Category Archives: Suffering

Always in His gaze

Refining SilverThe woman asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. “Oh yes!” he replied. “I cannot take my eyes off the silver. If it is left in the furnace even a moment too long, it will be destroyed.” The woman suddenly understood the beauty and comfort of Malachi 3:3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

Yes, there are times when it seems as if we will be swallowed whole by the fires of hell itself. The pain seems too hard to bear. The fear is paralyzing. The doubt is overwhelming and the questions flood our hearts and minds…

Our trials are not random persecutions. Heaven is not in a panic. Where we are and what we are going through is no surprise to God. We may be knocked down and kicked around by life, but if we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we will not be destroyed.

~ Excerpted from Trusting God by Sharon Jaynes, Gwen Smith, and Mary Southerland

***

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Encouragement, Faith, God, Grief, Hope, intimacy with the Lord, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Suffering, Trusting God

Life verses even more life!

LifeIn his introduction to Paul’s letter to the Philippians Eugene Peterson makes this observation:

Paul doesn’t tell us that we can be happy, or how to be happy. He simply and unmistakably is happy. None of his circumstances contribute to his joy: He wrote from a jail cell, his work was under attack by competitors, and after twenty years or so of hard traveling in the service of Jesus, he was tired and would have welcomed some relief. But circumstances are incidental compared to the life of Jesus, the Messiah, that Paul experiences from the inside. For it is a life that not only happened at a certain point in history, but continues to happen, spilling out into the lives of those who receive him, and then continues to spill out all over the place. Christ is, among much else, the revelation that God cannot be contained or hoarded. It is this “spilling out” quality of Christ’s life that accounts for the happiness of Christians, for joy is life in excess, the overflow of what cannot be contained within any one person.

Joy is life in excess!

I’m captivated by the imagery that Peterson creates with these five simple words. And they very aptly describe Paul’s perspective on life even when his immediate circumstances were anything but “user-friendly.”

I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah. ~ Philippians 1:12-14

How unnatural it seems for Paul to be filled with joy while imprisoned for sharing the Gospel of Jesus. But then again, Paul wasn’t the central character in his life – Jesus was. He goes on to write:

I’m going to keep that celebration going because I know how it’s going to turn out. Through your faithful prayers and the generous response of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, everything he wants to do in and through me will be done. I can hardly wait to continue on my course. I don’t expect to be embarrassed in the least. On the contrary, everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit! Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose. ~ Philippians 1:18b-21

Paul considered everything that exists on this side of the grave as “life” and everything that happens on the other side of the grave as “more life.” What a profound and liberating perspective.

No matter what we come up against this week, may we see it not as a burden to our agenda but as an opportunity for God to further His kingdom through us.

***

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2013. All rights reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, God, Jesus, Joy, Life in General, Praise, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Suffering, Trusting God

A Peek Behind the Curtain

They were dispersed over a large area and feeling quite alone. Experiencing great difficulty on many levels. They likely felt very discouraged. Perhaps they even questioned their faith in this carpenter from Nazareth who had come back to life.

I’m speaking of John’s intended audience, those first followers of Jesus who would have read the book or letter of Revelation and marveled at all the strange imagery.

I don’t imagine that the life of following Jesus was turning out exactly like they had expected. It seldom does.

John the Baptist saw Jesus and declared, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

But just a short time later when he sat in jail about to lose his head, John sent disciples to ask Jesus if He was the One they had waited for or if they should wait for another. I’m guessing that John thought doing life with God would be different.

Hadn’t Jesus come to heal and comfort and restore? Why is following Him so difficult, so unpleasant at times? Is it really worth all the hardship and sacrifice?

In The Wizard of Oz Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal a man masquerading as the great and powerful Oz. They are given a different perspective on what’s really going on and who is in charge; and it’s a big disappointment.

But the peek behind the curtain given to John in the form of a vision is much different. In it we catch a glimpse of what life will be like in the very presence of God. And it’s awe-inspiring!

