Reflections on Brennan Manning: A Teacher of God’s Love and Grace

Today 4/13/2013 news that Brennan Manning left this life on 4/12/2013. He was a man of God, a disciple who now has moved on. Yet, he was a teacher of much controversy. The top of the controversy was that he taught “contemplative prayer” with use of things like emptying thoughts and repeating words. This controversy exists and is out there, yet, I have no question that in He was a true follower of Jesus the Messiah. His teaching and from what I understand even his life was fractured and flawed. He knew fully what it was to experience God’s grace. Yet, he is really know different than any other disciple of Jesus. He tought things wrong, he did things wrong, he was flawed. Yet, he knew what it was to be loved by God. He was a teacher and preacher of God’s love. His messages focused on deepening the understanding of God and His love. This is true for me.
I heard Brennan Manning speak at Church of the Open Door in Minnesota two or maybe three times. When he spoke his words and presence displayed and shown the love of God. His words touched to the very core. I do not remember his words or his teaching at that time. I do know what he taught and spoke of on those days changed me. He gave words that brought closer awareness to the love of God. He taught in such a way that got beyond the fractured images I had of God the Father and God used to touch hurt and pain and let God’s love in. God used this man. And for that I am grateful. He served and was used by God and he touch my life and many others. There are a great many quotes out there that demonstrate the truth he taught. It is important to note in God’s economy the words of Love and truth have far greater impact than the things we speak that are flawed, dangerous, or destructive. Truth and love always have greater effect. In closing this article I am posting some Brennan Manning quotes that demonstrate the Truth and Love that he taught that impacted so many.

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

“In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.”

“God is love. In human beings, love is a quality, a high-prized virtue; in God, love is His identity.“

“God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ, & I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

“Christianity was not some moral code; it was a love affair, & I experienced it first hand.”

“If we conceal our wounds out of fear & shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”

Musing on Days of Awe: Repentance and the End of Self

For those that do not know right now in the midst of what is known as the “Days of Awe” (Yamim Noraim). It is the ten days between the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) and The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).   The focus of these days is on repentance for the day of meeting God and being cleansed was coming.  Now we have had the day of the great atonement, the once for all  sacrifice, yet I believe God still works in accordance with his time table.  Personally at this time God has led me to focus on some things He wants me to change.  Things that are not easy for met to let go of and turn from, but it is for me to follow and obey.  For me this stirring within and the choices that are being made are not some self motivated need to change. It is listening to God, looking at where I have been in past year and having to make changes.  Either follow as God leads and be blessed, or keep going with what pleases self and suffer the consequences.  If there is to be progress there is to be letting go and turning from that which holds back.  Actively walking in faith involves the “throwing off” of sin that entangles” (see Hebrews 12:1).  It is not easy.  For the things that need to be repented from are things that have let become engrained and perhaps deeply lodged.  God wants to set us free and lift us up to follow His ways. To do so takes actions of repentance. Actions of being freed from that which holds back, the areas of self and the idols that we turn to for life apart from God.  So if you do not have any area in your life being stirred during these remaining days, take time to pray and listen to God to know what God asks you to turn from at this time; then simply follow through. It will be a difficult thing but also truly healing as it is letting go of the ways of self and walking in step with the Holy Spirit. There is no better way.

Pentecost Sunday Musing: Holy Spirit Empowerment

Today, Sunday 6/12/2011 is Pentecost Sunday[i]. It is the day that focuses on our being filled with the Holy Spirit. It is also known as the Jewish festival Shavuot.[ii]  In terms of previous thoughts regarding Pentecost please read https://peacebringer7.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/shavoutpentecost-musings/ and https://peacebringer7.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/musings-on-pentecost-sunday-shavu%e2%80%99ot/ in addition to today’s article.  Also please take time to celebrate having God with us and being in-dwelt with the Holy Spirit.

God set aside this day for a reason and a purpose. God specifically directed the disciples to wait. They were not to go off on their own and start sharing the good news about Salvation, they needed what they did not yet have.  See, on this day something happened that had not occurred before. Sure, there were instances of people being empowered by the Holy Spirit including Moses, David, Elijah, Elisha, and others.  But there never had been the moment where God took up residence within the human spirit. It was the day that the following of God’s truth and God’s ways was given the empowerment through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit enabling God with us, every day. It was the day that God’s ways, God’s law started being written on the hearts of humanity and daily fellowship with the creator enabled. 

