading about Religious Groups: I have found that people are surprised that I will be a Chaplain to many different groups. One of my jobs is to ensure the religious freedom of all of my Soldiers and make sure the have the resources to practice their religion. To better help me help them, I am going to be reading about other religious groups and making an effort to visit local representatives in my community to learn more. I hope to be better informed.
- Spending Time in God’s Word: While this is obvious for a Chaplain, it may be the one area that is overlooked in the course of the next few months. There is so much to do that I might find my devotional time lacking because I don’t have the time. Spending time in God’s word may be the most important thing I do as I transition from a civilian. This is what is all about and I need to keep my focus on why I am doing this in the first place. I know that reading God’s word should be first on this list but I put it last to emphasize that I need to remember not to let it be last.
I am taking this day by day as my family and I embark on this journey. It is exciting and I look forward to seeing what God has in store for us.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. ~Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)
How in the world does the Apostle Paul expect us to always be joyful? Does he really intend that we are to be like some Christians and walk around life as if we are on some spiritual cloud nine, totally oblivious to the things going on in the world around us? I have seen far too many people who seem like they are living on some spiritual drug, totally unaffected by events taking place around them. They seem to be joyful because they just don’t know how bad things really are. That kind of joy is not very attractive to most thinking people. It will certainly not provoke the kind of responses that we are hoping to get from people. Instead of wanting to find out how to have such “joy” most people flee from what they see as a mindless naiveté.
Yes, and I’m also asking you, loyal friend, to help these women who have struggled together with me in the ministry of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the scroll of life. Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. -Philippians 4:3-5 (CEB)
A mindless sense of well being that ignores what is going on around you is not what Paul has in mind when he tells the Philippians to Rejoice in the Lord always. The letter he writes to them is filled with recognition of difficult circumstances that they are all facing. In the opening words of the letter Paul acknowledges his own situation as a prisoner facing execution. A little later he encourages the Philippians to remain strong in the face of opposition that currently threatens them as well. Yet even in the face of execution, persecution, and suffering, Paul repeatedly calls on them to have joy, to rejoice in the Lord.
So how do we follow this command to rejoice in the Lord always, even when things are going horribly wrong? First we need to understand “joy” and then we need to understand how we live in it. I like the dictionary definition of joy found in Merriam-Websters online dictionary; “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires”. That is the first great clue to what Paul means by joy. So often our emotions are impacted both positively and negatively by what we are longing and hoping for. If we get it we celebrate and rejoice and even jump up and down getting all excited. Pittsburgh Steeler Super Bowl victories do that for me. When we don’t get what we hope for, what we desire, then we get all depressed and bummed out. A dozen or more straight loosing seasons by the Pittsburgh Pirates seems to bring that on. If what you desire is completely of this world then you will never be able to rejoice the way the Bible calls you to rejoice. One event in life will cause you to celebrate and rejoice and the next will cause you disappointment and heartache.
Fortunately Paul does not tell us to rejoice in our circumstances. He tells us to rejoice in the Lord and he tells us this repeatedly. He even acknowledges that he is repeating himself but says that it is good for us to be reminded again and again to rejoice always. But our rejoicing must be “in the Lord”. Why could Paul rejoice even in the face of his own pending execution? He could rejoice in the Lord because what he desired more than anything else in life was Jesus. What he desired above all things was to be in Christ, close to Christ, content in Christ, and ultimately to be with Christ forever, having run the race of his life in service to Jesus Christ. His rejoicing is not a blind, naive way of smiling at the tragedies of life. His rejoicing came because even as he looked at the chains on his ankles and wrists, as he heard about the persecution of the Philippians, as he was reminded of the fact that he had few to none of the comforts of life that most strove for, he knew that all of that was secondary at best? Why? Because he then thought of Jesus. Paul rejoiced because “in the Lord” he knew that he would in fact obtain eternal life with Christ. He knew that no matter what he suffered in life it would all be for God’s glory and Paul desired to glorify God far more than he desired avoiding hardship or living in comfort.
