The Surest Sign of Salvation-

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– James 1:3-4 NASB

Anytime a Christian makes the choice to persevere or endure through hardship, difficulty, injustice or pain in a way that leaves their faith intact and their hearts free from bitterness good things happen in that person. Enduring through the hurt of life builds emotional strength, develops grit in us, causes us to grow spiritually, makes us wiser and transforms us into the kind of people others can learn from (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-5). 

There are at least a million different types of experiences a human might have to persevere through. Some are “life in a fallen world” kinds of things, painful but random events we all experience at some point in our lives. Things like cancer, the death of a spouse, friend or child, accidents or financial calamities. Then there are the “people are crappy” sorts of experiences like religious persecution, being cheated on, being lied to or about, or being treated indifferently or with disdain by people who should care about us.

Sigh.

Persevering is made tougher for Christians because hard things naturally cause us to doubt the goodness, faithfulness and sometimes even the very existence of God. It is true that pain and difficulty can drive us towards God but hurt and struggle can also drive us away as well. The effect pain has on us depends entirely on how we choose to respond to it (1st Peter 15-6).  There are things we can do that will ensure pain, grief, trials, and difficulty make us better as opposed to bitter and more miserable. Following are four of them:

Take your focus off of people-

By far, the worst and most excruciating pain in life comes when we’re victimized or mistreated by people.  The pain of personal betrayal is compounded a million times over if the person who harmed us is a Christian. Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid being hurt by people because people, even Christian people, are at their core sinful, broken and sometimes even cruel and malevolent. For whatever reason, most of us lay the blame squarely on God when people hurt us. This is a huge tactical error. Humans have free will and can do whatever they choose with their free will. They can even be horrible, sinful, disgusting people if they want to. It doesn’t mean God approves of their actions or that there won’t be a price to be paid for their conduct, it just means God will not force anyone to be nice, honest, or just. That being said, the biggest problem with blaming God for the actions of people is that we deny ourselves access to the only one who can give us comfort, peace and the power to persevere through whatever horrible thing we are dealing with (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 86:17, 2nd Corinthians 1:3). Sigh. 

Take the long view-

The apostle Paul lived most of his Christian life in what most of us would consider absolutely unacceptable conditions (2nd Corinthians 11:21-29).  Literally, everyone hated him. The Jews hated him. The Romans hated him. The Greeks hated him. Sometimes even other Christians hated him (Galatians 4:16-18).  Paul went hungry, spent time in prison, was beaten, stoned and betrayed by people who pretended to be his friends (2nd Timothy 4:14). Nevertheless, none of this injustice appears to have bothered him because he was able to view all of these situations as temporary problems that would be righted by God at some point in the future. He believed with all his heart his trials were actually preparing him for future ministry and making him more fit to spend eternity with God (2ndCorinthians 4:17, 1st Thessalonians 3:2-3). One “key” to persevering and enduring through pain is to make the choice to believe pain that is stewarded well will make us better, wiser, more insightful and more like Jesus. 

Know that Jesus gets “it”- 

He does. Whatever “it” is. Jesus gets it. I promise. Jesus experienced the same types of things we experience. He knows exactly what temptation, betrayal, loss, loneliness, hurt feelings and personal pain feels like (Hebrews 4:15). This makes Jesus the perfect one to run to anytime the heaviness of life becomes too much too bear (2ndCorinthians 1:5). 

Don’t let yourself get hung up on the issue of fairness- 

Getting hung up on what’s fair or unfair in this life will literally drive a Christian insane. This is because life at least, in the present, is not fair. People “get away” with crappy stuff all the time. If we choose to focus on what kind of punishment people are getting right now in this life we will lose our faith and our minds in that order. Instead of worrying about what’s fair and unfair, God wants us to believe in Him and trust that He will make things right and just in His good time. Anytime we’re hurt we have to remember the Bible is clear: NOTHING is in all of creation hidden from God and there is nothing that will not be publicly disclosed (Matthew 10:26, Hebrews 4:13). Sin that is unrepented of will be made public and punished in time. Period. 

Ultimately, choosing to persevere through the pain of life means clinging to our faith and choosing to tenaciously love God no matter what goes wrong or who hurts us. Faithful endurance through hurt, loss or persecution is the hard route but God promises rich rewards for those who choose it. 

How Early Christians Thrived under Unjust Authority-

 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone– Titus 3:1-2 NIV

It is all-too easy to find good examples of truly bad leadership in families, governments, schools and even some churches. 

Bad leadership is nothing new. A sinful, broken world breeds autocratic, egocentric, prideful leaders in every sphere of life. God’s people have seldom been exempted from the curse of awful leadership.

The Hebrews were brutally enslaved by the Egyptians for centuries before God miraculously liberated them from bondage. David, prior to his ascension to the throne endured decades of harassment and abuse and more than one murder attempt at the hands of Saul. Early Christians were routinely persecuted, abused, denied work and even killed simply for refusing to violate God’s commands. Throughout church history sincere followers of Jesus have been victimized and oppressed sometimes even by so-called “Christian leaders” who loved power more than they feared God. Over and over again, throughout history in the face almost unspeakable suffering Christian people have grown stronger, wiser and more faithful to God. 

