It was the sort of day I like.Well, to be honest, I like many different sorts of days, but today it was raining in Chicago, the leaves are about half-off the trees, it’s 24 hours from Halloween and I get to hear a band I really like (Leper) tonight.My wife is the most beautiful person or thing I’ve ever laid eyes on, and as most reading this will know, guys are especially drawn by beauty… fact is, she’s just a knock-out and I regularly thank God I can still see fairly well, ha!! What a gift she is to me! But her attitude toward Jesus, His Word, our family, the Church and our local church community is so amazing and good… I’m so blessed and have been given the grace to know it. Whew. I thank God for His goodness to me, I surely haven’t earned nor do I deserve one bit of it. Grace indeed.Last night my wife and I enjoyed one of our grandsons celebrate his sixth birthday. It was a bang-up party and he, his parents, brothers, friends and a good number of parents all laughed, smiled and had a great time. This morning I was able to help one of my daughters and one of my other grandsons get to a doctor’s appointment for a routine checkup, and all is well.It’s also a great day in that I’ve been blessed in reading a book by Peter Maiden called simply, “Discipleship” with which I track on so many levels.Further, walking outside my office window is a quiet but very committed bro. in Christ whom I’ve watched soak up the Spirit and Word of God like a sponge for the past few months. Very encouraging to me.A good friend who built me a wonderful electric guitar phoned yesterday, leaving me a voice message as he was walking out to his tree-stand with bow in hand. It’s deer season, one of my favorite times of the year. More on that in a moment, but don’t freak out vegans and non-hunters, there’s good stuff coming if you’ll hang in there for a bit :)Beyond all this, another good friend who built me the most magnificent acoustic guitar I’ve ever had the pleasure to play had time to chat on the phone today, and though he’s had a rough go with illness, there is light at the end of the tunnel, he’s doing much better and we had a great chat about the Lord.If the Lord wills, the rain will pass tonight and the fields will dry up enough for another grandson’s soccer match tomorrow, which I will proudly take him to and attend. If not, we can at least kick a ball around together in a dry indoor place available to us.Are you noticing anything about any of this?The obvious is that I have an amazing family, friends and church all of which I’m deeply grateful for. What may not be so obvious is that it’s all about a life of community, not independence.Then I want to say that the glory of God appears often to me in autumn as I’m out in the woods, sitting or quietly, slowly moving for hours on end, in fairly silent surroundings. But even there I’m never alone.To be sure there are a lot of animals: deer, foxes, coyotes, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, lots of other birds and mammals. I’ve seen plenty of skunks but thankfully never had a run-in with one yet… Hallelulia!But I’m not alone because the Lord is continually with me.Yet in those times when I’m so removed from people, often sitting under a tree above a creek bottom, nearly motionless, just listening, watching, waiting, I may or may not see the game I’m hunting but I tend to pray and even sing inwardly. Songs often accompany me while I’m in the woods. Many of them are praise and worship songs in all sorts of styles. Some I’ve heard, some are made up on the spot, just between God and myself.I have regular and often lengthy times of prayer and worship in those moments and places, and they are memorable.It’s understandable that some wouldn’t be at all comfortable taking the life of an animal in the wild, but perhaps you’d believe me when I say the anticipation of simply seeing one pass by is itself really exciting and fun.Anticipation is a huge part of the thrill- and I have asked myself if I feel the same deep sense of longing, joy and excitement about meeting with my heavenly Father. Sometimes yes, but sadly and honestly, sometimes no!And yet every autumn about this time I become almost child-like in the excitement about getting out into the beautiful woods again, among the trees, leaves, wind, rain, snow, on top or nearly at the bottom of ridges, stalking through from tree to tree, listening, watching, trying to catch any sense of movement.Often I simply watch, smile and count the seconds by trying to figure how long a particular animal or for example, an owl, will stay near me when it has just landed on a tree limb.I rarely go without a camera and love to take pictures.A couple years ago I woke up with thick snow on the ground. The night before had been quiet and calm and the snow was a total surprise. What cool pics and what a beautiful morning as dawn began to peek through the dark woods, soft, huge flakes gently falling, the snow itself lay with that subtle blue hue. Almost immediately deer began to move, bucks chasing does, a mother with two fawns moving through my immediate area. But it was the glory of God moving in my life that morning that made them and the experience so special.Family, children, grandchildren, friends in Christ, God revealing Himself in and through all that He has made, the interaction of living things in nature, the elements of wind, rain, snow, woodlands, all of these are fully gifts.Thanksgiving will be here soon.
