Why Do We Suffer?

Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that challenges and obstacles build character; at least that’s been my experience. We all know people who have medical conditions or job issues and we see their suffering. Many churches produce a weekly or monthly list of those who need to be prayed for. The number of people on the list at our church is amazing to me. I witnessed suffering first hand throughout my career in the fire service. People will often ask how do firefighters deal with it and I always respond that we box up each event and move on. We rarely discuss it and we depend on each other for stability. I imagine that this coping tool contributes to the camaraderie that firefighters are famous for. So back to my original question, why do we suffer? I’m certainly not smart enough to actually know the answer but I have a theory. 

Suffering, in a way, does build character and makes us stronger. How we react to the event is based on our character and the more opportunities we have to shape that character, the stronger we become. Hence the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I also believe that there is a difference between suffering and disappointment. President Lincoln had a very long list of disappointments before becoming President, but he suffered a great deal as well. He lost his son at a very young age and his wife was tormented by severe depression. Despite all of that, he was a man of great character. The next time you think that you are suffering, ask yourself two questions – is this really disappointment instead and how can I change my reaction? If it is suffering, what am I or others supposed to learn from it? 

19For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 20But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:19-21

I’ll ask again, why do we suffer? It all started in the Garden of Eden. The third chapter of Genesis is pretty specific about all of the suffering that we are to endure as a result of Adam eating the fruit that Eve gave to him. Being deceived by the serpent, Eve broke the one rule that existed. Our lives are now filled with sin, there is no escaping it and that’s why we suffer. People don’t suffer more or less than anyone else because of what they did or what they do. I have to believe that we suffer in varying degrees because it’s what God needs to happen. If we lived in a world completely independent of one another, God would still have to teach us the lessons we needed but that isn’t the case. 

We teach each other, we are a symbol for others who don’t know us. God will use us to deliver His messages as He deems necessary. People get medical conditions, so others can learn from them. My friend who had a heart transplant is surely suffering; his life is not the same. We hear from his wife how blessed they are by all of the people and prayers in their lives. She rightly believes, that he is alive today because of those prayers. The message of prayer is getting to their whole family. God is using this suffering to spread His message. Peter tells us that suffering is good and that as Christ suffered for us, we need to endure it as well. Jesus did not ask “why me?” He knew it was God’s will and then carried the burden. Jesus showed us how to suffer and where to keep our focus – on God. Why do we suffer? It is God calling us to deliver His message.   

Half-Heartedly?

I often wonder when opportunity will stop knocking. The idea that one door opens when another one closes has proven itself in my life time and again. I tell myself that as I get older, it is natural to wonder when those doors won’t open. I’ve been presented with multiple opportunities in the past three months, who knows if any of them will become a reality. It just reminds me that my work is still being recognized even if I didn’t think so. I’ve never done anything halfway in my life and now as a consultant, it is hard to tell if anyone notices since you work so infrequently. They say that hard work pays off and I have no reason to start doubting that phrase now. 

I spent the past better part of the past three weeks working with an old friend who I haven’t worked with in over a year. Our days were long, and the routine dragged on as each day passed. She took notes, payed attention to the details that I had stopped looking at a few years ago, she listened, she engaged in conversation and asked questions. She was preparing herself to understand and work in an environment that wasn’t foreign to her; she knew the importance of being committed to the project. In contrast, all of us have worked with someone who only wanted to learn half the job or just enough to get by. These people are always interested in the next promotion without putting in the effort to truly understand the position they are in. Where has commitment gone? As a whole, we seem to be suffering from a “failure to commit”. Doing something only half way gets you exactly that, half the reward. 

“Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

The moment I read this verse, I knew that I had to write about giving it your all, not doing things half way, and especially when worshiping God. I had no good idea how to tell the story of giving 100% until these two things happened these past weeks. I started to think about what does giving less that 100% to God look like and then I realized the example was me! Sin keeps me from giving God all my heart, all my soul and all my mind. No matter how hard I try, something always gets in the way. 