In John’s day, Rome appeared to be in control; but it was really God who was working behind the curtain of our reality.

In our day, Washington, D.C. appears to be in control; but it is really God who is working behind the curtain of our reality.

The center of the universe is heaven, and the center of heaven is a throne, and there is Someone, our triumphant God, sitting on the throne.

Why is following Jesus often so difficult now?

Because we are not home yet!

So hang in there and keep running the race. Keep fighting the good fight. Hold onto the faith.

One day soon God will make all things new!

***

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

2 Comments

Filed under Bible, Christianity, Eternity, God, Heaven, Hope, Kingdom of God, Persecution, Religion and Spirituality, Scripture, Suffering, Trusting God

Harder than we were expecting

It was a journey we were ill-prepared for and “utterly exhausted” would be a step up from how we felt when it was over.

Our daughter Kyrsten is a senior in high school and playing golf for only the second year. We are familiar with golf in general and I have played a few times long ago, but she is the first one to participate on a school team playing the sport.

Last year we attended a regular match involving one other school. A girl from each school is paired up (five girls from each school) and assigned a hole to begin at. Then they proceed to play nine holes of golf.

For an hour and a half we found ourselves enjoying the beautiful natural setting in all of its quietness and splendor. Of all the sporting events our kids have participated in, it was by far the most relaxing and enjoyable experience we’ve ever had.

This year, last Saturday to be precise, we experienced our first tournament match involving four schools. That was the journey we were ill-prepared for.

One girl from each school is put into a group and the four of them are assigned a hole to begin at. Instead of just nine holes they play the entire 18-hole course.

We noticed all the other families riding around in carts and figured they had money to burn or were just a tad lazy. But 5 1/2 hours later in 92 degree weather, we fully understood why they rode around in carts… with coolers strapped on… with lots of liquids and snacks!

It was harder than we were expecting!

Needless to say we learned our lesson and will be better prepared the next time.

Jesus once warned those who would follow Him to first count the cost because it wouldn’t be a bed of roses. Having journeyed with Jesus now for 33 years I understand His advice.

The journey is much harder than I was expecting!

As with any such experience it helps to know we are not alone and this song by Steven Curtis Chapman says it so well. Whatever it is you’re facing remember… we’re just taking the “Long Way Home.”

***

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

2 Comments

Filed under Adversity, Christianity, Encouragement, Heaven, Hope, Music Video, Religion and Spirituality, Suffering, Trusting God

May God wreck our plans!

We were getting away for a few days to relax and regain some sense of rhythm. But God had other plans!

Susan and I loaded our bikes into the old blue bus (our 20-year-old van) and pulled out late Sunday afternoon headed for a hotel room in Indy. The trip was uneventful, the room was great and the continental breakfast was amazing. But then…

We shopped at a few nearby stores before heading downtown to visit a friend who had just given birth to her third baby. We got within a couple of miles of the hospital when the van started sputtering.

Long story short, we spent another night in Indy and about $500 for a new fuel pump!

The really ironic part is that I’m reading a book about what God may be up to when our dreams get shattered or our plans go up in smoke. And just for the record, I prefer reading about it over actually living it. Just sayin’…

There are certainly bigger dreams out there than just getting away for a few days but it stretched our patience to the breaking point!

In his book, Shattered Dreams, Larry Crabb suggests that God uses the big and little obstacles of life to help us come to grips with what matters most to us. Are we pursuing God in order to secure His blessings of a good life or are we desiring a relationship with God above all else?

The deepest longings of our heart cry out for an experience of God’s presence; and yet we so often settle for lesser passions. Only when those lesser passions get thwarted or crushed will we delve deeper into our soul and come to discover our greater passion for God.

An encounter with God is what we were created for and satisfies our soul like nothing or no one else can. But when the lesser passions of life satisfy us, even if they are only temporary, we forget the bigger passion.