Granted, there is a lot of ways folks understand and misunderstand the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  But, God made it clear that there is no fruit and progress without the Holy  Spirit. He directed the disciples to wait, to not go off on their own power to spread the gospel. Something else was needed.  Even then, he directed them to start local and move outward.  There were specific steps for specific times.  Now we may not always grasp or understand. At times we may be waiting, but God does go before us. He provides us what we need, when we need it. The Holy Spirit within us is evidence of this. But God gives when He gives in accordance with His will with what is necessary.  It may not match our viewpoint or understanding at all; for we do not see things clearly, only in part.  Think for a moment to what it would be like to be a disciple and having seen Jesus ascended and being directed to wait without having any idea what was coming.  Then Pentecost comes and the Holy Spirit comes and indwells. What a glorious day but no one could have possibly known what it meant until it happened. 

 

Now note that God still gives what in accordance with His will with what is necessary. It does not always line up or look like we think it should. We are told to listen and follow. We are to wait when directed to wait and we are to move forward when God says move forward. Each step involves trust.  Each instance and circumstance and life is unique.  Too often, each of us can look toward a certain way God moved and apply it broader.  But each circumstance, each person, each life is unique. God works in us all, and those of us who have submitted to God’s way and follow the true path have God with us. It is not a special thing about any of us, it is not a ‘divine spark.’ It is God taking up residence within us, to give us the power and direction to respond to God’s truth and love God and others in accordance with God’s will.  We simply need to trust and obey and be about what God directs each day. We are given power to do so each day, but it requires a daily surrender to the Holy Spirit and a seeking out and following God’s direction but in God’s word and in the prompting of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Doing so makes each day a glorious day and leads us into the path of contentment recognizing that we can do all things through God’s empowerment which is enabled by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Thank God for this day, many years ago that allows me to walk, write, and do what God sets before me when I surrender daily.  It is this that enables us all to be conquerors and empowered to do whatever is ahead. For none of us can do what God directs on our own accord, just as the disciples needed the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, so to we need this empowerment. It starts with surrender and following God with trust and obedience.  He gives the power, we just need to stay in step. When we are obedient and not relying on self, we can know that God will see us through to where He wants us, for He is promised is always faithful and He has given us the means to be empowered for whatever He asks in whatever circumstance.

sNews Commentary: Reverend David Wilkerson Dies in Car Accident

 Wow, just learned that David Wilkerson died today in a car accident.  Regardless of what you think of David Wilkerson, He was a man of God and humble servant of our King of Kings.  He no longer faces the suffering of this world and is on to what is ahead, whatever God has for Him.  I remember as a child hearing of the story of Nicky Cruz and the story Cross and Switchblade.   He also was instrumental of the founding of the Christian based alcohol and drug recovery program, Teen Challenge.

Apparently he changed lanes and ran into a trailer truck who tried to move out of his way. His wife apparently is in critical condition, so prayer for her as well. The story of his death can be found http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2011/April/Rev-David-Wilkerson-Killed-in-TX-Car-Crash/.  For updates from his church home go to: http://www.tscnyc.org/pastor_david_wilkerson.php.  Also according to reports his wife was His last words to the church body as a whole were posted on his blog today entitled: When all means fail.   This death today points us all to the temporariness of this life.  Any one of us could die tomorrow. Life is short and but a vapor. It is interesting that Reverend David Wilkerson was posting and talking about dealing with the storms of life and when things do not go the way we think and coping with difficulty, when God called him home as he was focused on sharing those words.  It appears God through David’s death is continuing and emphasizing the message.  God will and is using this death to further bring Him glory.  Now, I do pray for God’s peace to come upon his family and for the church body.  Doing a search on David Wilkerson found an article of his circa 1979 entitled “The Ultimate Healing” that gives a good treatise on death.  Appropriate words to read as he has shed the mortal coil.

One thing we should all do is stop and think and dwell on the words Reverend David Wilkerson spoke challenging the church. He call for Holiness, Repentance, and looking to God and God alone.  Word all his words and actions perfect, nope, he was flawed as we all are, but He loved God. He pursued righteousness. He called others to go deeper in relationship and surrender. 

It seems fitting to include a few video selections that have been posted that call us to deeper surrender to God Almighty.

