A Time Travel Memory

april-and-aprilI’ve always liked the idea of time travel. It is evident by my taste in entertainment (books, movies, etc.) as well as a theme in my imagination.

I distinctly remember a moment in my life when I was about 8 years old. As I was lying on my bed looking out my bedroom door down the hall, I imagined that my future self came to visit me. I imagined that 30 year old April traveled back in time to visit 8 year old April. I realize that this in and of itself may cause you to never take me seriously again but alas this is a true story. I pictured what my older self would look like and say to me.
In my 90s influenced brain I thought I would be wearing a brightly colored pant suit with heels and sporting long hair (I was really into having long hair then). I’m fairly certain my younger self would be disappointed that she/I didn’t grow any taller than “we” are but maybe she wouldn’t have noticed with the heels. I do think I could pull off the sophisticated look my little self was hoping to achieve. Some things influence your style your whole life. My favorite color has been purple since I was 2 after all.

When I was eight, I imagined that my “grown-up” self would tell me hints about the way the rest of my life would go. Clues about who I would marry and how many children I would have. Of course my older self couldn’t tell me anything too specific because we can’t mess with the whole space-time continuum thing! That and an eight year old really can’t think of too many details for what grown up life would be like. So I gave my future imaginary self a break and let her be vague but say really cool things about how great I am.

It was a fun past time one afternoon in my childhood. And I honestly haven’t thought much about it since. But today as I was rehearsing in my mind all the struggles in my life right now, I remembered me as a little girl. I’m 33 years old now. I’m basically the age I expected a grown up to come talk to me.

So what would I say today to little April sitting on her bed with her eyes wide and ears attentive?

Ironically, probably what I thought I would say when I was eight! I wouldn’t tell her about the hard times. I wouldn’t tell her about the people she would lose, her aunt from cancer, her grandfather from Alzheimer’s or her baby boy hours after he is born. I wouldn’t worry her with all the years she would wait and wonder if she was ever going to get married. I wouldn’t burden her with the financial struggles. I also wouldn’t lament to her how hard raising a family and ministering to people can be. And I’m glad I didn’t tell her and that I didn’t know.
Today the Lord used this memory to remind me of His faithfulness. God has been good to me. He did provide a godly man to marry (finally at 29 years old!). He has given me two healthy children to raise. He has given me many ministry opportunities within the church. His has met my needs, comforted my heart and blessed me more than I deserve.

It is so easy to grumble and complain. My heart is so quickly discontented.
In James 5:7-11, the author addresses some poor Christians who are suffering unjustly both at the hand of the rich and for their faith. They are told to be patient in the trial and not to grumble about it. Because Jesus is coming back and will one day make all things right, we can be patient when things are hard. I need to be patient in my outlook. So many times I want do and change things and God has just called me to patiently endure. He says those who remain steadfast will be blessed. I don’t want want to forfeit my reward or my testimony by complaining.

Life is hard, but God is aware of my sufferings. He is also bigger than them. He is worthy of my praise and trust no matter the circumstance. And not once has He ever forsaken me. There is purpose in all that the Lord allows and He is compassionate and merciful to me, His child.

If I went back in time, I could tell little April all day long of the ways that God has proven Himself faithful. But today I pray that the Spirit does not let this grown up April forget this wonderful truth. I feel confident that 60-year-old April would tell me the same thing!
James 5:7-11

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

What Prison and Bunyan Reveal About Our Faith?

bunyan-in-prisonThe great theologian and Pastor John Bunyan once told his church that, “I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the word of God as now: those scriptures that I saw nothing in before, are made in this place and state to shine upon me: Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now; here I have seen and felt Him indeed…I have had sweet sights of the forgiveness of my sins in this place, and of my being with Jesus in another world.”

But what makes this words remarkable is the “place and state” from which they came. They came from prison. Bunyan looked around his prison and concluded that God had never been so good, true or real to him. WOW!

How do you wind up at such a conclusion? You understand that God has called of us to suffer. One of Bunyan’s favorite verses was John 16:33:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Bunyan new that his imprisonment was a manifestation of Jesus’ prophetic words. He knew that all who followed Christ were called to suffer. And he also knew that his suffering was not a pointless act caused by irrational men. He knew that the great king of heaven who had conquered death on the cross ruled the universe.  He knew that rage and malice of men “can do no more, nor go any further, than God permits them; but when they have done their worst, We know that all things shall work together for good to them that love God.” .

And so as the prison doors shut behind him, Bunyan entrusted his soul, life, and cares to God. Admittedly prison was not easy for Bunyan. He confessed that he was continually “afflicted and oppressed” by his own worries and struggles. Yet, he clung to the cross as the years slipped away. As he stood steadfast, Christ comforted Bunyan, enlarged his faith, and inspired him to write Pilgrim’s Progress. Because of God’s faithfulness, Bunyan could boast of the glories of prison!

