Kicked Forward by Beth Smith

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We all have troubles in our lives, but take a look at the life of the Apostle Paul:

  1. Given thirty-nine lashes five different times
  2. Beaten with rods on three occasions
  3. Stoned once
  4. Shipwrecked three times
  5. Adrift on the open sea for a whole night and a day
  6. Exposed to danger from flooded rivers, robbers and those who hated him
  7. Imprisoned
  8. Denied needed sleep
  9. Plagued by hunger and thirst
  10. Cold because he lacked proper clothing

Pretty horrible, right? Yet here was Paul’s response:

I have strength for all things in Christ who empowers me. (I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses inner strength into me. I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency)” (Philippians 4:13 AMP).

If Paul had quit, had lost his faith in God’s power because of his difficulties, we would be missing ten books of the New Testament. But Paul knew a secret about his strength. He had a “thorn in the flesh.” No one knows for sure what it was. He begged God to take it away, but God’s response was, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” Then Paul said, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT).

We all have problems, and plenty of weaknesses, but we can be strong in the Lord. God never tells us to do something without giving us the power to do it. And he uses our hard times.

  • Four of Paul’s letters were written when Paul was a prisoner in Rome.
  • Martin Luther translated the Bible while forced to hide in a German castle.
  • John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in prison in Belford, England.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote monumental Christian literature from a concentration camp.

What might God do with us if we use our misfortunes to draw close to him?

Dr. E. Stanley Jones wrote this about the Apostle Paul: “If Satan was to kick him, then Paul would determine the direction in which the blows would take him—forward!”

It’s during the difficult times of life that we get kicked forward. Those are the times we draw closer to God.

When Paul wrote that he had the strength for all things through Christ, he was in prison. Still he knew that God was using him and empowering him. Nothing can happen to us that won’t “kick us forward,” if we are determined to depend on and trust in our loving, heavenly Father. I can just see us as making the devil cringe when we say, “Go ahead! Make my day! Kick me forward!”

 

Photo by Jason Briscoe @Unsplash

 

 

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Stop and Start

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Well, he did it again! My growth group leader taught a lesson last week that was so good, I’ve just got to share it with you. So, in the edited words of Jim Harris, I give you “Stop and Start”.

What do we need to do when troubles come?

STOP thinking that God is angry with us. Romans 8:1 tells us there’s no condemnation for us. Our sin was dealt with at the cross.

STOP trying to take control. God is sovereign. He’s in control of the day of our birth, the day of our death and everything in between.

START trusting in God’s ways even when you don’t understand them. (That’s what it means to walk by faith.) Isaiah 55:8 tells us why: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.”

START believing God’s promises. You’ll find hundreds of them in the Bible. It’s a fallen world. Life is not fair. Bad things happen. But God promises us good. Joseph waited in an Egyptian prison. Peter slept many nights in prison. Look what happened! God’s people were saved from starvation. Christianity was spread.

God has a reason for every trial or trouble, and he wants us to depend on him!

Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus

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Now and then, when I was a teenager back at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, I was given the honor of turning down the lights in the sanctuary just as the congregation got to the last line of this great hymn. Picture this: The pews are filled at the Sunday night service. It’s dark outside, but bright inside, as the final hymn begins. Then the lights go down just as all in attendance sing, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.” The backlit cross at the front of the church now stands out in stark focus as a hush falls over the room. A little dramatic? Maybe, except that I still see that cross in my mind’s eye and feel that hush in my heart, often just when I’m about to forget about God’s glory and grace.

We can’t dim the lights on the rest of life as easily as I could turn that rheostat back then. Would that we could! Maybe instead, we need to shine greater light on the glory and grace that surrounds us. He is everything. Our full supply. That’s what Helen Lemmel was trying to convey when she penned these lyrics.

O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, and life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Are you, like so many of us, troubled by “the things of earth” today? Is your heavenly vision a bit blurred? Take a breath. Take a moment. Remember whose you are and who He is. Enjoy the right you have as a child of God to fellowship with the Creator of the universe. And let those things that trouble you fade in the light of his glory, with the realization that, while you may not be able to see how right now, his grace is and always will be enough.

