Monday, October 22, 2012

Endure Hardships


     “Take… your share of the hardships and suffering [which you are called to endure] as a good (first class) soldier of Christ Jesus.  …

     “Constantly keep in mind Jesus Christ (the Messiah) [as] risen from the dead, [as the prophesied king] descended from David, according to the good news (the Gospel) that I preach.

     “For that [Gospel] I am suffering affliction and even wearing chains like a criminal.  But the Word of God is not chained or imprisoned!

     “Therefore I am ready to persevere and stand my ground with patience and endure everything for the sake of the elect [God’s chosen], so that they too may obtain [the] salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with [the reward of] eternal glory.  …

     “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.  …

     “Indeed all who delight in piety and are determined to live a devoted and godly life in Christ Jesus will meet with persecution [will be made to suffer because of their religious stand].  …

     “But as for you, continue to hold to the things you have learned and of which you are convinced…

     “Every Scripture is God-breathed (given by his inspiration)…  for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God’s will in thought, purpose, and action),

     “So that the man of God may be complete and proficient, well fitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work.  …

     “As for you, be calm and cool and steady, accept and suffer unflinchingly every hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fully perform all the duties of your ministry.”
                              (selected from II Tim. Ch 2 & 3, the Amplified Bible)


We in the “Western church” have doubtless heard countless sermons on doing the good work that Christ has called us to do.  And, that “if He calls you, he will equip you.”  And that walking with Jesus Christ should be a great adventure!  Lately, we hear from just about everywhere that we are to pursue our God-sized dreams (which are often glamorous or called to the public’s attention.)

However, in my experience, at least, there have been very few calls to “suffer unflinchingly every hardship.”  We may hear stories of foreign missionaries who are persecuted, or about the “persecuted church” (Christians in countries where just admitting to the name of Jesus Christ can bring reprisal).  But then so many of us act like we aren’t ever supposed to suffer over-much.  We go on blythly pursuing consumerism, or looking to celebrities, or working for a “pet “cause”, or just getting by in daily life.  And then in hard times, our first cry is apt to be “Why are you doing this to me, God?”  Or, “Life just isn’t fair!”

Doesn’t it seem as if we’ve done a great disservice, if any of us have told people they should be Christians because life will be so great?  It’s true that He will give us peace and joy and rest!  But it’s not the sort of peace, joy, and rest in the way the outside world defines it.   Truly, God’s ways are not our ways.  We just want out of our pain, sorrow, difficult circumstances.  And then he confounds us by saying that not only will we reign with him only if we suffer with him, but that to be well fitted for his service, we must “endure”, and “suffer unflinchingly every hardship.”

I haven’t faced the sort of persecution for my faith that is common in some countries.  But I have encountered disease, loss of job and self-respect and loved ones, money woes, dissatisfactions and disappointments. Oh, how my losses hurt!  How afraid I become!  I don’t like being in a place of suffering.  I may forget God values me, only feeling I’ve been deprived of my rightful place in God’s kingdom.  Yet, the truth is that God may be allowing hardships as a very training ground for a fuller, more God-centered life in his presence. 

But how shall I manage to endure to the end?  How shall I face my days unflinchingly?  Only by the grace and mercy of God himself.  He has fashioned and made me.  When he puts me in a place of long-suffering, there are lessons for me to learn.  Fortunately, he has promised to always hold my hand.  And to be my guide and ever-present Lord.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Differing Opinions



The chorus of a Sunday School song about Jesus Christ staying in our hearts, ends thusly:

“…I’m inright, outright, upright, downright 
Happy all the time."

A blogger recently lamented that “happy all the time” was not a theme she wanted her children to learn.   For in this world, in this life, we are not “happy all the time.” 

I recall playing this chorus on the piano, years ago, for the Sunday School kids to sing.  I never thought of it as improbable.  Besides this, in the course of a morning’s singing, many different statements would offer a balance to our Christian thinking.

As I reflected on the blogger’s concern, I realized she was speaking of the emotions: happy feelings.  I certainly agree with her that trying to live a Christian life doesn’t exclude sadness, grief, or unhappy moods.  On the other hand, aren’t we supposed to “rejoice in all things?”  Doesn’t the Bible say “the joy of the Lord is our strength”?  (By our conscious choice of attitude, not by feelings, which, of course, vary according to what life hands us at any moment.)

