TROUBLE

John 16:3 “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.”

James 1:2-3 Considerate it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

1Peter 4:1-2 (The Message) Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him.  Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way.  Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.

I think these passages make it clear that “In this world you will have trouble”.  Since we will have trouble, it is not about the trouble; it’s about how we handle it.  I see two options: one trust in self and the world’s ways, or two trust in God.  In my early life, I chose option one; but now I’ve had enough years with the Lord to relish option 2.  The longer I struggle with these options, the easier it gets to live under option two.  The Apostle Peter in the above scripture paints a clear picture of how working through troubles frees us from the pursuit of our selfish will.

As a father, I have watched my adult children walk through many of life’s troubles. It was painful.  I helped when I could, but circumstances didn’t often allow me to intervene.  I learned that they are God’s children, and I need to allow him to be their father.

Now, how wonderful it is to see my children maturing in the Lord.  I am truly blessed, and so is our Father.  As I trust him, he is blessed; and as my children trust him, he is blessed.

Now he and I get to see my adult grandchildren go through the troubles of this life.  It will be at times painful to watch, but I know God and I will be blessed.  It’s his promise to me.

Climbing the Wall of Self

Get over yourself!  Has anybody ever said that to you?  Did you know what they meant?  Well I’ve been asking people what this statement means, and have gotten some rather puzzled looks.  One young lady shared that it’s being obsessed with yourself.  Most agreed that it’s thinking only of yourself and your self-importance.  Yet, isn’t this the challenge for all of us?  Don’t we all need to get over ourselves?

When I think of getting over myself I envision this masonry wall that I have to climb over.  On the other side of the wall I find much more happiness.  For when my focus is on others, and I lose the self-concern, I feel fulfilled.  But, that wall of self is hard to get over.  It’s a difficult climb that requires self-discipline. It sounds contradictory, but self-discipline is the way to get over yourself.  We need to get on the other side of the wall of self, but, as I said, it’s a difficult climb.

This is how the Apostle Paul said it to the Philippians:

            (Philippians 2:3-4, MSG) Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top.  Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.  Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.  Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Paul was simply telling the Philippians to get over themselves, and I believe the message is also for us.  So, I’m passing the message on, with all love and empathy, exclaiming, get over yourself!  Be assured, I’ll be right beside you sharing the challenge in our attempt to climb that wall of self.

 

Dear friends, I will need to begin cancer treatments soon.  I appreciate your loyal sharing in my thoughts each week, and I intend to continue sharing during my treatments.  Please forgive any deviations in my posting schedule.  No need to be concerned the prognosis is very positive.  Please pray when I come to your mind.  God bless each of you who read this.

Love to you,

Al Vredenburg

In His Presence

In the beginning, Adam and Eve had no hindrance to being in the presence of the Lord.  After their disobedience, they entered a whole new perception.  They had gained self-awareness.  With self-awareness comes concern for self.  How do I look?  What are they thinking of me?  What should I do?  Concern for self hinders our ability to enter the presence of the Lord.

An internal battle commences each time I want to spend time with the Lord. There is always one more thing to do before I can start.  Everything I forgot to do somehow miraculously comes to mind.  (I should make a list.)  When I finally do get situated, my mind scatters to a thousand thoughts.  As I strive to get my mind settled, I realize I haven’t tuned my guitar in a while.  I like to start my time with the Lord singing a few songs of praise.  The guitar turns out to be in pretty good tune, but it’s always good to check.  Then it’s, what song to begin with, and what key is that in? 

Finally I begin to sing.  Boy, my voice is getting old.  That note used to be so clear.  Wow, this is a great worship song.  If I ever lead worship again, I’ll have to include this song.  Then I realize I’ve sung through the entire song without a conscious thought about who I’m singing to.  I cried out, “Help me Lord.”  I sang the song through a few more times trying to focus my mind.  Then the Lord spoke to me, “Write about this struggle.”

All along he knew what I was there for.  I wanted to hear from him about what to write this week.  In his humble way, he answered the question I didn’t ask.  A rush of gratefulness entered my heart.   My self-concern was put aside.  I then enter into his presence and worshipped.  God had made a way!

A TRANSFORMED MIND

One of the difficulties followers of Jesus face in our current society is avoiding the consumer mentality.  “Let’s go shopping” is the call.  We get to buy things and spend money.  There is never an end to what we can buy, but unfortunately there is an end to the money we have to spend.  Running out of money is a definite downer.  We are then driven to figure out how we can get more money.  Living the consumer life never brings us satisfaction.