A Call to Anguish

Full Sermon: Raised From the Dead

Holy Week Musings: The Ascent

Tomorrow 4/16/2011 is Palm Sunday.  It is the day of Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem with people proclaiming Him as King. A lot of time is spent remembering that day as it is celebrated in churches throughout the world.  How much time is spent thinking and talking about the approach to Jerusalem?   There are several events and teaching that transpire as Jesus approaches the city and the enfolding of His mission with the suffering that will soon follow.  Each gospel account references different things that happened as Jesus moved with purpose from Jericho to Bethphage to Jerusalem.  He approach the city knowing full well what was to come.  He did so faithfully without wavering.

Outside of the actions and teachings of Jesus leading up to Holy Week, my mind is going to what Jesus was experiencing during this time,  as He knew what was to come, that suffering, betrayal, and death awaited.  Here is one incredible thing, as he ascended to Jerusalem, to that which God set before him, He experienced a wide range of emotions and maintained his course. He did not shrink back, pull back, or hold back. He moved ahead.  Think for a minute Jesus focusing on Psalms 120 through 134 the Psalms of Ascent and knowing that what He was about to do created the help, peace, and salvation.  Jesus kept the focus and surrender and moved ahead, knowing what He knew, He still followed and surrendered.  Jesus knew the personal cost to him, but He also knew the purpose and intent of what He was to endure. He knew the victory and salvation it would bring.

Now in our life and call, we do not know the details like Jesus did, but we do know that there is victory.  We do know that God is faithful even when we do not understand what is before us.  If we follow God’s leading, we will receive His blessing in God’s time and in God’s way.  For we know that God is love and while there is pain, suffering, and threats untold, God is greater.  Sure, we may endure great suffering for a time, but as we walk the road God set before us and approach that which He has called us to, God’s purpose will be fulfilled always.  There may be great pain and suffering getting to where God calls, but His will and His love will always be served. Whatever are the evil intents, if surrendered to following God and His ways, He will always bring the victory.

Yet, folks do and will lose out.  The losing out happens when any one of us leave the path of ascent.  We when go down our own way and leave God’s path there are consequences. When we do not surrender, trust, and obey there is loss. Loss that can impact many more than just our self.  This is seen over and over in scripture as deviation and distrust bring choices that have great impact.  The choices is ours minute by minute, as we are all in the ascent, approaching that to where God want us, until we reach the final moment when “It is finished” for this life and we move on to New Jerusalem.

Video Selection: He’s Everything to Me

This is a song the Holy Spirit has me recalling and playing in my mind recently.  None of the video’s catches the memory of the way the song was sung at campfires, at youth groups, or any get together of believers.  This song does really capture and reflect on the essence of God’s divine empathy. Here are the lyrics:

In the stars His handiwork I see,
On the wind He speaks with majesty,
Though He ruleth over land and sea,
What is that to me?
I will celebrate Nativity,
For it has a place in history,
Sure, He came to set His people free,
What is that to me?

Till by faith I met Him face to face,
and I felt the wonder of His grace,
Then I knew that He was more  than just a
God who didn’t care,
That lived a way out there and

Now He walks beside me day by day,
Ever watching o’er me lest I stray,
Helping me to find that narrow way,
He’s Everything to me.

Musings on Pentecost Sunday (Shavu’ot)

Sunday May 23rd, 2010 is the day of the Anniversary of Pentecost. It is also the day of the Biblical Festival know as Shavu’ot which means Festival of Weeks. It is also known as Hag ha-Bikkurim: Festival of First Fruits and Hag Matan Torateinu: the Festival of the Giving of Torah. So this day is a day that God has chosen as a day of significance and He gave two significant gifts on this day. This day paints a picture of God’s initiation and our response. God’s initiation involved two things.

The first gift from God was of the Torah, the Law, which provided the way and directions to be free from idolatry and immorality and pointed the way to Jesus. It is a day where focus in on what God has established and the importance of surrendering to Him, to walk in His way. One of the practices on this day in Jewish households is the reading of the book of Ruth, which really emphasizes the total surrender to God, of following His way not our way. It also points to the redeeming work of God, through Jesus the Messiah, to establish the way for all that may follow. Now here is an important fact. The Torah serves to lead us to the need of repentance; a written standard exposed the sinfulness and deceitfulness of the heart. The Torah exposes the need for repentance and surrender pointing to the eternal answer. The Torah serves as the lamp showing the way, the way being Jesus.