You see, rejoicing in the Lord is a matter of priority. What do you most desire? What is most important for you in life? What drives you to live and behave in certain ways? Is it recognition from others, or a comfortable lifestyle, or the perfect, healthy body with a lean sexy core and hard abs? Judging from television commercials that last one just might be tops on most peoples priority list. Whatever it is that you desire, that is the thing you are hoping will give you joy. But all of that is fleeting, temporary, and a cheap counterfeit for the true joy that only comes “in the Lord”. If you are striving to live a radical, provocative life for Jesus and want to bring glory to Him in all you do; if you are wanting above all else to be close to Him and serve Him; if your deepest longing from the bottom of your soul is to one day stand before Him and have Him declare, “well done my good and faithful servant, enter my rest”, then you can rejoice always because you will be living for your deepest desire. True joy is found not in the passing things of this world, but in the eternal relationship to be found “in the Lord”. Rejoice in that. Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice that He loves you. Rejoice that He died for you. Rejoice that He rose from the grave for you. Rejoice that He promised to return one day and take you to be with Him in Glory. Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice!
This morning, I was putting the finishing touches on my sermon for tomorrow. As I considered Jesus’ teachings to his apostles, a thought occurred to me. Despite the fact that the apostles where hanging out with the Human One, they never really grasped what was happening. Not only that, they were also as ordinary and common as you could possibly get. One truth throughout Scripture is that God uses people to fulfill His plans and answer prayer. Sometimes they are people we least expect.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Lord used ordinary people to meet needs and be used as His instruments to bring deliverance, provision, or leadership.
The following in Old Statement are just a few examples of those that the Lord called and used.
- God called a normal man named Abraham to leave everything behind to start a new life in an unknown land he had never seen (Genesis 12).
- Through this man, all peoples would be blessed. Through a man who was disgraced, God delivered a nation from captivity. That man was Moses, a leader who was reluctant and insecure (Exodus 3).
- Gideon was an obscure man from a family of no prominence, but the Lord used him to defeat an enemy that was so oppressive that they impoverished the people of God (Judges 6).
- God chose a young shepherd boy named David to be the King of Israel (1 Samuel 16).
- The prophet Amos answered a critic by saying, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel’ ” (Amos 7:14-15).
In the New Testament, God used a young virgin to be the mother of Jesus; and the disciples included fisherman, a tax collector, and religious zealots. None of those would have been on the Jerusalem Who’s Who list, but they were chosen by God to turn the world upside down. By the world’s standards and today’s aptitude tests, Judas Iscariot would have been seen as the only one acceptable. He was personally resourceful, financially shrewd, and corporately calculating. The other disciples would have been rejected because they were petty, self-centered, concerned with personal power and position plus rash and vindictive. God, however, chose them before the Holy Spirit changed them and set them ablaze for His purposes. They were ordinary, imperfect, and unprepared, but God knew their potential and promise.
God uses people to meet needs, accomplish worthwhile tasks, and open doors of opportunity that possibly only God and the person in need know about. In faith and trust, we pray and God answers — sometimes in unexpected ways.
When God uses you, past failures do not disqualify you and imperfections do not diminish your abilities. As God calls you, His Spirit is working through you to be effective and powerful. Again, God uses people, and He wants to bless others through you. As you listen and respond to His prompting, you will be blessed. By following God’s lead, you will be an answer to prayer, used to change and save lives. God is using you!
Are you ordinary? If so, you are just the person God is looking for to perform His plan. He has a task for you and it may be something that you might never think you could tackle. On your own, you cannot, but with God’s help, you can do the extraordinary.
Paul said it best in his letter to the Philippians 4:13: I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.
Easter is behind us and we are faced with months of commonality until we get close to the season of Advent. We traveled the journey of Lent towards joyful anticipation of Easter and then it is past. We are a resurrection people but what do we do in this season when the joy of Easter is slowly fading away from us?
I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. -Philippians 1:6 (CEB)
Like New Year’s, at Easter, I think a lot of people make a commitment to come to church more often and be a better person. I mean, how can they not when we look at the resurrection and realize what it means for us.
Take, for instance, walking in love. A believer reads a passage in the Bible, and the Holy Spirit uses it to remind them of areas in their lives that need some work. They come away encouraged and ready to love, love, love. They’re filled to the brim with the love of God, and start letting it pour out on others.
This goes on for weeks, and one day they stub their toe and cuss. Then they cuss at the dog, and maybe even the kids. This starts a tailspin of strife, and everyone in the house ends up grumpy (except the dog—he’s just doing his best to stay out of the way at this point). The next morning they feel like they’ve been drug through the mud. Guilt overwhelms them, and they think that they’ve blown it entirely.
