Posts Tagged ‘Trials’

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“LOW VALUE PROBLEM SOLVING” – Feb. 3

February 3, 2017

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.  Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory!”  Psalm 72:18-19

The following is a devotion I was allowed to share with students at a recent NCFCA National Open tournament in Spokane, WA.  I hope you find it encouraging.


Iintel have been reading a book by Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, called “High Output Management”.  It is not a Christian book and I don’t know if Andy Grove was a Christian.  This is, as the title suggests, a book on management.

I read a statement in his book regarding the manufacturing process that I found profound enough to post it on Instagram (@blom.jd), which is the true measurement of a quote.  I believe this singular sentence encapsulates a truth that goes beyond the production of widgets or the motivation of employees.  He stated:

 A common rule we should always try to heed is to detect and fix any problem in a production process at the lowest-value stage possible.

Obviously, the context of his statement is manufacturing.  Simply, it is better to remedy a problem as close to the raw materials of a manufacturing process as possible.  It really is a common-sense statement.  It is always better to discover a problem before you make continued investments of time, money, intellect, and a myriad of resources.

However, there is a universality of this simple principle that goes beyond business.  Simply change the words, production process, and you may see a much wider application.

A common rule we should always try to heed is to detect and fix a problem in our relationships, friendships, school studies, debate case, speeches, at the lowest-value stage possible.  Doesn’t that make sense?

When is the best time to dump a problematic debate case or a cluttered speech?

At the last tournament, after you have invested much time and effort or
before the season even begins?

Obviously, it will be far better to address the problem before the season starts,
at the lowest-value stage.

It makes sense.

This morning I look out and see a crowd of individuals who are at a very low-value stage.  Now, don’t be offended; “he called me low-value”.  I did not.  I am observing that most of you are at the beginning of your potential.  You are at the starting line of a myriad of different paths.  Soon, you will be making massive investments in the subsequent steps on your individual paths that we call life.

Therefore, is it not sensible to try to detect and
fix any problems at this early stage in your life?

I can tell you as a middle-aged man who has had to address problems later in life, at “higher value” stages of life, that it gets much more difficult and messy the longer you wait to address a problem.  Therefore, my first advice to you this morning is to live by the simple principle:

It is far better to detect and fix problems when they are small and manageable,
before they become difficult and messy problems.

The Jonathan Edwards Collection 20 Classic Works Kindle EditionMy next advice is associated with how to detect and fix these small problems in our lives, which leads me to another book I am reading, the Complete works of Jonathan Edwards.  The other day I posted this quote from my readings to Instagram.

Let us endeavor to obtain, and increase in, a sensibleness of our great dependence on God, to have our eye to him alone, to mortify a self-dependent and self-righteous disposition.

I look out upon you all this morning, and I see the sovereign hand of God.  I see a generation being raised in the power of the Holy Spirit for the challenges of a time yet to come.  I see excellence elicited, skills sharpened, intellect ignited for what, I do not know but I do know that it is for a purpose.

This is all for a purpose.

Therefore, I implore you this morning hear Jonathan Edwards’ advice because I know of few problems that have a greater potential to seep into your life and ruin all of this wonderful potential then problems from the seeds of self-dependence and self-righteousness.  If you do not detect them early then they will manifest themselves later in your life, at higher-value stages, when it will be much more painful and destructive.

  • Take on an attitude of imperfection; continually, daily, seeking out problems before they are difficult and messy problems.
  • Endeavor to obtain and increase in the sensibleness of your complete dependence on God; it truly is sensible – learn what that means and increase in that understanding.
  • Start a practice of setting your eyes on Him alone. Learn how to control your mind.
  • Start a practice of mercilessly putting to death an attitude of self-dependence.  You are who you are by the grace of God alone.
  • Prune every bud of self-righteousness, before you and others are forced to taste its bitter fruit.

I earnestly encourage you, today, to live a life that endeavors to set your mind on the things of the Spirit.  Allow the Spirit today, through the grace of God, to increase your dependence on the one who has rescued your soul and be obedient to your calling.

