Enduring Hardships with Strength

bruce lee 2

https://motivationgrid.com/11-powerful-bruce-lee-quotes-need-know/

A common literary device rooted in human existence is the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey has been part of mythology, fairy tales, epic poems, plays, legends, even to our modern day equivalent of novels and movies. All of these stories follow an similar three act structure. Act 1-Introduce the hero. Act 2- Put the hero in the most adverse/perilous situation. Act 3- the hero overcomes the situation, gets the girl, fulfills his destiny and lives happily ever after.

If our lives were only that simple.

If you have lived for any length of time, you know that “happily ever after” is often reserved for stories and not our lives. Life is a constant struggle, an ebb and flow, the highest of highs and the lowest of the heart-breaking lows.

Just when we think we have slayed the dragon, turned Darth Vader back to the light side of the Force, found our purpose, peace, or forgiveness from God, we find ourselves facing a new or recurring difficulty. After years of struggle and sacrifice to get a hold on the family finances, a lay off, a forced retirement, or sickness occurs. You believe that you have overcome depression and anxiety, only for circumstances to throw you back down to the pit. After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you do the best you can to be compliant with your care plan, only to suffer a flare-up or relapse. It feels as if all progress is lost.

We say and think such things as It isn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t fair. I’ve already been through this. Why is God allowing this?

One of the things we must change when we go through difficulties is our perceptions, or judgments. We work under the assumption that life is fair. Do good, get rewarded. Do bad, get punished. We expect instant blessing for ourselves because we all perceive ourselves as good, while we expect the perceived evildoers to receive instant punishment.  Unfortunately, the innocent suffer and the wicked are rewarded. We live in an imperfect world that doesn’t always make sense.

Neither Jesus nor anyone else said it was going to be easy. Jesus told us that we have to “take up our cross.” That cross at times will get heavy as we walk through this life.

Numerous times throughout his epistles, the Apostle Paul compares being a follower of Christ to the life of a soldier. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ.” (2 Timothy 2:3). A casual reading of the New Testament and its emphasis on suffering and persecution certainly deals a resounding defeat to the claims of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” where God grants all of our desires like a genie freed from a lamp, and life will be free from difficulty. Faith doesn’t free you from difficult times, it helps you get through them by creating within you a resilience, a persistence, the strength to fight no matter the circumstances.

Difficulties serve as a mirror as to our true reflection, our true strength, and whether we get tough when the tough gets going.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus parallels the Apostle Paul’s statement to Timothy, but uses the analogy of being a wrestler.

“The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material. But this is going to take some sweat to accomplish. From my perspective, no one’s difficulties ever gave him a better test than yours, if you are prepared to make use of them the way a wrestler makes use of an opponent in peak condition.”1

In another discouse, Epictetus discusses an how to develop an acceptance of what God brings our way, a way to develop a sort of indifference to circumstances, or “going with the flow.”

“Lift up your head, like a person finally released from slavery. Dare to face God and say, ‘From now on, use me as you like. I am of one mind with you, I am your peer.’ Whatever you decide, I will not shrink from it. You may put me where you like, in any role regardless: officer or citizen, rich man or pauper, here or overseas. They are all just so many opportunities to justify your ways to man,by showing just how little circumstances amount to.”

Though it does seem counter-intuitive, the Apostle Paul, Epictetus, and Bruce Lee all concur- don’t  pray for difficult circumstances to flee, but ask God for the strength to get through the hard times. You will be a stronger and better person for it. God bless you all.

 

1Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings, Translated and edited by Robert Dobbin. London: Penguin Books (2008):56.

2Ibid, 116.

 

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Unplug from the Noise

The everyday noises of life are often a shrill cacophony of discord rather than the harmonious and beautiful sounds of a symphony. From the moment we wake up, we are seemingly bombarded by the alarm clock, relationship or health problems, arguing children, barking dogs, honking horns stuck in traffic, bombastic talking heads on the news, the boss coming down on you- all of which equally frustrating. Our minds are overstimulated, but our souls and spirits are malnourished. How can we push aside the external demands and feed what the Apostle Paul referred to as “the inner man”?

I love to travel and go on vacation. I also read to relax. However, if you manage to get away from it all, whether via trip or prose, you do eventually have to come back. Problems could arise on the trip or be the first one to welcome you back. What if we could be selfish with just a little bit of our time- ten, fifteen, or thirty minutes and unplug? No demands. No phone. No social media. Sounds great doesn’t it?