Sometimes, I’m too tired or simply lazy to break out the Bible and start reading my daily devotion. I’m too busy to stop and pray or give thanks, besides God knows – right? God knew our struggles would be greater than we could handle so He put a plan in motion to save us from ourselves – He sent us Jesus. He is the one who told us to give our all to God. He knew that He would have to intervene on our behalf and take sin away from us. Jesus left us so many great examples and stories while taking all of the sin out of our lives. God knew that we would not be perfect, and he doesn’t expect it, but we can show Him our love by diving in a little deeper, spending a little more time and showing what the love of Jesus means in our lives. Give it your all!

Persevere

“Times are tough all over” was the title of a hit song in 1990. People have been saying this for years and since the start of the pandemic, we all still know someone who feels like times are tough. It became a way of saying to someone “you aren’t alone” or “it’s happening to everyone” but it never really makes anyone feel better. Why do we suffer? I’ve said before that Lisa, and I believed that our 3 hour round trip to see our premature daughter in the hospital was building character. Today, everyone one of us knows someone who has received a cancer diagnosis or had another type of life altering event. We hear them ask “why me, why did God do this to me?” 

One of the greatest effects that homelessness has on people who lose their home or place to call home is that they lose hope. These men and women, who have faithfully persevered these past two years, are used to making positive contributions. Once they start to disconnect, the trip downward is fast and takes hope with it. Recent studies have shown that once hope is restored, recently evicted people often return to a productive life. No matter the situation, we all see people who are struggling in this world; living the “times are tough all over” kind of lives. What can we do help them? We can offer hope and support with less judgement and distain. 

“Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12

Some people look at this verse as proof that God is testing them before they can have eternal life. Yet others view it as even though you are tested, do not give up hope because the promise is still yours. You do not have to buy, perform, sacrifice, say, write or do anything to receive God’s forgiveness! He has given us that gift already; we are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The “crown of life” James tells us about, is found in our belief that Jesus is our Savior. We don’t know why some people suffer more than others. 

We certainly don’t understand why some people deal with their trials better than others. It isn’t for us to understand. Think about the trials that St. Paul suffered and he was a persecutor at one point in his life. There are millions of people on this planet suffering simply because they believe in Jesus as their Savior. What hope do they have? They have faith in God’s word and in His promises. It might be all they have but they have it. God is not punishing them or testing them more than anyone else. The devil is still at work in this world and when hope is dimmed he is encouraged; it becomes his foothold in our lives. God is telling us, through James, to not lose hope but persevere because eternal life waits for us. To me, that’s all the reason to keep hope alive. 

Pigeon Holes

Condemnation or condemning someone is a pretty serious matter. The dictionary defines condemn as “express complete disapproval of, typically in public; censure”. Have you unknowingly condemned someone? I’m sure you didn’t utter the words specifically, but we often find ourselves saying something like “I’ll never work with him again” or “if she doesn’t get her act together, I’ll make sure she isn’t our team again”. These are statements of condemnation. Oftentimes, our condemnation is even a little more subtle “Oh him, he is always like that.” I refer to this as “pigeon-holing” someone; putting a person in a cage or box that they can never get turned around in. Some people are put there after one big mistake while others simply earn their position in the pigeon hole. 

You might ask yourself, “how many times do I need to get burned before I stop believing they will actually come through for me?” The better question is, “have you told them how they’ve let you down and what effect it has had on your work?” We need to be honest with people and let them know how their actions effect how others perceive them. Right or wrong, perception is reality in the eye of the one who perceives the action. If you have found yourself “pigeon-holing” someone, give them a chance to get out and make amends. If you leave them in the hole, you are condemning them to that place for a career. Reach out and share how they make you feel; not how they make everyone feel but how they make you feel. It makes it about the two of you which is less threatening. They might have been clueless about how their behavior affected other people because no one ever took the time to talk with them.

“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned. But whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:18

As Christians, we are not condemned! No matter what we’ve done, Christ took our weaknesses, our sins and our guilt with Him on the cross so we would share in God’s love and Grace. We are not condemned because we are forgiven! John tells us quite simply that those who do not believe already stand condemned. God’s inspired word, through John, sums up our salvation for us. We are not condemned! We are assured eternal life through our faith in Christ. 

