Endure For a Little While

©2015 PurePurpose.org
©2015 PurePurpose.org

It sounded like the roofers were coming through our roof.

I stepped outside to check on the progress, and I heard an even louder banging. Our neighbor had someone in his old cistern, breaking it apart with a jackhammer, causing loud booms to echo as the sounds ricocheted among the houses. I heard beeping down the street and glanced to see a city backhoe working on a corner. In the other direction, two construction trucks pulled into a yard to begin working on a front porch.

I felt sorry for anyone in the neighborhood who expected a quiet day. We live in a typically calm area.

There are seasons in our lives that cause a lot of noise and distraction. Those seasons affect people around us, too. As distracting and annoying as the noise can be, in order to grow, we need to endure and invest in those times. Without a new roof, we won’t enjoy the protection through rain, wind, and several feet of snow. Without the demolished old cistern, our neighbor won’t be able to trust the foundation of the new part of his house. Without the backhoe, the water line can’t be maintained and relied upon.

Without intentional maintenance and sacrificial investment, our faith doesn’t grow. We may not like those raucous times when everything seems inconvenient and overwhelming, but God uses those situations and experiences to remind us of His protection…break down what’s getting in the way in order to build something more solid…regularly check, maintain, and improve the lines of communication and nourishment we need to thrive.

What we endure in faith for and with God has eternal consequences that help us every single day.

 

With Blessings Come Responsibility

What responsibilities do you find in these verses?

Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me. For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice. (Romans 15:1-6)

responsibility5As I sat in a training in preparation to begin serving in Israel with Bridges for Peace, I heard a quick reference to Romans 15, along with the challenge, “With blessings come responsibility.” Later that day, I read through Romans 15. Just the first half dozen verses are full of blessings and the responsibilities that come along with them.

  • Are you blessed with strength? Bear the weaknesses of others.
  • And do it for them, not yourself.
  • Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, it’s really not about you at all. Follow Jesus, who didn’t do things for Himself but always for others.
  • Was something written in the past for you? (God’s Word, perhaps?) Use it as your instruction. It’s the way you’ll have hope.
  • Speaking of Scripture, because you have access to God’s Word, you have access to the endurance and encouragement you need. It’s not optional. It’s assured.
  • And that endurance and encouragement? Yes, that comes with responsibility, too. Use it to live in harmony with others.
  • Since you’ll be living in harmony with others, you will also be fulfilling your responsibility to glorify God with a united mind and voice.

No pressure.

I may have taken a few liberties, and you can explore the rest of the chapter if you want, but try not to make it too complicated. As daunting as it might seem. Stop rationalizing. Perhaps you don’t feel strong all the time. But you don’t have to feel strong to be strong. God is the source of strength. You’re never strong on your own and always strong with Him. Quit defining it your own way at your own convenience. You might not feel hopeful. You might not feel capable of endurance or encouragement. And when you claim you don’t have those things because of your feelings, you can pull back from all the responsibilities attached. After all, if you don’t have those things, how can you follow through with what is required?

Because of God…

Because of God, you have the things you don’t even realize you have.

Because of God, you can do the things you don’t think you can do.

Because of God, the instructions are there. You just have to listen and follow.

Because of God, the pressure is off you. He’s first, not you.

Because of God, the pressure is on you. You have to put Him first and choose humility.

You might see areas of your life you don’t view as blessed. Don’t be deceived. Being blessed doesn’t mean everything is working out the way you expect or want. If you’re reading this, you are literate. You are blessed. You have access to technology. You are blessed. You likely have a place to sleep and something to eat. Blessed. Blessed.

Most of all, you have access to God. I don’t know if you are engaging with Him or not, but you have access to Him. Definitely blessed.

Are you responding responsibly?

Jesus Is Unfailing

Jesus didn’t give up on his followers even when they didn’t understand or didn’t follow well.

Then Jesus and his followers left that place and went through Galilee. He didn’t want anyone to know where he was, because he was teaching his followers. He said to them, “The Son of Man will be handed over to people, and they will kill him. After three days, he will rise from the dead.” But the followers did not understand what Jesus meant, and they were afraid to ask him. (Mark 9:30-32)

Jesus had told his followers what would happen to him, but they didn’t seem to comprehend it. Much of his teaching was beyond their grasp. Jesus’ teaching wasn’t always simple, which could prompt some followers to give up and turn away. But Jesus kept teaching. He never gave up, because he is dependable. He never fails us.

