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Archive for the ‘Strength’ Category

On the wall of the classroom in bold, beautiful font were the empowering words:

“turn your cants into cans and your dreams into plans”

After correcting the grammar*, my next thought was the proverb, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Can’s and plans are good, and godly ambition is a worthwhile pursuit, but whether you are a believer or not, your life is held in God’s hands (Daniel 5:23) and He is sovereign in all of your life. So heed the advice given in James 4:15: “Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” Good may come of your efforts, but difficulties may also come of them and both good and ill will come anyway (Job 5:7). Don’t be discouraged by it. Yield to God and learn from it and prosper in it. I have had a measure of trouble, not so great as many others nor so slight as some others, and I have not always been patient, but trials are a constant and consistent teacher. I hope the following poem may encourage and strengthen you rather than drag you down.

In this life and on this path
There is strife and sometimes wrath
Difficulties small and great
But nothing ever left to fate

We have dreams and we make plans
Some have even help and fans
All of your ambitions dear
Wait for God’s directions clear

Paying forward, looking back
Outward viewing, keep on track
In your life reflect on how
Before His will you may bow

The when difficulties come
More than an unhappy sum
Of trials and loss and joys ban
They are part of His good plan

 

*I was first drawn to the visual aesthetics of the display, but almost immediately questioned in my mind why such a poorly constructed phrase would be on the wall of an English classroom. I considered that our students don’t know grammar because we don’t know or model grammar. We are all caught up in texting language, which is understandable for texting but deadly to the language and good communication. If you ignore the contractions, which should not be in formal writing (I use them in this blog to increase the conversational tone of my writing.), then the wall display should have read more along the following lines: “Turn your can’t’s into can’s and your dreams into plans.” The subject is understood because this sentence is a command, but students need to have this modeled along with punctuation.

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I’m not complaining to say the following about 2019. It has simply been a difficult year. Health, stress, strained relationships, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, they have all been there. But God has been there, too, and He ordained, allowed, and prescribed the difficulty as well as directed, sustained, and provided in the midst of it. I am not here to say everything is alright now, but I am here to say God’s presence has been more obvious in the midst of the ongoing difficulties. Forgive the overuse of a single rhyme sound. After the first verse came, it became a challenge to continue with coherent, true, and heartfelt lines. Some people say don’t look back, but bracing for the next wave, as well as riding it, requires a steady foothold and keen balance based in knowing your source of propulsion and floatation.

Oh, my goodness, what a year!
Losing things I thought were dear
Trials and temptation to fear
Mundane difficulty drear

Oh, my God, Your presence near!
Comforting when every tear
And discouragement appear
Sparks of joy amidst unclear

Oh, my Comforter, and dear
My cries for help so sincere
Do not fall on a deaf ear
Do not meet with scoff or jeer

Oh, my Jesus, grace so clear
Wipes away my every tear
Makes the voice express my cheer
Pushes worries to the rear

Oh, my Lord, in this new year
Me not from Your path to veer
Own ordained influence sphere
Trials that witness to each peer

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Recently, I gave each of my older grandchildren (that’s 4 out of 6, who are old enough to understand what I am saying) a polished black rock. I told them that every time they look at it or rub it with their thumb to keep it shiny, they should think, “Jesus is  like a rock that is unchanged.” He is firm. He is sturdy. He is dependable. He provides for us. The Scripture describes Him as a rock in I Corinthians 10:4: “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from the same spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ.”

The illustrations for Paul’s comments in I Corinthians are found in Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:1-13, and Deuteronomy 8:15, 32:1-43 (The Song of Moses). If you read the Numbers passage, you will see that God got angry with Moses and Aaron for striking the rock this second time instead of speaking to it as God had commanded. Even though Moses’ anger showed a presumption on his part, what God says to them reveals the source of God’s anger as resulting from them not treating (or representing) God as holy before the congregation. They had disobeyed God’s direct command. I have long wondered why God got so angry. I believe ultimately it may be because Moses’ careless and angry action destroyed a symbol God had designed to explain His work with man. The first time before a rock (Exodus 17), God commanded Moses to strike the rock. The second time (Numbers 20), God commanded Moses to speak to the rock. The first time Christ came He was struck on the cross to deliver us from sin, for “in that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.” (Zechariah 13:1) Just as the rock poured forth life giving water for the people when Moses struck it, so Christ poured forth life giving blood when the nails were struck into his hands and feet. The second time Christ will come “having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await him.” (Hebrews 9:28) He will gladly provide all we need and more for those for whom He was struck to rescue them. “Ask, and it will be given unto you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the it will be open to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened to him.” (Matthew 7:7-8) 

In Deuteronomy, Moses teaches Israel a song about the dependability, consistency, strength, perfection, faithfulness, righteousness, and jealousy for His people of Israel’s God, their Rock.

