Random Writings

Because a random mind is a terrible thing to waste!


February 20, 2012:  Trials to Triumph – Learning to trust God

Losing my job has been tough.  There are times when I struggle with my self-worth and with trusting God with my future.  I have nothing left but to learn to trust in God.  Not just a “head-knowledge” about trusting in God, but an honest-to-goodness trusting him with everything.  Trusting him to open doors that seem impossible to be opened.  Trusting him to overcome my own mistakes made in the past.  Trusting him to provide while I have no full-time income.  Trusting him to help me emotionally with the pain of rejection or feelings of inadequacy or low self-worth.  I know that when it feels like life is falling apart, I can trust him.  The question is, do I?

“Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.”  Hebrews 10:23

My entire life consists of plans of one kind or another.  Plans to have breakfast; plan to go to work; plan which road to take to work to avoid traffic . . . I’m a planner (and a list maker, but that’s for another discussion).  The thing is, right now I don’t have a plan so I have to learn to trust in God’s plan for me.  I am content to know that God has a plan for me, but I am less content that he chooses not to reveal it to me.  The details of his plan remain a mystery to me and it seems like God expects me to be content to simply know that he has one, and to trust that it is good. (Jeremiah 29:11)

series_trust_godThe truth is that God reigns.  I will look back on this time and see how God used these circumstances to stretch me and teach me.  I know that at the end of this present journey God will have shattered misconceptions I have of him, removed lies I might believe about him or myself, and will have brought me to a place of deeper maturity in him.  Already I am learning what trusting God in my circumstances means.  Here are some of the things I have learned:

The only way to learn about trusting God is to trust God.  I wish it was a simple matter of watching someone else trust God, and then “bam”  – lights come on and I’ve got it down.  Or maybe if I could just read a How-To book I would know how to do trust God in all things.  Unfortunately, the only way to learn how to trust God is by actually doing it.  When I look to the Bible for answers, it doesn’t take me long to realize that God is big on trust.

I never trust God until I have to.  While I would like to tell you that I default to trusting God in all circumstances, my track record shows that if I am in difficult circumstances my first thought is to find a way out of the situation.  But here I am in a situation that I have no control over (believe me, I’ve tried to wrap my brain around how I could control or even predict the outcome – and always come up with the same answer – I can’t).  So I am at a place where I have to trust God.  As a Christian I say that I trust God has something good planned for me and I believe this.  However, if I say that God closed the door on a particular job “because he must have a higher paying or better job in store for me” then I am limiting God.  A bigger paycheck is not the most valuable thing God can give me.  God might have a lower paying job or make me wait for over a year because during this process I will learn humility and be forced to rely on Him every day.  Maybe God closed the door because the trials in store for me will build up a faith that is more valuable.  So, while learning to trust God in all things I need to also learn to change what it is I value so that I begin to value the things that God does.

In our walk with God, he will make sure that we come to place where we have to trust him.  Count on this, God will allow circumstances in my life in which there is no human way of wiggling out of.  Because God loves me, he wants me to trust him.  And the only way to trust him is by doing it (see #1 above – ironic isn’t it?).  I do take comfort in the fact that with an ENTIRE universe to take care of, God loves ME enough to want to teach me how to trust him.  I admit, when doors close on me I tend to cry to God (whine is actually the word I should use).  “Where are you?  Will I ever get beyond my past mistakes?  Just open one door for me.  Give me a sign of your goodness.”  I know, pretty pathetic and desperate sounding.  Instead what I need to do is realize that a closed door does not mean it is the end of the road for me but the beginning.  I need to recognize that everything God does in my life is done with loving care.

Trust God’s plans but recognize that they are not the same as my plans.  How do I know this?  Because all of my plans are much easier and they usually don’t work out they way I wanted them to.  God’s plans, however, never fail.  They can’t; it is a physical impossibility.  My challenge comes in knowing whose plan I am following.  I have to recognize that most of my plans center around success for today while God’s plans center around things like faith, hope and love.  I may be frustrated with the plan I’m on and think it a complete failure while God is looking from his vantage point and calling it a huge success.  Say I go on a job interview and I really want this job.  It’s perfect for me and I feel I’m perfect for that job.  But I don’t get it.  In my eyes, my plan is a failure.  But during the process of trying to get this job God did some powerful work on my heart.  In God’s eyes, his perfect plan was a perfect success.