Even the Lord Jesus Christ had to get away from time to time. Christ is God in the flesh, but He was also man. As a man, His body was subject to fatigue from the demands on His life and time. Not only did Jesus carry the burden of having to surrender His life for the sins of humanity, He also dealt with a hostile religious establishment, Rome, the political implications of being the Messiah, leading a group of disciples who were infighting for the best seat in the kingdom, healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons-even confronting Satan himself. Jesus would often escape the fighting disciples, the demanding crowds, the religious teachers, and pray on mountain.

“And when He had sent them [the disciples] away, He departed into a mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46, KJV, brackets mine).

“And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12, KJV).

All four Gospels record instances of Jesus spending time alone on a mountain, which either proceeded or followed a big decision or miracle (choosing the disciples, walking on the water, feeding a multitude, etc).

It is not necessary to travel to a far away land to accomplish this. Start where you are and make it a practice. Pray, read a chapter of the Bible, enjoy beautiful worship music, or just sit in a dark and quiet room, drown out the crowd and reconnect with God.  So if the Lord Jesus took the time to renew His body, mind, and spirit, shouldn’t we do the same?

 

 

Romans 12: Love in Action

Perhaps the two most famous biblical passages on love are John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 13. John 3:16 shows us the extent of God’s love for us, while 1 Corinthians 13 gives us the true and ideal path of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, NIV).

Love and relationships are hard work and take time. A relationship is two imperfect people trying to build the perfect life together coupled with stresses and storms of life. If you have fallen short of what the Apostle Paul put forth concerning love, don’t fret or despair. Every one of us has fallen short, but while we live, we can work to improve the depth of our love and relationships.

In Romans chapter 12, the Apostle Paul show’s us the application of love regarding our relationships to God, ourselves, and those around us. (I will simply cite the idea of the verse, as opposed to listing long passages of Scripture).

Our Relationship with God

*We are to be living sacrifices for God (Romans 12:1).

*We are called to renew our minds and discover God’s will for our lives (Romans 12:2).

*We are called to serve God with a spiritual fervor while being examples of service, faithfulness and hospitality. (Romans 12:11-14).

Our Relationship with ourselves

*We must exercise humility (Romans 12:3; 12:16b).

*If someone does us wrong, we must not be consumed with revenge, for God will deal with them (Romans 12:17-20).

Our Relationships with others

*Recognize that we are all children of God, but we are not gifted in the same ways (Romans 12:4-8).

*Our love must be of sincere devotion, despising evil and esteeming others above ourselves (Romans 12:9-10).

*We are called to serve others during good times and bad times, no matter their position in life (Romans 12:15-16a).

*We are to overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21).

We can take away three keys to being a more loving and graceful person:

(1) Introspection. When we see how far we have fallen short, we can come to God’s grace and accept His everlasting love. Our response will become to share the love we have been given. 

(2) We must change our “programming pattern.” Our thoughts, judgments, and perceptions are well within our control, but we allow ourselves to be influenced by the world’s negativity. Think of your mind as a computer. When we don’t change our thinking, we are allowing someone else to write our programming and operating system. 

(3) We must become more empathetic to others. We must recognize that everyone, no matter how they live their life, their politics, their skin color, social status, or nationality, deserves to be loved. We must be willing, as the old saying goes, to put ourselves in their shoes and help them through this life.

We are called to love and serve others. The time has come for us to quit tearing each other down and begin the rebuilding process. God bless you all.

 

 

Being Mindful of Our Actions

Have you ever said or heard the expression,”Do as I say, not as I do?” This phrase could also be stated, “Listen to my words, but ignore my actions.” We’re all human, we’re all guilty of saying one thing and doing another. However, we must be mindful that others watch us more than they listen to us.

My parents taught me and my sister the value of having a strong work ethic. These were not mere words because my parents backed it up with going to work every day- no matter how they felt, no matter the weather, no matter whether or not they loved their jobs-you have responsibilities, you take care of them. It was that simple. I know me and my sister have done our best to live by those values.

William Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” (As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7) . Of course, we have no control over the part we are assigned to play in life- where we’re born, whether we are rich or poor, our skin color, healthy or sick, and so on and so forth. However, we do have a choice of how we play the role we’re given.

During Jesus’ time, there was a group of men called the Pharisees, who were the Jewish teachers of the Law of Moses. The Pharisees were always questioning Jesus’ authority and how He did things. Jesus upset the religious establishment and called out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy.