The other gift from God given on this day, was the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He is the means by which God’s ways and laws our written on our hearts. The Holy Spirit empowers and brings us to repentance and surrender. On this day, the Holy Spirit came to all who believed. No longer was the Holy Spirit limited to a select few God chose to anoint. Rather, the Holy Spirit indwells all who surrender to God and enter into His Kingdom found through Jesus and what He did at the cross. Being made clean and whole enable the Holy Spirit to reside within, guiding us day by day moment by moment. The being indwelt with the Holy Spirit enables worship in spirit and truth, for without that ongoing presence we all falter.

Ultimately through God’s gifts, He simply gave fully of Himself to give us what we need, to set us free. God’s gifts need a response, an act of worship. Worship exhibited by bringing the first of everything produced during the early Harvest. It is the starting point of all that comes ahead, but it is when the initial rewards are returned back to God as an act of submission. It is a representation of giving fully of self, of surrendering to God fully. God’s precious gifts should bring about a response of total surrender and as we surrender, we receive more from God. When we surrender to the Holy Spirit he is able to move in sanctifying, empowering, and healing. The surrender results in more fruit and a greater Harvest. A genuine response to God of giving back results in God being free to do more. Any such response is one based not on compulsion but on true joy over what God has already given.

What God has given us is precious; freedom from idolatry, darkness, immorality, and selfishness. He has given us Salvation. He has given us life. He has given us His words to direct and the Holy Spirit to lead and empower. It is a wondrous day. How then do you respond to day and the days to come? Do you surrender fully? Do you find ways to respond in love? Do you seek to please God or satisfy self? Check yourself and see what is your response, and if it falters, then wake up and recognize what God has given and done. Reflect on where you were and how He has changed you. Give of yourself as He requests with all you are from the first to the last and ever moment in-between.

Seven Spiritual Principles for Transcending Suffering

Suffering is pervasive.  No one goes without facing suffering.  The whole of creation came under the tyranny of suffering as a consequence of sin. In this world there are many sources of suffering.  Stress in fact has become a less threatening word to describe facing varied forms of suffering.  There are many degrees and shapes of suffering. There is the suffering of trauma and disaster, there is abuse inflicted on others, disease, poverty, and so on.  Most of what is offered in the world related to stress and suffering is all about coping.  Yet, there are spiritual principles that can lead beyond just coping with suffering and actually transcend whatever the experience is.  There can be peace in suffering.  In examining the Bible, there are seven principles that God has given us that can help us transcend suffering and stress.

Before getting into the examination of principles there is a need to acknowledge that this discussion is a basic overview of these principles.  A lot more time can be spent expanding on each principle in far greater detail; the objective here is to lay a foundation of understanding. While reading, take some time to pray and think over each principle.  God may emphasize a particular point for you.  Please take the thoughts outlined here as a starting point for further study and pursuit of understanding.  Wherever you are at and however stress and suffering are currently affecting your life, may you find words of peace and encouragement that lighten the load and burden. So let us now take a look at the seven spiritual principles for transcending suffering.

Recognize: The starting point is really recognizing that God is sovereign. He is, was, and will always be in control.  The climax of the book of Job is that God is in control.  Now recognizing this fact is key to making it through the suffering.  It is not just about God being in control, it is about what God allows in his sovereignty he allows to bring himself Glory.  The fact is it is easy to lose sight of God’s sovereignty and control. It is really easy to focus on the pain and difficulty and wonder where God is in the midst. All things happen for God’s glory.  Not only does it happen for God’s glory but also that we may grow in maturity.  Here are some verses that emphasize this needed recognition:

Romans 5:1-5 (NIV) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 8:28 (NIV) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

1 Peter 4: 11, 12 (ESV) Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

 So we need to recognize that God is in control, that what he allows he allows for his glory, and what he allows works to refine us and build us up further in him.  These are important facts to recognize when in the midst of suffering.

Remember: This step is related to recognize for the things we need to recognize are also important things for us to remember.  But the principle of remembrance does not stop with bringing to mind the truths of what God has said but also what God has done.  The Old Testament is filled with examples of people engaging in establishing ways to remember what God has done.  Two ways reported over and over were setting up altars and naming places and children related to what God has done. God also created for Israel feasts such as Passover to be continual reminders of His faithfulness and ability to deliver.  Remembering what God has done, his love, his faithfulness, and even his discipline is important because it directs us to God’s love, dependability, and faithfulness.  If we remember how God has provided and delivered in the past, when under a current trial or form of suffering it gives encouragement that He who proved faithful before, will do so again. God is always true. Yet sometimes we forget that fact.  We most often forget that God is faithful and capable of accomplishing all that He promises and says.  When we forget, we struggle more.  So take time and remember what God has done in your life, the ways He has proved faithful. Remember the ways God has shown and revealed Himself in your life.  A key Bible verse for this spiritual principle is Hebrews 10:23 (ESV) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  So take time to remember what God has done and review God’s faithfulness, for that which He promises, He will make certain. 