PRAYER: Lord, I pray that you will reveal the roots of self-dependence, the buds of self-righteousness that we are harboring unaware.  Show us how sensible it is to depend upon you.  Empower us in our endeavor to live a life that is killing self-dependence and self-righteousness and glorifies you in all that we do.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

 

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“BIRDS OF A FEATHER…” – Feb. 29

February 29, 2016

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  John 10:27

Cowboy_popup-webMy wife and I recently were in a local appliance store.  As we perused our freezer options, a cowboy sauntered in from the back of the store.   I say sauntered because that is exactly how he walked.  His boots making the familiar clack-tap with each step on the hardwood floor.  It seemed like a slow, relaxed echo from a saloon of the old-west.

As I turned, I saw exactly what I expected to see.  The epitome of a cowboy -worn cowboy boots with a little manure clinging to the heel, Wrangler jeans, large belt buckle of rodeo origin, leather vest over a western shirt, a handle-bar mustache, and a dirty black cowboy hat.

I watched him make his transaction and he sounded exactly as I expected.  He talked with the cashier in a slow, western drawl, about the weather, hunting, work to be done, and the superiority of cash to credit cards as he pulled two hundred dollars of twenties from his leather wallet.

“Now, there is a unique individual”, I thought but then I immediately wondered “is he?”  Could he really be my personified ideal of an individual if I knew exactly what he would look and sound like?  He was the epitome of cowboy; that is not unique.

In a society that idealizes the concept of individualism, I see few examples of truly unique individuals.

Consider the labels:   Cowboy Nerd Hipster Poet Biker Goth Academic Artsy Devote Musician

The images associated with these labels that flash through our brains are probably very similar.  There are stereotypes for even those who many consider the most unique of our society.

It seems that there are few truly distinct individuals and I wonder the extent to which any human lives uniquely.  Even the most unique among us still end up in some stereotypical flock.  We often confuse individualism with genius or exceptionalism or independence.  For me, the truly unique individual is the one who lives outside the imposed influence of society in general and his own neighborhood in specific.

Yet, is that even possible?  More importantly, is that a state that should be desired?

I was recently watching some videos on birds flocking.

The mesmerizing movement of these flocks make it seem like an orchestrated control over the mass.  Yet, we know that the actions are the agglomeration of each animal’s individual decisions based upon a local perception of their surrounding.

Science does not know how birds flock without sheer chaos and crashes.  Wayne Potts studied birds flocking in 1984.  He found that the turning of flock can spread from bird to bird three times faster than any individual bird’s reaction time.  This suggests that there is not much thinking occurring within each individual bird as they fly along.  They are most likely responding unconsciously to the actions around them.

The most interesting explanation of this phenomenon has come through the attempts to simulate flocking in computer animation.   Craig Reynolds developed three rules that are still the basis of flocking simulations:

  1. Avoid collisions with nearby flockmates
  2. Attempt to match the speed of nearby flockmates; collisions are unlikely if the velocity of the individuals are similar.
  3. Attempt to stay close to the nearby flockmates; there is a stronger influence of nearby neighbors than distant members of the flock.

I wonder, if we could achieve a broader perspective, whether the activities of man would appear more like the random motion of a flock’s unconscious decisions rather than a choreographed pattern of deliberated reason.

How many times have you wondered, “how did I get here”?

Just as a bird may be baffled by how it came to alight in a field miles from its origin, I often feel swept away from principles and priorities to find myself in a cultural landscape far from my origin.  We are all influenced by friends and family.  We are inundated by beliefs and values through education and entertainment.  It seems as if norms are cast aside without much thought or consideration.

I’m baffled by where we often find ourselves.