But no, He who began a good work in them will complete it. So they fell off the horse. All they have to do is get back on and pick up where they left off.
We may falter from time to time but if God can be patient with us long enough to finish the good works that were started within us, then we can be patient with ourselves and get up and keep going. God will not abandon us because we make a mistake – it may be hard to imagine sometimes but somehow in someway, we are part of God’s plan and so those works he began in us will grow and reach maturity one day. I look forward to looking back and seeing God’s work in me even when I don’t think it is there or I feel like I have failed. Then, I can be like Paul and say:
I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. -2 Timothy 4:7 (CEB)
Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near.Don’t be anxious about anything; rather bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:4-7 (CEB)
What does “The Lord is near” mean in verse 5 of today’s Scripture?
This phrase first stuck in my memory when someone shared it with me when I was having a rough day. Things were going wrong and this person said, “Take heart, the Lord is near.” What an odd thing to say. Did he mean that God is around me? Did he mean that Jesus’ return was soon? Did he mean both?
Some scholars think this phrase is about timing and is connected to the previous two sentences in today’s Scripture passage. They say that “The Lord is near” means “Jesus is coming again very soon,” so rejoice always and treat others gently in preparation for his coming.
Some scholars think that “The Lord is near” is about proximity and is connected to the following verses. It means “God is present and attentive to us” so don’t worry about anything. Take your needs and your gratefulness to God in prayer. The Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson expresses this thought memorably in his poem “The Higher Pantheism:”
Speak to Him for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet.
Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.
Either way, the words bring comfort as we near the final week of Advent. As we look to celebrate both the incarnation of Jesus and the joyful hope that the Lord is near, we know we can take comfort that he is around us. Jesus is coming soon. God is present here and now. These are both beautiful truths to ponder and proclaim during Advent.
Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from heaven!
Praise God on the heights!
Praise God, all of you
who are his messengers!
Praise God, all of you
who comprise his heavenly forces!
Sun and moon, praise God!
All of you bright stars, praise God!
You highest heaven, praise God!
Do the same, you waters
that are above the sky!
Let all of these praise the LORD’s name
because God gave the command
and they were created!
God set them in place always and forever.
God made a law that will not be broken.
Praise the LORD from the earth,
you sea monsters
and all you ocean depths!
Do the same, fire and hail,
snow and smoke,
stormy wind that does what God says!
Do the same, you mountains,
every single hill,
fruit trees, and every single cedar!
Do the same, you animals—
wild or tame—
you creatures that creep along
and you birds that fly!
Do the same, you kings of the earth
and every single person,
you princes and every single ruler
Do the same, you young men—
young women too!—
you who are old together
with you who are young!
Let all of these praise the LORD’s name
because only God’s name is high over all.
Only God’s majesty
is over earth and heaven.
God raised the strength of his people,
the praise of all his faithful ones—
that’s the Israelites,
the people who are close to him.
Praise the LORD!
-Psalm 148 (CEB)
On this day when we gather with family and friends to celebrate, we need to focus on why we are celebrating. Too often somewhere between the turkey and the yams, the meaning of this day is tossed out the window as everyone dives into a great meal. Now, it is not a bad thing to enjoy a meal with family and friends but let’s not lose sight of what matters today. As I sit back and think, I have much to be thankful for today. I could come up with a huge list but I want to share just a few people and things I am thankful for today.
- God. God has blessed me in countless ways and continues to be faithful to me even when I stray from him. I know that no matter what happens in my life, I can always depend on God and for this I am thankful.
- My Family. I am where I am because of the love and support of my wife, my daughter, and my parents. They are there when I need them and today (and always) I am thankful for them.
- The Military. Right now, somewhere in this world, there are Soldiers, Marines, so we can Sailors, and Airmen who are standing watch and doing their duty so we can celebrate with our families and friends. I am thankful that they are willing to volunteer to serve to protect us.
This is just a partial list of things and I could write a longer one if I thought about it. However, my point is not about making a list but remembering to be thankful in all things and places.
