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ash tree

A Kansas summer can feel horrible.  It often has searing heat, strong wind, and humidity that makes us all crave air conditioning or an ice-cold lemonade.  Our conditions are harsh and demanding every year.  These challenging elements try us and yet there are old trees standing in every community.

The heat, wind, and drought like conditions allow certain trees to develop a strong root system.  One where they dig down into fertile soil and become an anchor when storms, tornadoes, and gales unleash their worst across Kansas.  The trials, torment, and tough times produce strong trees that can survive truly horrible conditions.

People are the same way.  No one desires a season of pain, anguish, or torment in life, but it often finds us.  This tough season of life is often seen in the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a serious illness, financial difficulty, a broken relationship, terrorist attacks, war, and other traumatic events.  These are all examples of very challenging life experiences that hurt when they happen, but can produce stronger roots.

James writes to the Jerusalem church in verses 2-4 sharing:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

While it does not feel good when it happens, trials can ultimately yield endurance and strength to our faith and our life. When life seems dark and difficult, be like David and pray to God for strength.  When you are scared, reach for your Bible and take comfort knowing that God will not forsake you.  When you grieve, know that Christ also wept with hurt and loss as He consoled a community of mourners. Endure.  Stay strong.  Keep your faith.  Maintain your trust in the Lord and you will find a new season of life through Christ.

Science and psychology has finally caught up with this lesson from James.  Study after study now document resilience and post traumatic growth for people who have weathered trauma and a hard season of life.

While trauma can impair people in many ways, it turns out that there is routinely a higher percentage of people who demonstrate the ability to bounce back and learn from a hard season of life.  And yes, they are often people of faith who rely on their religion, faith, or spiritual practice for healing and recovery.  Today, faith is often embraced as a central and beneficial means of coping with tragedy.

Consider how trees survive in England.  The climate is wet, damp, and dreary. Spend a week there and you will pray to see the sun.  The soil is often moist because of the frequent rain showers.  This climate prevents trees from establishing deep roots in the soil.  The root system instead stays near the topsoil, hardly ever going deep into the ground.  A strong wind storm will often topple multiple trees in England provoking a community clean up in villages across the country.  Trees that have not been tested with hardship do not produce deep roots.  They are instead the first to fall when the storms of life come their way.

While summer conditions feel bad now they make deep roots, bring hope for tomorrow, and deliver a new season of life.

 

 

Our Great Physician

photo 1

I think many people struggle with faith because of how they view God.  Some view God as a rule giver issuing edicts from on high.  Others view God as a divine Santa Claus bestowing gifts and answering prayers.  And many will fall in between the two.

Some resist seeing God as an authority figure altogether.  It may conjure harsh images from their past.  Others resist this view of God for the simple reason of maintaining control.

I believe that it is okay to view God as an authority figure.  There are plenty of times when I gladly submit to authority.  If my computer goes haywire, I call tech support and carefully follow the technician’s guidance.  Sometimes it is a slow, step-by-step process where I need assistance due to unfamiliar territory and a lack of knowledge.  Other times I call for a reminder, receive an update, or get a tune up on my machine and I am quickly back on track.

People also submit to authority when they want to master a difficult sport like golf, tennis, or rowing.  They hire a coach, pay for lessons, or join a club so that practice can yield a great swing, an ace shot, or a straight course on the water. Practice and instruction will yield better performance no matter what the sport.

People also visit the doctor when they are sick and in need of care.  Philip Yancey, the Christian author, shares that, “a doctor is probably the most helpful image for me to keep in mind while thinking about God and sin.”  His view of God speaks to our human condition.  The doctor wants to deliver physical health.  The doctor shares wisdom and expertise that I lack.  The doctor also knows what habits, issues, and conditions are likely to cause injury.   I often receive his opinion on things to avoid and a prescription that will improve my life.  We should seek out God’s advice and opinion for living just like we seek care from a doctor.

It is important how we view God.  Often we do not realize our view of God is skewed, but there is a plumb line to show us what is straight and true.  God has given us His Word as the clearest description of who He is.  In the Old Testament, God reveals His character – His love, righteousness, wrath, justice and promises. In the New Testament, God reveals Jesus – His character in flesh.

Take time to visit with our Great Physician who is always on call.  He knows what can heal, cure, restore, and redeem.

 

libertyBell

Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof” Leviticus 25:10

Each Fourth of July we celebrate the birth of America.  We celebrate freedom, independence, and the precious rights that guarantee the blessings of liberty.  But it is important to remember how religious liberty was the original goal for many who left England.

Christianity operated under very different rules from today.  There was no separation of church and state, so whatever the King or Parliament desired regarding religion became law.  It was also strictly enforced.  In 1670, Parliament renewed the Coventicle Act, and began cracking down on religious dissenters, mainly Quakers and Baptists, who were not in compliance with the Church of England.