I wonder if we humans are more influenced by the Reynolds’ rules of flocking than we care to admit.  Soren Kierkegaard referred to it as being lost to the finite, which is mindlessly following social conventions.  It is accepting the current paradigm of expectations without consideration.  Consider the bird in a flock; that bird probably thinks that it is acting as an individual but it is really at the mercy of those around it.  That bird has lost its individuality to the finite influences of the flock.

The scary part is that the bird doesn’t even realize what it has lost
– its individuality.

Let’s use Reynolds’ rules of flocking to evaluate the individuality of our personal decision making:

  1. Are you conflict adverse? Will you go along with ideas or activities that you don’t agree with simply because you don’t want to offend or be excluded?  If your first tendency is to subjugate your actions to those of others, then you might be flocking.
  2. Do you simply accept the ideas of experts? Do you match the actions of those you respect because surely they have thought it through?  If your tendency is to receive thoughts rather than think them, then you might be flocking.
  3. Is your identity associated with affiliations? Do you follow along with the group for fear of being left behind?  If you tend to move with your community even when it is turning away from core beliefs, then you might be flocking.

Every person who has bucked these rules have found themselves outside the flock.  I think that the reason we see so few true individuals is due to the fact that living outside the flock is hard.  In fact, I don’t think that we were ever meant to live outside the flock.

The problem is that we often choose the wrong flock.

I believe that we created flock.  We were created to flock to God.  We were meant to instinctively know and follow God.  The problem arises when we substitute the voice of God with the voice of man.

The truly unique individual is the one following the voice of the Shepherd because only He truly knows each person in the unique personhood.  True self is only found in relationship with God.

Let’s use Reynolds’ rules of flocking to consider what flocking to God might look like:

  1. You avoid collisions with God. You know that sin causes conflict with the Shepherd.  Therefore, you strive toward obedience to the will of God in your life.  If your first tendency is to subjugate your actions to God, then you’re probably flocking to your Shepherd.
  2. You match everything to the Word of God. You don’t simply accept the ideas of others but you examine those ideas to the scriptures to see if they are true.  When you match your beliefs with the Bible, collision with God are unlikely and you’re probably flocking to your Shepherd.
  3. You strive to stay close to the leadings of the Spirit. The Shepherd takes each of us through life with many meandering turns.  If your tendency is to follow even when you don’t understand, then you’re probably flocking to your Shepherd.

The Church should be a conglomeration of truly unique individuals.  It should be a beautiful flow of individuals, each participating from their unique personhood revealed through their relation to the Good Shepherd.

There should be a stereotypes for those who are in Christ – the image of Christ and the Fruit of the Spirit.  Unfortunately, that is often not the stereotype that Christians are known for.  The problem rises from the fact that too many who profess Christ are still lost in the finite and flocking to the mentality of man.

We, as unique individuals in Christ, have the continuous task of keeping our flocking instinct focused on the correct initiator.  The hardest of all tasks is to recognize when we are quietly losing our self to the influences of the world rather than influencing it.

quote-Henry-Ward-Beecher

Living as a unique individual in relation to God is rare because it is hard.

Obedience to God will result in conflict with people.
You may be hated for your refusal to follow the flow of man.
“…but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world,
therefore the world hates you.”  John 15:19b
But take heart, God has overcome the world!
We will always be secure.

Following the Bible as the inspired Word of God will result in being excluded.
You may be ridiculed for clinging to traditions or supposed doctrines of bygone days.
“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?  
There is more hope for a fool than for him.”  Proverbs 26:12
But take heart, we have a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,
the hope of those who through faith and patience
will inherit the promise – eternal life.

Following the path God has laid before you will result in periods of isolation.
You may find yourself abandoned and alone as others drift after the ideas of man.
“I know your works.  Behold, I have set before you an open door,
which no one is able to shut.  I know that you have but little power,
and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”  Rev. 3:8
But take heart, we are never abandoned or forsaken.  
We are loved!

