Stronger in Jesus

It is often said that what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. I guess I’ve lived long enough now to learn the truth in that maxim. As much as we might want to avoid it, suffering and pain and challenges do often make us stronger. In my church, we are taking a three-month period to study this very idea of suffering and what connection God could possibly have with it. We are discovering that it should really be no surprise to the follower of Jesus when tough times come. After all, Jesus was constantly facing sorrow, wasn’t he? And he told us that if we follow him, we will have both the fullness of joy AND sorrow. Why? Because that was his path through this world, and if we are walking in his footsteps, it should not be surprising that we walk through difficulties as well. This world was not his home and neither is it our home. It shouldn’t be expected to be always comfortable.

The idea that trials make us stronger doesn’t mean that we can’t also learn through joy and happiness and blessings. We can and we do learn from the good times. But, like it or not, it is when we are in the darkest of the dark that we scramble hardest for a match. And when we get a spark, we are so much more grateful for its light than we are when we’re walking in the cloudless sunshine.

It’s a fact. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Still, it’s important to add one condition to this truth. That condition is that while we are suffering, we find ourselves clinging to Jesus during the difficulty.Otherwise, we just survived. There’s a difference, isn’t there? We cansurvive trouble without becoming necessarily stronger. We can still be alive, but wanting to be dead. To come to the other end of the darkness and actually be stronger, means that we have had an encounter with the Man of Sorrows. It means that we can actually look at the pain we endured (and still may be enduring) and yet be grateful for the opportunity to connect with Jesus in an intimate way.

So, with the condition of going through sorrow with Jesus, we can truly say that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. More important, however, is our new awareness that what doesn’t kill us makes GOD stronger….in our eyes. After all, God is the Hero of each story. No matter what the trial is, in the end God is the One who reaches down and strikes that match in the darkness. It is God’s strong hand that picks us up. It is the strength of God’s own words that bring hope and restoration and peace to our weakened condition.

Some people believe God is incapable of allowing bad things to happen to good people. But if we are honest, we must realize that it is because of enduring some bad things, that we know more about the good things of God. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJ that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. “Therefore I take pleasure in my infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When the next wave of difficulty washes over us, or even crashes head-on into our faces, we can remember that in our helplessness, God is made powerful. And in God’s power, we will be made stronger too.

Family Vacations

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Some of my fondest memories from childhood are from our family vacations.  I can still hear the voices of my parents and siblings as we piled into the Plymouth and headed from the plains of Kansas to the Rockies.  And then there were the trips to California where I got to taste the salty waters of the Pacific Ocean while being delightfully knocked over by a wave that was much bigger than my four year old mind had imagined!  Then there was the trip through the desert. Without air conditioning or seat belts, my perch as the youngest of four was the hump in the floor of the backseat.  Anyone remember that spot?  I can feel, even now, the hot wind pouring in the car windows while we sucked on ice cubes kept in the Styrofoam chest.  Uncomfortable as it was, it is one of my favorite memories because our family was on an adventure together!

When Mark and I had our children, I couldn’t wait to take our first family vacation.  We went to Colorado, and it was just as wonderful being on the parent end of the adventure as it was being the child.  There was the thrill of seeing the kids behold the lofty mountains for the first time.  And the unfailing joy of opening the motel room and saying in unison,  “W-o-w!”

No doubt about it, family vacations are magic.  But families don’t have to go to the Magic Kingdom to make it special.  In fact, in these economically challenging times, many people could likely never experience the adventure of family vacationing if they had to save enough money to include the most popular destinations.  That’s why I so loved a particular episode of Adventures in Odyssey, a children’s Christian radio program, which featured a family who couldn’t afford to take a family vacation, but who needed one desperately.  What did they do?  They took a few days that would have been spent going away somewhere, and went to attractions close to home.  For example, they camped in the back yard.  They went to a museum of local history.  They visited attractions in nearby towns that other people actually came to their area to see!  They loved it.

Okay, it was fiction.  But the point is worth examining.  What is it that really makes family vacations memorable?  It’s being together, of course.  And doing things that you don’t do every other day.  It’s an adventure together.  So, if the adventure ends up being a little laughable, then all the better!  If your family is needing some together time, but the budget is not allowing the TV commercial variety, consider some of the following:

  • Check out the nearest city area.  Is there an IMAX theater that is showing something educational?  Our family watched a wonderful IMAX presentation of the life of Mark Twain, which was very fun.  What other attractions does the city have?  Museums?  Zoos?  Some of them may even be free. Plan to have your picnic lunch in one of the parks.  It’s cheaper and way more fun.
  • If you have camping tents, break them out and use them.  If not, could you borrow some from friends?  The kids may think this is a bit lame, but stick with it.  It’s amazing how much good will can be created over a few roasted marshmallows.  If that fails, break out the Hershey’s and make S’mores.
  • If the budget allows, go to a restaurant that you have never gone to as a family.  If the budget does not allow for that, have a family potluck dinner at home with each family member preparing his/her own dish.  To make the adventure even more interesting, have everyone choose a dish to make that is from a place they would like to go on a vacation in the future.  For example, a trip to Mexico might include enchiladas!  Or a trip to the grandparents house might include Grandma’s famous homemade rolls…using her own recipe, of course.  No phones, earphones, or TV are allowed during potluck or preparation.  Only family.
  • Be sure to pick up some postcards at your local drug store or museum and send them!  Think how fun it will be for the grandparents and other special people to receive postcards from your creative family vacation.  Also, be sure to take lots of photos and video coverage of your adventure.  This is one family vacation you will not want missing from your photo album, and likely, photos that will be pulled out often throughout the years!