Don’t be anxious about anything; rather bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. -Philippians 4:6 (CEB)
Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. -1 Thessalonians 5:18 (CEB)
But I want to challenge you to find something to be thankful for every day of the year – not just today. It is not as easy to keep up your thankfulness year round but yet we still have things to be thankful for even when we can’t see it. Strive to find something to thank God for each day of the year. Be thankful.
Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise. -Psalm 51:15 (CEB)
I woke up this morning to hear rain falling on the roof. Then I couldn’t fall back asleep and I found myself pondering a great paradox. Our world versus God’s world. Curious?
We are surrounded by a culture that requires us to be happy. All the time. We are also surrounded by a self-help culture which assures us that by following these five easy steps, or discovering that secret, we can eliminate struggle and pain from our lives. Some of this can be helpful. Most of it is dangerous. To the degree that we can move out of sad self-obsession into the freedom of joyful giving, to the degree that we can benefit from overcoming certain bad habits or achieving more order in our daily living, we can be thankful. But the danger inherent in the implicit promises made by these surrounding cultures is that having reached the end of whatever process or achieving the “enlightenment” of whatever gnosis that is being sold, we will enter a state wherein the struggle is over.
Long before cognitive therapy, by more than a millennium and a half, the desert fathers practiced the examination of thoughts. A disciple would disclose to his abba the thoughts which filled his mind, and his abba, with the gift of discernment, would help him to see which thoughts were delusional, which were of the enemy. A brother who was troubled by what others said about him, was told to go into a cemetery and curse and revile the dead. When he reported back to his abba, his abba asked him how the dead responded. The disciple of course replied that they had said nothing. The abba then told his disciple to go into the cemetery and to praise and compliment the dead. Again he reported back in answer to his abba that the dead had said nothing. They had not been impacted or influenced in any way by his praises or his curses. His abba counseled him to be as the dead.
A brief examination of the thought that life can be without struggle will show similar results. It is a delusion. We will always have struggle. This struggle will not always be traumatic. Sometimes it will simply be in the myriad daily irritations that reveal our true characters. Nor will it always be continuous. We will have periods of respite and relief. But what we need to come to grips with is this simple and unadorned fact: for the Christian, struggle is normal.
Struggle Is Normal
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. -Philippians 2:12-13
This working out our own salvation with fear and trembling is the normative experience of the Christian. “Work out” here is a word connoting labor, an intensification of “work” so as to produce something. It can also mean conquer, overcome, prevail upon. This is not something one does without mental focus and an intensive exertion of the will. I say it again: this is the normal life for the Christian.
It is nice and wonderful to sing about victory in Jesus. We do well to remind ourselves that we are indeed “more than conquerors” by his Holy Spirit. But we ought not to think of our life in this world as the long and uninterrupted after-effects of being crowned on the victor’s stand. Rather, we would do well to think of our life in terms of a long march through many opponents to the final victory. Our latest victory is only a precursor to more struggle and, by God’s grace, more victories.
We have only to look to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith.” Jesus did not simply suffer one temptation from Satan. He endured three. And though when he had finished that round of testing Jesus did indeed return “in the power of the Spirit,” nonetheless, his struggles were not over: “Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Jesus was tested again and again by the religious leaders of his own people. He was rejected by the people of his hometown. One of his own disciples, whom he had chosen, betrayed him to death. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus again faced the Tempter. If Jesus was made perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10), that is to say, in that the partaking of flesh and blood was required to conquer death, then how much more are we so made perfect as well? If Christ learned obedience through the things which he suffered (Hebrews 5:8), how much more do we so learn obedience?
In a world of ease and comfort that is twenty-first century North America, this reminder disturbs us:
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. -Hebrews 12:3-4
The primary meaning here is, of course, the Hebrew Christians had not yet resisted in their trials to the point of death. They hadn’t shed any blood. While we would not be wise to pull down a flagellum and start whacking ourselves about the neck and shoulders with it, the point remains: our struggles are minimal, comparatively speaking, to what Christians have faced throughout history and are facing in our present world. And yet, if Christ’s life is normative for us, and if he faced such struggles, then we will not escape them–if we want to be like him.
So, let us then accept this truth: for the Christian, struggle is normal. Our goal is not the easy, carefree life. Though we may be richly blessed by God with few cares. Rather, our goal is faithfulness. All struggle is a test: we will be faithful?