It’s sort of like nibbling on junk food too close to the big meal and losing our appetite for real food.

I’ll be honest. I was very angry and frustrated as we sat there in the hot sun waiting for the tow truck to show up. Was a few days away to relax really too much to ask?

But eventually, a different question made its way to the forefront of my mind.

Are these few days away more important to you than God?

God could have kept our van running but didn’t. God could have prompted me to take a different vehicle but He didn’t. (At least, I don’t think He did. Sometimes I don’t listen so well)

If I want God more than I want a few days away and if I choose to trust God as sovereign, then can I trust Him to be working behind the scenes to accomplish something I know nothing about? In essence…

Would I trust God’s character and intentions to be good even if I didn’t know the “why”?

I have no great “TaDa” moment that resulted from our interrupted plans. I’ve gained no great revelation or insight from what took place. And I still don’t know how we’ll pay for the van or extra night in a hotel.

But I can trust the Author of the story to be good and I can once again sift through my passions to see which ones are most important.

May God wreck our plans, no matter how good they are, to help us discover our greater passion for Him!

***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

6 Comments

Filed under Adversity, Contentment, Desire, Discipleship, Divine presence, Frustration, God, intimacy with the Lord, Patience, Priorities, Relationship with God, Religion and Spirituality, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth, Suffering, Trusting God

May God bless you…

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done,
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Amen.

– Franciscan Benediction

***

© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authenticity, Christianity, Compassion, Grief, influence with the world, Justice, Kindness, Loving others, Religion and Spirituality, Serving, Suffering

A God of mercy?

What follows is a personal account from someone in the theatre in Aurora, CO where a gunman openned fire two days ago.

So you STILL think God is a merciful God?!

(Maybe, just maybe God spared my life because He loves YOU and wants you to hear this..He wants you to believe that He loved you so much He gave His only begotten Son that if you would believe in Him you would have eternal life.)

So, you still believe in a merciful God?”  Some of the comments online are genuinely inquisitive, others are contemptuous in nature. Regardless of the motive behind the question, I will respond the same way.

Yes.

Yes, I do indeed.

Absolutely, positively, unequivocally.

Let’s get something straight: the theater shooting was an evil, horrendous act done by a man controlled by evil.  God did not take a gun and pull the trigger in a crowded theater. He didn’t even suggest it. A man did.

In His sovereignty, God made man in His image with the ability to choose good and evil.

Unfortunately, sometimes man chooses evil.

I was there in theater 9 at midnight, straining to make out the words and trying to figure out the story line as The Dark Night Rises began. I’m not a big movie-goer. The HH and I prefer to watch movies in the comfort of our own home…where I can use subtitles and get a foot rub. I don’t like action movies. And I don’t like midnight showings.  But, as I wrote in my last post, parents sometimes make sacrifices for their kiddos and I decided I would take my fourteen year old and sixteen year old daughters who were chomping at the bit to see this eagerly anticipated third movie in the Batman Trilogy. Twice I had the opportunity to back out and twice I was quite tempted. But something in me said just go with your girls. I did.

So I was there with them, fidgeting in my seat, some forty or  fifty feet away from the man with the gun. It’s still a bit surreal, but I do know that when the seemingly endless shooting started, as my girls were struggling from whatever gas or chemical had been released, and we figured out what was happening, we hit the floor. I threw myself on top of my fourteen year old who was on the end of the row, straight up the aisle from the shooter.  In that moment, as the rapid-fire shots continued, I truly thought I was going to die. And I realized that I was ready. I have put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ as the redeemer of my soul, and there wasn’t the slightest doubt that I would be received into heaven, not because of any good thing that I have done but because of His merciful nature and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Still, as I lay over my daughter, I began praying out loud. I don’t even remember what I prayed, but I don’t imagine it really matters. I’m sure it was for protection and peace. It drew me closer into the presence of God. When there was a pause in the shooting, people began to clamor for the exits. The girls and I jumped up and joined the masses. We had to step over a lifeless body, not knowing where the shooter was. We raced to our car and I dumped my purse, frantically searching for keys, looking all around, prepared to hit the ground. I yelled at Michelle to call Matthew and find out if he had made it out of the theater next door. She did. He did. We booked on out of there.