We may make the same mistakes over and over; we may commit the same sins again and again, but we have forgiveness through Jesus’ sacrifice for us. God’s grace and love, along with our confession and repentance is what keeps us out of the pigeon hole. God isn’t interested in keeping us locked up or put in the same place, He needs us to be free so that we can spread the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. If you feel trapped, seek God and you will find the door to the hole that has been open this whole time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. God has not put you in a pigeon hole, you have put yourself there. God wants to see you free and flying high, make Him proud!

Happy Easter!

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter. It’s a great time of year! I am always moved by certain verses at this time of the year and decided to write a devotion that is mostly Bible verses. While this is a departure from my normal process, I felt it was appropriate to remind us of what salvation means. 34 “Then Peter began to speak: ”I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is LORD of all. 37You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 

39“We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  Acts 10:34-43

The story of Jesus gathered up here in 9 verses, God truly works in mysterious ways. Accepting that God inspired the words written in the Bible is accepting that these words are also from God. The real “story” of Jesus is the message in verse 43 in which we receive forgiveness of sins through Him. Pause and think about that for a minute, forgiveness of sins – all sins. Nowhere does it say that forgiveness is limited to a specific number of sins, the type of sins or whom we commit them against; we can receive forgiveness for all of our sins. Live your life free from the guilt and slavery of sin. We have the ability to live guilt free and God even left us the directions how to; through St. Paul who wrote: 15”Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the LORD Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:15-17

We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ yesterday. We celebrate our salvation and life everlasting because of God’s grace in our lives. Jesus took the guilt and sin of the whole world with him on Good Friday as He suffered and descended into hell. All of that would have been for nothing if He hadn’t been raised on the third day. We celebrate our salvation because of what God did for us. St. Paul reminds us to live in peace and do everything in the name of Jesus. Have peace this week as you celebrate your salvation.  

Worry About It Tomorrow

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own”. Matthew 6:34. Worry can easily consume us if we let it. We can spend energy worrying about money, careers, health, family or anything that you can imagine. These are all “real world” problems that should not be ignored or diminished but they cannot be allowed to consume us either. Tomorrow is important from a planning perspective: a helping others perspective and a spiritual perspective. According to this verse, you might ask, “shouldn’t we just stay focused on what matters today and not worry about the future?” 

I’m a believer that the future matters because what we do today doesn’t just have an impact on today alone but will also impact our future and the futures of those around us. Why do we speak up and teach or mentor someone who makes a mistake? I’d suggest that we say something not to show off our own knowledge but to make those around us just a little better. If you don’t care about today, what will tomorrow look like? The key to the verse in Matthew is worry. It says nothing about taking decisive action or helping others to achieve more. The old acronym T.E.A.M – together everyone achieves more holds true. Let’s not worry about tomorrow but let’s all work together for a better tomorrow.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” John 17:20

I once heard a story about a firefighter’s first day on the job back in the early 50’s. He was mopping the kitchen with an old fashioned “stringy” mop when one of the strands got caught under the table leg. He left behind the single strand but his Captain saw it and asked why he left it. He replied that it was only one strand and it wouldn’t matter. His Captain calmly explained that if he left that one and another was left tomorrow and so on that, soon there would be a full mop under there. Picking it up, he realized that “tomorrow” is important. 

Jesus cared for tomorrow too. He is telling us that he was praying for those currently spreading the good news and for those who would grow in faith because of what they had heard. He was praying for us too! Jesus knew that future believers were just as important as the present ones. His focus remained on being our Savior despite knowing he had ahead of Him. This verse confirms that Jesus prayed for you and for me and, that the Bible is the inspired word of God (the message). Each of us will have doubt about our future and we all will, at times, have doubt about God’s love, thanks to sin and the devil’s work. We must stand strong over those doubts knowing that Jesus once prayed for us and continues to keep watch. The past holds nothing but the future is where we can find eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.  

God is Light

I just finished reading a couple of leadership articles from different sources. One was about Servant Leadership – leading others to greatness through service to them. I have been a long-time believer in Servant Leadership and believe that it is just as important a concept today as it was when I heard about it 30 years ago. When you serve others, you become a light to them. The old, autocratic leader is a life crushing way to be led.  The basic premise with an autocrat is that the employee lacks motivation, doesn’t understand their job well and needs constant over watch. Its roots are in the military when orders were given and followed without question. The result today is a dark workplace filled with uninspired employees.