Corrie

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Corrie ten Boom.

I hope you know that name. Already an older woman when World War II began, she and her family risked their lives to provide refuge for Jews, hiding some of them in a closet-sized room when the Nazi’s raided their home. I grew up reading The Hiding Place, then watching the movie that carried the same title, then re-reading the book as an adult. Her account of the many ways God worked before, during, and after her stay in a concentration camp inspired me, spurring me on to greater faith in the Lord who loves us.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Today I headed to the gym, Kindle Fire in hand. I know I need to work out, but I don’t like to work out. Watching videos as I sweat on a treadmill makes it all more tolerable. Today, thank you Amazon Prime, I came across Corrie ten Boom: A Faith Undefeated.

I had been listening to the radio as I drove to our neighborhood fitness center. It proclaimed all the awful possibilities facing us now and threatening us in the days to come. Some of those threats are very real. Even now hardship abounds at home and abroad. I was saddened. Then I began to listen to Corrie. I’m keeping this blog short in hopes that you’ll click on that link and watch a bit of the film that documents her story. Spoiler alert, though, here is the closing quote:

Look around and be distressed.

Look within and be depressed.

Look at Jesus…and be at rest.

May you be at rest this week!

Rain

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It was raining as we drove to Charlie’s birthday party, but first birthday parties are a rare and beautiful thing, never to be missed on account of moisture. We ran through the puddles and up the walk to join a festive crowd feasting on loaded platters of goodies and snapping enough photographs to keep Facebook happy for days. The first thing I noticed was the cookie tray, because Charlie’s mom is an ace in that department (see above). Then I noticed the sign (see below).

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I thought, “I should blog about that one day,” took a photo of those thought provoking words, filed it away, and never got back to it.

Then Harvey came, and I wondered if those same words sounded too light and trite, too “just smile and bear it and move on.” I don’t believe God ever means for us to plaster a fake smile on our hurting selves and pretend there is no pain in this life. There is pain. Why else would there be so many Bible verses about comfort? We wouldn’t need comfort if we didn’t have pain.

I do believe the words, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” Don’t worry. Don’t look into the future and assume that all will be forever lost. God is on our side and has the power to do all things, to provide even beyond our asking. Be happy, or joyful if that makes you feel better about the word choice. Underneath all the present pain or rain, we know the One who makes the sun shine is still in charge.

Still we cry, we suffer, and we struggle to tap into the truth, to draw strength from that which we cannot yet see. Harvey wasn’t the only storm many of us will face this year. And when those storms come, it won’t work to hold our breath until they pass. We have to keep going, keep walking, keep working. And when we are truly trusting, maybe we can even allow our hearts to dance. 

           

When Lightning Doesn’t Strike

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Why am I in Austin? Just one month ago I owned a house in Houston. The pool there is under water now. As I write I am not certain about the house. Meanwhile, I spent yesterday playing with my grandson in a home that is high and dry. We moved here under unusual circumstances that played out very fast. It’s only by the grace of God that we are here instead of wondering whether or not to evacuate a house that was home for nearly three decades.

The grace of God left others in a place where floodwaters are rising. My heart hurts, and I do not understand why many have lost so much and are in the midst of such hardship while I am here. When I told Steve that I needed to replace the blog set to post today, he said, “Use that verse about seeing through a glass darkly.” Here it is in the KJV:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13: 12-13).

A glass darkly. So, truth be told, God never promised that we would understand this side of heaven. It’s sometimes hard to trust in the dark, but that’s what we are called to do. Sometimes it’s harder still to trust through another’s hardships than through our own, but that’s still what we are called to do. One of these days, so says the verse, we’ll know what we do not know yet. But not now. Hard words, but truth.

This passage comes from what is widely known as the love chapter. So, when we are called to trust, we are also called to love. Love means prayer. It also, quite often, means action. I don’t know what my tasks will be when the Harvey waters recede. I don’t know what God may call you to do either. But He does call, and equip, praise God. So, as he shows us glimmers of understanding, may we have the courage and selflessness to love in whatever way he directs.

To God be the glory, even in this.