Why would you think such a tragedy would make me question the goodness of God? If anything, both of my girls said it made Him a much more real presence to them; the youngest shared this verse: Do not be afraid of sudden fear nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your feet from being caught.

He is not the cause of evil, but He is the one who can bring comfort and peace in the midst of evil.  It’s been amazing to see the outpouring of love from so many people after this unthinkable act.  Yes, there was one evil act, but it is being covered by thousands, possibly millions of acts of kindness.

We have not yet slept, so the girls and I are overtired and a bit emotional.  But overall, we are praising God and resting in His Goodness.   I love this word of wisdom and encouragement from a former pastor of mine:

Up to this point I haven’t had words to say that would matter. Of course we are all glad that you and the family are safe. Of course we would all state the obvious that this is horrific and senseless. But those words still don’t carry weight that remain in the midst of the questions. Then it hit me… Do you know what the difference was between Job and his wife in their response to the tragedy of losing everything… Job 1:20 Job was the only one that worshiped in the midst of it. Marie, I know your heart and I’ve seen your worship lived out before your family. Before the weight of this becomes unbearable… worship. Your profile pic was not coincidence, not by accident that you changed it on July 15th, but a beautiful foreshadowing of your need to hear the cry of your heart and give Him praise. 

Though we don’t have all the answers, we do indeed listen to the cry of our hearts: When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What  can mere man  do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

God is always good.

Man is not.

Don’t get the two confused.

We will continue to praise and worship our mighty God, anticipating that He will bring beauty from ashes, as only He can do.

If you want to know how to pray for us: first and foremost, we need sleep. Somehow our bodies seem too wired. We also want the life that God has graciously allowed us to continue to live to not be a gift given in vain, we want our lives to draw others closer to Him. We do not want fear to dominate, for God has not given us a spirit of fear. We want His joy to be seen and experienced in all that we do.

Pray for the families who lost loved ones, and for young people who witnessed such horror. Pray for this to be an opportunity for God to manifest Himself in mighty ways.

As for you…we will pray that YOU might know His goodness.

Still grateful for this wonderful life,

Marie

***

Please join me in continuing to pray for all those affected by this terrible tragedy. Thanks, Rick

2 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Faith, God, Grace, Grief, Healing, Heaven, Hope, influence with the world, Mercy, Peace, Praise, Prayer, Suffering

How will we choose to view our hurts?

A cloudy spring day with temperatures in the mid 60′s seems like poor weather to someone living in San Diego, Ca., but to a person living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan it would seem balmy and warm.

A bologna sandwich seems like cruel and unusual punishment in a four star restaurant, but to a starving child in the inner city of Atlanta it would seem like a feast.

The context of an experience completely changes the nature and value of that experience.

“God’s decision to forgive Peter required the death of his Son; Peter’s decision to forgive those who had offended him would cost him little more than his pride. The same is true for us.

In the shadow of my hurt, forgiveness feels like a decision to reward my enemy. But in the shadow of the cross, forgiveness is merely a gift from one undeserving soul to another. Forgiveness is the gift that ensures my freedom from a prison of bitterness and resentment.” – Andy Stanley

We are a fallen people living in a fallen world. Live long enough and you will be hurt by the actions or inactions of others.

When I view my hurts only in the context of my experiences, they become enormous and overwhelming. They seem completely unfair.

When I view my hurts in the context of what Jesus endured on the cross, they suddenly become rather small and insignificant.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.” ~ Colossians 3:12-13 (The Message)

Being hurt is inevitable. Holding onto that hurt is optional.