Living as a truly unique individual, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, will be hard but the promise of the joy set before us will be so worth all that we may have to patiently endure.  Keep your eye on Jesus!  He will never fail you.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to truly follow you and you alone.  Help me to hear you voice.  Show me where I am being influenced by the ideas and opinions of people.  Enable me to resist my inclinations to go along with the flock.  Give me strength to stand alone.  Give me endurance to stay on course to the open door that you have laid before me.  Help me to keep your word.  Father, I want to imitate you.  I want to be a reflection of your loving kindness. I want to embody the hope that you have given me.  Lord, may all I do bring glory to your name.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.”
― Søren Kierkegaard

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“DON’T JUDGE ME – I’M A FAN” – Jan. 3

January 3, 2016

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.  Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory!”  Psalm 72:18-19

I have struggled for motivation to climb upon my bicycle while it is clamped into the trainer.   However, I have to do something because the digits on my scale are continuing to increase inversely to the outdoors temperatures.  I’ve sought may aids to curb the monotony of a cycling trainer; music, cycling training videos, Tour de France videos, sermons, audiobooks, and even stand-up comics.  None has been able to keep me contentedly pedaling beyond 30 minutes.

However, I finally found my tonic for trainer tedium – Dark Matter.

Dark_Matter_Intertitle

My tonic is not the invisible matter constituting the majority of the universe.  Mine comes from the Syfy channel.  I got hooked on this story of a spaceship crew who awakens from stasis with no memory of who they are, what they have done, or why they are on board a mercenary spaceship.

I love a good story and if it is set in space, then it’s even better.

I saved watching Dark Matter as the carrot before my motionless bike.  I easily pedaled through each episode as subsequent adventures revealed mysteries of forgotten pasts.  I was actually starting to look forward to my time on that accursed contraption when it all came to an end.

The final episode of Season 1 successfully left me spinning on the edge of my saddle, wanting to know what will happen next.  I went to click on Season 2, to spin through another episode, but made a stark discovery.

There is no Season 2.

I was done.  I climbed off my bike and felt that familiar disdain for my next date with the trainer.  I searched the internet to discover whether there was another season with a growing concern.  I learned more about Dark Matter than I had intended.  I learned about the actors and the production.  I read reviews, both positive and negative.  I was delighted to find that there will be another season but annoyed to know that it is only in production.

I even discovered the WordPress blog of Joseph Mallozzi – Josephmallozzi’s Weblog.  He is the co-writer and creator of Dark Matter.  He has a lot of behind the scene photos of the current filming of Dark Matter on his blog.  I flipped through each post in my developing sense of fandom.

I learned that Dark Matter was originally a comic book that Joseph Mallozzi co-wrote.  So, I did what any newly minted fan would do.  I got on Amazon to see if I could buy one.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the compilation book of all four comics should arrive in two days.  I haven’t bought myself a comic book in three decades.

Don’t judge me, I’m a fan.

I find it interesting that I wasn’t really a fan of Dark Matter while Netflix held a trove of unwatched episodes.

It wasn’t until the streaming dried up that I even thought about the writer.
It wasn’t until the entertainment stopped that I began searching.
It wasn’t until I was forced to wait that I became a fan.

My reaction to Dark Matter reminded me of this quote from A.W. Pink.

Pink

I can testify to these dry seasons of the soul.

Most Christians will experience these periods of drought
if they follow Christ any length of time.

It is part of sanctification.

Have you ever wondered why we experience these periods where the river of God’s presence feels like it has dried up?

Some may say that these seasons are periods of preparation or testing or due to sin.  I agree in part.

However, I wonder if dry periods are simply a process to make us into fans.

When I enter a dry period, I tend to think more about God.  I confess that my thoughts often sound like complaints, “why is God doing this to me”, but my eyes definitely get focused back on Him.

When I feel spiritually lethargic, I tend to search more earnestly in His word.  I start digging into the mysteries of God and realize that I am usually not even asking the right questions.

When I am waiting on God, I inevitably begin to ask myself, who I am waiting for, which brings me back to the Gospel, the wonderful treasure of the good news of Jesus Christ and I become more of a fan.

