TROUBLE EACH DAY

I marvel at Jesus. He doesn’t try being positive, like, “You will have opportunities every day.” He says, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). We’ve all experienced it. Christians miss planes, lose jobs, endure flat tires, get beat out in political contests, catch the flu, and deal with injustice on the job.

We don’t escape the results of the fall because we are in the family. In the new earth we will; meanwhile, we endure. Add to that taking up our cross, and we’re glad when some days are over.

Jesus did not promise us a smooth ride. He did say that if we stayed close to Him, we would have a lighter load than if we traveled alone.

We can be thankful that the preceding verse said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” “All these things” include what we need to function. If we are not distracted by the troubles, we will discover that our heavenly Father knows our needs (v. 32).

As one grandfather said, “Life wouldn’t be so hard if you didn’t expect it to be so easy.” It doesn’t make us groan with fatalism, “Whatever will be will be.” It makes us people of faith who believe that in the midst of daily trials, God works all things for good.

Paul sounds like Jesus. He writes that “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Doesn’t sound like he trying to get disciples. Or is he? His letters do not contain the statistics—how many came forward, were healed and filled with the Spirit. Never.

But he does put out a lot of warnings. He tells Timothy, “You know all about my teaching…love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings” (2 Tim. 3:10,11). Then he adds, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (12).

Thanks for being so upbeat, Paul! He’s writing to encourage a younger disciple with a tough assignment in Ephesus, so he says, “Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Almost sounds like the grandfather. C. S. Lewis wrote,  “Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny.”

Miracles masquerade behind difficulties, so we learn to convert them into divine encounters. Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” What we call obstacles heaven calls opportunities, so we are not thrown by what Paul calls “light and momentary afflictions.” They, in fact, help us to focus more fully on the age to come, knowing that we are not home yet.

TREATING TENSION AS A FRIEND

Most of us would not regard it like that. We want to avoid it or make it disappear. But after Graham Cooke told us that “tension does not mean something is wrong, it means that something is happening,” I began to get it. I now recognize tension and respond appropriately—some of the time! Here are my discoveries:

Tension gets my attention
…like the gauge on the dashboard. It signals that something needs attending to. It would be strange to put a piece of tape over it, as if the signal annoyed us. It speaks an important word. Call it a friend.

I was driving up a hill that goes down into the high desert of Southern California, when the light came on telling me the car was overheating. I told Karen, “We’ll make it to the top, then coast down.” Wrong. Blew the head gaskets. When tension flashes, ask what it means.

God often causes tension.
He puts different siblings together. Consider Cain and Abel, Peter and Andrew, Martha and Mary. Differences cause friction. When we acknowledge the heat, the friction is used to wear down rough edges. Reacting to tension means not changing.

God creates tension by putting two very different people together in marriage—a man and a woman. Given our selfish nature, people are incompatible. Marriage binds two folks together for life, so they have time to work out incompatibilities. React to the tension—or learn from it. Imagine Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector on the same team. Yikes!

God always uses tension
…if we let Him. It appears that the relationship between Martha and Mary grew. The last time we see them they are working together, each exercising strengths in ministering to Jesus.

Paul’s prison time proved a shameful experience and a great challenge. Yet he came to see it as part of God’s strategy for getting the gospel out.

Two truths about God concerning tension:
He doesn’t waste anything. A friend of mine says, “Everything belongs.” God is the most economical person in the universe. Failure is not failure. Garbage makes great fertilizer.

He works all things together for good for those called according to His purpose. God works purposefully, even with incidents that did not happen for a good purpose.

Tension precedes breakthrough.
Tension was common in the life of Jesus and the early church. Most of Christ’s dinner gatherings turned into uncomfortable encounters. Truth trumps peace, and those committed to truth embrace tension as a gift, while circumstantial peace goes out the window.

God gave Peter a disturbing vision—three times! It would appear that Peter should understand the vision. He didn’t have a clue. Then he was invited by Gentiles to go to the home of Cornelius, another uncomfortable experience. He eventually got it—and so did throngs of Gentiles!