Even when you don’t understand or follow well, Jesus doesn’t give up on you. Jesus patiently endures your growth process. Jesus gets frustrated with spiritual dullness and lack of faith, but he doesn’t give up on people, because he loves people. God’s love is unending and unconditional. We don’t give up on the people we love. Jesus gives up on no one.

Jesus shows his unfailing love even when he’s suffering an excruciating death on the cross: Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Even as people betrayed and murdered him, Jesus didn’t give up on the people he came to save. He recognized lack of and limited understanding. Jesus knows how spiritually inept we are, yet he is patient. Jesus’ love is unfailing. Be honest with yourself. Then trust Jesus to meet you where you are and provide everything you need.

We know that the law is spiritual, but I am not spiritual since sin rules me as if I were its slave. I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate. And if I do not want to do the hated things I do, that means I agree that the law is good. But I am not really the one who is doing these hated things; it is sin living in me that does them. Yes, I know that nothing good lives in me—I mean nothing good lives in the part of me that is earthly and sinful. I want to do the things that are good, but I do not do them. I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I do not want to do. So if I do things I do not want to do, then I am not the one doing them. It is sin living in me that does those things So I have learned this rule: When I want to do good, evil is there with me. In my mind, I am happy with God’s law. But I see another law working in my body, which makes war against the law that my mind accepts. That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and it makes me its prisoner. What a miserable man I am! Who will save me from this body that brings me death? I thank God for saving me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:14-25)

Fit Faith: Interval: Lost Bridge Trail

I have a favorite trail. I don’t get to walk it very often, because it’s almost an hour from home. It was built on an old railroad route. It’s straight and flat, which might not seem appealing to many, but the foliage is beautiful. Trees gently bend over the trail to make a canopy in many places. People who maintain the trail do an exceptional job of keeping the side foliage trimmed, so it’s not obstructive, which also clears the way to notice birds, squirrels and chipmunks beside and skittering across the trail.

One of the reasons I enjoy the trail so much is the memories I associate with it. My oldest daughter and I have walked it many times together. Even now that she doesn’t live at home, we try to find time to revisit it every now and then. We enjoy the length of the walk, talking along the way, and taking a short detour to our favorite restaurant for a break.

Another reason I enjoy it is that it’s not my usual routine. If I walked it every day, I don’t think I’d notice as many details. I don’t think I’d appreciate the sunlight filtering through the tree tops or the variegated colored-leaves fluttering in the breeze. I might not notice the pattern of wood on the floor of the bridge or the small pools of water in the tunnel. I might not find as much thrill in the small chipmunks, which I don’t usually see on my regular walking route. And even when I walk the same distance, I don’t feel the same sense of accomplishment when I finish one of my regular routes.

Interval training usually has to do with short bursts of activity alternated with longer, more enduring work. For me, I consider my Lost Bridge Trail walks as interval training in a bigger picture sort of way. My regular walks are the longer, more enduring workouts. My Lost Bridge Trail walks include a different focus. I push myself in a different way along that long stretch of flat path. As much as I push myself, I intentionally look around and enjoy the sights and sounds. It gives me refreshment in my overall fitness. My body might be tired when I’m done, but I am rejuvenated.

Refresh my heart in Christ. (Philemon 1:20)

We must seek refreshment, not just physical but spiritual. In order to gain refreshment, we often feel exhausted through the process, but it’s an exhaustion due to pursuit and effort. It’s satisfying even with the sore and tired muscles, physical and spiritual.

What can you do today to differ your routine and invite refreshment?

Let’s not define refreshment selfishly. We don’t seek refreshment because we need things to go our way. We get tired of routine, and we think there should always be adventure and newness for us. That’s not the case. Commitment is important in our relationship with God. However, we can have variety within our commitment. You don’t read just one Scripture over and over day after day. You don’t say the exact same thing every time you pray. Every sermon you hear is not the same.