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy,cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders,  but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see.” (Matthew 23:1-5a, NIV).

Six times in Matthew 23  Jesus refers to the Pharisees as hypocrites. Today we through the word hypocrite around in casual conversation, but these were very serious statements Jesus made concerning Israel’s religious leaders of they day. These teachers were using God’s Word to oppress others, yet they took exception to the miracle-performing carpenter from Nazareth.

What is interesting is that the Greek word for hypocrite, hupokrisis, (Strong’s #5272), is a theater term for playing a role. The Pharisees were only playing the part of pious men because they sought the adoration of the people over obedience to God.

As you go through life, remember to be the genuine item of what you claim to be. Don’t go through life like a politician pandering for vote, but make sure actions and words line up. I know I have a long way to go myself. This change is a daily process. It will take the rest of your life to get there. Lean on God’s grace and have patience with yourself. God bless you all.

 

What Seek Ye?

John the Baptist was speaking with two of his disciples when he saw Jesus.

“And looking upon Jesus as He walked, he [John the Baptist] saith, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!'” (John 1:36, KJV).

At this point in time, John the Baptist had developed quite a following, as he had disciples, people coming to be baptized in the Jordan River, and he had to  answer questions from the religious leaders as to whether or not he was the Messiah. John the Baptist made it very clear that he was not the Messiah, but the one who would proceed the Messiah (John 1:23; Matthew 3:3).

The two disciples (Andrew and presumably John, the writer of the gospel) left John the Baptist and followed after Jesus.

“Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, ‘What seek ye?’ They said unto Him, ‘Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?” (John 1:38, KJV, emphasis mine).

Contrast Jesus’ministry at this point with John the Baptist’s: Jesus had no disciples nor had He performed any miracles, yet, Andrew and John were seeking Him to learn more about Him. Jesus invited the disciples back to His place and they spent the day together.

Although we as finite and fallible humans can misinterpret someone’s true motives, Jesus, being God in the flesh, could quickly see a person’s true motivations. Another way Jesus could have asked the question “What seek ye?” could be “What do you want from me?” Jesus did not rebuke John and Andrew, thus their motives were true.

John and Andrew sought to be taught by Jesus and they wanted to see how and where He lived. In essence, John and Andrew wanted to see if Jesus’ lifestyle lined up with His words. If John and Andrew were going to leave the familiar teaching of John the Baptist for Jesus, they wanted to make sure Jesus “practiced what He preached.”

The question, “What seek ye?” should give us pause and allow ourselves to do some deep soul searching. I believe it is vital for our spiritual, mental, and physical health to check ourselves and ask, “Why am I doing this?” “Is this what I really want?” “Why did I make this choice at the exclusion of other options?” “Is this worth the price I am paying in time and energy?”

One of the Greek words for seek is Zeteo (Strong’s #2212), can be used to indicate searching for knowledge or meaning, or plotting against someone. However, Zeteo can indicate an ideal for which we “seek or strive after, endeavor, to desire.” I believe that John and Andrew were seeking after that endeavor greater than themselves. It is an inherit human need to be part of something greater than ourselves, and Jesus offers us the greatest endeavor: to strive to be more like Him and to live each day for Him.

“Therefore take no thought, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33-34, KJV).

“Ask, and it shall be given you; see, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7:7, KJV).

“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24, KJV).

God bless you all.

 

 

 

Name Your Price

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Unless you are independently wealthy, costs matter. In an age where numbers such as millions, billions, and even trillions are thrown around in political speech and casual conversations, many still have to account for every cent.

I believe Henry David Thoreau outlines the missing piece in the typical cost-benefit analysis: the amount of life and time we are going to exchange for our new home, the new job, or even an athletic goal. While it is a blessing and a noble effort to work hard and provide the best life you can, have you considered the long-term wear and tear on your body? If you are an athlete, will that small window of glory be worth it when the aches and pains remain after the cheering crowds have left? I believe in going after what you want in life, but we must factor in everything that comes along with it.

As Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher put it:

“If you wish to win at the Olympic Games, to prepare yourself properly you would have to follow a strict regimen that stretches you to the limits of your endurance. You would have to submit to demanding rules, follow a suitable diet, vigorously exercise at a regular time in both heat and cold, and give up drinking. You would have to follow the directions of your trainer as if he or she were your doctor.” 1

Epictetus also goes on to discuss the possibility of injury and losing the competition. Epictetus is encourage the reader to take a look at “the big picture” in order to test ourselves and our motives.