Rather than taking exception to the words “happy all the time”, I began to muse on the example in the Beatitudes.  “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted…  Blessed are you when men shall despise you, and say all manner of things against you, for My sake; rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” 

Some translations substitute the word “happy” for blessed.  “Happy are they that mourn… “   “Happy…when men shall despise you…” 

Happy?   I’m to be happy when ugly, terrible things happen?  When my heart is broken?  At such times, usually I’m focused on my fears, my griefs, my pain, the unfairness of life.  Should I just put on a “happy face” ?  No, I’m not able to be – or expected to be – blissful, euphoric.  

But blessed?  Oh, yes!  The Lord says he blesses us when we mourn or are persecuted.  Wow, if I’m especially hurting, then I’m being especially blessed!  That’s not the way the world works it – but it’s what God promises.  He does this, not me!

Beyond that, Jesus Christ lives in my heart.   I may not feel capable of doing battle, but HE is there with me.  I may not always be “glad” for my circumstances.  But God is always glad in Himself.  He’s content with Who he is.  Therefore, God-dwelling-in-my-heart (by my resting in His faithfulness, not my emotional attitude) always rejoices.  The Holy Spirit always lives in me, whether I feel him or not.  (God said it, not me!)  Jesus Christ always lives to make intercession for me.  He doesn’t stop praying for us – or rejoicing over what he has promised will be the “final triumph of righteousness”.

Differing opinions.  The blogger objected to the concept that as Christians, we ought to be “happy all the time”.  And, me?  I hadn’t heard, or thought of, that song in years.  But after reading the words, the song welled up in my mind and heart all the day long.  And every time my mind sang “happy all the time”, I smiled, saying – “I’m blessed all the time” (because of God-in-me).

In this earthly life, there will seldom be smooth and perfect days.  But oh, I’m so grateful that His joy lives  in me perpetually.  Whether I feel glad emotionally, or not, He’s “happy all the time” – that is, HE IS perfect contentment.  And he’s in me, so that part of me, at least, is indeed “happy all the time.”
© 2012 by Marilee Miller

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Fold on Fold

                                                              digital art by Marilee Miller


I wish the path that I must take through life
Would not meander, fold on fold,
Or wander into dark and cold.
The struggle, startles, interrupts -- this strife
Is not the peaceful living I dreamed of!

But God is there e’en when strikes the knife;
Awe and wonder draw me, bold;
And yonder lies my truest gold.
Through rocks, thorns, and the abrupts – his way brings life;
Is not this the peaceful living I dreamed of?

(c) 2012 by Marilee Miller

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Time: Playing, Thinking, Creating


When I exercise my God-given creativity, be it in dreaming, thinking, or in resultant activity, my heart turns toward the Lord.  For a little while, I can forget about the suffering in the world, the“hard things in life”, and just give the puzzles and heartaches over to my Maker.  Maybe I’ll even become so enamored with what God and I are doing, I’ll “lose  track of time.”

                                                    digital art  (c) 2012 by Marilee Miller
~~  ~~

     “Chronos: our wristwatch and alarm clock time.  Kairos:  God’s time.  Real time.  Jesus took John and James and Peter up the mountain in ordinary, daily chronos; during the glory of the Transfiguration they were dwelling in kairos…
     “We simply do not understand time…

     “…In chronos, we live most of our lives…  For most of us a watch is accurate enough that we know when to get up, to go to work, to go to church, to meet a friend.  But… there is considerable variation in our inner clocks.  How long is a toothache?  How long is a wonderful time?

     “ …Perhaps one of the saddest things we can do is waste time.

     “But being time is never wasted time.  When we are being, not only are we collaborating with chronological time,  but we are touching on kairos, and are freed from the normal restrictions of time.

     “…But thinking time is not wasted time…  If we allow our “high creativity” to remain alive, we will never be bored.  We can pray, standing in line at the super market.  Or we can be lost in awe at all the people around us, their lives full of glory and tragedy, and suddenly we will have the beginnings of a painting, a story, a song.

     “…The saint in contemplation…, the artist at work…, the child at play, … is in kairos.  In kairos we are called to be as human beings, co-creators with God, touching on the wonder of creation…

     “…Are we willing and able to be surprised?

     “If we are to be aware of life while living it, we must have the courage to relinquish our hard-earned control of ourselves. 

    “…And once we decide that we want the light, we must learn to trust it…

     “…When we are writing, or painting, or composing, we are, during the time of creativity, freed from normal restrictions , and are opened to a wider world, where colors are brighter, sounds clearer, and people more wondrously complex than we normally realize…

     ”…Give me the courage to accept that what our free will is meant to do is help God write the story.”

--Madelaine L’Engle, “Walking on Water”)

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