How they did that matters a lot.

 Especially now. Leadership is not, as a general rule getting any better. Events of the last few years have exposed a creepy authoritarian element in many political leaders from countries once thought to be unswervingly democratic and safe from tyranny like Australia, Austria, New Zealand and Canada. Some public schools and health departments have become despotic in their approach in their approach to leadership. Even the church has had more than its fair share of greedy, narcissistic and exploitive leaders.

Sigh. 

Christians throughout history were able to live with and pray for corrupt, evil and despotic leaders. They did this in spite of any suffering they endured because they understood deep in the core of who they were that every human being on earth is ultimately answerable to God.  Leadership is a stewardship. Human beings might think they are electing, appointing or hiring a leader—or an arrogant leader might imagine they have achieved their position due to their own cleverness, power or maneuvering but in reality, God—not human wisdom or control is what places people in positions of authority. This means that ultimately all human leaders whether they lead the church, the state or the family will someday be answerable to God for how they handle (or mishandle) the power and authority they have been given (Luke 12:47-48). 

Early Christians understood that no one actually gets away with anything. Not really. Contemporary believers do everything they can to avoid thinking about or talking about the J-word. Judgment. Most Christians are super uncomfortable with anyone getting punished, even if they deserve punishment. The writings of early Christians reveal they did not have any such issues (2nd Thessalonians 1:6, Romans 12:19, Jude 1:5-7, 2nd Peter 2:4-21). They understood God is not just a God of love. He is also a God of judgment. Early Christians actually took solace in knowing that evil, prideful leaders who refused to do what was right would someday be punished for their sins. Early Christians had the faith to believe God would settle the score, if not in this life, then in the one to come (Revelation 21:11-15). This knowledge empowered them to endure the suffering that goes along with living under the thumb of unjust and evil leaders.

They also knew enough about history and the Bible to know that sometimes God does not wait until death to begin adjudicating things. Occasionally evil people get a preview of their eternal suffering.  King Saul, the man who hunted David like an animal for years died by suicide and in disgrace. Queen Jezebel, arguably the most evil female leader in human history died from being thrown out a window. No one cared enough about her to retrieve her body. She was eventually eaten by wild dogs.   King Herod (Matthew 2:1-22) the man who murdered a village full of baby boys in an attempt to eradicate any competition for his power died of a horrible death from “intense itching”, “severe intestinal discomfort”, “breathlessness” and: wait for it… “gangrene of the genitalia”—His man part literally rotted off. A sure sign of divine retribution if there ever was one. Early Christians saw Nero, the royal nut-job who set Rome on fire and blamed Christians for it killed himself to avoid being murdered by his staff.   

Anytime a person refuses to repent they spend eternity in hell. Therefore, no one ought to revel in anyone else’s punishment. That being said, the beliefs of early Christians serve as a reminder for us in tough times that God is not unaware of anything. Nothing is hidden from His sight (Hebrews 4:13).  

This affected the early church in profound ways. 

 They were able to pray for and feel compassion for their tormenters.  They were also thoughtful and cautious in the way they handled any authority they were given. They did not lord it over anyone.  It did not matter if the authority they held was in the church, the family or the state. They understood that true Christians wear any authority they are given with a measure of humility and with a fear of the Lord. They knew no one is exempt from God’s judgment. 

We would do well to learn from them. 

The Why of Trials-

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed~ 1st Peter 1:6-7

At the end of every year I spend a little time mentally recapping the events of that year. I spend some time deliberately praising God for the good and then I ask for the wisdom to make the bad stuff better in the coming year.

 As my mind meandered through the events of the past year, it did not take me long to conclude that this past year will not go on record as one of the better years in Price family history. It was, in fact, legitimately quite awful. Everything was a struggle. Nothing worked out the way we hoped it would, or in a way that made any sense at all to any of us. There have certainly been blessings, but for the most part even the blessings this year were born out of enormous difficulty and came as result of some hard-fought battles.

 Don’t get me wrong:

I believe with all of my heart God is firmly in control of all of the events of our lives, even the crummy ones. I also believe our happy ending will be arriving at some point in the (hopefully) near future but we sure haven’t experienced it as of this writing.

 I am sharing our story not because I want to bum you out with a laundry list of disappointments and difficulties. I am sharing because I believe it’s imperative Christians are truthful about their struggles. If we always put on a happy face and pretend not to have have any problems or stress or, in my case, an unbelievably crummy year, we will never really understand the reason God allows struggles and heartache in the lives of His people.

 Not understanding the why of the tough, bothersome, tedious junk of life is spiritually confusing. Living in a state of spiritual confusion tends to make us hard, bitter and resentful and can cause us to leave the life of faith altogether.