Appreciate the routine by putting a twist on your routine. If you have a committed place for your morning prayers or Bible study, take a break and go to a park or coffee shop. Visit another church to hear a different speaker and experience different music.

You don’t have to like every new thing you try. You also don’t have to compare it to what you’re used to. You can appreciate it for what it is. You can consider it in the larger picture of your spiritual growth and appreciate how God uses a variety to challenge and nourish you. Open your eyes, ears and heart and be attentive to what he wants to give you through varied experiences. He will always be present and never be silent.

In the process, you might find that special place, where you can visit occasionally and get rejuvenated, even if it takes effort to reach and complete.

Fit Faith: Endurance: Climbing the Ruins

Tim and I decided to take a day trip away from our resort in Playa del Carmen to explore some Mayan ruins. We had seen some smaller ones during an earlier trip, but we would be able to climb a large one, and since another major site had been closed to all climbing recently, we decided we should take the opportunity while we could.

After getting a tour around the main group of ruins, we were told we’d have to hike if we wanted to climb the taller ruin. We could rent bikes, but Tim and I decided to enjoy the walking time. By the time we made it to the ruin, we were already soaked in sweat.

It was a more difficult climb than we expected. It required endurance of several kinds. First was the physical endurance of climbing quite a distance. Next was the mental endurance of climbing nearly straight up with extremely narrow and uneven steps. There was one rope running up the middle of the steps for people who felt unsteady. The only issue was what to do when someone coming up with the rope and someone going down with the rope met somewhere along the way.

Once we made it to the top, there was another set of issues to endure. The first was the realization that we were definitely not in the United States anymore. No historical preservation society would allow anyone to get near such ancient ruins, and OSHA would never allow anyone to climb without a harness and all types of safety apparatus. Instead, we walked around on the narrow ledges at the top with no guard rails or limitations of where we could walk. There was loose gravel everywhere, and we were sure with one false move, we’d plummet to our deaths.

The next issue was to determine what the best approach to get down would be. There were no back-up plans. There were no ruins authorities monitoring everyone’s abilities and progress, willing to swoop us onto their backs to carry us to safety. There was no zipline available to take the fast route down. There were two choices: face forward and scoot down or face the ruin and go down backward. Backward seemed the logical choice to me.

The physical endurance on the way down was nothing. Keeping my nerves in check was a bit of a challenge. I’m not easily intimidated by physical challenges or heights, but as I carefully moved down the ruin, I remember singing to myself a modified Dory song from Nemo: “Just keep moving, just keep moving.”

Alas! I reached the bottom. I had originally thought I might try to climb multiple times. I was quite content with one.

Sometimes we anticipate and even invite a spiritual climb. We think we’re prepared for it and are ready to conquer it. We think we know enough about ourselves and our strengths and weaknesses that we quickly assess what we believe we can and can’t do and how well we’ll do it. We’re ready to endure, we think. However, when we’re faced with the uphill climb, we come face-to-face with the realization that we were only thinking of one aspect of the endurance it would take to face such a mountain. We didn’t take all factors into account, because we didn’t know all the factors until we started the climb. We found ourselves in need of more endurance than we anticipated. We get on the mountain, and the only option we have is endurance, because there are no easy ways down. We have to just keep moving, just keep moving.

We also have joy with our troubles, because we know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

How are you responding with spiritual endurance in your life right now?

Fit Faith: Circuit: Buffet!

Circuit training doesn’t mean taking as many trips as possible to the buffet. There are similarities. People start in one place and work their way from one station to another until their plates are full. They sit down for a while and then return for another circuit. Repetition is key.

Fitness circuit training requires repetition, too, but it also requires intention and focus. There’s no meandering from station to station, browsing the possibilities and choosing only those things that look appetizing. It’s about intentionally going from station to station, taking each step at a time in sequence to get the maximum benefit from the combination. Trying to combine too many things on the fitness buffet would be disastrous!

Spiritual circuit training is a combination of the two. It’s more disciplined than dining at the food buffet. You can’t simply choose what tastes good or looks most appealing. We often find ourselves in some rather unpleasant circumstances, but we need to persevere and have patience in a wide variety of situations. We can’t skip over the bitter and sour of life any more than we can camp in the sweet spots. We enjoy or endure situations and proceed to the next.

