Trusting When Life Hurts

Resource Scripture Passages: 1 Peter 1:6-8; James 1:2-4; Hebrews 12:1-12  

            Joanna struggles with Scripture’s words as she cares for her mother who lives with gradually increasing signs of dementia.  Joanna cites the Apostle Peter, “…now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials….” (I Peter 1:6).  Shrugging shoulders suggest Joanna’s sadness conflicts with her faith. She speaks while looking at the floor. Her voice trembles, describing her pain in technical sounding words.

            She said, “You know (deep sigh and pause), medical achievements adorn much of the world. Disease prevention and remedies for many afflictions have been profoundly lessened if not eliminated. None of the advances, though they are numerous, appear to be helping my Mom.”

            Today’s three passages from the Apostles James, Peter and the unknown writer of the New Testament letter we call Hebrews encourage deep questions. Joanna extends her faith with a willingness to ask such questions.

            Joanna’s mother, now in her eighty-second year, has a form of dementia not uncommon in her age group. Short term memory loss is the most obvious indicator. Confusion accompanied by anger is an unwelcome guest. Joanna’s faith comes to this decision:trust.

            A casual reading of Peter’s words at first alarmed Joanna. Perhaps you have already read the passage or another of today’s Scripture portions. 

            Joanna wonders if “…all kinds of trials…,” include her mother’s diminishing brain function. She saw the test result which graphically showed areas of the brain as inactive. 

            Fortunately, a careful friend reminded her Peter’s words were written to disciples being persecuted for the Faith. They are not necessarily about her mother’s memory loss. Joanna asks her friend, “I see that, now that you’ve explained it; but what about the words in James 1?” 

            She quotes the troubling passage. “Consider 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” (James 1:2-3). 

            Joanna speaks with underlying anger, “It’s the pure joywords which bother me. Am I supposed to be joyful for my mother because some days she can’t remember my name and that my Dad died five years ago?”

            Her friend replied, “I don’t know everything. I do understand the part that says, your faith is being proven and is producing perseverance. Faith is not easy or uncomplicated. I believe it all focuses on trust. Trusting God means we’ve decided that ultimately Jesus is Who He said He is, and we trust Him.”

            Her friend continued, “I don’t get all the teachings in these passages and some parts of the Bible are really hard to understand. So, to me I have to decide: who do I trust? To me that’s what faith has become.”

Life Application Questions

  1. Do you agree with Joanna’s friend that faith focuses on trust?
  2. Are there specific ways you could support a person like Joanna who is suffering with grief?

Authority for Work

Developed from 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

            John did not like it and Joanna agreed. However, if you care about safety the roadside stop sign is not a suggestion. You must stop! No hesitation. Stop!

            If you care about your health’s safety the words of the diabetic educator are not a suggestion. “You must monitor your blood sugar numbers throughout the day,” she says.

            Stop signs and diabetic educators provide clear communication. Obeying the rules of the road will save your life. Knowing your blood sugar numbers will likewise, when joined with appropriate eating and essential medication, keep you from a coma, blindness and potentially death.

            Human beings do not always like pointed statements. Roadside signs and health care professionals are often ignored. We seem to prefer circuitous words. 

            “Well, maybe we can talk. I have a concern about…” is more common than direct clear speech. 

            The Bible often makes straightforward statements, probably accounting for some of its unpopularity. Like roadside signs and health care cautions, Scripture’s direct words of guidance are not suggestions. 

            Writing authoritatively, the Apostle (Paul) employs a word which first century disciples might have encountered within Roman Law. The word “command-parangello,” appears twice in this portion of 2 Thessalonians. The words form a bookend-like emphasis (verses 6 and 13) to specific instructions carrying the authority of Heaven’s Court.

            When the words were initially read for Thessalonica’s disciples, they were receiving apostolic grounding in following Christ Jesus. God’s emissary (Paul) was providing specific congregational instruction, addressing problems happening within the church(es).

            The specific and authoritative directions appear in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13. No hesitation. No quibbling puzzles.

            First, like a red, roadside stop sign Paul instructs the church, “…it is necessary that you imitate us” (verse 7).  The teaching emphasizes his personal example and the honor of work, versus a prevailing laziness in Thessalonica’s church.

            This is apostolic leadership with wisdom and discernment for Thessalonica’s disciples, and in the providence of God, for each age of the church. There is an honorableness, a God approved wisdom in working for your living. 

            Second, Paul pens a follow-up firm instruction which likewise carries the weight of Heaven’s Court: “do not grow weary in doing good” (verse 13).  The Apostle calls for perpetual persistence in faith and work as disciple’s imitate Christ Jesus. If you would like to move more deeply into God’s wisdom on the timely provision for life’s needs, check out Proverbs 6:6-11.

Life Application

  1. What kind of work leaves you feeling spiritually and emotionally satisfied? 
  2. Focus on the authority of an Apostle to command a certain behavior. What does this tell you about the importance of following an “apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:41-42)?

            Blessings on your readings and reflections.

Developing Healthy Relationships in Stress-filled Times

            How do I maintain godly relationships with people in my culture during a time of spiritual punishment (Jeremiah-exile), a vengeful dictatorship (Paul-invasion), and armed conflict (H.L. Gilmour-war)? God’s specific answer occurs in Scripture for the first two individuals (Jeremiah and Paul). The latter (H.L. Gilmour) provides an example of God’s resource for this kind of life, which thankfully lives as musical poetry. 