A dry period  will inevitably
bring me to the glory of God.

It will make me a fan.

When I am a fully glorifying fan:

I am prepared to follow Christ in whatever He has called me to do.

I am ready to persevere through the suffering and trials that are before me.

I am willing to turn my back on the temptations of this world for the surpassing worth of my loving Savior.

The lukewarm Christian is a lukewarm fan.

Christians should be more enthusiastic than any of the fans in a sports stadium.

Our demeanor should clothe us as followers of Christ more than any avid comic con attendees.

Our homes should proudly display our fandom of the One.

We were created to be fans; we were created to worship.
A true fan should be easy to spot.

God wants us to be easy to spot.
God wants us to be true fans.
He is willing to take us through those dry periods to teach us that our fandom rests only in Him.

PRAYER: Lord, I pray that you will make me into a fan.  Help me to want to join my voice with that of the Psalmist and declare your wondrous deeds in unabashed fandom.  Help me to accept the dry seasons.  Help to see that you are taking me to greater happiness.  Father, do your work in me even when I am not fully cooperating.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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“When I wish I’d never been born…” – Feb 6

February 6, 2015

“Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest,…” Job 3:11-13

English: It was a 'dark and stormy night' ... ...

A sleepless mind fills with thoughts from visions of the night. The assault of daily troubles awaits the cover of darkness when conscious defenses teeter upon dreams. Thoughts are brought in stealth. Ears receive the whisper of a powerlessness to remedy what tomorrow holds. Trouble weighs the sleepless mind to suffocating depth in the same feathery pillow meant to comfort.

…man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.  (Job 5:7)

Trapped by troubles, exhaustion breeds dread into a desperate groan for release. Thoughts are conjured in this state of malaise that no stalwart practitioner of manliness will ever confess.

“If only I had never been born…”
“If only I would never awake…”
“If only my heart would fail…”
“If only a vein in my head might burst…”
“If only for a quick act of random violence…”

“If only…then I would be free from all that troubles my soul.”
“If only…then I would have rest.”

fall treeI have never had the troubles of Job. I have never endured the trials that he bore. Yet, I heard the same whispers as he under the cover of darkness within the privacy of my own skull. Maybe, Job and I are alone in our confused search for rest but I doubt that.  I have never admitted to these thoughts because I did not want my loved ones to think that I was suicidal and in need of counseling.

I am not suicidal and neither was Job.

The desire of Job’s lament was not for death. I believe that his thoughts meandered to the loss of existence as the release from the burden of his trial. It is a path that my own mind has meandered.  Thoughts of death are a confused route to achieve an intrinsic desire that few ever identify accurately.

Our souls long for rest.

Rest is what every soul desires when the yoke of a fallen world weighs heavily upon us.  Consider what we truly want when we bear the laden burden of troubles:

When we are in pain … we want rest from hurt.
When loves are gone…we want rest from heart break.
When abandoned …we want rest from loneliness.
When confronted with failure … we want rest from expectations.
When penniless…we want rest from need.
When addicted…we want rest from desire.

In times of great trials, our flesh cries out for this intrinsic desire – rest. We all come to the same desire as Job, whether it is due to great trials or insignificant annoyances. We all want rest. We want enduring, everlasting, rest.

This type of rest comes only to those who are in Christ. Death is only a source of rest to those who will enter into the loving arms of their heavenly Father when their time in this fallen world is over.

Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, for I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  (Matthew 11:28-29)

All of creation groans for the rest that Christ promises to those who come to him. As Children of God, we can know this rest in part, as we continue to walk in the Spirit along our individual paths of sanctification Christ has pioneered for us. We will not experience this perfect rest until we come to our eternal home.

It is in those dark nights, when my soul is laboring and heavily laden that the Spirit himself bears witness with my spirit. The Spirit bears witness with my spirit that I am a child of God and if a child then an heir – an heir of God and fellow heir with Christ. (Romans 8:16-17) The Spirit reminds me that I am His despite my confused thoughts for rest. I don’t want this life to end for a mere escape from trouble; a jump into the abyss.