Faith: Any form of suffering brings with it a challenge to faith. Suffering ultimately reveals our depths and limits of faith. The Bible gives us some clear understanding of what faith is in Hebrews 11:1 (ESV): Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith is acting on that which is not visible, that which is beyond our comprehension.  It is during suffering when what is seen is the pain and hurt that faith is most critical; for it is during suffering the faithfulness and love of God comes into question, for what is seen is pain.  Peter when he got out of the boat showed great faith in the unseen. The great waves did not bother him, as He had faith in God to uphold him.  The disciple’s faith was shown to be limited when they were overwhelmed with fears while in the boat in a storm while Jesus slept.  Yet, faith is not just the certainty of what is unseen regarding God’s faithfulness.  Faith is our response to what God directs.  Romans 10:17 (ESV) states: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  Faith is founded upon what we hear of God and his word. It is founded on our relationship to God’s authority and our position in the Kingdom of God.  Faith is following God’s direction and resting in His authority.  When we walk in fear rather than faith, we doubt God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love.  Take a look at Hebrews 10:23 again.  We are able to stand firm in faith when we believe that He is faithful.  

Ultimately our actions during suffering reveal our level of faith. We can claim to have faith, but unless we act on that faith the faith is meaningless. We can say we trust God to see us through our darkest suffering, but it our actions that really reveal the sincerity of that faith. How we manage day to day.  And guess what, each of us do have limits to our faith.  At any time God can turn to us and respond “Oh ye of little faith.”  For when you compare the depth and limits of our faith with the goodness and faithfulness of God, it will always come up short.  We all like Peter can show moments of great face soon followed by great weakness.  So in the midst of suffering we will learn our limits to faith and be challenged to continue. And ultimately, it is the times of suffering that draw us into deeper awareness of God’s love and faithfulness and result in growth and maturity of faith.  So what to do when your faith is at the limits? Confess your unbelief and lack of faith to God and ask Him to grow your faith and help you in your unbelief.  Also do not be surprised by your own limits to faith, for we all have them.

Focus:  The word focus really entails an essential spiritual principle.  Focus has to do with where our attention is centered.  Suffering of any sort will test our focus.  An amazing thing is that we can start out with strong faith, we can step out of the boat and walk toward Jesus, yet like Peter we also quickly can lose focus.  Jesus is to be our central focus, but the difficulties of life, the stressors and sufferings can often divert our attention.  Actually the bible directs us to maintain two types of focus: on Jesus and eternity.  There are two key verses that point to keeping focus on Jesus:

Isaiah 26:3 (ESV) You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Hebrews 12:2 (NIV) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Focus on Jesus in a key to peace in suffering. When we are thinking about Jesus and serving him, we look beyond our pain, troubles, and  difficulties.  Part of focusing on Jesus is that when we look at what God did at the cross and Jesus suffering greatly, suffered so that we may be redeemed and set free, we can see that God does truly work things out for His glory. 

The second area we need to place our focus is away from this world to matters of eternity. In other worlds it is looking past the Kingdom of this world to God’s Kingdom.  Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV):  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

That verse really captures the differences between focus on the eternal or the things of this world. Everything of this world is temporary, lasting but a moment.  This is true of suffering as well. And yes, a person can endure suffering the rest of their life, but it is still always but temporary in comparison with eternity.  This is spelled out even more clearly in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV): So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

It is truly difficult to focus on the eternal and that which is not temporary. For we know what we see, we know what we feel. We are easily drawn to give our full attention to these temporary things.  In order to transcend the suffering, it requires looking beyond self and this world to that which is eternal.  The need for eternal focus is also outlined in Colossians 3:1-4 (ESV): If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 

If one cannot readjust focus to that of Jesus and eternal matters then any suffering will be insurmountable and all-consuming.  When we take focus off of this world and self, we are uplifted. There is no burden that can weigh us down or cause us to sink, rather we are buoyed through any storm and uplifted when we have our focus centered in the right direction.