How will we view and what will we do with our hurts?

***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

9 Comments

Filed under Choices, Forgiveness, Freedom, Grace, Humility, Life in General, Loving others, Mercy, Suffering

Jesus had other options

It’s impossible to know all that the disciples experienced following Jesus’ death, but surely it involved confusion, doubt, anger, shock, disbelief, grief, hopelessness…

Among all the rush of emotions and thoughts, perhaps some of them considered the possibility that Jesus had other options.

From Alan T Dale’s Portrait of Jesus

The Zealots believed that a physical, violent revolt was needed. Surely if they stand up to the Romans, God will come in power to deliver them. Jesus could have taken up arms with the Zealots.

The chief priests controlled the temple. They walked a tightrope of collaborating with the Romans without getting close enough to upset other Jews. Jesus could have gone along to get along and used the temple as a teaching platform.

The Essenes withdrew to the countryside to start over in their own communities. Jesus could have done this and had quite a following out where it was safe and quiet.

Pilate ruled the region on behalf of Caesar. Jesus could have cut a deal with Pilate and worked from within the system to make some changes. Imagine Jesus being connected with influencing the Roman Empire from the inside.

God had already done many miracles through Jesus. All Jesus had to do was call for a legion of angels to come take up the battle. Perhaps one more dazzling miracle is what was needed.

All of these are options, but Jesus chooses none of them.

In the garden, alone and deserted, Jesus says, “I know what I must do. I will not fight. I will not run. I will not deal. I will not dazzle. I will die. I will die. Not my will Father but Your will be done.”

Jesus knows that rebels always die so He dies on a cross in place of the rebels, men like Barabbas. Jesus goes to the cross and literally saves Barabbas’ life.

Jesus knows that with a word from Him the crowds will attack. Many of the Roman soldiers were just boys from nearby Syria working for the Roman government. So Jesus will not say that word. He goes to the cross and Roman soldiers live.

Jesus knows that if He flees to the wilderness, His disciples will be gathered and executed. That happened to every other wannabe Messiah, and His disciples are scared to death. He dies and they are saved.

Jesus knows that any kind of uprising will bring the wrath of Rome and Jerusalem will be destroyed. So He dies to save Jerusalem.

Jesus dies for all these people who hate Him. And from this one act of sacrificial love the world is forever changed.

But they don’t understand. They don’t grasp that this is part of a bigger plan. When Jesus is arrested and crucified, all their hopes die with Him. For this moment… all seems lost.

Jesus had other options, but He chose to give His life.

“No one takes my life from me. I give it up willingly! I have the power to give it up and the power to receive it back again, just as my Father commanded me to do.” ~ John 10:18 (CEV)

***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

3 Comments

Filed under Choices, Christianity, Courage, Easter, God, Jesus, Love of God, Sacrifice, Suffering, Surrender

We grieve with hope

Yesterday I helped a friend grieve and say goodbye to a son he never got to hold. He and his wife lost a little boy about 12 weeks into the pregnancy. His name is Benjamin James.

Benjamin is face to face with our Creator but my friend and his wife are walking through a valley darker than any they’ve ever experienced. And it sucks!

This is not how God intended life to be. That’s why He’s busy creating a new place for us to be with Him forever. A place without death or suffering or tears. But until that day comes we endure some serious heartache.

The Apostle Paul tells us that all of creation is groaning under the strain of a fallen, broken world.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. ~ Romans 8:18-22 (NLT)

Seasons of suffering, like what my friends Brian and Karen are going through right now, add to the groaning mentioned here by Paul. But no matter how deep our sorrow runs, God’s grace runs deeper… and wider… and stronger.

So for now, we grieve with hope and wait for the day when God’s glory will make it all fade away.

With Hope by Steven Curtis Chapman was shared as part of the memorial service for Benjamin.

***
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.

2 Comments

Filed under Brokenness, Glory of God, Grief, Heaven, Hope, Suffering