I just want to go home.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  (Philippians 1:21)

My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  (Philippians 1:23b)

Like Paul, I just want to be with Christ, which will be far better than anything this world has to offer. My hope is what comes through in those dark nights of indecipherable groaning. It is the inward groaning of a Child of God eagerly awaiting his adoption as son and the redemption of his body. (Romans 8:23)

For in this hope we were saved.  (Romans 8:24)

I believe that it is in those nights when my mind swirls with dark  “If only…” thoughts that the Spirit, who is always with me, steps in and helps me in my weakness.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  (Romans 8:26-27)

It is the Spirit who takes up my improper, inarticulate, longings to pray and intercedes on my behalf. Most of the time, I don’t know what I really need but on some occasions I am sure the Spirit’s intercession has included, “your beloved needs rest.” I imagine that in some cases  my Father’s response to the Spirit was:

Refresh his hope.

Remind him that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to My purpose.

Remind him that no one can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Open his mind to the reality that if God is for him, who can be against him.

Show him that he is a conqueror through Christ who loves him.

Ask him, who can bring a charge against him, God’s elect.

These thoughts and so many more have come to my mind in response to groaning, “if only…” thoughts. We truly have a great and awesome Helper, who knows what we need and when we need it. He has always been faithful to me and I know that He always will be, even when I get confused and don’t know what I really want – to rest in Christ Jesus.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for sending your Spirit.  Thank you for giving me a hope beyond this world and all its troubles.  Help me to keep my eyes on the Spirit and to walk faithful with you.  Spirit, thank you for interceding for me.  Thank you for giving meaning to my confused groanings.  Thank you for sustaining my soul.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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PRIZE OF THE IRONMAN – June 5

June 5, 2014

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

 “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
~ Mike Tyson, Mike Tyson explains one of his most famous quotes

Training has been done;
Miles have been logged;
Intervals accumulated;
Laps swum; and
Injuries avoided;

The sugar-plums of my dreams have been replaced by visions of the swim, bike, and run.

All that remains is to race.

Swim race start (ITU ) World short course Tria...

The race for me is the Boise Ironman 70.3  that starts a mere 2 days from now. It would be a lie to pretend that I am not nervous. I have never raced this combination of distances. Therefore, the unknown of race day looms large in my mind.

I would like to have more time for a half-marathon run to be comfortable.
I would like to have done an open water swim this year.
I would like to have stacked a few more bricks.

Français : Photo de Pierre Lavoie à l'entraîne...

Yet, all the things that I would like to have done, would not chase away the apprehension of race day unknowns I now feel. The challenge for a prepared racer is far less physical than it is mental. The body will perform how it has prepared. Muscles will pull and push to the levels they have been stretched. Lungs will exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide at their rate of capacity. Blood will carry all the essentials provided in order to accumulate miles at speed.  An athlete’s body will perform in accordance to the training plan it has developed under.

The mind is the unknown.130608-F-IZ428-500

What happens when you enter the pain locker?

 What happens when the fun stops and adversity begins?

 What happens when you feel like you have been punched in the mouth?

That is the test of the mind.

We all have a plan.
We all have visions of success.

Yet, the mind determines whether those plans will be abandoned in the face of adversity.

I think this may be why I am drawn to endurance events. I want to train my mind not to give up under adversity. I want the confidence that I will continue when the plan really matters. My race on Saturday does not really matter. There are no consequences for not finishing. I have no hope of winning.  I won’t even be competitive.

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The prize I seek from the Boise Ironman 70.3 is the realization that I can take a punch and still finish.

That is a prize that will reward throughout life. Life is full of adversity.

We will fail… be misunderstood… and ridiculed;

We will be disappointed… abandoned… and betrayed;

We will be attacked… face fear… and uncertainty;

We will make mistakes… experience loss…and know heartache;

We will be broken.

