The Ups and Downs of Life

wepnerLife is an adventure.  Some people seem to stumble their way through it, while others have the ability and agility to bob and weave their way through its obstacles.  Some people have the knack to fall face first into every mud hole that dots their path in life, while others can transform the sourest moments of life into a sweet and exhilarating experience.

Muhammed Ali’s life was more exciting than it was boring.  Ali was fond of saying that he “could float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee,” but even the Champ learned felt the brute force of a punch that was akin to the kick of a mule.

On March 24, 1975, Chuck Wepner introduced Ali to one of the universal laws of life:  Sooner or later you’re going to get hit by a punch you’ll never see coming!

Suffering is a thread that’s woven into the fabric of life, and it’s the sucker punch that can drop you to your knees.  

This universal law is the subject of discourse by both Peter and James:

  • Peter said you should not, “be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you (I Peter 4:12).”
  • Even though suffering is anything but pleasant, James said to, “Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:2–3).” 

It’s important to note that James did not say that the suffering or trial is a joyful experience; instead, he said the joy comes in acknowledging the result of the trial—steadfastness.  The situations that shake your faith are the ordeals that form a faith that’s unshakable.

Your faith is like your muscle tissue—to get stronger, it must be stressed.

The trials of life can buckle your knees and make it hard to see the end of the journey. It’s only from the perspective of hindsight that we have 20-20 vision.  Paul confirms this in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. When he contemplated the past through the light of the present, he could see the boldly colored thread of hope in the tapestry of his heartache.  He could see God’s purpose in the suffering he had endured: “We want you to know, Christian brothers, of the trouble we had in the countries of Asia. The load was so heavy we did not have the strength to keep going. At times we did not think we could live.  We thought we would die. This happened so we would not put our trust in ourselves, but in God Who raises the dead.”

“This happened”, so Paul would know that God is able and that He would enable him. What God did for Paul, He will also do for you.

 

More Than Adequate

When Paul was writing his second letter to the church at Corinth, he mentioned his “thorn in the flesh.” Paul said, Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Here are four reasons that God’s grace is just as sufficient for us as it was for Paul:

  1. God is omniscient—He knows everything that can be known; therefore, He knows everything there is to know about you and your needs.
    • Psalm 139:1-3: O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
  2. God is beneficent—He is generous in His love for His children.
    • Psalm 145:15-19: The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.
  3. God makes you proficient—He provides the strength I need.
    • Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
  4. God will never leave you deficient—God nurtures those He loves.
    • Isaiah 40:31: But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

As you think about the sufficiency of God’s grace, I encourage you to also give some thought to these words of the Apostle Peter: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature . .2 Peter 1:2-21

Life’s Trials and Trails

pathA person’s path in life will be shaped by the trails he walks and the trials he endures. I’ve walked many trails that have been scenic adventures, and I’ve encountered several trials that were dismal and disappointing.

There will be times in life when nothing makes sense.  The trail will seem too steep to climb and too long to endure. When David experienced a situation like this, he realized that God had already walked where he had never gone and could see what was beyond his vision.

David said: When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path (Psalm 142:3).

The next time you have a tussle with a trial, remember that:

  • God never leads His children down the wrong path
  • You may not know where the path will lead you, but God does.
  • Just because you’re confused, God isn’t confounded.
  • God is present, and He will not abandon you.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

 

Life’s Trails and Trials

pathA person’s path in life can be influenced by the trails he walks and the trials he endures. I’ve walked many trails that have been scenic adventures, and I’ve encountered several trials that were dismal and disappointing.

There will be times in life when nothing makes sense.  The trail will seem too steep to climb and too long to endure. When David experienced a situation like this, he realized that God had already walked where he had never gone and could see what was beyond his vision.

David said: When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path (Psalm 142:3).

The next time you have a tussle with a trial, remember that:

  • God never leads His children down the wrong path
  • You may not know where the path will lead you, but God does.
  • Just because you’re confused, God isn’t confounded.
  • God is present, and He will not abandon you.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

God is Listening

prayer-faith-god-stonesIntrovert or extrovert, I’m not sure which category best describes you.  Even though I am an extrovert, there are moments when I take pause as an introvert.  If I walk into a room full of people I don’t know I may be less likely to speak, and I may wonder:  Do any of these people care about what I have to say?

