Tuesday, September 24, 2019


James 1:2-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

                It caught my eye as I walked home from my office. It looked out of place. It really should not have been there, but there it was, surround by concrete. It was a small plant emerging from a small hole in an otherwise sterile environment.

                Ever since my days as a biology major in college, I have been fascinated by the resilience of plants. They have an amazing ability to overcome obstacles and persevere. During one of my classes we took a field trip to an abandoned housing development. There were no houses, but the blacktop streets were in place, along with fire hydrants and street lights. What our professor wanted us to see was the ability of plants to reclaim land. Without the interference from people, the plants broke up the blacktop and recaptured the fields. They demonstrated amazing resilience.

                According to Psychology Today, “Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes.” Just as the little plant surrounded by concrete continues to grow and thrive, so people who have developed resilience can overcome the many challenges of life. Psychologists have identified four characteristics that increase a person’s resilience.

- People who have a sense of autonomy, self-worth, good health, are more resilient.

- People who have a positive role in society and positive relationships are more resilient.

- People who develop the ability to problem solve, make goals, and take action are more resilient.

- People with a positive belief system that recognizes that there is good in all situations and that self-development is important are more resilient.

                As believers in Christ, we can rewrite these characteristics in relationship to our faith.

- Because our identity is wrapped up in Christ, we can be resilient. (Galatians 2:20)

- Because we are part of the body of Christ, we can be resilient. (1 Corinthians 12:27)

- Because we have been given a mission and purpose in life, we can be resilient. (Matthew 28:18-20)

- Because we have faith in Christ, we can be resilient. (John 3:16-18)

                The Bible does not use the word resilience to describe a person who thrives spiritually. Instead it uses the term perseverance. Perseverance and resilience are closely related. Both are essential for our spiritual growth.

                James tells us that we should look upon the trials of life as an opportunity to strengthen our resilience. Pushing through the trials of life actually makes us stronger people. But this happens only when we understand what is going on. Whether we are discouraged by trials or energized by them depends on our perspective.

                In 1 Peter 1, Peter reminds us that the trials of life are serving an eternal purpose. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

                The pathway to maturity leads us through the trials of life. If we give in to discouragement and give up on the struggle, we will remain immature in our faith. But if we persevere through our trials, we will grow in our faith and become mature in Christ.

                Our ability to persevere and be resilient in the face of trials and hardships is dependent upon our perspective. The more that we cultivate an eternal perspective, the more resilient we will be in life. Because we know that we are secure in Christ, we can not only survive in the face of trials, we can thrive.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

“The Here and Now” or “The Sweet By and By”?

John 10:10
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

                Sometimes I struggle with the idea that the Christian life is all about eternity. So often the focus is all about getting to heaven after we die. It almost makes it seem like this life is just a holding pattern for the life to come; that it really doesn’t matter. Is the Christian life just about some hope for the future or does it have relevance to this present life as well?

                I want to suggest that our hope for the future should enhance and enrich our life in the present. When God created this world and placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He intended for them to fully enjoy everything that He created. They were free to partake of all of the delights of this world, with the exception of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:15-17) When sin entered the world, the created order was twisted, but God’s plan that we enjoy His world remained. Our ability to fully enjoy this world was impaired, but not eliminated.

                One of the things that is a hindrance to people coming to faith in Christ is the idea that they will no longer be allowed to have fun or enjoy themselves. In an effort not to be tainted by the world, too many Christians have chosen to live austere, joyless lives. They have mistakenly concluded that to enjoy the pleasures of this world is sinful. In an effort to be holy they have become hollow and lifeless. They put all of their focus on “when we get to heaven” and miss the many joys that God has designed for them along the journey.

                It reminds me of a family that I knew long ago. The point of their vacations was to see how many miles they could travel in a week. They would travel thousands of miles, but never really stop to see and enjoy the things that they passed along the way.

                The struggle for believers is that many of the things that God designed for our pleasure have been corrupted by sin. To indulge in these things in their corrupted form leads a person to spiritual and personal death. Jesus addressed this in John 10:10. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. Satan has twisted the pleasures of this world into instruments of death. Jesus came to restore God’s original plan. He came so that we could rediscover this amazing gift of life that God has given to us.