            These individuals might not seem to have a lot in common. Keep watching. Surprisingly, there is a dentist in the story. 

            Beginning with Jeremiah, we trace the connections. As you read today’s passage look for words about work, community and family. Possibly written after 627 B.C., Jeremiah emphasized God’s expectations of behavior during the spiritual punishment we know as the Exile.

            Moving forward in time (six centuries) the key word was not exilebut invasion. Paul forcefully instructs Christ’s disciples. [Wherever you find yourself, that’s where! Please, wherever you find yourself] “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:27 NIV).

            Living in the heritage of Israel (Philippians 3:4) it is not surprising the Apostle would make such a statement given his familiarity with Jeremiah’s instruction to God’s exiled people. Invasion or exile, no matter the era, God’s people are to live as His people. Ready for another move across the centuries of God’s people?

            Eighteen centuries later, across the world in North America and after the Civil War a multitalented former Union soldier becomes a dentist. Using his musical skills he writes songs for churches. One of those songs re-sounds the emphasis for disciples living in war-filled times. H.L Gilmour encourages disciples to focus on God even as they are also called to intentional and integrated involvement within their culture. Part of his story is reported by a reputable online resource.

Henry Lake Gilmour emigrated to America as a teenager. He started working as a painter, then served in the American civil war, where he was captured and spent several months in Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia. After the war, he became a dentist…For four decades, he directed the choir at the Pitman Grove Camp Meeting, and worked at camp meetings and revivals… 

https://hymnary.org/text/my_soul_in_sad_exile_was_out_on

H.L. Gilmour’s words are these:

My soul in sad exile was out on life’s sea,

So burdened with sin and distressed,

Till I heard a sweet voice saying, “Make me your choice;”

And I entered the “Haven of Rest!”

Thanks be to God that whenever and wherever we find ourselves living, God’s presence is certain (the Haven). Likewise, whenever and wherever we live (exile, invasion or war) we are to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27).

Life Application Questions

  1. If your faith feels battered how do you go about finding healing when conflict continues?
  2. Do any of the individual emphases of the passage from Jeremiah give you more trouble than others?

Gifts of Joy

Gift-giving season is upon us. God’s people share our abundant joy by giving gifts of celebration. Please consider giving the funds for a goat or a chicken to an international family in need. Or, support surgeons who will supply a life-changing surgery for a child with a cleft palate. See www.samaritanspurse.orgfor more details and many other opportunities to be joyous. Yes, there’s a smile as you give such gifts. And, there’s a potential upcoming smile on the face of child who is recovering from a facial deformity. Blessings on your holiday season.

Authority for Work

Developed from 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

            If you care about safety the roadside stop sign is not a suggestion. You must stop! No hesitation. Stop!

            If you care about your health’s safety the words of the diabetic educator are not a suggestion. “You must monitor your blood sugar numbers throughout the day,” she says.

            Stop signs and diabetic educators provide clear communication. Obeying the rules of the road will save your life. Knowing your blood sugar numbers will likewise, when joined with appropriate eating and essential medication, keep you from a coma, blindness and potentially death.

            Human beings do not always like pointed statements. Roadside signs and health care professionals are often ignored. We seem to prefer circuitous words. 

            “Well, maybe we can talk. I have a concern about…” is more common than direct clear speech. 

            The Bible often makes straightforward statements, probably accounting for some of its unpopularity. Like roadside signs and health care cautions, Scripture’s direct words of guidance are not suggestions. 

            Writing authoritatively, the Apostle (Paul) employs a word which first century disciples might have encountered within Roman Law. The word “command-parangello,” appears twice in this portion of 2 Thessalonians. The words form a bookend-like emphasis (verses 6 and 13) to specific instructions carrying the authority of Heaven’s Court.

            When the words were initially read for Thessalonica’s disciples, they were receiving apostolic grounding in following Christ Jesus. God’s emissary (Paul) was providing specific congregational instruction, addressing problems happening within the church(es).

            The specific and authoritative directions appear in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13. No hesitation. No quibbling puzzles.

            First, like a red, roadside stop sign Paul instructs the church, “…it is necessary that you imitate us” (verse 7).  The teaching emphasizes his personal example and the honor of work, versus a prevailing laziness in Thessalonica’s church.

            This is apostolic leadership with wisdom and discernment for Thessalonica’s disciples, and in the providence of God, for each age of the church. There is an honorableness, a God approved wisdom in working for your living. 

            Second, Paul pens a follow-up firm instruction which likewise carries the weight of Heaven’s Court: “do not grow weary in doing good” (verse 13).  The Apostle calls for perpetual persistence in faith and work as disciple’s imitate Christ Jesus. If you would like to move more deeply into God’s wisdom on the timely provision for life’s needs, check out Proverbs 6:6-11.

Life Application

  1. What kind of work leaves you feeling spiritually and emotionally satisfied? 
  2. Focus on the authority of an Apostle to command a certain behavior. What does this tell you about the importance of following an “apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:41-42)?

            Blessings on your readings and reflections.