Servant Leadership switches the focus to the employee through empowerment, trust and faith in them. When an employee underperforms, they are coached back to success. Leaders in this type of environment are not served by their employees; instead they serve the employees. Southwest Airlines has been operating under this philosophy for over 40 years and they have been pretty successful. If you are not in a leadership position, you can still be a servant leader to your coworkers. Think about parenting for minute, you are serving your children constantly (driving to practice, helping with homework, teaching life skills, etc.) and providing a living example of being there for them. How do you relate to the other people in your life? Are you a giver or a taker? This world is exhausting and having someone take care of you may sound peaceful, but I believe that you will be more satisfied helping others achieve their goals than you will be if you are being catered to. 

5 “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7

I urge you to let verse 5 sweep peace over your mind – “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” The world events over the past month is about all that a normal person can handle. The political fighting in the U.S, the war in Ukraine, the mass shootings that we are now numb too and the lingering effects of the pandemic are just a few of the stresses that we have faced recently. Most of us have personal issues to deal with at the same as everything else. Perhaps it’s a medical diagnosis, a job loss, financial problems, relationship issues; the list can go on and on. From the sound of things, there is no light anywhere in this world. The world is a dark place and we need God to provide us light.

We know from these verses and many more that with God there is no darkness. Sure, there is a lot of shade but there is no darkness. When we are in the dark, we are often afraid, confused and uncertain. Our senses change as we adjust to the dark, but we remain uncertain and afraid because we are not in control of our physical space. We never know when we will trip on something, bump into a wall or fall down. God is light! We walk in it all the time. We have comfort and peace in God’s light that we get through our fellowship with each other and with Him. This cleansing from all sin comes through our faith in Jesus Christ, who’s blood was shed for us. Go boldly into the world with the light of God shining all around you.

Change is Good

Transformation within an organization is a process that doesn’t always have to be driven from the top down. It can be driven from inside the organization or from outside of it. We all react differently to change, or “transformation” and it is important to remember both that take place differently for each employee. The key success factor is that employees must be part of the process. Employees and leaders alike must be willing to accept more than one right answer during any transformation. The workplace is rapidly changing and transforming, as is the workforce. A new way of doing business is unfolding before our eyes and the “work world” that we knew is transforming right in front of us. 

For long-time employees it’s disruptive, for some leaders it’s more work and for some organizations its an infusion of innovative ideas. Do you know where you fall in this spectrum and how you are reacting to it? Transformation can be scary and is definitely stressful. If we think of all the great things that we have access to today and remember that they were a result of a transformation, we can begin to see the possibilities of the future. Sure, a change to the process that you’ve been doing for years isn’t exciting, but it is part of a greater picture and that can be exciting. Change can be good; you never know where it can lead. 

7But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” John 16:7

Jesus had to initiate change with His disciples in the days leading to His arrest. He was creating a vision of the future for them. He was giving direction and encouraging them to carry on the mission even if He was no longer with them. He told them what to look forward to and how important their work was. Imagine this group of men with no sense of what he was saying and not fully understanding that He knew what was about to happen. They kept asking for explanation after explanation when He finally said today’s verse. He was essentially telling them “trust me, this is a good thing”. 

They were scared, it was stressful, and they all reacted differently. They even struggled to see the future – sound familiar? Jesus was telling them that after me, something even greater is coming – the advocate or Holy Spirit will come to them and make them even better than they can ever imagine. Sure, you’ll be persecuted he tells them later in John, but your reward is an everlasting life. No amount of change or fear can prepare us for that, but we can be assured that in the words of the Bible, God is telling us about the transformation we will see that is not of this world. Continue to read, re-read and study the Words given to us by God himself and you will continue to transform yourself as God is transforming the world around us. 

Difficult People

People can be difficult! Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that I can be one of those people. Our daughter likes to say that people are the worst. I’m confident that I’m not that bad. If you are honest with yourself and consider your own life, you might be difficult at times too. Rick Warren in his book “Purpose Driven Life” refers to difficult people as those who are, EGR – extra grace required. I’d like to think that my own bouts of “difficultness” are driven by specific events, but these bouts seem to pop up more frequently when the stress in my life is high. My hope is that it is not the new normal and that I’m only difficult on occasion – check with my wife, she knows the truth. In my professional life, I have been known to force issues instead of letting them go; it’s a trait that I am not proud of. When I was in position of daily leadership, I found that I had a lot more grace to give than I do now. I now have multiple positions in widely different fields; each requiring different approaches to the people that I interact with. 