Maybe you want to respond in repentance and faith:

• I am sorry for reacting in the face of tension.
• I choose to move toward tension rather than away. I will embrace it as a friend and let it speak its message.
• I will trust the Lord to use it for good.

OBEYING THE PROMPTINGS OF THE SPIRIT

Most of us heard the stories of Daniel from childhood—the handwriting on the wall, the lion’s den. What we didn’t know was that no one in history ever influenced the two most powerful empires on the earth like Daniel. And he did it as a grad student.

 

When we first hear about this young exile in Babylon, he is in college majoring in ancient culture, learning “the language and literature of the Babylonians” (Daniel 1:4). “They were to be trained for three years,” then they would be prepared to serve the king (v. 5). Daniel and his friends were given new names to begin the acculturation process (v. 6,7).

 

Then we read, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine” (v. 8). What’s his problem with creampuffs? Something inside Daniel said that eating the rich food would compromise his devotion to God. The decisions he made then impacted him the the rest of his life.

 

You’ve experienced it before, a quiet prompting. People are gossiping and the inner voice says, “Keep your mouth shut.” Or you find yourself watching a movie that turns raunchy, and an inner nudge tells you to leave. Those who learn to heed those messages grow into maturity. Those who muffle them as immature legalism stay immature.

 

The writer of Hebrews says, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn…You need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again…But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:11,12,14). Put poison in front of my granddaughter—and she’d drink it. So would those bent on silencing the inner voice. And they destroy themselves—one decision at a time.

 

Daniel wasn’t legalistic. He simply listened. When the official told him he was afraid to change the game plan, Daniel could have said, “You’re right. Let’s go with flow. Pass the cheesecake.”

 

Little things are big things—always. God chooses little people (like a Mary or Galilean no-names), little places (Bethlehem or Azusa Street), little beginnings (a seed on the uterine wall of a virgin girl), and little acts (a kind word, a phone message, a sick call on a friend). Humble people don’t overlook little words or assignments. Daniel and his friends majored in the little stuff, and they graduated Summa Cum Summa from Babylon University.

 

Miracles happen in the lives of humble people—one nudge at a time. If you’re asking why you don’t see bigger miracles , take a look at how you are responding to small promptings. Obedience accumulates. Those who take the Lordship of Jesus seriously are promised to be exalted.

 

It seems like such a little thing that Daniel did. That’s the way God works. He says that faithfulness in the very little things brings authority over ten cities. Quite an upgrade. Try obeying God in little ways. See what happens!

“THERE’S A REASON FOR EVERYTHING”

That’s what I heard from a struggling teen. Her mom tried suicide. I stopped the girl and said, “There’s not a reason for everything, at least not a good one. Your mom should not have done that.” The difficulty with the statement—it implicates God.

Another problem—it overlooks Satan. He gets his licks in, and not recognizing his presence could sound like they play on the same team.

A third difficulty is overlooking the world’s brokenness and the fallout created. People contract cancer because of unhealthy fumes. Blame progress. Those who say “there’s a reason for everything” are not prepared to point the finger at toxic waste. They suspect that God is engineering disease to “teach us an important lesson.” So He threatens to take our mother out. You might obey a monster but you wouldn’t love one.

The truth in the midst of this madness is that “all things do work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” But don’t jump from “work for good” to “are good.” Don’t call attempted suicide or crib death good.

Those who call things like this good by fitting them into the cosmic plan are fatalists, not people of faith. It sounds suspiciously close to “whatever will be will be,” not remotely close to orthodox Christianity. It discounts sin, Satan, cause and effect, and a fallen race in one pathetic phrase.

“There’s a reason for everything” theology makes a ridiculous learning game out of life:

“I ran over my cat this morning backing out. Not sure what God is teaching me.” (Hey, honey. Slow down. Sorry about the cat.)

“I went with the abortion. I feel terrible, but there’s a reason for everything.” (No. Don’t bring God into your mistake. You should have brought him in before.)