While you may wonder if people care about what you have to say, that should never be a concern with God: Jesus was always interested in His disciples, and He intently listened to them—He wanted to hear them speak and to tell Him what was on their hearts.

With God, eloquent speech is not a prerequisite to being heard.  He is attentive to our prayers, and they have the fragrance of incense to Him (Revelation 5:8).

The Gospels are a record of God hearing prayers and responding to the needs of people.  Jesus listened and responded to the cry of a man who was born blind, and he intervened in the lives of the cripple, the deaf, the prostitute, and the leper.

Society had turned its back on each of them, but Jesus listened and welcomed them.  While others rejected them, Jesus listened and loved them.

The Psalms have a lot to say about the care of God for His people and His response to their prayers:

  • Psalm 8 remind us that God is mindful” of us: We are on His mind of God and in His heart.
  • Psalm 5 encourage us to begin each day with God: My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up
  • Psalm 55:17 indicates that we should speak to God throughout the day: Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice.

God listens, and He extends this invitation to you: Call unto me, and I will answer you (Jeremiah 33:3).

A Give and Take World

recipThe world in which we live seems to be more take than give.  The focus is more on what I can take from you than on what I can contribute; in a conversation, it’s more talk than listen; and in the marketplace, it’s more sabotage than service.

Mark Twain aptly said, “The principle of give and take is the principle of diplomacy— give one and take ten.”

The words of Twain are the motto of many, and they are akin to a concept called reciprocity. While the word may be little spoken, it is more than lightly practiced. Reciprocity is the ledger book of the mind that keeps a tab on indebtedness—Who do I owe and who owes me?

Reciprocity is the tally sheet of guilt and entitlement:

  • A person who believes he has received too much and given to little may feel a sense of guilt.
  • When a person thinks, he has given too much and received too little he may believe he is entitled to more, i.e. more money, recognition, etc.

If you are dissatisfied with your lot in life, I encourage you to consider three questions before you take any action:

  • What is it that I wanted but did not get?
  • What is it that I got but did not want?
  • Am I thinking in terms that embody the Christian ethic of the Golden Rule?

While turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor as yourself, and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, are laughable to some, they are principles that need to be removed from the shelf, dusted off, and put into practice.

As Paul said, we need to, Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love. Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together. . . Banish bitterness, rage and anger, shouting and slander, and any and all malicious thoughts—these are poison.  Instead, be kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you (Ephesians 4).

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heal that has crushed it.

 ~Mark Twain

The Gratitude List

Like most mornings, I started today with a cup of coffee and my Bible. While I was reading, I thought about God’s wonderful deeds for mankind, and my lack of gratitude:

 

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

~Psalm 107:8-9

This morning I give thanks to these people I’ve never met:

  • Thomas Edison for the light that shines about my head.
  • Benjamin Franklin for the glasses I wear.
  • The Wright brothers and their work in the field of aviation.
  • Charles Babbage, the Father of Computers
  • James Watt for his inventive mind that gave us the steam engine.
  • Alexander Bell who gave the first truly functional telephone.
  • Galileo because his genius improved accuracy of the compass; without which I’d still be lost in the wilderness.
  • Henry Ford and his “moving assembly line” which allowed for the mass production of automobiles.
  • Willis Carrier for the air conditioning that I enjoy during the hot and humid summer days.

Expressing gratitude and giving thanks are themes that run throughout the pages of the Bible. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: I thank God . . .  as I remember you 2constantly in my prayers night and day (1:3).

I encourage you to mimic Paul: Take some time today to reflect on the past year; express your gratitude, and say thanks to those who have helped you along the way and made your life a little easier.

Resolute Resolutions

ResolutionsChristmas is now past, and the sights and scents of the season have been crowded into the pages of history by the hopeful sounds of labor pains announcing the imminent birth of a new year.  Among these sounds are the voices of the optimistic and determined who announce their resolutions for the new year.