“By considering the big picture, you distinguish yourself from the mere dabbler, the person who plays at things as long as they feel comfortable or interesting. This is not noble. Think things through and fully commit!…Unless we fully give ourselves over to our endeavors, we are hollow, superficial people and we never develop our natural gifts…but consider first the real nature of your aspirations, and measure that against your capacities.”2

Jesus also encouraged us to consider the cost of discipleship in Luke 14:25-35. One example Jesus uses is someone who considers building a tower:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.'” (Luke 14:28-30, NIV).

Before we embark on anything in life, let us ask ourselves if we are truly willing to pay the real price to undertake it. God bless you all.

1Epictetus, The Art of Living, as interpreted by Sharon Lebell. San Francisco: Harper Collins (2006): 38.

2 Ibid, 39.

Discovering and Using our Talents

Imagine for a moment you are given an extravagant gift- it could be anything. The person who gave you the gift waits for you to open it, but you just set it aside and say “Thank you.” The Gift Giver leaves and the gift sits on the table where you left it. The next day, the gift is still on the table, unopened. A week goes by and dust is beginning to settle on the gift. The next thing you know is that a month goes by, then a year, maybe longer, and you have yet to open the gift. As you are sitting down watching TV, there’s a knock on the door. It’s the Gift Giver and he wants to know how you enjoyed the gift. You show him the gift sitting on the same table and talk about how you were not sure how he would respond to your opening it. The Gift Giver becomes angry and takes the gift away from you, giving it to someone else.

The above story is an oversimplified, fictionalized, and partial version of the Parable of the Talents, as described in Matthew 25:14-30 (the Parable of the Ten Pounds is found in Luke 19:12-27).

Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents within the context of His Mount Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), where He describes the prophetic signs of His return and what believers must do in order to be prepared. The parable describes the rewards received when one does his or her work for the Kingdom of God.

However, what if we were to examine the Parable of the Talents without the eschatological layers? What would we see? How can we relate this parable to discovering and using our gifts in everyday lives?

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.” (Matthew 25:14-15, NKJV).

Of course, the man traveling to the far country is Christ ascending to heaven until His second coming. The servants represent all of us. The word “talent” is a term for a substantial amount of money. However, let us use the word talent to indicate our skills, gift and abilities.

From the onset, Jesus is telling us that life is not fair. Unfortunately, not all of us are born into wealth and privilege, nor do we choose the family we are born into, just as we cannot choose our skin color or country of origin. Not all of us have the same talents, skills, gifts and abilities.

The Bible states that the servants were given gifts according to their abilities. Hence, one servant received five talents, another received two talents, and the other received just one talent. The first two servants doubled their money and were commended and rewarded for their faithfulness, while the third servant buried his talent. The third servant let his gift sit on the table.

Listen and read carefully to the words of the third servant:

 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’” (Matthew 25:24-25, NKJV).

The servant’s response of hiding his talent indicates two key factors in his decision: an improper understanding of his relationship to his boss (Christ) and fear. When we are not related correctly to Christ, we do not understand our freedom in approaching Him. If we have accepted Christ, we can come boldly to the throne of grace, yet we can hold ourselves back because of guilt and condemnation, believing God is going to “throw the book at us” like some harsh judge. The Bible disproves this unworthy mindset because:

*We can come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

*There is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1).

*God took the book of your sins and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).

This unworthy mindset leads to fear. Fear of failure. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of what other people are going to think. Fear that we are diluting ourselves. Fear then drives us to inaction. Fear then causes us to lose out on the opportunity to use our talents. At the end of the parable, the man takes away the talent from the servant and gives it to the man who had ten talents, casting the servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:26-30).

Not only was the one talent servant paralyzed by fear, but he also failed to seek wisdom. The first two servants had wisdom on how to trade and invest. We must seek out wisdom and resources when it comes to using our gifts and talents. Wisdom is not reserved for a few people: wisdom is available to all. Godly wisdom is crying out in the streets, but so many reject it (Proverbs 1:20-24). Wisdom is simply applying knowledge and experience to a particular situation.

If you do not know what your talent is, take a personal inventory of what you enjoy. You may discover that you have more than one talent. Do not be afraid to try something. You cannot control what other people will think. You cannot control market conditions, the weather, or anything else outside of your thoughts, emotions, judgments, perceptions, and responses. Do not compare yourself and your opportunities to those of others, because that will only bring discouragement, doubt, and jealousy. God has equipped you for your mission or missions in life. You got this. God bless you all.