Life of Struggle

Have you ever thought that life is a struggle no matter what stage you’re in? And it seems to be a struggle for the same thing. Think about it. No matter if you’re a toddler or teenager, 39 or 93, freedom is always something we strive for. Granted, that struggle looks different depending on our age and circumstances. However, freedom seems to be at the core of it all.

When we are small, we rely on our parents for everything. As we grow, we seek ways to be released from the constraints that come along with being a child. We want to make more of our own decisions. We want to try new things, oftentimes even if it goes against our parent’s guidance.

When we move into adulthood, we gain freedom in a much larger measure. What comes with that is a much larger degree of responsibility. Balancing those responsibilities with our new found freedoms can be a real challenge. New obstacles lay in the way. Jobs, bills, opportunities or the lack thereof, Our struggle is not so much to gain freedom, as when we were a child, but to secure it. This freedom also looks different. We don’t exactly have parents telling us what we can and can’t do, we have other obstacles doing that. We get busy making sure the electricity stays on, there’s a roof over our heads, there are clothes on our kid’s backs and food in their tummies. If we aren’t careful, we begin to see these as burdens and get bogged down.

Late in life (granted I am not there yet and this is purely from observation), it seems to be a battle to hold on to that freedom. Again, this freedom looks different and the struggle does too. We try to hold on to that freedom of mobility. Our diet becomes more constrained. Our activities slowly become more limited. Our bodies don’t heal like they used to. Freedom seems to slowly fade away.

The good news is that our lives don’t have to be this way. Not to say that there won’t be challenges. Because there certainly will be. We will be constrained. We won’t be able to do all that we plan or hope for. But, we will be free in the best possible way. And even in our limitations, we can find freedom. You see, all the freedoms I listed above are merely physical ones. But in the struggle for those freedoms, we end up imprisoned emotionally and mentally. Which, in the long run, will strip us of physical freedoms as well.

The path to freedom has already been laid out for us. We don’t need to pave the way for ourselves. Freedom can be experienced regardless of circumstances. Sure, we may not have all the money we would like. We may not be able to go on the trips we want to. But we can be free from the big things. Like worry, stress, fear, and sin. Those things cripple even the wealthy. It doesn’t matter how privileged someone is, or even if they are their own boss, you’re not free if you’re burdened with stress and sin. Humanity has a tendency to put the shackles on themselves. We put ourselves in cells of fear. In our struggle for freedom, we end up with far less.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 NIV

Jesus came into this world to provide the most important form of freedom…from ourselves. We strive and we strive but it was never meant to be that way. The life we seek is the life Jesus wants to give us. The problem is we do some much to run after an opposite life. Our comfort becomes the priority. Our goals become paramount. The liberty to choose what is good for us is as age-old as the garden in which the enemy of our souls first lured Adam and Eve away from God’s plan. But freedom is not found in the struggle, but in the surrender. Instead of trying to dictate so much of our lives, we need to be lead by Him. Plus our souls are free in Christ. All else are fringe benefits.

The life of the Christian is one that seeks the freedom, not of oneself, but of others. The best way is ultimately through a relationship with Jesus. We can look less to our 401k and more to the homeless man on the street. We can put less thought into that new (you fill in the blank) and more time praying for those in desparate need. We can allow ourselves to get uncomfortable in order to bring comfort to others. Freedom is found, not in viewing ourselves as the center of the universe, but as a part of it meant to bring a piece of God’s kingdom closer to home for anyone we can. Bring on the constraints. We go forward to make Him known. Come what may, the Lord will be our guide and our provider. Therein lies freedom.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3:17 CSB

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

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Uplook vs. Outlook

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 2:5

This post is inspired by a recent story I read from the Voice of the Martyrs. As usual, I read it at an opportune time. God ordained moments. I hope that this story inspires you as well.

We pick in Romania, many years ago, during an era of extreme persecution towards Christians. A man by the name of Florea had been arrested simply for his faith in Christ. As a follower of Jesus, it was important for him to honor the Sabbath. However, that was problematic, for prisoners did not get a day of rest. They were required to work, every day. Florea stood his ground on his convictions and refused to work. I would love to say that the prison guards honored his faith and passion and made an exception for him. But communism makes no room for Jesus or his followers. So a stand for Jesus meant extreme repercussions.

The Romanian prisoners were forced to labor every day, but each Sabbath Florea refused. For his refusal, the guards routinely beat him so bad he lost the use of his arms and legs. He could only move his head. Because he could no longer labor, Florea was forced to sit in his cell all day long. He had to rely on other prisoners to feed him. In spite of his situation, Florea was not downcast. When other prisoners would complain about their situation, Florea would encourage them. “If the outlook is bad,” he would say, “try the ‘uplook.’ When Stephen was stoned, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. This comforted Stephen’s heart, and it will comfort yours too.” He encouraged his fellow prisoners not to “look out” to their circumstances but to “look up” at Jesus. One of Florea’s fellow prisoners was Richard Wurmbrand, who was released from the prison and found Florea’s nine-year-old son. He told him what a blessing his father had been in prison. The boy smiled and replied, “I would like to become a sufferer and encourager for Christ as my father has been.”