Struggle from the Outside
There are two kinds of struggles that we face, external and internal struggles. We cannot clearly draw impermeable boundaries, because sometimes our failures in our internal struggles lead to external struggles. If we do not maintain a healthy manner of living, we will experience illness. Gluttony leads to obesity; the internal gives way to the external.
Nonetheless, we do face external struggles that come upon us unbidden and even unjustly. We live in a fallen world. Disease and natural catastrophes come upon us whether we will it or not. Friends and co-workers betray us. We can be caught in financial disasters brought on by the greed and deception of others, no matter how fiscally soundly we attempt to manage our lives.
One of the dangers we face in our modernist world regarding these external trials is that we may simply attempt to relegate them to material cause-and-effect. We may fail to see that these things could very well be instances of spiritual warfare.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. -Ephesians 6:12
I do not mean to suggest that every external trial is from the devil. There is not a sin behind every sneeze. And it doesn’t take a legion of demons for people to act sinfully. Sometimes we just get sick. We live in a fallen world. Most of the time, people just sin, without infernal inducement.
But it is also the case that we are called to sober watchfulness because our
adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith. . . –1 Peter 5:8-9
We must always be mindful that we are part of a larger universe than that of which we are aware. The circles of our lives are small, but they are part of a much larger history. Satan has only one focus: to kill and to destroy. Again: We must be mindful that often external trials are brought on by our own lusts and passions (James 1:13-15). But that is not to say that our various external trials are not brought about by Satan so as to destroy our peace and faith, and to bring us into discouragement and faithlessness.
Let us speak more prosaically: If we are confronted with a flat tire on the way to work, and we know we are going to be late for an important meeting, it may well be that this is simply a flat tire. It might well be simple chance that we ran over the metal object and punctured our tire. Satan may not have caused the flat tire. But it now becomes a temptation for us. Do we lose our peace and joy in Christ as we fret and become anxious over the cost and time of repair, the lost work time and scrapped meeting? Or do we in peace reaffirm our trust in the sovereign God who takes notice when a sparrow falls to the ground and has numbered the hairs of our head? Do we look for the blessing in this struggle? And perhaps it is one piece in the adventure of faith as the cascade of interlocking events unfold to new pathways? Or maybe that blessing is nothing more than the uninterrupted peace and trust in Christ?
The key here is to have a constant awareness of and attentiveness to the presence of God in our lives. If we are constantly seeking his guidance, constantly orienting our hearts to his will, then we may confidently confront these external struggles. And if we are constantly attentive to Christ, we will face our internal struggles with more wisdom and strength.
Struggle from the Inside
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. -James 1:13-15
Even when faced with external trials, in reality what is the trial is the internal wrestling we undergo as we experience those trials. Even the physical sufferings of illness and injury are small compared to the mental anguish we face. It is not the flat tire itself, but the anxiety in our soul with which we wrestle.
This is because we have within us many inclinations and desires which turn us away from the Kingdom of God, and, giving them our attention, it is painful when these inclinations and desires are frustrated. Perhaps we are placing our faith in our job and fear losing it and this is productive of the anxiety our flat tire brings up from within our hearts. We do not rest in God’s promise of provision of our daily needs. We lie about certain matters because in our pride we would be embarrassed if the truth were known. We criticize and condemn others, killing them with our tongues, because we see in them the very sins and failures within us that we do not admit to ourselves.
The point of all temptation and testing is that we are faithful to Christ. But the effect of the successful struggle against our internal trials, those things brought about by our own sinful inclinations and desires, is that over time we are more and more cleansed of these inclinations. We put away lying and criticism because we have in humility learned to confess our sins and failures and to seek forgiveness, thus coming to a more honest and real appraisal of ourselves as “first among sinners.” We put away anxiety about our well-being and future, remembering God’s constant past provisions, and trusting him for today’s.
This struggle, to state the obvious, is not easy.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. -Matthew 11:12
One of the common interpretations of this passage throughout the life of the Church is that Christians “take” the Kingdom “by force” through the discipline of the body. That is to say, we resist our bodily inclinations and channel them through faith and reason along the pathways set by God. Christians deny themselves certain foods on Wednesdays and Fridays. We abstain from sex outside the bonds of marriage. We tithe of our income. We honor and revere the body, because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. But, in the words of the Apostle Paul
Therefore I run not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified -1 Corinthians 9:26-27
But this bodily discipline is only a means, it is not the end. It is a means to conquer, by grace in the Spirit, the sinful inclinations and desires which well up from our mortal flesh and bring about the testings we experience. We struggle against flesh and blood, to be sure.
