ADVERSITY

(John 16:33) I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.

Jesus said these words to his disciples as he was getting ready to finish his work and return to the Father.  He knew that they were going to face considerable adversity as they carried the Good News to the world.  His encouragement to them was first that they would have peace in him, and secondly that they would “take heart” because he has overcome the world. 

Take heart is a familiar statement, and most modern translations use the words take heart for this verse.  I wanted to better understand what Jesus was saying, so I did a little digging.  Here’s a definition that I thought explains the term well:  to gain courage or confidence: to begin to feel better and more hopeful.  God put in us great inner strength, but he never meant for us to face adversity alone.  We can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.

I stumbled on this scripture from Proverbs when I was going through chemotherapy.  (Proverbs 24:10) If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength?  It caused me to take heart, to rise up and continue to face my adversity.    So I gained courage and confidence, and I began to feel better and more hopeful.  I was strengthened in myself, but I was not strengthened by my own ability.  Through my relationship with God and the guidance of his word, I was encouraged in him.  I was able to rise up and face my adversity, because Jesus was at my side through it all.

OUR LEARNING DISABILITY

(Romans 7:25) Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

When I was working on my teaching credential, I had the opportunity to work in a school that dealt with learning disabilities.  I was assigned to work with a young lady who was struggling with basic math. She was in third grade but still at a beginning first grade math level.  The director explained that though she might seem to learn a lesson, she would not retain the information the next day.  Sure enough, the information I taught her that day was gone the next day.

I gained some very useful information during my time at that school.  Relationship, patience, and repetition were the three most important things I learned.  Patience and repetition go together.  Teaching someone who struggles with learning requires abundant patience, which facilitates repetition.  Say it, see it, touch it, and then do it again.  Sometimes we rhyme it or sing it.  Relationship however is perhaps the most useful.  Developing a relationship with the student insures that they will hear what you say, and they will pay attention to you.  If they don’t understand that you are there for them, and you care about them, information transference will not take place.

I shared all that to first point out that we are all learning disabled.  Our sinful nature, the flesh, is with us until we leave this life.  It constantly interferes with what Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is teaching us. He has a difficult task in bring us along the road to Godliness.

Secondly, note that Jesus is applying these teaching methods to help us overcome our disability. He is building a relationship with us that started with our recognizing that he cared enough to die for us. And have you noticed how patiently he continues to teach us? The lessons are patiently repeated over and over again. 

I know that I have improved from the lessons Jesus taught me over the last 40 some years, but I often find that he needs to repeat even the earliest lessons.  This is when my learning disability confronts me.  I am so happy that Jesus cares for me, and that he is patient with me when I need to review previous lessons.  Jesus is overwhelmingly patient and kind.

WALKING NOT RUNNING WITH GOD

(Micah 6:8) He has showed you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 is one of my favorite scriptures.  It puts the requirements of walking with God in a nut shell.  It teaches us the basics in a clear and simple way.  In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates the last part of verse 8 in these words, “It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.” 

Notice the word “walk”; this scripture talks about walking with God – not running with God.  This is a “me” thing.  I like to think of my life as a quiet and peaceful walk with God.  I don’t believe that we are asked to be constantly out of breath while running with God. 

Walking humbly with God teaches us how to relate to God.  In our walk with God (not a run), we should assume a humble place.  Remember Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (see Matthew 11:30).  I think it’s acceptable to relax and enjoy our walk with God.  Don’t you think that the work of the Kingdom comes from a relationship born out of our quiet and peaceful walk with the Father God?

Jesus also said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (see Matthew 28:20).  Those who have received salvation through Jesus the Christ have become the children of God.  He is always with his children.  When we mess up, and fail to follow his teaching, he is with us.  When we take the wrong path, he is with us.  Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:37-39).  He will never abandon his children.

Micah 6:8 gives us clear directions, but we have the handicap of being sinners.  We have a tendency to fail when it comes to following those directions.  Therefore, we always need Jesus.  We need to remember that he is always with us, and he will never leave us.  Jesus is always teaching us, and he is always saving us.  He loves us!  In walking humbly with him, we learn to rely on him.  So, not taking ourselves too seriously, but taking God seriously seems to be good advice. 