Voice of the Martyrs

There are no guarantees of circumstances, even for the Christian. We are not promised a nice home, a perfect family, good health, or a living wage. Instead, a Christian is a person with a certain attitude toward any and all circumstances. A person’s attitude makes the difference, regardless of circumstances. A heavenly attitude focuses on God’s presence amid trials. Fixating on our hardships distracts us from a heavenly outlook. We feel burdened. Depressed. Hopeless. Fearful. In contrast, a godly outlook on our troubles brings confidence that God is at work. We relax in God’s presence, waiting to see how he will work out our concerns. Are you undergoing a trial right now? Are you focused on the waves crashing around you or Jesus walking on the water towards you? Let’s stop focusing on the outlook and give the uplook a try.

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.

The Great Kinsman

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Once upon a time, there was a family. This was a beautiful family who fell upon hard times. Resources were scarce and money was tight. Due to the pressing circumstances, and facing few other choices, the family decided it was time to pack up and move. Not long after they arrived at their destination things started to look up. The two sons of this family found their future brides and soon married. But the joyous times were not meant to last. The father of the family passed away suddenly causing a shockwave of heartache to ripple through the family. Just when it seemed that life couldn’t get any harder, the two sons also passed away leaving the mom and her two daughters-in-law to fend for themselves. In a time that was very man-dominant, women faced few options for income. Difficult choices lay ahead.

Some readers may be able to relate to this story so far. The situation is bleak, and hard, and desperate. Life seems like a roller coaster of hardship to joy, and back to hardship. For every step forward in life, it seems like they take one or two back. They just can’t get ahead. People who have faced difficulty such as this hesitate to ever utter the phrase, “it couldn’t get any worse than this.” That’s because they’ve tasted the “worse” that seems to lay right around the corner. But Jesus doesn’t want to leave anyone here. These are the circumstances that God’s grace shines the brightest. For the family in this story had a beautiful future ahead of them. Ask them at this juncture and they may have had their doubts. But God’s love and God’s plan is not contingent upon our strength or our certainty.

In various passages of the Bible, we see the concept of a kinsman redeemer. Passages like Genesis 38, Deuteronomy 25, and Leviticus 25 all address this role. It’s a role that reveals something about God’s heart for the hurting and the destitute. The basic idea is that the closest family member would step in to take care of those who found themselves in a situation like the family from the previous story…the family from the book of Ruth. Naomi (the mom), and Ruth and Orpah (the daughters-in-law) were in need of such a person.

As the story progressed, Naomi and Ruth journeyed back to Naomi’s former home – to the land of Israel. When they arrived in Bethlehem the reception was somewhat mixed. It would be as a soldier returning home after a terrible defeat. The shame and hurt were immense and Naomi was in no mood for a welcome home party.

So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

Ruth 1:19-21 ESV

Naomi’s heart would not remain in despair. In a short span of time, both her and Ruth would be rejoicing over the goodness of God. It is in our darkest times that we can experience His goodness the most. Naomi and Ruth are a testament to that. By the end of this story, Ruth meets the key character in the journey from ashes to beauty. His name – Boaz. The name means ‘strength is within him’. He is a successful landowner and farmer in Israel who had endured the famine which had motivated Naomi and her family to leave the land. Not only is he successful, but he is also compassionate and kind. He demonstrates this in the way that he tenderly cares for Ruth from the moment he laid eyes on her. The first time they met was when Ruth had gone out to glean scraps from the harvested fields so she and Naomi wouldn’t starve. Boaz doubled down and supplied for their every need. He didn’t stop here. Boaz would also restore the land back to Naomi from before she had left with her husband Elimelech. He was their kinsman redeemer.

Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.”

Ruth 4:9-10 ESV

The institution of the kinsman redeemer was not only a method of grace bestowed upon God’s children, but it also pointed to a much greater act of grace to come to the entire world. Even if life’s circumstances haven’t placed all of us in a disposition of empathy for Naomi and Ruth, the Bible describes all our spiritual circumstances as far more desperate.

According to the Bible, we were:

  • Dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 2:13)
  • Sinners and enemies of God (Romans 5:8-10)
  • Far off from God (Ephesians 2:13)
  • Unrighteous, immoral, and idolators (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Homelessness does not compare. Being in need does not compare. Suffering tremendous does not compare. Humanity’s situation without Jesus is far more dire than anything we will ever face in our temporal lifetimes. But we have the Great Kinsman Redeemer – the Messiah. The Messiah of God was sent to buy us back with a far greater price than that of Boaz. Our Messiah paid with His life.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insightmaking known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Ephesians 1:3-10 ESV

Peace in our Messiah, the Great Kinsman Redeemer!