 There are all kinds of reasons why God allows us to struggle or suffer through stuff that FEELS completely unnecessary. Sometimes struggles come because there are things we need to learn about ourselves. There is nothing like a little stress to show us all the attitudes and knee-jerk responses to pressure that are not exactly what Jesus would do in the same situation. We can never change what we don’t see, so it could even be argued trials are a necessary evil that help us see what areas of our lives still need work.

 Trials also prove our faith. Not to God. God knows exactly how much or little faith we all have already. Persisting through a trial with our faith firmly intact proves to you and me and all people around us that we are not just flocking to God for what He can provide. Perseverance proves our love for God and is the surest sign of salvation that there is.

 Last week I was given a reminder of perhaps the most critical reason of all that God allows us to experience trials and difficulties. I had the privilege of looking someone I care deeply about in the eye and telling them in all honesty that I completely understood the weird, crazy, absurd situation they were dealing with. I could do that because I had been through something very similar just a few years before. I could assure this person that they too would survive their shock just as I had survived mine. The Apostle Paul gives us an image of how the cycle of trial and comfort works in the life of a Christian in 2nd Corinthians 1:3-5:

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

 My prayer for all of us  is that God will comfort us in a way that we can feel tangibly as we go through the trials that are sure to come our way. I also pray that He will give us all many opportunities to be the hands, feet and source of comfort our hurting world will undoubtedly need in the coming year.

Divorce-Proofing Your Marriage-

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure~ Hebrews 13:4

 There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are good at math and those who are not. I fall squarely into the later category. My aversion to anything math-related could probably be classified as some sort of a neurosis or phobia. When confronted with a complex math problem I can actually feel my brain overheating, seizing up and shutting down like an oil-deprived engine.

I will do anything short of sin to avoid any sort of math-related activity.

 There is one exception to my firm no-math policy: statistics. It’s the one kind of math I actually enjoy, maybe because it’s easily applicable to real life. Last week I came across a statistic that got my attention. Researchers from the Gottman Institute discovered not only do forty percent of marriages end in divorce, but half of couples who stay married report being unhappy or very unhappy in their relationship.

Sigh.

 It was by far the gloomiest news I have heard in ages. Half of all people who DO NOT divorce claim to be miserable in the most significant human relationship we experience. It’s no wonder our society has so many issues with rage and alcohol abuse.

 The study went on to explain that there are two behaviors that appear to offer protection against both divorce and marital misery: kindness and generosity. Personal experience has proven the research to be true. Kindness and generosity are indeed vital to a healthy, happy marriage. No one sane wants to be married to a mean cheapskate.

 As important as kindness and generosity are in a spouse, they are not the only behaviors that contribute to long-term happiness. Kindness and generosity are traits that grow out of other even more vital attitudes and behaviors. Kindness and generosity will never take root in a relationship that is lacking in other areas, including:

 Respect– 1st Peter 2:17, Ephesians 5:33, 1st Peter 3:7

 Respect means to hold a person in high esteem. Respect is real when it’s shown by giving honor and by openly displaying admiration and appreciation for what your spouse does and who they are as a person. Respect is at the heart of all healthy adult relationships. No other positive behavior will flourish over the long haul in a marriage that is lacking in mutual respect.

 Loyalty– Malachi 2:14-16, Matthew 19:9

 Loyalty is about more than just sexual fidelity. Loyalty is also about how we choose to speak about our spouse in front of other people and how we treat our spouse in both public and private. Loyalty is linked to our priorities concerning time, outside relationships and even how we spend money.

 Cooperation– Ephesians 5:21

 Sometimes it’s called teamwork or collaboration. The Bible calls it mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21). Whatever you call it, marriages fail when it’s missing. Cooperation is the unwavering commitment to work together on things and pull in the same direction. Cooperation comes down to our willingness to give up a little bit of what we want, or think we need, for the good of the other person and the health of the relationship.

 Forgiveness– Mark 11:25, Ephesians 4:32

 One fact you can count on in this world is that people, even the best people, will inevitably disappoint and fail you. But it’s okay because you will undoubtedly end up disappointing and failing other people. We are all disappointing failures at some point in our lives. The key to making a relationship work between two imperfect people is the daily commitment to forgive and let go.

 Selflessness– Philippians 2:1-5, 1st Peter 4:10, Romans 12:3

 We live in a time and a place when self-centeredness has, for all intents and purposes been enshrined as a virtue. We are constantly encouraged to “consider your own needs” and “focus on what makes you happy.” The Bible gives an entirely different set of messages, including: “consider yourself with sober judgment,” “do not think more highly of yourself than you ought,” and “serve rather than be served.” Nowhere do these messages matter more than in marriage.

 One of the things I like about statistics is that, unlike other forms of math, they are not fixed. A statistic can be changed. The unhappy state of a marriage does not have to be permanent. I am convinced that any marriage can be a happy marriage. Respect, loyalty, cooperation, forgiveness, selflessness, kindness and generosity are the behaviors that define and comprise love. When these behaviors become standard operating procedure in a marriage, the people in that marriage cannot help but be happy.