Being a family is a blessing.  Spending time together is a choice.  It is unnecessary to waste precious memory-making time together waiting for vacation funds to accumulate.  Be together, and be rich!

Bless our School

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Bless our school, Dear Lord, I pray
And close within it always stay.

Guide us by your Precious Hand
Grant us Truth to understand.

Teach this teacher, make her wise
Give her focused, Spiritual eyes.

And please remind her now and then
That “less than perfect” isn’t sin.

In every lesson of this school
May kindness be the teaching tool.

And when frustration starts to trickle
Reach and give our ribs a tickle!

Bless these students, Lord, I ask
Be their Partner in each task.

Create an appetite for learning
And for knowledge, keep them yearning.

Bless the dad whose hands provide
The tools we need and the place we abide.

Help us remember and never forget
The example of sacrifice he has set.

So much to learn, so much to teach
Bless our school, Lord, bless us each.

I know someday we’ll learn Up There
But for today, Lord, hear my prayer.

By GwenSimmons@2014

Music in the Family

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I had the most refreshing observation yesterday in church.  As the congregation was singing “It Is Well With My Soul”, I glanced across the aisle at our pastor’s young children.  They were holding hymn books, but I couldn’t help noticing that they were not reading the words.  They were singing with all their hearts, but not needing to refer to the page for any of the verses.  Impressed with this observation, I  watched them singing at our vespers service later. Again, they were singing all verses without the use of the words.  For all of their lives, those children will have the benefit of having a collection of hymns recorded in their memory. As I thought more about it, I couldn’t help feeling what a blessing it would be to all Christian families to take up a habit of memorizing hymns.  Here are some ideas:

  • If you don’t already own a hymn book, buy one.  Preferably, get one that is the same as the one your church uses.  Or maybe you could even borrow one from the church. If someone in your family plays piano or some other instrument, use that to accompany your singing and to help learn the melodies if you don’t already know them.
  • If no one in your family can accompany the hymns, choose common ones that have melodies you already know by heart and teach those to your children without accompaniment.
  • While the melodies of hymns are beautiful and have an emotional and spiritual benefit to the listener, the most valuable part of the hymn is the words.  So, if your family does not particularly care for the melodies (although I’d strongly encourage developing a taste for them), you can still learn the words as poems.  In fact, many times we learn hymns by rote and never really hear the words.  Try just reading the hymns as poems and see for yourself how precious the messages are.
  • Buy a book that gives the history of hymn writers and hymns or do a search on the Internet and share the information at family time.  There are some amazing stories behind the hymns.  Some suggestions of songs to research might be It Is Well With My Soul or O, Love, That Wilt Not Let Me Go.  Hymn writers who might be interesting to learn about could be Fannie Crosby or Philip Bliss.

So many parents wish after their children are grown, that they had invested more time and energy into family music.  Don’t wait.  It doesn’t require a lot of money for music lessons to enjoy music as a family.  And putting the great old hymns in the minds of your children is a gift that will definitely keep on giving!

Walking with the Character Builder

Recently, I read a wonderful passage of wisdom from a book called Acts of the Apostles which said, “Not in the freedom from trial, but in the midst of it, is Christian character developed.”

As I pondered over this adage, I thought about my own journey. Certainly, it was true that the most character-building times in my life had come in the midst of trial. But why? Maybe a better question is, why not? Why wouldn’t it be more likely that we would draw closer to God during difficult times? After all, isn’t God the One we go to when we’re desperate? Isn’t Jesus the Comforter, Counselor, and Prince of Peace? Naturally, if we go to Him for help during trial, we will come out of the trial stronger. Psalm 46:2 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” KJV

So, it’s true. Character is built in the midst of trial. But now I’m wondering if it can also be built in the midst of joy? Again, looking at my own journey, I have to say that it is. Think about it. How about at the birth of a child? Or at a marriage ceremony? Or a baptism? Or even a graduation? How about while taking a walk in Nature? Of course! We feel close to God during those times, too, and character is built as we sing praises for the blessings we’re receiving.

So what do we make of this character growth business? Should we hope for trials or for joys? Maybe the core of the issue is not in asking for trials or for joys. Rather, we should simply be asking for the constant companionship of Jesus. That way, if we walk into a trial, we know Jesus is walking through it with us. If we walk into a blessing, He’s nearby to receive our thanks. All of this reminds me of a little song I learned when I was a child that comes to mind just now. I think it is key to the building of character, no matter what the day brings.

Walking in the shadows, walking in the sunlight, walking every day; walking all the way. Walking with Jesus, I’m walking every day with Him.

**I highly recommend the book Acts of the Apostles by Ellen White. It gives a wonderful study of the ministry of the apostles and beautifully and powerfully illuminates the power of Jesus in their lives and actions. I got my copy from Adventist Book Center, which you can find online.