Love: This principle really grows out of taking eyes off of the focus of our own pain and looking toward God and others.  When engage in loving others we engage in actions that build them up.  When we love others we touch the hurt and pains that they experience are touched.  It just takes a simple act.  It is also a fact that a good portion of suffering is related to choices other people made that have hurt others. In other words, actions of self have resulted in hurting others.  Actions of love have an impact that far outweigh the actions of harm as seen in Deuteronomy 5:7-10. The effects of sins of fathers have impact to three or four generations but that actions of love lasts thousands. Love is far more powerful and long lasting.  Sins bring pain, love brings blessing and healing. It is not just the actual suffering we experience that cause us difficulty but also the perception of a threat of suffering. The perceived threat elicits the emotion of fear.  I John 4:18(ESV) states: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  The bible goes at great length to encourage us to love others, in particular those that are poor or in unfortunate circumstances.  Now here is an amazing thing. When you are engaged in focusing on helping and loving others, the perception of pain or your level of stress or suffering reduces. It does not change the source or cause of the pain, but when you take your mind off of self, the felt pain reduces. It even helps to be around others going through similar struggles and to mutually support one another through the suffering.  As you do so and focus on the concerns of others, there is a reduced perception of pain.  Test this principle out, focus on loving others and then check on your perception of pain. Ultimately remember, that what we learn from and the change and growth that occurs during struggles can in turn be used to reach and impact others.  In such away not only do we gain from our struggles but others gain and are touched as well. 

Uplift: The action that we can take that is the most in opposition to suffering is praising and uplifting God in the midst of stress and suffering.  It is something we are commanded to do.  Philippians  4:4 (ESV) states Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say Rejoice! James 1:2 (NIV) states: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.  We have a biblical example of being joyful in the time of trial.  In Acts 16 Paul and Silas sang and worshiped God while in prison after being beaten. Yet they surrendered and focused on God and uplifted God. They did not complain about their circumstances or pain.  They knew God was worthy of praise regardless of circumstance.  They chose to uplift him.  Now, it is a hard thing to do in difficult times.  It involves a surrender of self.  When we hurt and are in pain it is difficult to praise God. We know the hurt we endure. We may even doubt the love of God.  The Bible gives us multiple directions to stand firm for a reason.   It is not just the New Testament that directs us to thank and uplift God no matter what the circumstance; the Old Testament makes frequent references to offering the sacrifice of Thanksgiving.   The sacrifice of Thanksgiving is closely associated with the peace offering, which points to Jesus as our salvation. The reason we can uplift God is what He has done for us at the cross.  Remember, all suffering ultimately is a result of sin.  All sin was addressed at the cross, and while we still face the ongoing twists and pain that sin caused, Jesus dealt with it at the cross.  He suffered all, died, and rose again that suffering comes to an end. This is why we can praise.  It is worth noting that the sacrifice of Thanksgiving involved both things that are pleasing, and those that are unpleasing, and even that which is impure.  They all are uplifted to God, thanking Him for all: good, bad, unpleasant, impure, or joyous.   Now, if you understand that God wants us to lift all before Him and understand that it is because of Jesus and what is yet to come that we can praise, the need and value of uplifting God is more clear.  As Hebrew 13:15(ESV) directs: Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Uplifting God with praise and worship is an ongoing, continual process. It is a setting aside of self and giving Honor where it is do, to God alone.  It is continually surrendering of self.  In pain and suffering of any type this requires an act of will. It is not an easy task to look beyond the pain and circumstances and praise God. In fact, it requires a willful, sacrificial act of turning from self to God.  And when we are obedient and able to follow God’s command in such a manner, He shows up and is present.  He showed up in a might way for Paul and Silas. He can in each of our lives as well.  If the circumstances do not change, God will change you and fill you with His Joy and Peace.  But it starts with surrender such as setting aside the self in pain and uplifting the Most Holy One.  There is power in uplifting the Father who loves us beyond measure; power in uplifting Jesus who is the Lamb worthy to be Slain who has redeemed us and set us free: and there is power in uplifting the Holy Spirit who empowers us when we are weak and draws us unto repentance. So continually uplift and praise God. Continually surrender in worship.  Give your all to Him no matter what the circumstances.