  THE RETURN TO GOD’S PERFECT LOVE

(Genesis 2:25) Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

(Genesis 3:7) Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

From the last verse in Genesis chapter 2 to the 7th verse of chapter 3, a significant change came over Adam and Eve.  They began with no awareness of being naked; and then when their eyes were opened, they were ashamed and felt the need to cover themselves.  In the beginning, Adam and Eve only looked through eyes that saw good.  After the fall, their eyes were opened to also see evil.  The events of verses 1-6 in chapter 3 tell of their fall into sin.  With sin came self-awareness. 

Self-awareness has tainted the way we see each other and the way we love each other. Before sin came into the world, we were other focused.  We could love without thinking about ourselves.  Love in the pre-sin world was a pure love, a Godly love.  The kind of love God still gives to us, his perfect love.  But fallen man’s kind of love is infected by self-awareness. 

When we return to God through Jesus our Lord, he gives us his Spirit so we are empowered to fight against the sinful nature, yet it is a continual fight.  Selfishness, judgement, hatred, and unforgiveness get in the way.  We are born with a sinful nature into this world of tainted love.  We are trained by those around us to follow the selfish tainted ways of loving.  Yet there is hope for retuning to God’s perfect way of loving.

 We can trust in the hope of that day when Jesus will come and take us home to a place where perfect love again prevails.  The Apostle Paul speaks of this hope, (1Corinthians 13:8-10) “Love never fails.  But where there are prophesies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears”.

THE ENEMY WITHIN

(James 1:13-15) When tempted no one should say, “God is tempting me.”  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus was so hard on the Pharisees?  They were the leaders of the Jewish faith.  They were the moral and righteous ones, yet Jesus called them hypocrites because they failed to recognize their hypocrisy.  So I ask myself, “Am I also a hypocrite?”  The answer is painfully, “yes!”  Every time I judge a fellow human, or place myself morally above them, I’m in danger of hypocrisy.  Since I’m a sinner like everyone else, I never have the moral high ground.  I’m as capable as the next guy of sin.  My greatest enemy therefore is my own sinful nature, the enemy within.

I’m amazed at how little impact Jesus’ words, “Love your neighbor, pray for them who spitefully use you, judge not less you be judged, take the plank out your own eye so you can then remove the speck from you neighbors eye, etc.”, have upon my daily actions.  Do I think that Jesus was only kidding when he said these things? Actually, I believe he was placing a mirror before my eyes, so I could see my failures and maintain a humble place in my walk with him.

Truth brings reality, and reality should bring humility, which in turn will put me in a right place with God.  Then the words of Jesus can guide me into righteousness; however, there will always be the enemy within working to cloud out the words of Jesus.  Every day I need the light of his words to disperse the clouds and keep me in that humble place.

FAITH

(Hebrews 11:1-3) Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). This verse from Proverbs has been a pillar of guidance for me throughout my Christian life.  I have come to understand that to do what this passage directs is an act of faith.  Today I’d like to look into faith.  Hebrews chapter 11 is called the faith chapter because it focuses on faith.  The first three verses give us a great definition of faith.  Faith is simply believing in what we don’t see.

The Bible, from beginning to end, is given to us to assist in building our faith.  It tells us what existed before us and what exists in the unseen world.  Our journey begins with faith, just a little faith, and that faith grows as we seek the God who is unseen.  He touches us in our inner being, and we experience his presence.  We find joy and new life as we grow in our knowledge of him.

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.      Here in Hebrews 11:6 we read about this process of starting with a little faith, and God rewarding us in a growing relationship with him.    As our faith in him grows, we approach the place where we can trust in him with all our hearts and surrender our understanding to him. 

The Message translation states our Hebrews 11:1-3 scripture like this, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.  It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”  Growing in trust and faith in our God is a quest all believers share, and this quest is filled along the way with rewards from the God who loves us.