Trust God when doors close.  They are his attention-grabber.  If I’m sailing along I’m happy to keep cruising like I am.  However, if I lose my ship I start looking for the next ship and it’s then that I will be able to see what God has prepared for me.  It is also when I face closed doors or have nothing left but to trust God that I learn to pray more.  In fact, I get very inspired to pray – often and for long periods of time.  It is during the tough times in my life that I feel the helplessness of my situation and I hit the dust on my knees.  And I don’t stop after a few minutes.  I pray like I’ve never prayed before.  I pray, realizing that it is the hours just before dawn that are the darkest.  I pray until I have an assurance in my heart that God has heard my prayers and I have found peace.

Trust that God is preparing me and wait on his time.  While I wait for whatever God’s plan is for me God is preparing me.  God knows better than I do the qualities and strength I will need to be able to handle what will be given to me.  All the waiting, all the hardships and uncertainty that I am facing now is actually building my faith muscles.  I am being molded and shaped by God to become more like the person he created me to be.  I have to learn to thank God that the more tough my trials the greater plans God has for me.

What it all comes down to – what it takes to look at my trials as triumphs – is to know and trust in my Lord, lean on His ways, meet Him in my devotions, learn from Him in my studies, and be rooted in Christ.  This time is about connecting with Christ so I am growing in Him.  It is in this way that I can lead a life of worth and distinction.  I am learning to see life not as a series of attacks and hurdles to get over, but as a way to learn and grow.  I have a purpose; I have a reason to keep going even in times of confusion or stress or when it seems the odds are against me.  I am learning to allow God’s truth to reign in me and to live with trust and without worry.  It was during the long process of working through his questions and struggles that Job finally resolved to trust God no matter what.  I will trust and be comforted in God’s sovereignty and in his sovereign love.  I will be reminded of God’s promises.  I will look within and be shaped by God’s instruction.  I will be able to say “I give myself to You as never before.”  And finally, I will be comforted by God’s sovereign control and everlasting love.

I will sayto the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:2

 

 

 

February 13, 2012: Is the cross just a fashion statement?
I see crosses on people of all beliefs or non-belief. People wear crosses as necklaces, earrings, rings, and tattoos. Sometimes they are used as props for movies or as body art on scantily clad models in magazine ads. Even Christians will stick a cross lapel-pin into their tie or wear jewelry with coolly decorated crosses dangling from them. But as a Christian, when we wear the cross it should be obvious that it is a representation of what Jesus Christ died on so many years ago. We should be diligent that, even for our own selves, the true, original meaning of the cross does not get lost.

With this conviction in mind, I decided to look at the historical writings, medical facts, and scripture to gain an understanding of just what crucifixion was. When I was through with my studies I began to understand John 15:13 through the eyes of the man who literally lived this scripture out to fulfillment. No greater love!

It is reasonable to assume that Jesus was in good physical condition before his walk to Gethsemane. However, during Jesus’ time in Gethsemane he suffered great emotional stress (as evidenced by sweating blood) and abandonment by his closest friends (the disciples). In addition, the next days brought more stress in the form of a physical beating (after the first Jewish trial), a traumatic and sleepless night, and being forced to walk more than 2.5 miles to and from the sites of the various trials. These physical and emotional factors may have rendered Jesus particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of the scourging that was to follow.

At the Praetorian, it is most likely that Jesus was severely whipped as was Roman custom. Although the severity of the scourging is not discussed in the four gospel accounts, it is implied in one of the epistles [1 Peter 2:24 – “. . . by His wounds . . .]. The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. Medical texts indicate that a person who has the condition that causes them to sweat blood would have particularly tender skin. The scourging prior to crucifixion served to weaken the condemned man and, if blood loss was considerable, to produce hypotension and even shock. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to Jesus’ generally weakened state. Even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical.

The Roman soldiers, amused that this weakened man had claimed to be a king, began to mock him by placing a robe on his shoulders, a crown of thorns on his head, and a wooden staff as a scepter in his hand. Next, they spat on Jesus and struck him on the head with the wooden staff.