When one considers the longest book within the best-known book in theworld is the Book of Psalms, and that the largest grouping of psalmtypes are laments, one might ask “Why”?”Why” is indeed the question. It arises often when facing sickness,natural, air and road disasters, in times of war and other violentactivity and in a myriad of various tragedies common to humanexperience.For myself and millions of Christ-followers the shortest of answer tothis is “only God truly and fully understands the answer” in each andevery case.Easy to say, I admit. Not so easy in the midst of the experience.It is equally easy for some to say putting it all on God is weak, evena total cop-out, that “a loving God wouldn’t even permit such things”.Though I fully admit I don”t have all the answers I have considered agreat many that those wiser than I have offered to my personalsatisfaction.But a thorough discourse on “the problem of pain” isn’t the scope ofthis article.The deeper truth believers cling to and find hope and a measure ofpeace in is that in suffering we are -never- alone.Jesus has promised to never leave or forsake us. He says “I am withyou always, even to the end of the world.”I get the issue- all of us want whatever the hurt is, to stop! We wantquick or at least quicker closure to suffering. One would have anentirely different set of real and likely deep problems if she or hedidn’t feel that way about pain.Truth: all people are visited by pain. It is an often inescapable fact of life.Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life. Consider Jesus onthe cross for a moment.Now. a question- does Christ on the cross look like the absence of pain?The crucified Jesus doesn’t look anything like a picture of life.Rather, this was an event overloaded with anguish, intense suffering,pain and in that case, death.He Himself told us “greater love has no one than this: that they laytheir life down for a friend.”If God is a loving God, why? Why did Hechoose/allow/however-you-wish-to-frame-it His only perfect, sinlessSon to suffer so?For salvation. To reveal The ultimate act offering mercy, forgivenessand the chance for healing to human beings. For our benefit. This wasthe most pristine example of love ever witnessed among humankind.In the recent past I have read (and stated myself) that ProtestantChristians -including a great many evangelicals, Charismatics andothers- have pretty much ceased to offer an actual Bible-basedtheology for suffering.This is slowly beginning to change but it is an area that needs morework in my opinion.Obvious things get left out of our conception of love, least of whichis that all true love involves pain. Read that line again please!Consider the love that bears and gives birth to children. It includesthe pain of childbirth as well as childhood diseases, bruises, bloodynoses, perhaps broken bones and sometimes far worse.True love for one’s parents and/or grandparents often includes illnessand regardless, facing the sometimes ravages of age-connected pain,perhaps the often difficult relocation from their home to a senior’scare facility, and of course eventual separation due to death. None ofthis is simple, easy or painless when we truly love our family orother relatives.Some of the same issues surface within marriage or longtime partner orfriendship.Pain and pain-sharing is inextricable from a genuine, continuing love.You’ll not hear me say I enjoy it, only that I’ve learned to face andat least sometimes whether it by God being my “very present help introuble.”It’s of course, a matter of faith, hope and love. Let me be clear onthese points…Faith is not faith in faith, faith in feelings, faith in what peoplesay, faith that your will is going to decide the outcome. By faith,I mean faith in the Person of God- Father, Son, Spirit, and His Word(The Bible).When I quote “faith, hope and love” I mean only that true hope thatwe have in Jesus and His Word, nothing more or less. We may hope forthat which will never be. The hope Paul writes about at the end of1 Corinthians 13 is fully focused on Jesus Christ, not on human”events” as such.The love I refer to here is only agape love, that is, God’s lovegiven us in Jesus Christ. Is it not apparent that God’s view oflove is very different from our own? We see that in the sufferingChrist on the cross. Such love is core to our own ability to lovethe Lord, love our spouse and family, love our friends, neighborsand certainly so regarding our enemies!Note Paul tells us “faith, hope and love REMAIN”. That word inthe Greek means “abides, continues on”. This faith, hope and loveis eternal, doesn’t conform to anything other than God’s Own nature.This is the very nature God the Holy Spirit works in us day by day,from glory to glory, or as Phillips renders Paul’s words,”knocked down but not knocked out”! I like that… though I don’talways enjoy the experience.Because GOD is eternally faithful, because He inspires (via manymethods, experiences, people He brings through our life, etc.) hope,because HE IS LOVE and loves us faithfully no matter thecircumstances, we are in at least partial possession of a strengththat can only come from our relationship with Him and Hispeople. Away from or outside of those, we’re sunk and despairregularly wins the day if not month, year and lifetime!Believe the truth: if you’ve rarely truly loved with God’s love,you’ve rarely loved at all. His love -in and through us- includessuffering and pain. It’s simply a part of the life we live.Will we choose to live in faith, hope and love by God’s graceand “present” help? Will we “curse God and die”? It is in eachcase, our choice.As many a wise teacher has said, God does not always deliver usFROM the storm… but He has promised to be WITH US THROUGH it.This is the wonder and beauty even in tragedy: when our houseis built on rock, “when” (not “if”) the storm rages and theflood comes, our house will stand.
Without question there is a body of believers often referred to as the Church universal- that is, all who have followed Jesus Christ in faith throughout the ages, whether they are currently in the literal presence of God or still here on earth.Those Bible figures such as Abraham, Moses, Daniel, David, Ruth, Deborah, Mary, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, Dorcas, James, John and so many more are part of that great cloud of witnesses the writer such as those the writer of the Book of Hebrews lists. They are before the throne as I write. Joining them are so very many we read about in human history such as Luther, Wesley and the list goes on and on… these are all-powerful examples of those who loved and served God faithfully.As we approach another Halloween, the All-Saints-Day concept is shared by a good many Christians. No problem with candy, trick-or-treat or carved pumpkins with me… just that there are so many saints who’ve inspired me who are now -with- Jesus that I’d also like to remind us of this:If you’re serving God in a solid Bible-teaching local assembly of believers, there are likely several “still living” saints who are powerful reminders of the faith, love, servanthood and godliness that often cause our lives to be spiritually enriched.I suggest as we laugh, party and hit the sugar (enjoy!), and as we remember those in Christ long before us in biblical and human history, as we recall godly mentors and friends who have gone to glory before us, let’s not miss the opportunity to celebrate the inspiration and examples of the saint we walk with daily and weekly, those yet present with us.Makes sense: the next holiday on the horizon is Thanksgiving 🙂