  GOD’S PEACE

(John 14:27) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Nothing can bring you peace like a personal relationship with Jesus.  The closer you get to him the more peace you have in your life.  I believe this is very true.  When Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, he was comforting them, but there is also in these words the challenge to believe them.  Faith is required to attain his peace.

When we surrender ourselves to God and trust him with our lives, he gives us peace.  His peace is spiritual, and it transcends the influence of the physical world.  In Romans 8:6 we read, “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”

Another way of looking at this is that the flesh looks at troubles from a finite perspective.  The peace that Jesus gives is from an eternal perspective.  He said, “I do not give to you as the world gives.”  In verses 28&29 He continues, “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’  If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”  Jesus was teaching his disciples to look at the bigger picture, the eternal picture.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God that transcends all understanding, will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  God’s peace is spiritual.  For believers his peace permeates our souls.  We can’t explain it, and unbelievers can’t comprehend it.   Peace is a gift that God gives to his children.  When troubles come, we have confidence that his peace will be there. With his peace, we also have the hope and comfort that it brings.

 NOT AS I WILL, BUT AS YOU WILL

(Matthew 26:39)  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus’ prayer, like everything he spoke, is full of insight into who he is, and what he wants us to be.  He is wholly human.  He suffered like we would if we were facing an immanent and horrible death.  I wonder if I could, under those circumstances, finish my prayer with, “Yet not as I will, but as you will. 

The thought came up that Jesus is also wholly God giving me an excuse why I might not be so trusting.  Then I remembered Abraham and Isaac.  In Genesis chapter 22 we have the story of God testing Abraham.  Verses 1 and 2: Some time later God tested Abraham.  He said to him, “Abraham!”  “Here I am,” he replied.  “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” 

Abraham then demonstrates his trust in God by carrying out God’s command.  The story climaxes just as Abraham raised the knife to end his son’s life. God stopped him, and provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac.

Abraham was willing to say, “Not as I will, but as you will.”  And Abraham was wholly human.  So, I have no excuse.  Jesus wants me to trust God, my Father, in all things.  Can I do it?  I hope so.  I have the provision of his Holly Spirit living in me.  I‘m determined; I will do it!  Help me Lord!  Not as I will, but as you will.

HEIRS OF GOD

(Romans 8:14-17) For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about you adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I know that what The Apostle Paul is saying in these verses is true, because I believe the Bible is true, but I have trouble projecting what this will actually mean.  “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”  It is too glorious to imagine.  However,  maybe it’s good that I don’t fully comprehend all that God has planned for his children.  Can you envision me walking down the street all puffed up with the knowledge that I’m a co-heir with Christ.  I’d be annoying and useless.

So then comes the humbling part, God’s wonderful plans and promises are available to us because Jesus suffered and died to redeem us.  We were dead in our sins, and not co-heirs with Christ.  Jesus made it all possible.  As the last sentence in our scripture passage points out, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  We have a life to live out here in this fallen world.  It’s not always going to be easy as we share in his sufferings.  Yet in humble gratitude we trust that the God who saved us has some unimaginable plans for us his children.

THE SOURCE OF LOVE

(1Corinthians 13:4-8a) Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails …..

  In these verses, The Apostle Paul gives us a definition of agape love, God’s love.  These are the characteristics of the love God has for his creation, and especially for us the crown of his creation.  This is also the love he wants us to have for each other.  Jesus said to his apostles, “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17).

Where did love originate?  Only one answer presents its self, and that is from God.  The Creator fashioned all that is in the temporal world, so it’s a logical assumption that love came from him. This is what the Apostle John has to say in chapter 5 of his first letter, verse 16 – “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”  He goes on to say in verse 19, “We love because he first loved us.”  Love is therefore inherent in God.  Love must have existed even before the creation within the triune of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I have a desire to love more completely, and if you share this desire with me, we know that we must go to the source of love.  As I meditate on the list of what love is, I am fully aware of how much I lack in loving God and loving others, but this list also speaks of how God loves me. I believe the secret is to first comprehend his love for me.  The more his love pours into my soul the greater the opportunity for it to flow out of me.  God is love, and he is the one in whom we can find true love.

Author’s note: Did you ever realize that God’s love is a very humble love?