[30APR2011] Growing through the Journey
I started out this week following the Easter celebration (aka Resurrection Sunday) in a bit of a funk. I wrote about my reflection on this time of desolation in this blog post. Although I kept my focus on the glory and completeness of my LORD, my week continued to be a fairly difficult week in terms “heaviness.”
The day following my Eastertide post, I got news that one of my longtime childhood friends had suddenly (and unexpectedly) died. I continue to grieve as I recall memories spanning more than four decades of friendship; even more so today as I think about old friends who will be gathering for visitation at the funeral home this afternoon and sharing good-byes tomorrow at Danny’s funeral.
Another point of heaviness was the annual gathering of pastors and leaders from my home church which I was unable to attend. Most years my denomination (specifically our region in the East) gathers for a time of reunion, refreshment, and inspiration. This has been a great time for me in the past as I always enjoy visiting with my pastor friends… sharing our burdens with one another, celebrating our successes, praying together, and worshiping our God together. It is always a time of great encouragement. Being on the West coast and having to be very careful about household budget, there was no way to attend the Minister’s Conference. This served to add to my feeling of loneliness.
I have been exploring ministry opportunities as well as sharing my vision for a different style of ministry (and “being the church”) with some of the leaders of my denomination. I have not received much interest or feedback regarding either my search or my vision sharing. It has been tough, but it is part of the season of growing in trust and maturity in God.
There is so much at work in this past year of our faith journey; it is not just mine alone, but it is part of the journey of my wife, my children, and my friends. At some level of connection and relationship, we all share in the work God is doing and its effect upon (and in) our lives. Will we trust God; will we wait and not grow faint; will we renew our strength?
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—Jesus (John 12:23-26)
I think too often, we get tired and we “bail out” before the work is complete. We might think that the will of God is not for us to be discontent or suffer for any extended period of time, but I think Scripture teaches us differently. Suffering keeps us dependent upon God. Now, I’m not talking about self-imposed pressures of suffering… I’m speaking of natural trials and growth opportunities during our daily lives and spiritual journeys. …Like, for example, the week I have just experienced in conjunction with the past year of our family’s life. It would be a natural move to sidestep this season and opt for a little relief by choosing a smoother road, one with fewer potholes, speed traps, and more rest stops. I think; however, opting for the relief route will not only postpone the inevitable, but retard the lessons leading to growth that God desires to see in us. After all, it is He who brings, orchestrates, or allows every season and climate of our life. Think about it. If I am confident in my heart that I am following Jesus as earnestly and faithfully as I know how, and if I find myself in difficult seasons of life… what am I to think? Should I think that I should escape the place that the Spirit of God has led me; or should I endeavor to learn and mature in the ways of Christ through the season He has brought me to and desires to carry me through? I think the latter, but we will often choose the former and opt for escape from the very thing God wants us to learn from.
Be imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1)
When I was talking about this with my wife this morning, I was using an illustration similar to the game of Monopoly. I know it is imperfect, but it seems like it works…sorta. Beginning at “Go” on the Monopoly board is fairly easy, for the most part. The property values are low, the rents are low, and there’s not too much danger or pressure to the player. This is moderately true even if the properties are owned with houses and hotels and even if you’re short of resources. In most cases you can manage to survive if you land on someone’s Baltic or Oriental Ave. with houses or hotels. It gets a little tougher as you make your way around the board and you might be pressed to “sell the farm” in order to survive another round or you might just get exasperated and “bail out.”
I likened the Christian journey to this experience or one similar to it. I considered taking a “Chance” card halfway around the board with hopes of escaping the formidable road ahead. In the Jesus journey this sort of bailout most often will lead to your “restart” at the beginning of your test or trial. Sometimes, you might even go back several “spaces” even before the test had begun. In either event you “do not advance to ‘Go’ and you do not pick up the resources you need to go through another round. Resources or wisdom and endurance in this case, are gained only by completing the round and not through bailing out.
Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the LORD; shout for joy, all who are true of heart. Great things are they that you have done, O LORD my God, how great your wonders and your plans for us! There is none that can be compared with you. Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! But they are more than I can count (Psalm 32:12; Psalm 40:5-6).
I think what is necessary during these difficult seasons (sometimes very difficult) is perspective. We are often overshadowed by the moment we are going through and lose sight of what God has already done, is doing, and has promised to do. When we lose sight of that reality, the monster of the moment is given the upper hand and has the advantage to defeat us. Perspective is King in this situation and keeping our eyes on Jesus is what helps us maintain perspective. This is not to diminish the nature of our trial and the pressure or pain that it exerts on us. Grief is real. Loneliness and alienation are real. Poverty and financial stress is real. All of these examples and many more can be very painful and suffocating to the point of overwhelming even the strongest of persons. I’m not saying it is easy; I’m saying look at the circumstance in the light of what God has done, is doing, and has promised to do.
I consider the mercy of God with His matchless grace revealing Himself and my irreparable need of Him to me. My awareness of my need led to repentance and reconciliation with Jesus. Reconciliation has led me to this very place of union and restoration… I have the very Spirit of God that raised my Savior from the dead LIVING IN ME… working within me to make me whole, and using me to effect reconciliation and restoration with other sin-damaged people in His creation. Ultimately, because of His mercy, grace, and salvation, I will enjoy eternal relationship Him along with all the host of Heaven and the New Earth. This is BIG and Glorious News! Everything I go through in this temporal body on this temporal earth from now until then should be examined in the light of this perspective. I am a new creation. I have a new heart that is driven and guided by God Himself. I am imbued with divine power and capable of overcoming and going through anything that might stand as a challenge before me. No matter what happens, sin no longer reigns and death has lost its sting. For this, I praise my God and shout Hallelujahs!
I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the LORD; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the LORD’s greatness; let us exalt his Name together (Psalm 34:1-3).
When I consider growing faint or bailing out… I remember the game of Monopoly and the perspective of the New Man Creation along with all that has wrought…
breath in deep of the LORD and exhale: H A L L E L U J A H !!! Praise my God and Glory to my King Jesus. Amen!
We thank thee, heavenly Father, for thou hast delivered us from the dominion of sin and death and has brought us into the kingdom of thy Son; and we pray thee that, as by his death he hath recalled us to life, so by his love he may raise us to joys eternal; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. This is the day that the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:14, 23-24). Every day… every day, is the day the Lord has made. No matter what it looks like, no matter how it feels; every day is made by the LORD and we can (if we choose) rejoice in it. To Him be all honor, power, and glory. Amen.