This law is alien to us today, but it fined people who attended a religious assembly other than the Church of England.  It allowed magistrates and authorities to shutter the churches of these outlying religious groups.  Dissenter clergy could be fined for preaching, expressing their religious views, or sharing the gospel.  Even people who allowed a religious assembly in their own home could receive a huge fine if discovered.

Laws during this time had little to no religious freedom.  British law required citizens to attend worship services. Practicing your faith in a different manner or practicing a different faith, one not permitted by the government, could be grounds for your arrest, conviction, or execution.

As arrests grew, dissenter groups fled England seeking the promise of religious expression without persecution.  While many went to Europe for immediate refuge, they desired an enduring place where religious freedom could be secured for their families.

Lord Baltimore established the colony of Maryland as a haven for persecuted Roman Catholics.  William Penn noted this and went a step further.  He established the colony of Pennsylvania for Quakers, but created a Charter of Privileges where religious tolerance was guaranteed for all inhabitants.

Penn’s belief that “no people can be truly happy if abridged of the freedom of their consciences” attracted not only Quakers who had been persecuted in England, but religious groups from across the globe, all of whom had suffered because of restrictions on their religious beliefs.

Pennsylvania quickly became the American refuge of religious freedom.  English Methodists, French Huguenots, Spanish Jews, Irish Roman Catholics, Scottish Presbyterians, along with German Mennonites and Amish congregations filled the colony seeking peace from persecution, but mostly seeking the right to worship God.

William Penn’s holy experiment in religious liberty had succeeded.  To underscore this point, the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1751 ordered the casting of a 2,080-pound copper bell to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Penn’s Charter of Privileges.  Placed inside the tower atop Pennsylvania’s State House, now Independence Hall, the object would eventually be known as the Liberty Bell and serves as an enduring reminder of the religious freedom Americans enjoy today.

This Fourth of July, take time to celebrate the freedom and liberty you have to worship God and pray for the dissenters of our age who still seek religious liberty.

Grace Notes

grace notes

Philip Yancey has been writing for three decades.  That experience and understanding is apparent anytime you read his work.  He has a beautiful knack of viewing life and ordering it on paper.  Yancey’s insight, imagination, and gentle faith are refreshing to any reader.

He is transparent on being wounded by the church, sifting through faith issues, harboring doubts, and other struggles in his Christian journey.  Through it all, this earnest pilgrim finds his way back and strengthens his faith and reliance in God.  I appreciate his honest desire to seek the Lord.  The words of his journey and stumbles on the path now provide encouragement to other believers who need a solid footing in Jesus.

Grace Notes, Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim is a compilation of Yancey’s total work.  The pages are drawn from his twenty plus books and numerous articles. They capture inspiring and provoking images for any believer.  This book is ideal for daily devotions or starting a new spiritual discipline.  The readings will correspond to particular days and themes on the calendar.  Some readings will follow the church calendar for Christmas, Easter, the Ascension, and Pentecost, but keep in mind that the days will vary from year to year.

Take time to discover the Grace Notes of Philip Yancey.  You will appreciate the experienced writing, spiritual depth, and brotherly encouragement that he provides.

 

Army seal

Today, in 1775, the Continental Congress voted to raise an Army and truly make ourselves free.

Celebrate that freedom by praying for the men, women, and families who serve our nation so well.

May God protect our Soldiers, strengthen their relationships, and sustain them as they return from war.  Amen.

Deployed service members reflect on  D-Day

On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified coastline in Normandy, France.  Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”  More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe.  The cost in lives on D-Day was high.  More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolph Hitler.

Today, the men and women who fought and won World War II are now dying at the rate of 555 a day.  It is vital that we listen to America’s Greatest Generation for several reasons.  Take time to hear these heroes.  Listen to their stories and discover the bravery, courage, and dedication that liberated millions.  Their experiences can continue to shape our nation and our veterans of today.

The veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan can learn from these veterans of yesteryear.  Yes, their stories are inspiring, but they also provide an incredible picture on how WWII veterans dealt with combat, coped with loss, overcame personal obstacles, became resilient, and benefited from post traumatic growth. These veteran stories will confirm their hero status, but they can also provide insights on healing strategies, understanding the importance of battle buddies, and confirm the power of faith in God.

Remember our D-Day veterans and remember to hear their stories of survival. It just may help a veteran from the wars and deployments of today.

POW

Today, US Army SGT Bowe Bergdahl was released from captivity.  SGT Bergdahl was held as a prisoner of war for nearly five years.

SGT Bergdahl was handed over by the Taliban Saturday evening in an area of eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. Officials said the exchange was not violent and the 28-year-old SGT was in good condition and able to walk.

SGT Bergdahl was the only American Soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan.  His release from captivity was in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Our nation rejoices with the Bergdahl family at the news of his safe release. Please pray for SGT Bergdahl and his family as they celebrate his freedom and safe return.

 

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