Embracing Hardship

“I look to the Bible and I see no promises of life without hardship; really the opposite. I see that fairness is not promised anywhere.”

Several years ago, while I was in high school, a girl who had grown up in my church came back to visit after living in Honduras for a couple years.  Membership within the church had been in decline since the adoption of new amendments to the constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, of which my church was a member.  This girl (I suppose woman is more appropriate), Katie, was giving the sermon that particular Sunday.  Having grown up in the church, everyone knew her.  She was tall, blonde, strong-willed, and God-fearing.  She was also super nice, so it’s hard to forget her.

Katie’s sermon that Sunday was about hardships, trials, and tribulations.  To be honest, I heard what her opening theme was and I pretty quickly tuned out.  Duh, of course God will make life hard for us, He wants us to trust Him, I thought to myself.  As a high school student, it was pretty easy to say something like that; I had my mom and uncle and grandma to take care of all the really hard stuff for me.  I just had to wake up, go to school, play soccer, eat, do schoolwork, and sleep (although that last one was/is optional).  With such an easy routine, the hardest things I ever experienced were being late to things and doing poorly on tests.

However, I never really tried to grow spiritually in high school.  I was content with what I had.  I figured that as long as I had faith, I would be okay.  I was totally fine with not challenging my faith, and shirking away from opportunities to do so was common for me.  “Steven, what’s your opinion on homosexuality?”  My response?  “You guys are dumb for talking about this.  How’d you do on….”  “People who believe in God are dumb.  No offense Steven.”  Again, “Hey, none taken, haha.”  The numerous times when I had a chance to engage someone in an honest discussion about Christ, my faith, or being human, I just danced around it, always waiting to be “saved by the bell”.

Although I didn’t really pay much attention to Katie that Sunday, I think I have a pretty good idea about what she was talking about.  Jesus’ life was not full of certainty, it was not easy, and it was not what anybody truly wants to go through.  Mocked, tortured, sacrificed.  Following Jesus the Christ doesn’t mean we get to choose to enjoy just the rewards that God promises.  It doesn’t mean life will be easy.  It doesn’t mean that we’ll make it to be 70 or 80 or 90.  It means we have to make sacrifices of our own.  It means we have to endure broken friendships, kids, corrupt politics, economic hardships, and war.  In the midst of all this, we have God’s promise that our names are written in the book of Life.  However, that doesn’t mean that screaming at the top of our lungs, crying our eyes out, or punching a pillow every now and again are out of the question.  Many of the psalms found in the Old Testament are the cries of pain, loss, and suffering.  Even people such as David, Jonah, Nehemiah, and Joshua encountered rough times.  They turned out okay though.

I guess my point in writing this is that for all the blessings in our lives, the people and the things, we can never be too grateful.  I consider it a blessing when someone who I considered to be strong in their faith asks me a question about God; it shows that I don’t have to try and appear strong.  It’s a blessing when three of my friends all need to talk to me in the same night about something extremely important, and I have to choose one.  These aren’t blessings because they make me feel good or they show that I’m a good Christian.  These are blessings because I am challenged in my faith, and I can see that life is not worth living without hardship.  As a human, I tend to avoid conflict; I would prefer a peaceful and rather uneventful life, with friends and family.  But as a son of God, I engage conflict and tension and hardship, because I know that Jesus’ glory is everlasting and can be found in the deepest hollows of pain, the highest mountains of frustration, and the endless stormy seas of despair.  That is His promise.  So yes, pray that God will give you strength to endure, to fight back, to become strong enough to persevere.  But even more I urge you to pray for more Jesus in these situations.  Be angry at Him, scream at Him, worship Him, call upon Him, rest in Him, and Live in Him.  Steven 3, Dragons 0.  And of course, I’m only winning because God has already won.

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“God didn’t promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, sun without rain, but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way.”


The Light in The Cave

The Light in The Cave

I recently read The Cave, in  book VII of Plato’s Republic.  I’d heard about it from English and Philosophy professors and majors since I arrived at Geneseo, but I’d never felt the need to read it; I knew that it would happen before I graduate.  Well, that time came, and it was quite the allegory.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, you can click the title of this post and it will open up a link to the story.  As the story start we are introduced to the people chained an immobile facing a wall at the bottom/back of a cave.  There is a light shining near the entrance of the cave.  For some reason, as I was reading, I began to think of these people as not being saved by Jesus.  It seemed like a legit comparison, at that moment. Then we are told that there is a fire casting light onto the wall the chained people are facing.  A screen is also behind these people, where other people are walking with figures that cast shadows on the one wall that these chained people are looking at.  The people holding the figures are naturally talking, and so the people chained at the wall can only assume that the shadows are talking and that they are the only real thing.  They see with their eyes.  At this point, I thought it was odd how well of a comparison this story was making.  Without Jesus, we are enslaved to sin, and we will never know anything other than what our eyes see, since that is all we can see.