I have been reading through Matthew chapters 5-7, and as I read it occurred to me that Jesus is redirecting his disciples’ way of thinking.  Jesus taught his disciples to think differently.  He wanted them to put aside self-concerns and focus on the Kingdom of God.  Paul restates Jesus’ teaching in Romans 12:1-2,

            So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you (The Message).

If we allow him, Jesus will change our way of thinking.  He will transform our minds.  Let me recap what Paul is saying.  We should take everything about our lives and place it before God as an offering.  Then we should humbly accept what he has done for us.   Our way of thinking is not about what we can do for him, but what he has done for us.  So with a heart of gratitude, we fix our attention on him, and receive the new way of thinking that he works into us.  This allows us to do what he sets before us without distraction.  The result, “God brings the best out of us, develops well-formed maturity in us.”

THE MOST IMPORTANT ACCOMPLISHMENT

I often talk about who I am and what I’ve done.  You might say I lay out my credentials.  I want to be distinctive in what I’ve done, or should I say I want to sound impressive.  The other day, I began reading in Philippians chapter 3 where the Apostle Paul talks about his credentials.  He presents a pretty impressive list.  When he referred to this as “putting confidence in the flesh”, I was a little concerned. The further I read, the more I was convicted.

  The Apostle Paul’s words get stronger. He says compared to knowing Christ Jesus his credentials are garbage.  About this time, I recognized how often I bring up my list of accomplishments, or my garbage.  I was beginning to understand that I was putting confidence in the flesh.

I pondered the Apostle Paul’s words, and I concluded that my human accomplishments are temporal.  They are like dust that will be blown away by the wind.  What I do in Christ has eternal significance.  Accordingly, the most important accomplishment is belonging to Jesus.  Knowing Jesus brings me into God’s eternal kingdom, and only the work of the kingdom has lasting significance.

It’s not about what I’ve done, but about who I am in Christ Jesus.   Instead of talking about what I’ve done, I’ll talk about what the Lord has done.  The fact that I belong to him is sufficient.  In 1Corinthians 1:31, the Apostle Paul reminds me, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  I see that this is great advice.

PRECIOUS LIFE

I have often made statements like, “I’m ready to go as soon as God calls me home,” or “I wish I could go to heaven right now.”  However, the result of a recent doctor visit brought home the reality that life as I know it could end.  The vague idea that life will end came crashing down on the certainty that life will end.  I saw the above statements as flippant and poorly thought out utterances. A new perspective has inundated my soul.  This life is precious and should be cherished.

God gave me life, and I have experienced the delights of his natural world.  Yes, there is both good and evil here, but I have never failed to explore and enjoy this world’s beauty.  My wife, children, extended family, and friends have afforded me a life full of joy and love.  Tragedies and losses have come my way, but they serve to round out the experience.  This world is all I know.  Everything that defines life to me has happened here in this temporal existence.

When I die, I will leave all of this and go to a new place that is beyond my experience. Someday, I will leave here to go to a new place – I can only imagine.  Life as I know it will be over.

Faith now comes to the foreground.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).  Even though I will be going to an unknown place, I can trust God with the unknown.

So I will not take this life for granted, or belie its importance, but I will cherish it as a precious gift from God himself.

UNDENIABLE LOVE

Last week I worked full days and had church and family activities that occupied my time. I had a very busy week.  However, through the activities of the week I was awakened to Jesus’ undeniable love.

Maundy Thursday our church family got together to share dinner and communion.  Jesus ate his last supper meal with the disciples, and then he initiated the symbolic practice of communion.  We wanted to share in that remembrance in a meaningful way.  We sat down together and participated in what Jesus did those many years ago.

Good Friday my wife and I went to a local church that provides the Stations of the Cross.  If you’re not familiar with this presentation, it is a walk through the various experiences of Jesus’ day of crucifixion.  At each station, you read the scriptures that pertain, and take time to pray and meditate.  We’ve done this for several years, and each time is different.  The Holy Spirit always leads us into another perspective of what Jesus went through on that day.

The effect of last week’s undertakings left me overwhelmed.  As I walked through the gruesome abuses that Jesus endured, I encountered undeniable love.  What led Jesus to the cross and what kept him there was simply love.  I cannot say anything more definitive. I can only say I have now felt his love more deeply and personally than ever before.  He loved us, and he died for us.

I close with this exclamation: I praise you and thank you Jesus for your love expressed so undeniably!