David helps to solidify our understanding about God as our Rock. His most direct explanation of the rock metaphor comes in Psalm 18. In verses 1-3 he sets forth the idea of the Lord as his rock:

“I love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

The rock metaphor becomes a shorthand for David of security, protection, salvation, strength, victory, and all else that God means to him regarding physical, mental, and spiritual rescue from all variety of enemies. God is for him a firm place where his foot doesn’t slip and his enemies don’t overcome him (v.36-37)

I know that my grandchildren can’t understand all of that right now, but learning dependence upon God is a good lesson to begin early. We will always need to come around to learning it at a deeper level and life provides many opportunities to review that lesson.

20190729_083735

 

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I have nothing to brag about. “For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). But I do have much to be thankful for, because I have received many good things from the hand of God. “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” ( I Chronicles 16:34)

On this Wednesday before Thanksgiving I am reflecting on one particular facet of what I have received for which I am thankful among the many I have been given. I am healthy enough to be active. I just finished carrying my ladder to the side of my house and then my neighbor’s house, climbing up, blowing off the roof and out the the gutters. Afterwards I blew the leaves off of a portion of my yard. Before that I got up on a step stool and cleaned a light fixture. And before that I ran a continuous mile for the first time since January. I had tried running 0.1 mile three months ago but had to quit because of pain. The beginning of November I tried again. For the last three weeks I have been building up slowly because my knee felt weak and because I was easily winded. 

At my age, I’ll not get back what I lost in speed the last 10 months, but I am so thankful to God that I can start over and make progress. I hope that I may use what He has given me to glorify Him.

I am more deeply thankful that God has saved me from my sin, has given me purpose in life, has given me a believing wife, five believing children, and six beautiful grandchildren. Beyond our relationship with God, people are the most precious gift we have. Take time to delineate your blessings this holiday and declare what you are thankful for to those around you.

1st Re-mile

First continuous mile in 10 months

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That’s what I need to take it to the next level- local endurance. “Local endurance is a muscle group’s ability to sustain effort over a period of time.”

I was climbing on Sunday, the second time in a comeback attempt after an injury. My finger strength is good- no real decline there. I can crimp on half finger pads, but I have maybe 12 to 15 feet of crimping and I’m done for 15 minutes. After flashing a 10a I’d never been on, my partner and I set-up a 10d on top rope. I knew that I needed to climb fast to make it through the 25 feet of sustained 10d climbing. I was just past it making the next somewhat easier move when the strength drained out of me. I reached for the next hold just above the directional quickdraw we had placed. My fingers would not grip. I came down and my right middle finger went right through the gate of the carabiner, stripping a half inch of flesh off adjacent to the nail. Had I grabbed for the quickdraw? No, the injury would have been much worse. My extended finger meant I only peeled some flesh rather than broken a finger or skewered my hand. Instead, my finger should be good in a week or so. I’m not a free bleeder, so after a momentary spirt of blood, and a shake out (hands above my head to prevent further bleeding), I finished the route without much difficulty. But how frustrating, to be one move away from completing the climb and getting shutdown. My overall strength is sufficient for higher grade climbing, I just need this local endurance. So here are two websites that describe training for this deficiency:

Learn to Train: Local Endurance for Climbers

Training: Maximize Your Endurance

I hope to increase endurance through these workouts. I am always having to balance responsibility, desire, time pressure, enjoyment, higher priorities, and relaxation. I like to play hard and rest well. I am thankful to God that I still can, but wonder with my most recent injury if that will be possible much longer. I wasn’t doing anything extreme or foolish. I just strained connective tissue from midway down my leg to around the knee. For a time running and climbing stopped and even walking any significant amount. As they say, things just don’t heal like they used to. Both life and climbing are challenging and take strength. 

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“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19

There is peace and rest and joy for the anxious soul here. But how do you or I access it?

I don’t know if I have ever had what would be clinically considered to be a panic attack, but I have had significant feedback loops where disturbing, worrying, debilitating, anxious thoughts accelerated in my mind, even giving me the shakes or rendering me sleepless. These are rare events for me, as I usually keep very busy and my family can attest to how fast and how soundly I sleep. But I do have garden variety worries and feelings of inadequacies for tasks at hand. Some people genuinely don’t have trouble with anxiety. I say honestly, good for them. I am told that I come across as a confident person. I am not intending to fake confidence. I know what I believe and “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 2:12) But even so, I have anxious thoughts, and particularly thoughts of inadequacy. I think that it is a residual of my upbringing that will never go away.