How about us? What happens when we encounter trials? Do we praise God? Do find that we have a better understand of the Bible and of God’s love in the midst of suffering? Or do we become distressed, upset, and burned out with religion?

How we answer the question reveals much about our heart and character. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus talks about two men who build spiritual houses. One builds his house upon the sand of human experience, ideas, and emotions. The other builds his house on the Word of God. And when the storms of life come, the house built on the sand collapses while the house built on the Scriptures remains firm.

What Christ was pointing to and what Bunyan live out was this simple truth: Those who love God will withstand trials. When they get hit by the storms of death, disappointment, and sorrow, they will remain firm. They will grow by God’s grace.

But those who have not trusted in Christ, will be blown away. Their lives will collapse because they never knew Jesus.

So how are you doing when trials come your way? Can you boast about the prisons in your life?

Doing The Hard Thing Is Not Always The Good Thing

Why Doing A Hard Thing Maybe Wrong blogOften Christians think that hard equals good. If a decision is super hard, then it must really right. Because people disagree with us and criticize us, we assume we are on God’s side. After all, there is a correlation between suffering and holiness or so we think.

And while it is true that we will suffer hardship when we follow Christ, not all suffering is the result of good works. The Scriptures clearly say, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler” (I Peter 4:15). At times, Christians suffer hardship not because of their Christian witness but because of their selfish hearts.

As a kid I experienced that type of suffering over and over again. One fall semester, I had to do an extra hour of homework most every night because I kind of ‘forgot’ to read my summer reading list. I missed pickup baseball games, bike riding, and a whole host of other fun things. I was suffering at the hands of my parents (or so I thought). But I was not extra holy. I was suffering for because I was extra sinful.

Many times as adults, we suffer for the same reason. We have broken relationships, we are gossiped about, and we are in and out of drama because we sinned. And while our poor decisions do not justify the sins of others, we must realize that our sins have consequences. As Paul says in Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” If we steal, lie, and attack others with our words, we will reap destruction, hurt, and broken relationships. We will experience many hard things because we are being foolish. “The way of the treacherous is their ruin” (Prov. 13:15).

As the great pastor D. Martin Lloyd-Jones said,

If you break God’s laws and violate His rules you will not be happy. If you think that you can be a Christian and exert your own will and follow your own likes and dislikes, your Christian life is going to be a miserable one. – P114 SD

So how do we know if we are suffering for our sin or if we are going through a trial like Job? Consider these three questions:

1. Is there unconfessed sin in my heart?

If we are living in sin, our lives will not go well. There is no blessing apart from Christ. The Christian trying to find comfort, hope, and peace while refusing to obey Christ will only find sorrow, despair, and anger. If you have unconfessed sin and are a believer, God will discipline you. You will feel miserable (Psalm 32:3). The solution is to return to Christ. We must pray the words of Psalm 123:23-24 which says:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!

We must examine our hearts and quickly repent of any and all confessed sin.

2. Is this a direct consequence of my sin?

For example if you get fired from your job for looking at pornography, you are not being punished for being godly. You are suffering because you have sinned. The firing and the ensuing suffering is a direct consequence of your sin. Recall Galatians 6:7. The solution is to repent of your sins. And as you draw near to God, he will draw near to you. You will once again experience his blessing.

But if you get liver cancer the next month, I would not assume that the cancer is related to lust or some other sin you recently committed. Suffering is not always a direct consequence of our personal sin. God brings trials into our lives for all kinds of reasons. If the suffering is not a direct consequence of sin, we should not assume that we are being punished. This was the mistake Job’s friends made. They could not understand suffering apart from the presence of personal sin. But we can. When we suffer and there is no direct link back to a personal sin, we should stop fishing for a cause and place our hope and trust in the one who delivers us from the valley of the shadow of death.

3. Is God Getting Glory?

Often this can be hard to tell in the immediacy of the situation. We cannot directly see how God is getting glory. But if we can pull back and see that our sickness, our financially loss, and our other situations are helping us or others more resemble Christ, then we can be sure that our suffering is not only because of our sin. God is using it for our good. When we confess our sins and repent of our actions, God will turn our trials into good. As Llyod-Jones wrote, “God’s greatest concern for us is not primarily our happiness but our holiness. In His love to us He is determined to bring us to that, and He employs many differing means to that end.” Suffering is not always a result of our sin. Often it an evidence of God’s love for us.

When we take our suffering to Christ, our hardships will always refine our hearts. It helps us shift our hope away from earthly measures to heavenly treasures. If we are becoming perfect and complete, our trial, our hardship, our struggle is a great thing.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. – James 1:2

In short, not every hardship or struggle is a result of our faithfulness. Our life may very well be difficult because we have sin deeply embedded in our souls. But regardless of the reason for our suffering, it is never pointless. And if we responding to suffering by seeking Christ, we will find abundant life. Are you ready to suffer for the right reasons?