Some will achieve the goals they’ve set for 2017, while the not so resolute will bury theirs beneath the dust pile of defeat.  A few words from the wise might hint at the difference between the two:

  • Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday. ~Napoleon Hill
  • For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” ~Steve Jobs
  • Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, planned for success. Before he left his office at the end of the day, he would jot down the top three things he wanted to accomplish the next day.
  • The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tony Robbins has said that the key to directing your life, is to recognize and control your consistent actions: It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.

To reach your goals, I suggest you need to perceive to achieve:  Identify what you are already doing, and use it as a cue to prompt the appropriate action. Your daily routine is a good example:

  • After I pour my first cup of coffee, I will walk on the treadmill for 15 minutes.
  • Before I take my shower, I will do 10 pushups.
  • While I am eating breakfast, I will _____________.
  • When I take my coffee break, I will ____________.
  • Before I go to bed I will read ____ pages in a book.

If you are considering resolutions and goals to help you change and rearrange your life, I applaud your effort and leave you with two more quotes to serve as motivators:

  • Arthur Ashe: Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
  • Thomas Edison: Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

Let us search out and examine our ways,
and turn back to the Lord. ~Lamentations 3:40

Silence and Solitude

sandsWhen you find yourself a bit frazzled and frayed by the various stressors you encounter each week, where do you go to find solace? Some people find a sanctuary in solitude and silence.

As a business professional, David Haber spends much of his day crunching numbers and wrestling with the stress of financial decisions.  Haber has said, “The biggest challenge as an entrepreneur is how to not get lost in the daily execution, but to take a step back and really think things through. Quiet moments give you the opportunity to reflect and make smarter strategic decisions . . . Finding balance between work and life, and using silence to help me decompress, is an important part of doing my job well.”

Like Haber, I also think quiet moments are beneficial.  These interludes from the hectic pace of the world rejuvenate me when I refocus my attention on God.

Silence and solitude of themselves are mere emptiness that cannot feed a hungry soul. To stave off starvation, your mind needs to be “stayed” on God. The words of Isaiah echo this truth: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You (26:3).”

Here are a few Scriptures to focus on as you try to keep your mind “stayed” or focused on God:

  • Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that am God.”
  • Isaiah 12:2: “Indeed, God is my salvation; I will trust Him and not be afraid, for the Lord is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation.”
  • Philippians 4:6-7: “Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.” ~JB Phillips

I encourage to check your priorities and to reorder your life. At the top of your To-Do List, scribble in: Quiet moment of silence and solitude—be still and know God.

Fireflies At Night

fireflyPeople rarely partner stubbed toes and skinned knees with moments of pleasure . . . unless you’ve been a carefree child who chased the sentinels of light through the darkness of July nights. Even though those carefree days of bare feet and childhood innocence are long gone, I still enjoy the nocturnal dance of fireflies as they flutter across the night sky.

The waltz of the firefly reminds me of an old quote by Beecher:

If I were made a firefly, it would not become me to say: “If God had only made me a star to shine always, then I would shine.” It is my duty, if I am a firefly, to fly and sparkle, and fly and sparkle; not to shut my wings down over my phosphorescent self because God did not make me a sun or a star.

Regardless of person’s station in life, there seems to be a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction.  Solomon commented on this in Proverbs 27:19-20:  Just as water reflects a person’s true face, so the human heart reflects a person’s true character. As Death and Destruction are never satisfied, so the eyes of a person are never satisfied.

From their teenage years forward, people engage in an unending search for that elusive person, place, or thing that will satisfy the desires of their heart. The trivial pursuits of this world’s pleasures will never provide lasting satisfaction; you simply cannot find fulfillment in empty promises

Lasting peace and satisfaction is not found in the creation, but in the Creator:

  • Jesus said: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
  • God satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul is filled with good things. (Psalm 107:9)
  • Notice the promise of Psalm 16:11: God You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.

The next time you see a firefly at night, pause and think about what it means to be content in and satisfied through Jesus.  When you do this, it might help to reflect on these words of Paul:

 I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles. ~Philippians 4 (The Message)