Does that mean I can never have victory over it? Not in the least. And that is where this verse comes in. If there was reason for worry the psalmist had reason. Evil people were being arrogant in every way and harming God’s people and the destitute and there was no visible evidence that God was paying attention. The psalmist goes on to declare that he does believe that God hears and will act in judgement and will support the righteous, but that doesn’t negate the present difficulties nor the “anxious thoughts” that “multiply” (v.19)

For any activity or thought pattern that needs to cease, there needs to be a replacement. To just say to someone or to yourself, “Stop that,” and not give an alternate path for thought or deed is useless. But what is the replacement? “Consolations”? What are those? I understand that God provides them in at least three forms (that are significantly overlapping): promises, practices, and presence.

Following are but a few examples of each one:

     Promises

“Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up.” Psalm 94:18  

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” Psalm 34:18      

” Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10                

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:7-11                                                                                                                     

   Practices

“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is ]lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” I Timothy 6:11-12

   Presence

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

” But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all the I have said to you.” John 14:26

“He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,” so that we confidently say, The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraidWhat will man do to me?”” Hebrews 13:5-6

” then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”                   I Thessalonians 4:17

God’s consolations are many and ever present to those who by His grace belong to Him. When you and I get caught in moments of worry or waylaid by anxiety, replace it with the promises of God, the life giving practices He has provided for us to live before Him, and the knowledge of His continual and intimate presence as we call upon Him.

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Pastor preached on Proverbs 27:17 this morning: “Iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another.” He spoke about the need, purpose, and process of believers helping each other grow spiritually. I enjoy extending metaphors, which requires care not to come up with analogies not there or elsewhere delineated in Scripture or life. The usefulness of such an enterprise may be to help those who hear to further understand the importance of the concept portrayed by the metaphor.

Why does the Scripture say iron sharpens iron? That has long bothered me, because anyone who has sharpened a knife or tool knows that you use a whetstone, grinding stone, or ceramic sharpening tool which are harder than the tool.  And such tools existed. I Samuel 13:20 records the desperation for Israel when “all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe.” These events were more than 300 years before Solomon wrote the proverb. For that matter, why shouldn’t I use modern technology, the diamond sharpening stone?

The proverb is a metaphor for fellowship and discipleship within the congregation of believers. God doesn’t give us any other choice. We must sharpen each other. And we are not back at the castle. We are in the battle, so the grinding wheel is not an option. We go to our brother, cross swords in a mutually beneficial way and come away sharpened for more battle. Fellowship is the non-optional, God-ordained means for being honed to battle readiness.

Those who want to exclude themselves because of “hypocrites in the church” or “I can worship in nature” just fine or “all I need is Jesus” are dull or more likely twisted and unbalanced weapons. The problem is everybody wants to be sharp but nobody wants to be sharpened. When you are sharpening a blade, one swipe of the finger near the edge will reveal why so few want to be sharpened. Your finger will come up with a dark gray dust from the sharpening process. Sharpening removes material. Bad material and excess material must be removed from your life. It can be painful and humbling.

For some it’s rust from lack of use or exposure to corroding influences that needs to be removed and is hindering the cutting edge. For others, it is good material, all be it not according to faith or God’s direction, that needs to be removed to reduce the fat edge of dullness.

When two materials of equal hardness are used to do the sharpening, material is removed from both edges. Discipling and being discipled means involvement in another person’s life with all of the mutual messiness and need for honing away spiritual dullness.

And some of us are more of a mess than others. I own a double bladed axe. The way that I came into ownership of this axe goes back to the beginning of my wood heating days. I borrowed this axe (first mistake) to split some of the first wood I cut. While attempting to split some very twisted forks, I got several wedges stuck in a piece. I used the axe to attempt to get the wedges out (second mistake). I bought the axe, that is, I replaced the friend’s axe and kept the broken one. The strike took out a half-moon divot in the blade about the size of your thumbnail. In years since I have used the good blade to split and the broken blade when risking to remove wedges or cut roots near metal or concrete. No other sizable divots have been removed but the the edge has been bludgeoned a few times. I have tried for years to sharpen that divot out of the blade. For the longest time my efforts were to no avail, but now, years later, that blade is reasonably sharp while still having somewhat of a dent in the edge. It took years and that blade is possibly an inch shorter than the other one. That blade is me. The difference is that I have multiple divots. God has had to work for years to grind away the dullness of my spirit due to sinful habits and difficulties of life. I still show the scars and I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but neither am I who I was. And much of that has been because God has used brothers and sisters in my life to remove rust here and dullness there. I doubt seriously that I will be admired as a shining blade of perfection, but I do pursue a cutting edge pursuit of God in the battle of life. And for that I give Him all of the praise.

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