Rest: This principle is powerful but we often fail to recognize the importance of rest. Transcending suffering only really occurs when you are able to be at a place of rest.  People really do have a hard time entering rest or even understanding it.  Resting is all about coming to a settled state where there is no striving to obtain.  Hebrews 4:9-11(ESV) states:   So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  True surrender to God involves being at a state of rest, which is a ceasing focus on self and looking to God.  It is being at a state that no matter what situation you are in, whatever you endure, that looking to God comes first.  Paul’s reported secret of contentment really points to this rest principle: Philippians 4:13 (ESV) I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In good times, in pain, in suffering God gives us the strength and peace to endure and stand firm.  Resting in suffering is ceasing the focus on what is not right and turning to God regardless of any change.  Those following God and rest in Him are able to move beyond whatever happens in this world.  It is in such rest and turning to God that He provides the strength to stand.  We cannot do it of our own accord, we truly need to know the meaning of when I am weak He is strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10b)   His power is strong when we are weak, when we cease the striving, then God’s strength can move in our lives regardless of any change in sources of suffering.

The deep rest that transcends suffering is a level of even letting go of our own protection and depending on God letting His peace guard are heart and soul.  The Psalms are full of references to finding refuge in God.  Psalms 94:22(ESV) is one such example:  But the LORD has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.  Striving for our own defense is natural.  The more stress and suffering we face, the more prone we are to find ways to defend ourselves from threats.  God wants us to set aside our own defense and rest in His defense of us.  He wants total trust and dependence on him.  This is the essence and nature of rest.   There is a well used verse that really sums up the nature of rest God asks of us.  Psalms 46: 10a (ESV) “Be still and know that I am God” The verse is really nothing about our communicating with God, it is all about resting in Him.  The Psalms really describes God’s coming wrath with the whole of Earth in travail.   It really points out to rest in God, for while his wrath is coming, you can depend on Him and must, for ultimately all will be exalted before Him.  Is that not a glorious thought? God will be exalted about all.  There need be no fear of any suffering or bad things to come, as God is our strength and defense. He is in control, so rest in Him. 

My hope is that you have taken time to slowly read over this article and come back at it a piece at a time.  Each principle really builds upon each other.  The more each of these principles are evident in your life, the more you grow and the less power the sources of suffering have in your life.  Now if you read these principles and feel overwhelmed and small, know that in our lives these principles are ongoing and that once you think you got one principle understood and evident in your life, God will reveal how shallow the depth of understanding really is.  We are all a work in process. Personally, in writing this article and taking time to sort through what God has stirred up to share with others to help, it really does become clear the need for growth. Nevertheless, it is also apparent how God has made each principle real and taught lesson through the varied stress and sufferings of life.  In closing, taking time to pray over each principle and asking God to make them more real in your life.   

Please feel free to copy or republish any part of this article. Feel free to print the article and pass it on to whoever is in need.

Passion Week Musings: The Garden Betrayal

After the Last Supper the scene moves to the Garden and the eventual betrayal. There are two main reactions to focus on during the time in the garden, Jesus action and that of the disciples. Jesus was under intense emotions and stress. He was about to undergo something that none of us can grasp. He knows he is about to die a horrid death. He knows he is to be sacrificed. He is at a moment of intense anticipation for the events ahead. So what he did was seek the father. He resisted the temptation to run or go another way. He stayed true and let his heart out toward the Father. His emotions and struggle was so intense that his body could not hold up under the emotional distress and he started sweating blood. Take you most intense emotional stress and it will not come close to the agony Jesus was experiencing. Yet, he continued to submit to the will of the father, knowing that there is no other way to redeem mankind for if there was any other way it would have happened.

Now during the period of time that Jesus is undergoing this intense emotional struggle while awaiting the betrayal the disciples were there. Jesus asked them to stand by, watch, and pray. The disciples tried to follow suit but the fell asleep. Jesus did not condemn them for their failures. He was aware that their spirits were willing, they tried to follow suit, but they could not overcome and resist the flesh. They fell asleep. He found them sleeping and the third time he did not even bother to waken them until the betrayer arrived. When the moment arrives, he declares there ongoing status of sleeping and then awakens them to let them know the time has come. As the event unfold, the disciples end up ready for a fight, Peter even gets aggressive. Jesus remains steadfast. So it is clear that in spite the teaching and preparation they did not understand. They were still focused on a conquering messiah in spite of Jesus telling them over and over he would suffer death, this may even been part of their struggle with flesh. They did not really know why they needed to watch and pray. They were confident and had faith in Jesus and were ready to fight with him. They were not ready to see the one they loved so much and put faith in turned over to suffer and die.