So, these are my “management confessions”. But honestly, there isn’t a day that goes by that none of us sin. We are all simply poor miserable sinners – that is the basic truth of the matter. Sin and grace go hand and hand. Someone offends you (sin) and you react; oftentimes negatively (more sin). People “talk it out”, make up and return to a congenial relationship (grace). If you think about the conflicts you’ve had or the times when you were less than pleasant, you probably lacked grace. If we were graceful in the beginning, we would not have been labeled “difficult” in the first place. Grace does not always beget grace, but it sure helps keep things running a little smoother. Think about the conflicts and difficult people in your life and ask yourself, have I given grace to this person or situation? Without question, grace giving is a two-way street, but someone needs to make the first move.

13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:13-14

We are all instruments for righteousness for God. Let that sink in for a minute. We are not sinners, we are not unrighteous and we are not unworthy. We were brought from death, because of sin, to life with God. We have eternal life with God through our Savior Jesus Christ. God knew us so well that he intervened on our behalf and sent His son to earth to live the perfect life, under the law, because we could not. During the Lenten Season we are preparing for the end of Jesus’ life on earth and the beginning of our His eternal life with God; who intends to use us as instruments for righteousness. We can’t help but sin but God solved that problem too.

Verse 14 is critical, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” We are all benefiting from God’s grace. It is not our adherence to the law or our gifts or our good works that gives us eternal life. We are all poor miserable sinners and there is no denying it. I’ve written before, there are no “degrees” of sin. God sees them all and forgives them all. He does this through His grace to us, His children, and our faith in Jesus as our savior. There is nothing difficult about that.

Be United

For as long as I can remember, each week, I have new followers join this blog; many from countries outside of the United States. I truly appreciate everyone who receives this and passes it along to others. When I started this weekly devotional more than 10 years ago, it was to support the book that I’m still writing – Where there is Smoke. However, this “little” devotional has grown into something that I never imagined possible. Spreading the joy and peace of God’s Word around the world has been incredibly fulfilling. This is one of the spiritual gifts that God has blessed me with; despite what my high school English teachers said about my writing skills. We all have them; do you know what yours are?

The last verse in the Scripture this week talks about divisions among us. As we move through our days of war, uncertainty, strife, fear, hopefulness, peace, enlightenment and hopefully a little joy; we are constantly being bombarded with people trying to divide us. Liberal, conservative, socialist, capitalist, patriot, immigrant, “one of them” or “one of us” are all labels that are being tossed around without consequence. These divisions are creating chaos and it is in chaos that terror lives. I urge everyone to carefully consider using labels or engaging in divisive dialog. Know your facts before repeating what you hear on your favorite news channel or read on the internet. Please look for context and understanding of the subjects you are about to debate; avoid extremes. United we stand, divided we fall! No matter what the subject is, division and chaos are never the best outcome. 

6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you– 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”  1 Corinthians 1:6-10

St. Paul is reminding the people of Corinth that God is with all of us until the end and that we shall be guiltless on the day that Jesus calls us home. This verse should give us all so much peace. God has given each one us spiritual gifts to use while we are here on earth. Some of you have musical talents, some have creative talents, some math skills while others are blessed with athletic talents. EVERYONE has spiritual gifts. God is using each of us, directly or indirectly, to spread the good word; witness our faith; or demonstrate Christian living. Do you see how you are fitting into God’s plan? If you don’t see it, take time to reflect on how God has worked in your life and how you are working in the lives of those around you.

St. Paul is also urging the people of Corinth (and us) to remain united in faith. While there are many denominations of Christianity, we all remain Christians. I mentioned earlier that it is in chaos where terror lives and the devil loves chaos and terror. When we start to doubt God’s presence, the devil is ready to exploit our doubt. When we no longer see God in our lives, the devil starts to “help us see” our own way of understanding and not God’s. And, when our faith in God or mankind or each other is fading, the devil is standing ready to give us false hope. These are trying times and we all must be strong to resist the chaos and embrace the peace and hope that we HAVE in God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.