Friday, May 16, 2014

Discerning God's Work in Hardship

Being able to discern how God is at work in difficult experiences is important for believers because we are vulnerable to adopting false perspectives of the Lord’s character. Instead of seeing God as just, faithful, and absolutely loving, we often respond to hardship as if God isn’t holding up the end of a bargain or is breaking promises.

The Bible provides examples for us to look to when we face trials. Through discerning the work of the Lord when we think we might be experiencing punishment, discipline, or testing, we can remember who our God is and how we can righteously respond to Him.    
1. Punishment
                Sometimes it feels like we are just being punished. Things are going every way except how we want them to, and we have this sense of guilt, as if we’ve done something wrong to deserve it all. We can easily see in Scripture that God has long punished His followers, and assume that He is doing so to us.

                When the Lord punished His chosen people, it was in response to willful wickedness that He could not ignore because He is just. In the Old Testament, we find several examples of God punishing Israel for sins that they chose over His commands –like idolatry. Harsh punishment falls upon those of His people who choose, outright, to disobey Him.

                Yet even in the punishment of the system of justice that the Lord commands, there is mercy. Those who practice willful disobedience are able to approach the Lord and seek forgiveness. In the Old Testament, through sacrificial offerings; in the New Testament, through the blood of Christ, by which all sins repented of are forgiven (1 John 1:9).  

2. Discipline
                Hebrews 12 makes clear that those the Lord loves, He disciplines. According to the passage, hardship sometimes comes as discipline. We can trust, as verse 10 states, that: “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.”   

Discipline is quite different from punishment. Rather than being pronounced as judgment by God, discipline is chastisement or correction for the purpose of training one up. It is carried out in order to urge us along on the path of righteousness and curb us from that which leads us astray.

                Deuteronomy 11 indicates to us that an example of God’s discipline in the Old Testament was the wandering of Israel in the desert for decades. The passage speaks to the generation who witnessed God’s work in Egypt and received the commandments. It reminds them that they have been disciplined so that they know how much they ought to lead the future generations in obedience.

                We witness in God’s discipline of the Israelites that hardship comes to those who belong to the Lord and seek Him, but neglect to remember His work and put themselves at risk of disobeying Him. Our healthy response to the loving discipline of God is to endure the hardship and submit to God, knowing how He loves us.       

3. Testing
                Scripture makes clear that God chooses to test people. Job is a popular example. A Godly man, Job did nothing wrong to warrant testing, but God chose to test Him, allowing Satan to plague Job’s life with suffering. Near the end of his testing, Job says this to the Lord: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Job, seeing God’s might in His testing, repents for all of his frustration and angry words against God. And God blesses him with more than he ever had before he suffered, including an intimate display of God’s might.

James reminds us that our blessing might not come in this world –but God is faithful to us and uniquely, personally, shows us His love in times of testing. James 1:2 tells us to: “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”  Later in the passage, James highlights that remaining faithful in struggles –which involves listening to God and obeying Him in our actions- results in the crown of life. While we are not saved by good works, even in hard times, the Lord ultimately blesses those persevere in faith.

                There are certainly other reasons for our suffering, and a multitude of circumstances. But what a gift from the Lord that we can look to Scripture and see that He is good, righteous, and just. He punishes our disobedience, but offers forgiveness when we repent. Our Lord disciplines us, in love, to keep us from straying. When He tests us, it produces faith filled fruit. We can submit to Him wholly, knowing that the Lord does “work all things together for our good” as He promises (Romans 8:28).

Friday, May 9, 2014

Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas


-4 Boneless pork chops (small)
-1 Red bell pepper
-Chicken broth
-Taco sauce
-Chili powder


1. Place chops into the slow cooker and pour in chicken broth until the meat is just covered (use another type of broth, if you prefer).
2. Add bell pepper that has been chopped into strips (the ratio of pepper to pork should be about 1:4).
3. Pour in a tablespoon of taco sauce.
4. Cover and allow to cook on high heat for one hour.
5. Flip pork, cover, and allow to cook on low heat for one hour.
6. Remove pork and cut into thin strips.
7. Return meat to slow cooker for another half an hour, or until the meat is tender.
8. Drain, and serve on tortilla with preferred additives, like cheese or rice.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Prototype Problem

It’s a rainy day. Or, as my husband says, “it’s a nice day to be a duck”.

What it is about rainy days and “should be”?