This is why the internal struggle is so important and primary. If we conquer pride, we will not be vexed when others criticize us, knowing that their mere words neither reflect reality nor have any impact on our true identity. If we conquer vainglory, we will not be tempted to such self-focus that we create strife and friction in our relationships by ignoring the needs of others and how we can serve them. If we maintain peace and joy in our hearts, the external struggles will not stir up the internal passions. If we conquer the internal passions, we will meet the external struggles with peace and joy.
Struggle Brings Joy
Here is the paradox: it is through struggle that we know peace and joy. More: it is instruggle that we can know deeply that peace and joy that are ours in Christ, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Trouble and pain focus our attention. Attention to our hearts and to Christ help us to uncover those places within us that need healing. Like any athlete, struggle makes us stronger. Resistance provides us the motivation for forward progress. No, struggle is not pleasant. Cleaning an oozing wound is smelly and painful. It is hard to admit how bad off we are.
And yet, here is the opportunity for great freedom. By acknowledging the constancy of our struggle, that such is normal for us, we are free to see in every moment God’s amazing providence for us. We are given the ability to interpret our life’s events with a new paradigm; not one of sorrow, vexation and frustration, but one of adventure, anticipation and joy. Yes, we will sorrow. Christ himself shed tears. Yet there is joy and peace for us.
Our task is simple. Pay attention. Be faithful. God will provide everything else we need. Strength to endure. Escape when temptation and testing is too much (1 Corinthians 10:13). Most of all joy and the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7).
I drove home yesterday to avoid the snow that has yet to fall today. As is always the case, I found myself absorbed on my three hour drive with many thoughts and ponderings. It happens that my mind wanders often because there is little to do in the car while you are driving and in the case of yesterday, it was dark most of the way home. So what was on my mind? It is nearly the middle of February so how are people doing on those resolutions and goals for 2011?
We’ve had a good five weeks to work on those resolutions. Over 40 days. Many hours. Maybe you’re right on track with those goals for 2011. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re like me and haven’t been perfect with those new resolutions. Or you stopped.
Life isn’t about a one time commitment to change something. Developing a new habit involves persistence and constant diligence. Oh yeah, and faith. Faith? Yes, faith. Because deep down we need to begin to replace the doubts that we can do something with the new belief and mindset that we will accomplish those goals. And that involves picking up and trying again. And again. And again.
Even if your three year old is crabby.
Or the laundry is piled high.
The great thing about life is that we don’t have a one shot chance. There’s no point in looking at other people and seeing if they accomplished their goals or not. Most people have different goals and may or may not achieve their goals. But don’t compare. My goals and word and resolutions are different than yours — as they should be.
What do we share? A promise. The truth that in all things and all circumstances that we can have strength. Paul doesn’t promise that in ONLY the good times or ONLY the bad times we can have the strength of God — rather he states that in ALL times. So yes, it’s okay to pray throughout the day asking for God to strengthen you on the journey.
Those goals? Maybe they’ll take all year to accomplish. Maybe they’ll take a lifetime to accomplish. Or maybe just a day. Whatever the time line don’t do it alone. Surrender that list again. Real strength doesn’t only come from self – it comes from a self surrendered to a loving Father above.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” –Philippians 4:12-13
In our nation, far too many are tempted to seek a well-deserved entitlement. The poor believe the government owes them a home, a jon, a secure retirment, and health care. The wealthy expect tax breaks, the government’s ear, and a luxurious lifestayle. Those well-deserved entitlements can destroy a nation.
Whoever loves pleasure will suffer want; whoever loves wine and oil will not be rich. –Proverbs 21:17
The Book of Proverbs also debunks the entitlement mentality: “whoever loves pleasure will suffer want”. Those ignoring the example of industrious ants are sluggards who sleep their way to poverty (see Proverbs 6:6-11). “Whoever loves wine and oil will not be rich.” The fact is that before God we are all sinners. Only by God’s mercy are we blessed with anything good. When we are filled with God’s grace, any urge we have for entitlement is converted into contentment. Paul reveals us to us the contented life:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances, whether living in plenty or in want. –Philippians 4:11-12
Living a contented life rather than an entitled life should be our goal as well. May w ebe content with what we have and expect nothing in return.