After the scourging and the mocking the Roman soldiers put Jesus’ clothes back on him and then led him and two thieves to be crucified. Crucifixion was one of the most disgraceful and cruel methods of execution. It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. Only the crossbar was carried and it weighed 75 to 125 lb. This was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms were tied to the crossbar. Jesus apparently was so weakened by the severe flogging that he could not carry the crossbar from the Praetorian to the site of crucifixion one third of a mile away. Simon of Cyrene was summoned to carry Christ’s cross, and the processional then made its way to Golgotha (or Calvary), an established crucifixion site.

The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign (titulus) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed. Later, the titulus would be attached to the top of the cross.

Jesus’ clothes, except for a linen loincloth, again were removed, which probably reopened the scourging wounds. At the site of execution, by law, the victim was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh as a mild analgesic. After tasting it, Jesus refused the drink. Jesus was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the crossbar. When the victim was thrown to the ground on his back, in preparation for transfixion of the hands, his scourging wounds most likely would become torn open again and contaminated with dirt. The hands could be nailed or tied to the crossbar, but nailing apparently was preferred by the Romans. Although a nail in either location in the wrist might pass between the bony elements and thereby produce no fractures, the likelihood of painful injury was great. The driven nail would crush or sever nerves. The stimulated nerve would produce excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms.

After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, the bar and the victim, together, were lifted onto the main upright beam. This was done either by four Roman soldiers or by the use of either wooden forks or ladders.

Next, the feet were fixed to the cross, either by nails or ropes. When the nailing was complete, the titulus was attached to the cross just above the victim’s head. With each respiration, the painful scourging wounds would be scraped against the rough wood of the main pole. As a result, blood loss from the back probably would continue throughout the crucifixion ordeal.

The major effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation. The weight of the body, pulling down on the outstretched arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the muscles in an inhalation state and thereby hinder passive exhalation. Breathing would become shallow. It is likely that this form of respiration would not suffice and the onset of muscle cramps or painful tendon contractions, due to fatigue and lack of oxygen would soon begin and would hinder respiration even further. Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and adducting the shoulders. However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the nailed feet and would produce searing pain. Flexing of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the arms. Lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wooden cross. Muscle cramps of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort. As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia. Christ spoke seven times from the cross. Since speech occurs during exhalation, these short, terse utterances would have been particularly difficult and painful.

It was not uncommon for insects to light upon or burrow into the open wounds or the eyes, ears, and nose of the dying and helpless victim. Birds of prey would tear at these wounds.

The soldiers and the civilian crowd taunted Jesus throughout the crucifixion ordeal, and the soldiers’ cast lots for his clothing. Soldiers customarily divided up his clothes among themselves. The length of survival generally ranged from three or four hours to three or four days. Often death would be hastened by breaking the condemned man’s legs below the knees. Since the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the crosses after sunset, the beginning of the Sabbath, they asked Pontius Pilate to order that the legs of the condemned be broken to hasten the deaths of the three crucified men. The soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves, but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Rather, one of the soldiers pierced his side, probably with an infantry spear, and produced a sudden flow of blood and water. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death. Since no one was intended to survive crucifixions the body was not released to the family until the Roman soldiers were sure that the victim was dead. It was custom for one of the Roman guards to pierce the body with a sword or lance, wounding the heart through the right side of the chest. If the victim was not dead before this wound, it most certainly would prove fatal.

Jesus’ death after only three to six hours on the cross surprised even Pontius Pilate. The fact that Jesus cried out in a loud voice and then bowed his head and died suggests the possibility of a catastrophic terminal event. Jesus’ death may have been hastened simply by his state of exhaustion and by the severity of the scourging, with its resultant blood loss and preshock state. The fact that he could not carry his crossbar supports this theory. The actual cause of Jesus’ death, like that of other crucified victims, may have been caused by multiple factors and related primarily to shock, exhaustion asphyxia, and perhaps acute heart failure.

Death by crucifixion was, in every sense of the word, excruciating (Latin, excruciatus, or “out of the cross”).

I deserved this, and yet Christ suffered in my place. The gift of forgiveness brought through the cross is for me – angels can’t experience it; demons can’t repent and gain access back to heaven; no other living creation but man has forgiveness through the cross.

So if I wear a cross, I do so as a reminder of what should have been my punishment. Lately I find that it is harder for me to wear a cross without realizing the responsibility wearing such a symbol means. For me, I pray that I never make the cross just a fashion statement!

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