At this point, Plato proposes that one of the people in the cave be set free to leave the cave.  He asks us to imagine that the light from the cave is blinding to them, and that they cannot look upon it.  If someone were to ask this person to name the actual figures and not the shadows, they would be very confused.  In much the same way, accepting Jesus as sovereign in our lives and the Savior of man sets us free from the shackles that keep us looking at these shadows.  As this person witnesses the reality outside the cave from the suns light, I was reminded of how the Son’s Light reveals the reality both within our hearts and in the world.  The shadows are the false lies and empty promises of the world, things like hate, greed, and bitterness, that grab our attention.  Jesus offers us Truth when we stop trusting our eyes and begin to trust in Him.  His Light reveals things for what they truly are, and we are presented with Hope, Faith, and Love.

Now, Plato asks us to imagine that the person goes back into the cave.  They wish to tell the other prisoners of the wonder of the light from outside the cave.  However, not only do would this person’s eyes become blinded by the lack of light in the cave, but the other prisoners would be upset with this person’s ridiculous ideas about the shadows being just that.  They would harass and possibly kill him if he tried to lead another away from the wall. I wasn’t quite sure how I this fit in with my comparison until I thought about the fact that this person was outside the cave, soaking up the light and drinking in the reality that he was starting to understand with more than his eyes.  But his journey back down into the cave would be terrible.  The person would be leaving the source of light, and the source, as far as he knew, of everything that was both inside and outside the cave.  How very much like a Christians journey back into the world after worshiping our Lord, or praying unto Him.  Sometimes we are struck with darkness and confusion, and the people around us will try to tell us that everything we experience is a lie, since reality is right in front of them, what they’re seeing, the only thing they’ve known.  Why would they want to leave that safety?

College is a rough time.  We miss chances to share the Gospel, we are struck with darkness as we enter back into the cave, and we forget the Joy of being in the Light of the Son.  In the midst of these challenges and trials, remember that through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead, we are guaranteed to spend eternity in the Light.  Walking back into the cave doesn’t have to be bad.  We just need to remember that we can bring the Son along with us, to shine His Light into the darkness.  Steven 2 Dragons 0

John 8:12 – “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”

I sought the Lo…

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34:3-4

Haha, hey, so this is my first post….and I’m just going to wing it!  Lately, my life has consisted of stress, lack of sleep, and malnutrition.  The funny thing is that I’ve been bringing all this on myself.  I stand firm to my declaration, “relationships are for weenies”, for one main reason: relationships often drag people apart.  Now I know, I’m being facetious, but my whole view on romantic relationships has been shifting and changing and influenced over the last two years.  Looking back on my high school relationship, I can see so many things I did wrong.  Now that I’m in college, I’ve developed the know-it-all syndrome:  clearly, I know everything there is to know about romantic relationships (funny joke, I know :p).  

The great thing about serving a gracious God is that He never lets slip an opportunity to humble me.  So this whole week has been one roller coaster of a trip, like the freaking Viking, or the Superman….or some epic ride like those.  I wasn’t sure, by Tuesday, how I was going to maintain my sanity until the weekend; prayer itself seemed so insufficient.  Boy, was I wrong.  God knew what he was doing, he knew what my soul needed, and he knocked me down a couple notches.  

The speaker at Large Group, Chris Loose, gave a talk on romance redefined.  I payed attention knowing that any advice on relationships, romantic or otherwise, would be valuable.  What I wasn’t expecting was to grasp a message much deeper.  At the end, just before Chris finished, he brought up his main points.  Number 4 suddenly seemed to blare out at me: COMMUNITY.  Everything I had been going through this week, every little bothersome thing, suddenly seemed so…..within my grasp to fix.  It felt as though God was saying, “Now that you understand the problem verbally, fix it.  Take the initiative, be intentional, and TALK TO THESE PEOPLE”.  For so long I’ve talked with friends about things that have been bothering me, and people who I had been getting fed up with.  Well, tonight was it.  Suffice to say that when the Holy Spirit convicts, it’s impossible to resist.  Three talks and 6 hours later, I’ve never been so in awe of my Lord and Savior and His ability to restore and renew.  Bridges were rebuilt, my soul was renewed, and my community has never felt stronger.  I can honestly say that I was not expecting this.  I was not expecting these incredible results.  I was not expecting God to intervene in my life with such might and force.  I was not expecting my soul to shout with joy at the presence of the Spirit.  But Lord Almighty, I’m so glad it happened.  Hence, the passage.  I sought the Lord, and holy moly did he answer me.  I took refuge in Him, and I’ve never felt so blessed.  I invite you to taste and see just how good He is.  Steven 1, Dragons 0.