                In this fallen world, we need godly discernment to know how to live an abundant full life. In 1 Timothy 6, Paul tells us that the key to living the abundant life that Jesus talked about is developing the proper perspective. It is not the stuff of this life that is evil, it is how we use it that makes it good or bad.

                Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

                There are several things to highlight in what Paul had to say. Paul does not condemn possessing the things of this world. He tells us to not be arrogant about it. Everything we have is a gift from God and is to be used for His glory. God has given these things to us for our enjoyment! The good things of this world are gifts from God. As James says, Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

                Paul also makes the point that God wants us to use wisely the gifts that He has given to us. Instead of hoarding them for ourselves, we are to share them with others. In reality, our enjoyment is increased through sharing what we have rather than being decreased. For example, Suanne and I thoroughly enjoy the North Shore of Lake Superior. It is one of our favorite places in the world. Because we enjoy it so much, we delight in sharing it with others. We delight in introducing them to all of the places that we have loved.

                Paul also makes the point that the way we use the gifts God has given to us in this life will make a difference in eternity. How we live our lives now matters. It matters for now and for eternity. When we live our present life with the right perspective, we truly experience life to the fullest. God does not want us to stoically endure life until we get to go to heaven. He wants us to fully engage in life, making the most of every opportunity He gives to us. The more that we delight in the world that God has created, the more glory and honor we give to God.

                Jesus wants us to live an abundant life both now and in eternity. The goal of eternity with Christ is an essential part of the Christian life. But let us not miss the delights of the journey that Jesus is leading us on to get us there.

                How then shall we live? We should live fully engaged in this present life, with our eyes always on eternity.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019


Psalm 104:24,27-28
How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
These all look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.

                We have experienced a deluge of sorts recently. It has not been a deluge of rain but of acorns. I have never experienced anything like it. For several weeks it has literally been raining acorns. They cover my driveway and my deck. The other day I swept the deck clean of acorns and an hour later it was covered again. Yesterday I swept up four pails full of acorns from my driveway. When I take our dog outside at night, I can hear acorns hitting the deck and the nearby bushes. It is like being constantly under attack. The street in front of our house is plastered with crushed acorns. I have never experienced anything like it before.

                The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting that we are going to have a harsh winter. I cannot help but think that our acorn storm is somehow related. I have watched the squirrels in our back yard frantically gathering up the acorns to store away. I dumped my pails of acorns under some trees in our backyard where I hope the squirrels will be able to find them. They are better there than crushed under the tires of my car.

                We read an article the other day that stated that the abundance of acorns has nothing to do with the coming winter. Scientists, it said, have found no correlation between the production of acorns and the weather. But I have to wonder. People for centuries have watched the signs in nature to predict, with some accuracy, what the weather would be in the near future. Even the Farmer’s Almanac points us to the woolly bear caterpillar as a harbinger of things to come. If the caterpillar is an indication of a bad winter, why not the acorns?

                The Psalmist suggests that there is a force at work that scientists cannot explain or even understand. That force is the hand of God. As the creator of this amazing world, God is actively involved in sustaining it. The Psalmist reminds us that God provides food for the creatures that He has created. Acorns are just one example of that truth. They are durable, abundant, and nutritious. Many animals will seek out these small projectiles to sustain them during the winter to come. Could it be that God is providing an abundance of acorns this year for this very purpose?

                As human beings we have forgotten how dependent we are upon God’s provision. We have come to believe that we are in control and that we can provide for ourselves. God has allowed us to be productive, and so we have all that we need in abundance. But God can cut off that abundance at any time.

                Moses warned the people of Israel, before they entered the Promised land, not to become over confident in their own abilities. You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. (Deut. 8:17-18)

                In many ways we have fallen into the trap that Moses warned about. We have come to believe that it is by our own strength that we have accomplished all that we have. We have forgotten that God is still on the throne and that He still is in control. In humility we need to confess our arrogance and give thanks to God for the abundance of His grace toward us.

                God has blessed us with abundance, not so we can boast in what we have, but that we might bring honor and glory to Him. All that we have has come from His hand. He wants us to use it for our good and His glory. The rain of acorns is a tangible reminder of God’s extravagant love and grace toward us.

2 Corinthians 9:8
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.