Today, I had the chance to visit what my wife and I consider our “home” church in Pennsylvania. The people are very special to us though we have lost a few since we moved to Nashville. Behind the church is the oldest cemetery in town and it is full of graves of the “great” families of our communities. Of course, I find it fascinating to wander through the cemetery and look at the graves and wonder about the people the graves mark.
In my journey through the cemetery, I came across the grave of the associate pastor of the church who encouraged us and supported us and is partially responsible for our moving to Tennessee. She was quite a lady and a strong force of God. As I paid my respects, I was reminded that she meant a lot to us and we do miss her. However, I was also reminded of several things. First, she knew what she meant to us and she knew we cherished her advice and her guidance. We made sure to tell her what she meant to us. Second, while she has left this earth, we know she is with God and still watching over her husband and children and her church. I am sure you all have someone like this in your life or you have met someone like this before.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. –Philippians 4:4
There is more to this than just simple memories. When was the last time you told someone near and dear to you that you loved them and told them what they meant to you? When did you offer kind words to tell someone they are special. If you haven’t done so for awhile, you may want to think about it. We never know when our last breath is coming.
Funerals are sad affairs but I am not sure if they should be – especially for Christians. We can be confident in our faith that we are going to be in God’s presence and that is cause for celebration. I wonder if funerals are sad because people realize they have things left unsaid. Perhaps they wanted to tell someone what they meant but didn’t get a chance to do it.
Just a random thought for the day.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. –Philippians 1:1-3
At Christmastime we celebrate the incarnation, God becoming flesh and walking among us. In the years following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the apostle Paul modeled following Jesus for fledgling churches across Asia Minor, putting on the mind of Christ, explaining the Good News, exhorting and encouraging new believers to faith, love, knowledge and righteousness.
Today’s passage, introductory verses from the letter to the Philippians, stand as a distillation of Paul modeling Jesus for the young church at Philippi and by extension for us. He gives thanks for them, he prays for them, he expresses confidence in them, he longs for them, he shares his aspirations for them, that they might overflow with love, knowledge and insight, and be pure and blameless, producing a harvest of righteousness and glorifying God. Surely that is what Jesus was like as he taught and led his disciples, and that is what God is like towards us, His children. Paul’s caring was a gift he gave to the church.
As we enter a season of gift giving, let us acknowledge that like Paul, our love and caring is a gift we can give to those around us – parent to child, teacher to student, family member to family member, friend to friend, even to strangers and enemies. When we do this, even in small ways, we carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in a world that desperately needs it.
Today is the day we celebrate our blessings and our family. I believe most of us have something to be thankful for today. Those of us who live in the United States are by far more fortunate than most of the rest of the world. I read that the poorest Americans are still wealthier than 80% of the rest of the world. That is something to consider today as we gather and celebrate.
“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” –Colossians 3:17
On the other hand, I can’t help but reflect today on those who are working to keep us safe in some capacity. After my experience on LifeFlight the other day, I realize that there are people who are working and waiting to help if the need arises. They are willing to sacrifice their day and their celebration to make it possible for the rest of us to celebrate and enjoy our day. There is something to be said for that kind of sacrifice.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. –Philippians 4:6
I find myself wondering today if people would be willing to make that kind of sacrifice or do we always look at what is in it for us. Do we consider others in our decision or do we consider that we might get something out of it. In watching the news today, there are people who are working at EMTs, fire fighters, police, soldiers, doctors, nurses, and even wrecker drivers to keep the world moving and safe – at least as safe as can be – so the rest of us do not have to worry all day long. There is something to be said for that and I am very thankful for all of them.
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. –Psalm 9:1
This year is also an interesting Thanksgiving for me. Given my path to the Army, I do not know where I will be next year. Perhaps, I will find myself on a battlefield away from family; perhaps I will be with Lisa and Sophia on a military base and we are unable to get home. Who knows? What I do know is that I will be thankful for this day and be in thanksgiving to God for all that God has done for me.
Let us rejoice and be thankful to God for all God has done!