Any of these adversities can feel like a punch in the mouth. Suffering and trials can hit us so hard that we are willing to abandon our plan, even our first love, to gain relief. How can you be confident that you will endure all things when it really matters?

This is the prize of suffering.

It is why I will rejoice in the pain that comes from the Boise Ironman 70.3.

It is why I rejoice in all the suffering that I have endured.

I rejoice because I have learned that I can take a punch and won’t give up. Throughout my life, I believe that the Spirit of God has used those punches to produce in me a character of endurance. It is a character, grounded in faith, which gives me a confidence based in experience. It is that character that produces hope. I rejoice in that hope. It is this hope that will never put me to shame because God’s love has been poured into my heart through the Holy Spirit who has been given to me.

What about you?

Can you take a punch in the mouth?
Are you confident in your character?
What has your character produced?

I realize that endurance events are not for everyone. However, there are plenty of opportunities in life to train our minds not to give up. It is why sticking with the small things matter. They are all opportunities to train our mind – and that is a prize worth enduring for.

My hope for you is:

When it gets hard, you go deep;
When it hurts, you look beyond;
When it is inconvenient, you continue;
When others run away, you stand;
When you want to give you, you take another step.

My hope for you is that you will rejoice in all the adversities of your life…because they will produce hope.

That hope is a prize worth training for.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for what you have taught me in suffering.  While I do not desire adversity, you have shown me the value it produces.  Thank you for the character that you have developed in me.  Thank you for the hope that will never disappoint.  Lord, train me in those areas were I am prone to give up.  Build within me a mental toughness to take a punch when it really matters and to continue to follow you. I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL – Mar. 9

March 9, 2014

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…”  Philippians 3:8

Angry Gopher

Angry Gopher (Photo credit: *~Dawn~*)

I walked my nine acres of unproductive farm-ground in hunt for the only thing my property produces in abundance – gophers.  The rains of March have cleared my land of snow and sapped the frost out of the ground.  As green sprouts begin to push out toward the surface, other monuments to spring have been appearing across my acreage – the miserable gopher mounds.  I have a gopher problem substantiated by last year’s trap total of 126 gophers.  I have written about my hate of gophers before (Trapped Like a Miserable Gopher).

In response, I have picked up my ritual of gopher trapping.  I walk across the fields carrying a five gallon metal bucket filled with traps and flags that creates a rhythmic beat as trap chains beat against the bucket’s metal side with each step.  My shovel acts as a walking stick, keeping time with each step across uneven ground as I scan the surfaces ahead for any irregularities.

glaukos / Foter / CC BY-NC

While I hate gophers, I enjoy gopher trapping.  The menial nature of trapping allows me to pray and think as I haphazardly meander from one suspicious dirt mound to another.  On this day, the beating of the chains against my metal bucket drew my mind to the song “It is Well with my Soul” and thoughts of this last week.

My week contained a very unexpected discouragement.  It was another notable discouragement in a series of discouragements that have spanned the last several years.  Therefore, the lyrics of this song became more of a question than a statement.

Is it well with my soul? 

Foter / Public Domain Mark 1.0

“When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot”…have I been taught to say, “It is well with my soul”?  I consider what has transpired over these last several years and contemplate much of what I have been taught.  I have not experienced anything even remotely close to the tragedy of Horatio Spafford, author of “It is Well with my Soul”.  I know how materially and relationally blessed I am.

Yet,I think that years from now when I look back on this decade of my life, I will recognize it as a time of sustained pruning.  I have been taught such important lessons through all these discouragements.  I have been taught that there is only one thing upon which we can place our hope.  My lessons have come by the loss of many things that I unknowingly held dear.  It was only through the curtailment of these treasures that I discovered just how much I overvalued them.  I have lost my health to cancer, wealth to business failures, respect to employee intrigues, service to a Church plant closing, and friendships to disregard.