At the same time, we must be careful not to get so regimented about the routine of spiritual training that we eliminate the “living it” process. If we’re only focused on going through the motions, we won’t get the full benefits. We can check off the boxes of Bible study, service, worship services, and tithing and think we have everything covered when, in reality, we’re not fully committed to any of it. It’s just something we feel expected and accustomed to do, so we continue to do it. We become pew-warmers, who are more consumed with a “serve us” attitude than service. Faith becomes less God-driven and more self-driven. Comfort becomes key.

Spiritual circuit training isn’t comfortable. It’s growth-producing. God has organized life. There are some things that are consistent and reliable. We can always trust God to provide what we need when we yield to him.

“The sun rises, the sun sets, and then it hurries back to where it rises again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5)

“I am sad and tired. Make me strong again as you have promised.” (Psalm 119:28)

Consider everything you’re involved in that impacts your spiritual growth. How are you being intentional in your relationship with God?

Now take an honest look at the reasons you do each of those things. What are the benefits?

If your evaluation reveals some areas in which you’re going through the motions, doing what you’re “supposed to,” ask God to freshen your perspective, stirring within you a renewed passion to find purpose in the journey. If you find there are some areas lacking altogether, ask God to show you the first steps you’re supposed to take. Sometimes he’ll have you casually dip your toes into a new area, but sometimes he’ll have you jump in with both feet. Trust his guidance. His timing will always be better than yours. You’ve been trying life your way. Now it’s time to try it his way.

Perhaps you have some areas in which you’re doing fairly well. You’re disciplined and committed for the right reasons. Great! Celebrate and thank God for his faithful guidance. Be sure to intentionally check back into the same area of your life in the near future. It’s often the areas of life that seem most stable that start to deteriorate, causing a ripple effect. Ask God how you can stay committed in those areas and invite him to reveal ways you need to tweak your approach and commitment to insure regular rejuvenation. Take nothing for granted.

Invite God to invade every area of your life. When he does, your spiritual muscles will tone and your stamina and focus will continue to improve.

Dead Skunk Running

We were just a few miles from home, travelling the straight road my nephew once identified as “the middle of nowhere.” We were singing, laughing, telling stories…just being our goofy selves. Without warning, something was right in front of us in the road. It was waddling in a confused circle. We had no time to swerve, nowhere to go. As we drove over it, we realized what it was. I steadied the wheel. We held our breath.

For the brief moment that seemed to consume several minutes, we drove over a skunk!

I pictured it running around under the van. I waited to hear the thud of it hitting a wheel. I anticipated the stench. But there was no thud and no stench.

We looked at each other and finally exhaled.

That was a skunk!

How did we not hit that?

That was bizarre!

I  don’t remember anything from that stretch of road except for the skunk running in convoluted circles. I thought of the “could haves” and was thankful for the “didn’ts.” Crisis averted.

Years ago, driving home from a college class, I ran over a possum. When I looked in my rearview mirror, I saw the babies scurrying from their dead mama’s pouch. Crisis not averted. I was devastated.

When has something happened so quickly in life that you held your breath through the crisis? You knew there was a  potential mess coming, but you weren’t sure what would actually happen.

  • Would the relationship survive?
  • Would you choose the right response?
  • Would you be able to handle the potential mess?
  • Would you be part of the problem or part of the solution?

We can’t avoid every crisis. We don’t have that much power or control. If you’ve never heard it before, let me break the news to you: You’re not the center of the universe, and all does not revolve around you. In fact, I challenge you to find any aspect of life that revolves around you. Go ahead…

Your job? No.

Your health? No.

Your schedule? No.

Your relationships? Absolutely not!

Sure, you have influence in all these areas. You have responsibilities, but you’re not at the center. If you find something you think revolves around you, I challenge you to accept you only perceive yourself as the center of the universe in that area. God didn’t create you to be the center of anything. He fills that role just fine!

You can take driver’s education, practice safe driving, and remain alert. But a skunk (or possum, moose, deer, or bird) can quickly cross your path at anytime.

When “could have” becomes “just did,” how do you respond?

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness. 2 Peter 1:5-6