There is something about the grey, the damp, and the howling wind that makes people unstable. And when people feel unstable, at least in my experience and observation, we tend to look for models of security. We begin to demand that things make sense rather than facing the uncertainties of our life.

I’m speaking more, I think, to emotional and spiritual uncertainty. Questions like whether or not our lives have meaning after all, what we have to hope for anyway, and so on. There arise those unwanted, uncomfortable feelings of being lost, if not lost for eternity, than at least lost in much of what this life seems to be.

Desperate to get a grip, I think many of us in our uncertainties seek a prototype. We look for a prototype of God. A prototype of self. A prototype of daily life. It seems we’re looking to escape the difficulty of relying wholly on our Savior and the Spirit’s work in order to live under the false pretense that everything is in order, in an order that we can comprehend.

Instead of seeking the Lord, we seek simply Adonai, the father figure God. Or perhaps God as our protector. Maybe we look for the Jesus who identifies with us because once He was a man and was tempted too. A controlled idea of God is what we desire.

As for ourselves, we begin to analyze. Some of us are more critical, seeing ourselves as selfish, hopeless sinners who can’t deserve anything at all. We mourn and grieve our sins and punish ourselves for being so human. Others take refuge in the goodness of their deeds and seek to self-justify. Whatever defines us, we're just glad to be understood.

And then there are our lives. Our jobs, our responsibilities, and the expectations placed on us. Lists develop, miles long, of our failures or our successes. We compare these lists, and ourselves, and our relationship with God, to others. We edit and rewrite our versions of God, of ourselves, and of our life-lists to mirror the prototypes that look like the best investments.

So it goes on. Over and over. If we stop to think about it, it seems a little silly. Isn’t this a child’s game? Don’t children get freaked out over this stuff, and grown-ups have it all figured out? You eat, you work, you sleep, you chat, you watch TV, the end. Don’t do bad stuff. Be a good person. Life can’t be that hard, it can’t be as complicated as our feelings and ideas make it out to be.

Good news! It isn’t. The truth is simple.

                God is God. He isn’t made in our image. Phil 2:7.
 He doesn’t play “good cop, bad cop” with us, revealing only certain versions of Himself at particular times. He has always been at work, has never changed, and lives up to all that He claims to be. Heb 6:17, Heb 13:8, Psalm 100:5, Rom 1:20.
His records are perfect, there is no detail glossed over or misinterpreted. Psalm 37:23, Psalm 139, Isaiah 40.
The Lord is not a prototype. He is alive. His Word and Spirit are living. And He is who He says is. John 14:26, Hebrews 4:12, Exodus 3:14.

                We are who He says we are.  Sinners, saved by grace through repentance and faith in the our Savior. Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:8.

Further, we have been redeemed and adopted as God’s own children. We face His loving discipline, as He is our Father, and we know that we will are rewarded by inheriting eternity with Him. Galatians 4:7, Hebrews 12:7, Romans 8:17.

Our hope is in Him, and we can live before our Lord in all confidence because of His mercy and grace. 1 Tim1:1, Psalm 62, Heb 4:16.

                Our lives are in His hands. We can be anxious for absolutely nothing, because He always provides sufficiently. Psalm 31, Matt 6.

                It’s alright for us to not know. And to not worry about what happens or what we gain or what other’s lives seem to be like. To be with Him is everything! Psalm 73, Isaiah 55, Proverbs 19:21, Jeremiah 9:24.
                Enough with the prototype problem. There is no “should be” that our Lord has not (past, present, and future) considered and covered. Life is not an equation that we have to plug the right stuff into to get good results. God is not a concept. We are not set in stone. Life is not a neat little story. He is living, He gives us new life, and it is a life without end.

                Praise the Lord that we don’t have to worry about what we don’t know, or what we can’t do, or any of the stuff that attempts to convince us that we are actually lost. We know exactly Who we need to, and He is sufficient!         
                 Colin Smith says it well when He explains what the true faith that we rely on is:

“Christian faith does not rest on our feelings, it does not rest on our insights, it doesn’t rest on our interpretations, Christian faith rests on God’s explanation of His own actions, revealed to us and recorded for us in the Scriptures. He has risen. Who says so? God says so! And you can stake your life and your eternity on that.” –Colin Smith, Unlocking the Bible, “Jesus Offers Life to His People”, April 16, 2014.

                Psalm 23 reminds us that, in all circumstances, on all days, He is with us, and we have nothing to fear. Not even uncertainties and insecurities.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord