Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Halloween Costume Planning

It’s that time of year again: time to start planning for our annual Halloween costume party!  It’s hard to believe, but this will be the 8th annual Halloween Party that Tom and I have hosted.  The first year, 2004, barely counts, but we put on a last-minute costume party at the guys’ college apartment for essentially us and the neighbors.  Since then, it has changed venues 4 times, as we’ve moved and/or not had space for all the people!  I think we are set in our tradition now, however: there will be a costume party at our house each year on “Halloween Saturday” – the Saturday before (or on) Halloween.  It’s usually just a laid back evening of eating, playing games and catching up with friends—in goofy costumes of course.  We have tried our best to make costumes mandatory, but not wanting to leave out our few stubborn friends who refuse to dress up (party poopers!), we came up with the following rule: If you come without a costume, you must bring a pie to share.  That way, it’s a win/win!  Unless, of course, you’re like me…and don’t really care for pie.  But, that’s beside the point.


With the party only a month away, I decided last week that I had better figure out my costume and start putting things together.  I have had some pretty creative costumes the past few years, which, unfortunately, means that I have set the standard high and people might be disappointed if I dress up in something sub-par.  So, I though through a few options to try to come up with something unique, fun, and hopefully not too hard to move around in—I’ve had a history of coming up with very restricting costumes.  Ultimately, here’s what I came up with.  This year, for Halloween, I will dress up as what I am calling the “Hamburglar-ess”.  Do you remember the Hamburglar from McDonald’s?  Remember the old school commercials?  The Hamburglar would sneak up, mumble “Rubble Rubble” and attempt to run off with Ronald's hamburgers!  




I already had a jailbird costume/dress and a large hamburger, so I decided that I could be the female version of the Hamburglar.  All I needed to do was get a hat, bandit mask, tie and cape!  I spent the weekend putting this together (and made my own cape!), and all I have left now is to add the hamburgers to my tie.


I will not be posting pictures of this year’s costume until after the event, so as not to spoil too much fun.  However, I will post some fun pictures of my costumes over the past few years.  If you’re looking for some ideas, let this be some inspiration to you:


2005 - 80s Prom Queen - with a lovely old bridemaid's dress from Salvation Army!
I am pretty sure somebody hand sewed that puppy out of old curtains!

2006 - Zelda & Link

2007 - I was the answer to the game Clue: Miss Scarlet, in the Library, with the candlestick.
It just so happens that the Grim Reaper was around, too!

2008 - this was possibly my most hilarious costume. I was a pinata & Tom was the birthday boy.
He would "hit" me with the stick, and I would throw candy!  Only problem: very flammable.
Stay away from candles in that sucker!

2009 - Princess Lolly...from Candyland...remember??

2010: Dead Bride - looking slightly more pale than usual!


And, last but not least, I must tell you that we also sometimes dress up The Cheat.  Below you will see him in his Phantom of the Opera costume.  However, my favorite costume we ever had for the Cheat was the first year.  He was Istanbul.  Of course! (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you need to stop everything and go watch this right now. Do it.)
2005: The Cheat as the Phantom of the Opera



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness

Our bible study group has decided to take some time to look at the so-called “fruit of the spirit” as listed in the book of Galatians – and to study each one of these fruits, evaluating the prevalence of each in our own lives.  I hope to be able to share parts of my study and reflections here, as we go through each of the topics.

This week we’re looking at the word “gentleness”.  The meaning here extends beyond that of common use to a sort of gentleness of spirit:

“it consists not in a person's "outward behaviour only; nor yet in his relations to his fellow-men; as little in his mere natural disposition. Rather it is an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly towards God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting; it is closely linked with the word tapeinophrosune [humility]…”  --Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words

Gentleness is one of the characteristics of God, which I think is beautifully displayed in this passage from 1 Kings.  A little background: in this passage, the prophet Elijah is fleeing for his life.  He goes to Horeb, the “mountain of God” and God says this to him:

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”


Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. –1 Kings 19:11-13


Notice the mighty wind and earthquake and fire – all signs of power that we would expect to be associated with God.  But here, they are not.  God was not in wind, the earthquake or the fire.  But after these things had passed, God came in the form of a gentle whisper.  God goes on to give instructions to Elijah and I think helps calm his fears.  Certainly God is strong and powerful, but there also remains in Him a spirit of gentleness, and sometimes it is out of that gentleness that he whispers into our lives. 

Jesus is also described as gentle.  It was prophesied about him:

See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. –Zechariah 9:9

Jesus also says this of himself:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. –Matthew 11:29

You can see from that verse how gentleness and humility go hand in hand.  It’s a condition of the spirit that will show through as “fruit”.  Jesus invites us to join Him in this gentleness of the soul.

Christians are exhorted to show gentleness to others and have a gentleness of spirit that is like God’s.  Philippians 4:5 tells us to let our “gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

Gentleness goes along with the other fruits of the spirit in the way we live our lives and treat others, as demonstrated in this verse:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. –Ephesians 4:1-3

Again, gentleness goes hand in hand with humility here, and it is also paired with the fruits of patience, love and peace.

We are called to have a heart of gentleness also towards ALL, including those whose viewpoint may differ from our own:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. –1 Peter 3:15-16

Treating others with gentleness and respect can have a great positive impact on our relationships and leave others more open to hearing about our faith, but spiteful or callous responses have the capacity to destroy.  Just as Proverbs 15:1 says: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

We examined the following verse in our study on patience, but it applies here, too:

Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. –Proverbs 25:15

As seen from the passage above from 1 Kings, sometimes gentleness can be more powerful that forcefulness.  When we have a heart of gentleness we have a heart that reflects Christ and a spirit that is inviting to others.  God works through this spirit of gentleness to bring forth “fruit”.  My challenge this week is to think about my responses to people and situations, and to try to step back and respond to whatever life may throw at me with gentleness rather than with careless or harsh words.

A Garden Dinner

I’m not yet to the point of growing enough in my garden to make a whole meal out of only home-grown foods, but I do love it when I can incorporate veggies from my garden as a main part of my dinner.  Last week I tried something new: homemade spaghetti sauce.  For some reason, I was always under the impression that I needed bushels of tomatoes if I was going to make any significant quantity of sauce.  I had about 10 tomatoes, but some of them were quite small.  Most of them ripened on the same day, and it was only a couple days before we were leaving for the weekend.  I wasn’t sure I’d have time to get through all the tomatoes before they went bad, and I had such a small crop this year that I didn’t want to waste any.  I had done slow roasted tomatoes last year, but it was a lot of work.  I wanted something easier.  So, I decided to look up a spaghetti sauce recipe, just to see what it took.  Lo and behold, I had everything I needed on hand to make my own spaghetti sauce--even tomato paste…why I had that, I have no idea! But, boy am I glad!  I wasn’t sure how much sauce I would end up with, but decided to give it a try anyways.  Here’s the basic recipe that I worked from.

There was something a little bit different about my tomatoes, though.  Most of them were orange!  I had purchased some tomato plants from a roadside stand this spring, and didn’t really know what kind of tomatoes they were.  Surprise!  They actually resembled miniature pumpkins.  
The taste is pretty much like any other tomato, but I think the orange and yellow ones generally have a lower acidity.  While I was making my sauce, it looked rather funny because it was not at all the color of typical spaghetti sauce.  Once I added in the tomato paste, the sauce turned more reddish, though.  I ended up with enough sauce for about 5 small batches of spaghetti.  I divided it all up into containers and froze most of it, but left one container in the fridge—for tonight!

Since I didn’t have time to actually eat the spaghetti sauce last week, I was greatly anticipating trying it tonight.  I perhaps went a little heavy on the noodles, but I kind of like it that way.  The sauce was very light, but good tasting!  I added some fresh ground pepper like I normally do, but otherwise I didn’t have to add anything to it.  To make things even better, dinner tonight was served with some extra garlic dill twists that I made a while back AND a salad with fresh picked lettuce.  That’s right.  Lettuce is a cool weather crop, and I have an abundant fall crop coming in from my “lettuce pot” on my deck.  There are mixed leaf lettuces growing – so I picked some of that and tossed it with some dried berries, sunflower seeds and a quick homemade dressing (olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning).  And that was our dinner tonight.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kung Pao Chicken

I have been trying to get this recipe right for some time now.  Kung Pao Chicken is my favorite dish to order at a Chinese restaurant, and I still dream of the amazing Kung Pao at the restaurant we used to frequent in my home town.  Without a decent Chinese restaurant in our area now, I’ve been attempting some recipes at home.  But, somehow, Chinese food never turns out with quite the right flavor when I try to make it.  I’m afraid that I’m about as close as I’ll ever be with this recipe…and, of course, I didn’t measure out the ingredients as I added them.  Nevertheless, here’s a rough recipe for my latest attempt at Kung Pao Chicken.



Ingredients:
- Boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
- Roasted peanuts
- Green bell pepper, chopped
- White or yellow onion, diced
- Green onion, chopped
- Vegetable oil
- Soy sauce
- Sesame seed oil
- Crushed red pepper flakes (add to desired spiciness)
- Ground black pepper
- Garlic
- Chinese five spice powder (just the tiniest pinch…that stuff is potent!)

Directions:
Heat vegetable oil in skillet.  Add chicken and peanuts and cook over medium-high heat.  While chicken is cooking, add a few dashes of soy sauce, a drizzle of sesame seed oil and spices.  Once chicken begins to brown, add a bit more oil along with bell pepper and onions.  Cook until vegetables are just tender.  Serve with a side of white or fried rice.

Pineapple-Jalapeño Chicken

This is another one of those recipes from necessity...you know, where I have a few ingredients lying around that I need to use up, so I decide to make up a new dish.  This time, I had jalapeños from the garden that I needed to use up, plus some orange bell peppers.  I had some canned pineapple on hand and thought I could probably make something decent with those three flavors.  Here’s the quick and easy meal that I ended up with:



Ingredients:
- 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
- 1 orange bell pepper, chopped
- 3 jalapeño peppers, chopped
- 1 can sliced pineapple in 100% pineapple juice
- ground black pepper

Directions:
Cook chicken on stove over medium-high heat in ½ of the pineapple juice from the canned pineapples.  Add jalapeños while chicken is cooking.  Once liquid is mostly evaporated, add remaining juice and bell pepper.  Cook until juice is reduced again.  Add pepper to taste.  Serve with a side of rice and the sliced pineapple.

That’s it!  A quick, simple dinner to use up some random ingredients.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen to Good People?

**This is something I put together my first year of college.  Although it is not a perfect or complete answer, I think this serves as a good starting point for a response to the so-called "problem of evil".  My intent was to give those questioning the goodness of God based on the pain and suffering in this world the chance to look at things from a different perspective.  I encourage you to read through the Bible and learn about God's faithfulness, his love, and his plan for humanity.**

One of the greatest questions that people have, and one of the major ‘problems’ that steer people away from Christianity is the question of why God would let bad things happen to good people.  Closely related to this is the question of why a supposedly good God would allow evil, pain, and suffering in the world.  Faced with these questions, many unbelievers have come to the false conclusion that this must mean one of two things: (1) That God really is not a good god, but has something against humankind, or (2) that there really is no God at all.  This problem that people have accepting the existence of a good God who allows evil is based on several misconceptions—about man, about God, and about the extent to which God ‘allows’ evil. 

The Truth about Mankind
The fall brought pain and suffering

            Many people believe that the fact that God allows evil to exist means that he must be unloving.  However, it can be seen, given the Bible, that evil came as a result of the freedom given to us by God.  By allowing man to make decisions of his own free will, God allowed for the possibility of evil.  It was man, however, who sinned against God, falling into the trap of the devil and letting evil into the world (Genesis 3).  Not only did it let what we refer to as ‘evil’ in the world, but also pain and suffering (Genesis 3:16-19).  God’s reasons for giving man this freedom would be a whole other topic of discussion.  For our purposes here, it is important to consider the Christian doctrine of man. 

            According to the Bible, mankind is fallen (Genesis 3).  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”  The definition of sin can be expressed as any failure to conform to the character or the moral law of God in any act, failure to act, attitude, or nature.  The Greek word hamartia and the Hebrew word chata, which translate in the Bible as ‘sin,’ both mean to “miss the mark.”  It is because of the sin that is in the world that evil and bad things exist.  As an interesting side-note, evil can be defined as “the perversion of good.”  From this definition, we can conclude that good can exist without evil, but evil cannot exist without good.  The sins we commit are comprised of us taking the good things God has given to us and perverting them—for selfish gains, or whatever the case may be.  It is plausible, then, that God may have allowed evil so that we might recognize God’s goodness as goodness in contrast to evil.  If there was no evil, how could we determine or know what is truly good?  And what would goodness mean to us if we knew not of the horrible alternative?

No one is “good”

            While it is difficult for some people to realize, it is an important and essential fact that we cannot speak against God for letting bad things happen to ‘good’ people, because man is totally depraved—meaning, no one is good in his own rights.  “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).’”  In Mark 10:18 Jesus tells us “no one is good except God alone.”  The only goodness that we can have is the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ (Romans 3:22). 

            The fact that no man is good or can do good on his own does not mean that people who don’t know God never desire to do good.  It also does not mean that unsaved people never do things that are, from a human perspective, ‘good.’  What it does mean is that their good deeds are wrongly motivated (i.e. they don’t do them to glorify God).  Furthermore, good deeds cannot save us or get us into heaven, and we do not gain a righteous standing before God by doing good.  From God’s perspective, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).”  Even what we consider “good” is nothing in comparison to God’s goodness and holiness.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”  If we cannot even do good on our own, we by no means deserve the salvation that God offers to us freely.  How, then, can we demand God give us other good things in this life?  He has already given us more than we deserve, and so if God does not bless us abundantly with what we see as “good” things in our lives, this is not unjust. 

Who is man to talk back to God?

            This discussion of the fallen state of man leads into another good point, though it is something that is very difficult to accept, even for Christians.  This is the idea that God is the sovereign Creator, and that whatever he does is just, even if it may not seem that way.  God has the right and the authority to do whatever He wants.  He owes us, who are all sinners (Romans 3:23), absolutely nothing.  “’Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? (Romans 11:35).’”  God has the right to do with his creation whatever he wills, “but who are you, O man to talk back to God?  ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it “Why did you make me like this?”’”  Job was one of the most afflicted people in the Bible.  God took everything away from him and made his life completely miserable.  Yet, Job says, “When God sends us something good, we welcome it.  How can we complain when he sends us trouble (Job 2:10 [TEV])?”  Ecclesiastes 7:14 [TEV] says, “When things are going well for you, be glad, and when trouble comes, just remember: God sends both happiness and trouble; you never know what is going to happen next.” 

            It is ultimately up to God what to do with our lives, and many things are beyond our control and understanding.  We cannot always understand God’s will or his reasons for doing things, and many times it is not until long after something bad has happened that we can see God’s hand and divine purpose in the situation.  For this reason, you should, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:18).”  Whether or not we understand what is going on, we must submit that God is in control, not only with power and authority, but also with kindness and love, keeping in mind the best interest of his creation.  This requires faith, which the Bible defines as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).” 

The Truth about God
God is good and God is love

            If you claim to believe in the God of the Bible, then you must submit to the fact that God is good, and God is loving.  In fact, 1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.”  God is unchanging and cannot do anything contrary to his character.  The Lord tells us in Malachi 3:6, “I the Lord do not change.”  James 1:17 says that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  He is faithful and will always remain that way.  Repeatedly, the Bible tells of God’s faithful, kind, loving and just character.  Psalm 86:15 tells us that God is “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”  The Bible also tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28),” and “The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made (Psalm 145:13).”  The nature of God is to be loving toward his creation.  God does not lie (Titus 1:2), and he will do what he has promised.  “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.  For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men (Lamentations 3:32-33).”  God does not desire to bring us trouble or pain, yet sometimes does so for various reasons that will be discussed further on. 

God is just

            Many people question how a loving God can allow people to go to Hell, and while that is a complex issue that could be greatly expanded upon, for now, consider the following.  Firstly, God does not want anyone to go to hell.  1 Timothy 2:4 tells us that God “wants all men to be saved and come into a knowledge of the truth.”  God wants us to know Him, and often tries to get our attention through circumstances in our lives.  God says in Ezekiel 18:32, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declared the Sovereign Lord.  Repent and live!”  God does not desire that men should turn from him and die, but rejoices when people turn to Him, as He offers eternal life.  God is a just God and The Bible goes on to say, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell (Psalm 5:4).”  Habakkuk 1:13 says of God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”  It is for this reason that those who do not believe—who have accepted God’s free gift of grace, life and salvation—go to Hell, for God is good, and cannot stand to be in the presence of evil.  Consider also that it would not be “heaven” if murderers and rapists were there – would it?  How can heaven exist if men continue to do evil?  For those who still accuse God of doing wrong, Job says, “So listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong (Job 34:10).” 

            Isaiah 30:18 says that, “the Lord is a God of justice,” and this is part of the reason that those who do not believe, who are stuck in a life of sin, must go to Hell.  In 2 Chronicles 19:7, the Bible says, “with the Lord our God there is no injustice,” yet many people question the truth of this.  If you question God’s justice, you are not alone.  Israel questioned God’s justice as well, and God responded to this particular issue in the book of Ezekiel, saying:
            The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die.  None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? Declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die. Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? –Ezekiel 18:20-25

            There is also a proverb dealing with justice that states, “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully (Proverbs 28:5).”  God will make his purposes clearer to us the more we seek him.  “Call to me, and I will answer you,” says the Lord, “and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know (Jeremiah 33:3).”  God puts the responsibility into the hands of his people in Genesis 4:7, saying, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  From this, we can see that God desires that each of us come into a saving knowledge of Him.  He has offered salvation to the world, but it is up to each person to choose it.  Having all deserved death, but been offered life, there is certainly no sense in complaining about this matter.  The offer of eternal life is on the table—but it’s up to you to take it.

God works everything out for his good purposes

            The Bible is very clear in stating that whatever happens, everything is in God’s hands, and He works everything out for his good purposes.  Even things that we perceive as “bad” and “evil,” God can turn around and bring good of it.  One of the most prominent examples of this in the Bible is the story of Joseph.  Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him and plotted against him.  They sold him to Midianite merchants who in turn sold Joseph off to be a slave in Egypt.  Despite his brothers’ attempt at stripping his life from him, despite Joseph being sold as a slave and eventually thrown into prison, “the Lord gave him success in everything he did (Genesis 39:3),” and Joseph became a very prominent person in Egypt.  Eventually, the Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of his palace and all his people (Genesis 41:40).  Later on, Joseph encountered his brothers (who did not recognize him), and eventually revealed to them that he was their brother.  Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20).”  (Read more about Joseph here)

Similarly, in our own lives, God uses the bad things that happen to accomplish his own good purposes.  God uses hardships for good purposes in a few ways.  Firstly, the Bible is very clear that God sends trials to teach people.  He may send hardships to strengthen people, refine them, and form them into the person He wants them to be.  Additionally, God often uses the circumstances in our lives to draw us closer to Him.


God teaches us through hardships

            Going through hard times enables people to learn and grow in ways that they otherwise might not.  The idea of trials and suffering to strengthen people is prominent in the New Testament of the Bible.   Romans 5:3-4 says that, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  There are many things that we can learn through suffering, and in the end, it produces in us good qualities.  James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  We are to consider our hardships as something that we can learn from, and to be joyous about that opportunity.  The learning that hardships bring about helps to make us “complete” in Christ.  If we were not to go through these difficult times, then we may never realize many things about God, and about ourselves. 

            The Bible also discusses many times the idea of refinement, or going through hard times to be made pure and holy for God.  God tests us to make our faith sure and to bring us into a more perfect relationship with Him.  This is the idea of sanctification—becoming more and more like Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).  In praying for his disciples, Jesus said, “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified (John 17:19).”  It is our Lord’s desire that we be sanctified, made holy and set apart for Him.

             Oftentimes, a metaphor is used describing human refinement through hardships as something similar to the way precious metals are refined, to be spotless and pure.  Zechariah 13:9 says, “This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, “They are my people,” and they will say, “The Lord is our God.”  Isaiah 48:10 says, “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”  There we can see that it is through the hard times that God tests us and refines us.  Furthermore, Daniel 11:35 says that “Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.”     


      Though hardships may be painful, we are called to rejoice in our trials.  1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In 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 your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  It is through these hard times that our true faith is revealed, and faith that is pure and genuine will last for eternity. 

            Additionally, Hebrews 12:7 says to “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.  For what son is not disciplined by his father?”  The book goes on to say that, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”  The reason that a father disciplines his son is for his own good—so that his son may learn.  Likewise, God gives us these trials that we may learn from them.  God may bring things into our lives to bring to light some of our hidden sins, and may discipline us in that way.  It is important to note, however, that though God may have us endure hard times in order to correct our thinking or behavior, this does not mean that every time we go through a trial that God is punishing us for some sin.  This is clearly displayed in the story of Job.

            Job is described many times as a man who was “blameless and upright (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3).”  He did what God desired and God had no reason to “punish” him, yet God tested him in his faith.  It is important to note that God initiated a conversation with Satan about Job and about testing Him (Job 1:8).  Job was a very wealthy and prosperous man (Job 1:3), and Satan believed that the only reason Job was so faithful to God was because of the blessings God had bestowed upon him (Job 1:9).  Therefore, God allowed for the testing of Job, and allowed Satan, first to take away everything he owned (Job 1:12), and then to take away his health and strike Job with painful ailments (Job 2:7).  It is important here, however, to realize that God was still in control of things, and that even Satan is under the power of God (Job 1:12).  God was not punishing Job for something he had done, but was simply testing his faith and proving it genuine.  Through all his hardships, Job remained faithful to God.  In Job 1:21-22 he says, “‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job knew that God was testing him and said, “…when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).”  After Job endured a long period of testing, remaining faithful to God, “The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first (Job 42:12).”

God draws us to Him through hardships

            By sending trials and hardships, God has allowed an avenue for people to come to Him.  If people do not recognize Him by the good that he does, or by his creation (Romans 1:18-20), they may at least turn to Him in desperate moments, for help and guidance (see The Pulley by George Herbert).  Many times, it is not until people hit rock bottom that they reach out for God, and thus hard times can actually lead people into a saving relationship with the Lord.  When people are in their weakest points, it is sometimes easiest to recognize that they are not self-sufficient, that they need help, and that they need a Savior.  God takes great advantage of these opportunities to show people His love for them, and the power, strength, and comfort that come only through Him.  In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he pointed this out saying, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).”  Paul, who wrote a large portion of the New Testament, was greatly afflicted, thrown in prison on multiple occasions, and was given an unidentified “thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7),” and yet he says, “for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).”  Paul recognized God’s power to work through him and in him, and recognized his grace as God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).”  Paul learned to live with the circumstances given to him, as can be seen in Philippians 4:12-13, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
           
The Truth about ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’
God will destroy evil…and conquer it with good.

            Finally, it is very important to consider the final outcome of things.  Right now, we are in the midst of a battle, a spiritual war.  We can see the effects of evil and of this war, but there are many struggles going on that are beneath the surface of things—beyond what we can see with our eyes.  Ephesians 6:12 tells us that, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Fortunately, we do not have to fret the outcome of this Great War, for we already know the end result.  God will not allow evil to exist forever, but in the end times, He will wipe out evil for good.  God has made this known since the beginning of time.

            In Genesis after the serpent, or the devil, deceived Eve, God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15).”  This passage reflects the spiritual struggle that exists between good and evil, between God and the devil.  Saying that the woman’s offspring will crush the head of the serpent is a promise that will eventually be fulfilled in Christ’s victory over Satan.  Christ came not only to call us to righteousness and eternal life, but also to destroy the evil that causes death.  When Christ came to earth, he died that we might have life.  Christ will come again, and in his second coming, he will destroy evil.  Hebrews 2:14-15 says of Christ, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  1 John 3:8 says, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work.”  Satan is called the prince of this world (John 12:31, 16:11), and although he has power now which is manifested in the evil that exists on earth, we can be comforted in knowing, “that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed (Psalm 92:7).”  This is only a temporary state until God overcomes evil for good. What exactly will happen to Satan?  The bible says that he will be defeated and “thrown into the lake of burning sulfur,” and “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation 20:10).”

            People will then often question why God is waiting so long to destroy evil.  Why doesn’t he get rid of the devil right now?  Although thousands of years may seem like a long time for God to allow evil to exist in the world, it is because we often think from a worldly perspective.  Having an eternal perspective really changes one’s view on things, as, in light of all eternity, several thousand years is but a tiny speck time.  James 4:14 talks about our lives being like a mist or a vapor that appears for a little bit, but vanishes quickly.  In retrospect, it is easier to see how short life is, and how quickly time passes.  2 Peter 3:8-9 says, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  The reason that God is waiting to destroy evil is that he first wants all who are willing, to come to Him and find life in Him.  The Lord is long-suffering (Jeremiah 15:15), as he patiently endures our wrongful deeds, waiting for the full number of those who would turn to Him to be saved.  We can know that God works all things for his good purposes—even the sin and evil in the world, he works for His glory.  “The Lord works everything out for his own ends—even the wicked for a day of disaster (Proverbs 16:4).” 

The righteous will be delivered and redeemed

            Although we now suffer through the existence of evil, God will overcome evil, and when this happens, at Christ’s second coming, the righteous will be delivered and redeemed.  Those who trusted in the Lord and endured hardships while remaining faithful will receive their full reward.  God never promised Christians an easy life.  In fact, Jesus told his disciples to expect persecution and hatred from the world (Matthew 10:22-23).  1 Peter 4:12-13 says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 

            It may seem like a lot to endure in order to be with God, but we must keep in mind that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17).”  What we will receive in the end is far greater than anything we could imagine, and our worldly troubles will seem like nothing in comparison.  Paul said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).”  Furthermore, God will not allow his faithful ones to suffer forever.  1 Peter 5:10 says that “the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”  The Bible also tells us that, “it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:17).”  “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good (1 Peter 4:19).”  

            Romans 12:21 tells us not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good, and Revelation 2:11 says that, “he who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”  Those who trust in the Lord need not fear, for they know their eternal destiny.  Psalm 34:19 reminds us that, “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.”  Psalm 34:22 says, “The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.”  “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).” 

            The Bible often compares the Christian life to a race, a marathon, in which we are called to “run in such a way as to win the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24),” which is eternal life.  When Paul knew that he was about to die, he wrote to the young pastor, Timothy, saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).”  “Therefore, since we are surrounded but such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1).”  To those who trust in God and in Christ, God will grant eternal life and peace.  When Christ comes again, he will make all things new.  “No longer will there be any curse (Revelation 22:3).”  God will dwell with men, “and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:3-4).”  This is God’s great plan for mankind.

My Favorite Poem

The following poem is one that I learned my first year of college, in my Literature class, I assume.  It immediately struck me and I have since deemed it my favorite poem--so, naturally I wanted to share it with you.  I think it is a beautiful literary expression of God's love for us and perhaps a glimpse into his reasons for allowing some hardships in our lives.  By allowing us to live in an imperfect world, God pulls us, who may easily have overlooked his goodness otherwise, toward himself.

The Pulley
By George Herbert

When God at first made Man,

Having a glass of blessings standing by—

Let us (said He) pour on him all we can;

Let the world's riches, which dispersed lie,

            Contract into a span.



So strength first made a way,

Then beauty flow'd, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:

When almost all was out, God made a stay,

Perceiving that, alone of all His treasure,

            Rest in the bottom lay.



For if I should (said He)

Bestow this jewel also on My creature,

He would adore My gifts instead of Me,

And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:

            So both should losers be.



Yet let him keep the rest,

But keep them with repining restlessness;

Let him be rich and weary, that at least,

If goodness lead him not, yet weariness

            May toss him to My breast.