As I cleared dirt from the gopher hole I had just dug up, I mentally tried to clear away the debris of feelings in my search for an answer to the question of whether it truly was well with my soul.  I look back at what I have learned from each of these experiences. Upon each loss, I have chosen Christ.  There has not been anything that I have lost that has made me question the love of Jesus Christ for me.  In fact, my disappointments have drawn me closer to him.  When I have been stripped of what I value, I have come to recognize that it is not precious in comparison to Christ.  I stood in an empty field as pockmarked with gopher mounds as my life with disappointments and I sang:

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

It truly is well with my soul.  I know that my losses are insignificant in comparison to some but I am learning to cherish each loss because of what I have come to deeply know through them.  It has only been through disappointment that I have learned to rest in the blest assurance of Christ.  I had not realized how blind I have been to my pride and discontentment.

Foter / CC BY-SA

I gazed at my house in the distance and know that I have so much more that can be lost.  I mentally imagined losing it all – would it still be well with my soul?  Can I count all that lay before me as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord?  I cringe at the thought of walking the same path as Horatio Spafford.  I immediately know that I could not endure that on my own but I also know that I would not have to.  Today’s troubles are sufficient for today, there is no need to fret about the losses of tomorrow.  My Lord’s hand is strong and he will provide the strength needed at the precise time of need.  Therefore, I sang:

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

I know that my days of trouble are not over.  I have many disappointments in my future that will teach me many lessons that I have yet to learn.  My hope is that I will learn from these previous disappointments in order to handle future losses in a more God glorifying manner.

This recent loss has revealed another blind spot in my life.  I thought that I was living joyfully.  I thought that I was showing to the world that I cherished Christ more than the treasures of this world.  However, I have learned that the imperfect manner in which I let go of those things that I highly valued, had more of an effect on people that I care for than I had realized.

I have grumbled about unfairness.  I have moped over what should have been.  I have withdrawn in sadness and defense.  I know that I have walked joylessly for significant periods.  I guess I had hoped it had not shown.  I have learned that my sinful response to loss has been a discouragement to others with considerable ramifications.  I unknowingly allowed loss to become a repelling stench to some rather than a God glorifying aroma that draws others to my Lord and Savior.

Foter / CC BY-SA

I have learned the importance of being a shining light in this world particularly in times of personal loss.  I am prone to selfish navel gazing.  However, God is most glorified when others can see us counting everything as loss in the mist of the loss.  There are consequences to wallowing in our despair.  Others are encouraged in their faith when they observe us holding firmly to Christ and allowing the cares of this world to easily slip from a loose grasp.  It is our losses where we can show others the great hope that we have.  I cannot change the past but I can plan for the future.  Therefore, I hope to learn from my past and embrace future losses with an eye to glorifying God in all circumstances.  May the Lord grant us all the strength to look beyond our loss, and demonstrate to the world watching where our true hope resides.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for all the losses that you have allowed in my life.  Thank you for revealing to me what I have been esteeming more than you.  Forgive me for holding on too tightly to the things of this world.  Forgive me of my pride.  Forgive my of my lack of contentment in you and you alone.  Father, forgive me for missing the opportunity of glorifying you in my losses and showing the world around me how wonderful you are.  Protect and encourage those who I have let down and discouraged.  Lord, I praise your name (It is Well ~ Kutless).  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

Resources:
How to Count it All as Loss

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QUOTE (Alfred Edersheim) – Mar. 7

March 7, 2014

English: Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), Austria...

“There is ever the prior question of plain duty, with which nothing else, however tempting or promising of success, can come into conflict; and such seasons may be only those when our faith and patience are put on trial, so as to bring it clearly before us, whether or not, quite irrespective of all else, we are content to leave everything in the hands of God.”
~ Alfred Edersheim

In honor of Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish convert to Christianity and biblical scholar, who was born on this day 1825.

Resources:
March 7 – Today in Christian History
Alfred Edersheim – Anglican Biblical Scholar
Alfred Edersheim>Quotes
Happy Birthday Alfred Edersheim

 

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