“We prayed for him to be healed, but God took him. Whatever will be will be.” So are we saying that prayer remains a hopeless exercise against the ironclad will of the Almighty? Somewhere I read that He is moved by the prayers of the righteous. Do our statements give God an out to do whatever He chooses? Or do they let us off the hook so unwise decisions morph into the will of God. That reduces prayer to wishful thinking and faith to a whim.

My daughter Karis as a preteen said, “You know how people say, ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ Everything doesn’t happen for a reason, because you could make something happen yourself. If you eat too much ice cream, you get a stomach ache.” She concluded, “There are good reasons for things happening and bad reasons.”

Karis didn’t know it, but she was tussling with divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Her conclusion:

  1. Not everything that happens is good. Like Larry Osborne said in Ten Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe that the fall of humanity messed things up. Nature is in a bad mood, and cause and effect mean bad effects for bad causes.
  2. God isn’t the cause behind stupid or sinful things.
  3. God can overturn evil with good.

I recently heard a great statement: “Don’t believe everything you think.” If you think that there’s a reason for everything, have a different thought.

We see the cross before we experience the resurrection. And to “survey the wondrous cross” means to see a suffering God, not one coming up with obscure lessons to teach confused kids. God enters into our sorrow rather than placating us with answers. Better than an explanation to a girl whose mother almost ended it all is the quiet presence of the One who feels her tragedy—and doesn’t explain things for a while. But, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” That kind of God can be trusted.

FINDING PLEASURE IN GOD’S COMMANDS

If we waited much longer, we would not take the Christmas tree down, we would vacuum it up! I was doing grandfather with six young kiddos. When I asked who wanted to help take down decorations, they voted with silence.

 

An hour later they were playing house—within reach of the tree. I said, “Okay, everyone takes five decorations and lays them on the couch. Make the rows neat, and I’ll see what you chose.”

 

Bingo. One stopped at seven. The rest kept going until the job was done. I didn’t even break up a fight, like I had done earlier. I marveled at my brilliance.

 

Think God. He commanded us to “be fruitful and multiply.” Okay—make me! He commands us to exercise good “temple maintenance” in the care of our bodies. With what? FOOD! What a drag!

 

Hey, it could be, like filling the tank. Imagine a dinner party where guests are grimacing as they down this terrible grass supplying them with necessary nutrients. Not our God. Celebrations around the world revolve around—food!

 

There He goes again. We try to get spiritual, and God gets physical, through intimacy, food, a hug, a babe attached to the uterine wall of a virgin, bread and wine, a cross. Ultimately, we don’t go to heaven; heaven comes down to us. Read it! “And God Himself shall be with them…” (Rev. 21:3).

 

Who ever came up with the idea of God as the Giant Ogre in the sky? Not even close. Satan destroys pleasure, not God. He’ll even deny us food if he can. Joy is a great weapon of warfare. It repels demons and the prince of demons.

 

Non-stop bliss was invented by the Great Lover! Satan will keep people out of heaven if he can, because heaven shows God to be all that He is—extravagant in His generosity and way beyond in His outlandish love.

 

How about the command to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together? The world looks on that one and says, “Go to church. How boring!” We know better. Our Sunday morning celebrations at Lydia House are fun, for goodness sakes. People stick around because they like being together. “Thanks for the command, Father.”

 

How about that embarrassing one: “Confess your sins to one another…?” There’s a tough one. Not for those who have tried it. Hardly anything more liberating than appropriate vulnerability. Shame is not amplified; it is released. “You were looking out for us, God.”

 

We confess with David, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Ps. 19:7, 8). God’s commands are invitations to enjoy Him—for people who live by grace.

 

Think of ridiculous commands from Pharisees types who operate under the merit system rather than the mercy system, meant to make us holy—and miserable. People look on and say, “I don’t know what you’ve got, but I hope I don’t catch it.”

 

A lady was asked if she woke up grouchy in the morning. She answered, “No, I let him sleep.” Some Christians are convinced that God is not a grouch. Find a few—and hang out with them.