So running has been the one struggle for me in this entire chaplain journey. I really have had some setbacks including ankle pain and a simple lack of focus to keep it up. When I am running, I find it hard to want to keep going but I try to push myself through and keep going.
The other day, I decided to really make sure that I was following God – literally. One of my favorite scriptures come from Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I began to almost chant this to myself as a prayer as I began to run and to my surprise, running seemed to be easier or at least I was able to complete my run. Thinking it to be a fluke, I did the same thing earlier today and again, I had a good run.
I am thinking that I put the focus back on where it needs to be. I am running because God has called me in this direction and if I am running for any other reason, I am not going to be successful. Yet, when I remember my purpose, I seem to keep a better focus. There is a lesson for all of us – we need to remember that we are here to live for God and to be what God has called us to be. I think life would be better (but not easier) if we did remember that.
Of course, through it all, I simply have to remember:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me — Philippians 4:13
Well, I continue to work myself through my running workouts. Today I ran the longest run nonstop yet and I learned a few things and I put a few things into practice.
First, I learned that I need to adjust my pace to work through the burning – that is those moments when you feel like you have to quit and can’t go one – just adjust your pace a few moments and work through it. I tried this and it does work. I was able to keep going farther than I imagined t hat I could go!
I think life is the same way. We have moments in our life when the burning is too great and we don’t think we can go on or continue. That is when we need to adjust our pace and depend on God the most. We have to slow down and realize that God is in control in those moments and depend on God to see us through. In evitably of course, we will forget and go back to our old ways but at least in those moments, we realize we need God and adjust our lives accordingly.
I also learned that I can run farther than I think I can if I just push myself a little bit farther. When I think I have reached my limit, I usually stop running because I think I can’t go any farther. This is usually immediately followed by a feeling of guilt or remorse because I didn’t push myself farther. Today, I did. I ran until I thought I couldn’t run anymore and then I ran a little bit more past that point. I ran farther nonstop than I have ever before and I went beyond what I thought I could do.
With life, I think we reach that point as well. We reach a point (not unlike the burning) when we think we can’t go any farther and sometimes we give up on something and then immediately regret not seeing it through. In those moments, God is there and saying “Come on, come on, you can do it” (I can do everything through him who gives me strength. — Philippians 4:13) and when we listen, we surprise ourselves. We go farther and accomplish more than we believed because God has given us the strength to see it through and follow through.
Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that life is easy – by no means. I am saying that we have God on our side and that makes a difference. In those difficult and dark moments of life, it is easy to give up but when we remember God – we have a reason to keep going.
Who said running isn’t good for the soul!
So I have no idea what day number I am in my journey to the chaplaincy but today is a big day. I am officially endorsed by the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel which means I can move forward in my chaplaincy progress. Readers of my blog will know that this has had me worried and stressed for sometime. I have been anxious (and yes pissy) and this is part of the reason. With this hurdle behind me, there are very few hurdles left in front.
Running is still my weakness but it is getting stronger. The more I run, the more I realize I need to depend on God during those runs to get me through them. Somehow, I manage it. The Apostle Paul wrote:
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. –2 Corinthians 12:10 (NIV)
I believe those words. When I think I can do it and I set out to run on my own, I usually fall short of my goal. However, lately, I have been praying during my stretching and that is making all the difference in my running.
As far as the rest of my goals, I am happy to say that I am quickly approaching 60+ pounds lost over the past 5 months or so. That is like 12 pounds a month and I am not sure how much body fat. I amazed at the energy I have and how good I feel since I have shed that weight. I have some more to go but I am like a whole new person and I weigh less than I have in a decade. This past weekend, I found out that I am now a coat size smaller than before and I am out of holes on my belt. It is a great feeling.
Before I bask in the glow of my own accomplishments, I have to remember that I am on this journey because God has called me on this journey. I am not my own savior and I am not accomplishing this without God’s help or guidance. Again, it is the Apostle Paul who wrote:
I can do all things through Him [Christ] who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:13
My accomplishments are not my own but God’s because I have been given the strength to keep going on this journey. God has strengthened my family as well to prepare them for this journey. So now that I am on Day #?, I can continue to move forward with faith and hope as I serve God in all things that God calls me to do.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, –Philippians 1:9-10 (NIV)
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. –1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)