Today the church is not really in a different place then the disciples. We know Jesus is coming soon. We are aware of events and signs to watch for. Yet we get caught up in the cares of world. We have our goals and plans and dreams we want to accomplish or experience before His return. These very things cause is to be weak in flesh and ultimately to fall asleep. God directs us to watch, pray, and be sober. Yet, we all fall asleep. Every one of us, for ultimately we fail to fully understand and grasp what is going to happen. In our spirit we long for the return, but in our flesh it is another story, so we fall asleep. It is much better to watch and pray and stand firm, yet it does stretch our limits. Now some fellow believers focus and hope on the “Rapture” of the church, yet know this, we need to be awake. If you rest in a perception of coming safety when the world is already growing darker, it is really a form of slumber. God like the disciples gives us preparation and will direct us what we need to do to stand firm and not falter. Yet, for us often the spirit is willing but the flesh is week so we sleep in the appearance of current and coming safety. Meanwhile there is a roaring lion about looking who he may devour. There is evil going on, sometimes coordinated, sometimes just in synchronicity. If we slumber, we falter and fail to stand firm.

Thoughts from a Funeral: Do you fully love?

My wife plays piano and as such at times I get privileged to attend things like other peoples weddings and funerals that normally would not attend.  Tonight I was at a funeral of  Josephine “Josie” Foy mother to a member of New Joy church, David Foy.  The church is the one I am a member of and had asked for prayer for the pastoral search earlier this year.  I don’t recall if I ever met Josephine in my time around the Foy family, but I don’t think so.   Being around funerals or intense emotion is always intense for me as I take on the emotions that are there as an empathetic response.  The funeral was touching and one that did present a sound Gospel message as well.  The special music was touching and fitting of the event and those mourning the loss certainly must have been touched.   The funeral as a whole touched me as well, particularly the Eulogy David Foy shared and the bit of this woman’s life.

Josephine “Josie” Foy apparently lived a hard life and her father was physically abusive. She was a simple woman with limited skills.  David may the point that why her skills may be limited she always gave her all.  She gave everything she had into trying to raise her children in difficult times and much poverty.  She poured herself into her children.   So the first way I was touched is to reflect on the importance of total giving of self to God.  If we do not give fully of what God has given us and walk in true surrender we fall short of genuine response to God.

Another point that touched me from what David shared in the Eulogy was his description of Joyce as content.  He indicated that  whatever she was asked she responded “I’m fine.”   He suggested that her reply was not the simple polite exchange but a true reflection of her state of mind, for her she was always fine regardless. 

The third element David shared about his mother that touched me, was that he was uncertain until just before she died of her position in Jesus.  His wife Heidi years ago and been led to share Jesus with his mom and her significant other and they at that time, opened their hearts to Jesus.  David had doubted the sincerity of that encounter until his mother assured him that she was ready to die on all levels, meaning she was right before God.

Now all that is interesting but the most powerful element learning about David and his mother was his telling about his reaction to the fact that as children his mother had given away David and his sisters and they moved on to foster care.  David talked about confronting his mother as a young adult and being able to let go of bitterness because he learned that her action was one of self-sacrifice and love.  She couldn’t care for the children herself so she gave them away.   This story really points to the importance of perspective.  When looking at things from our own eyes and pain we can view things that were done of pure love, to be something done out of evil.  We have the view that no one who loves another would cause pain or abandonment.  Yet, here, David’s mother Josephine Foy gave up David and his sisters because she loved them enough to recognize they needed more than she could provide.  And ultimately God has used that story even to this day with David’s Eulogy of his mother, and the impact on myself and others. 

Ultimately from this story the over all message is that of the importance of loving totally, giving all of self.  Josephine gave her all at great personal loss and even becoming the object of anger because of love.  She did not hold back.  Her life reflected brightly God’s love.  True, she likely made many hurtful choices that came from self, but she also reflected God’s love even before she had entered His Kingdom.  In reflecting on  1 John 4:7 (KJV) comes to mind:

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

Josephine Foy before officially entering the Kingdom of God, showed pure love.  When she was presented with the opportunity to turn fully to God, she did not hesitate and accepted it so easily it left lingering doubt.  Yet, the quick acceptance seems to flow  from the truth of this verse.  Those that love are born of God and know God and when told of how to reconcile fully to God, there is no real hesitation as the state of heart being centered on love accepts what is known in the heart as true.

Now to wrap this article up, please consider to take to heart the life of Josie Foy.  Love God and others with all that you are and by so doing reflect God’s love.  In so doing you will learn more about God and grow in intimacy, for intimacy with God is known in how we love.