The team member who is your biggest headache

“…a thorn in the flesh was given to me …lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

They’re standard equipment, these “thorns in the flesh.” Burrs under the saddle.  Pains in the, well, you know.  They come with the territory.

I’m reading Jack “Dusty” Kleiss’ memoirs of his service in the Second World War.  “Never Call Me a Hero: A legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers The Battle of Midway” is the lengthy title.  I recommend it highly.

As a student of the Second World War, I must have read a dozen or more of such books, memoirs of veterans of this greatest of all conflicts.  In spite of the title, Kleiss deserves the recognition and accolades of a hero as much as anyone ever has.  Again and again he risked his life flying planes of all kinds throughout the Pacific in the war against Japan.  He kept good records, his team did great research, giving us details on the days he served, the planes they flew and the men he served under alongside, which included Admirals Kimmel, Halsey, and Nimitz.

All is good, except for one guy who keeps popping up throughout the story.

Lt. Clarence Dickinson was his thorn in the flesh.

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If you would serve the Lord, expect obstacles.

“A great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (I Corinthians 16:9). 

“Is this vile world a friend to grace to help me on to God?”   (Isaac Watts, “Am I A Soldier of the Cross?”)

This is a quiz.  Name the enemies George Washington faced in the Revolutionary War.

If you answered, “The British,” you’d be only partly right.

Washington did fight the British, as the thirteen colonies asserted their independence from the Mother Nation.  But Generals Howe, Cornwallis, and Clinton and their armies were only the most visible of the forces Washington had to contend with.

He had to fight the weather.  Think of Valley Forge and even without knowing the full story, your mind immediately conjures up images of a harsh winter with all the snow, ice, sleet, and freezing temperatures that includes.

Washington had to deal with starvation and deprivation.  No one knows how many thousands of his soldiers perished from the cold and starvation at Valley Forge and how many deserted in order to save their lives.  Many surrendered to the British at Philadelphia in the vain hope that the conquerors would feed and clothe them.

Washington had to deal with a Congress that was either ignorant, misinformed, or outright hostile to his situation. He wrote letter after letter detailing the misery of his army and pleading for help.  Finally, a delegation came from the national capital, temporarily at York, PA, to see for themselves, after which congress began to act.

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You’re going through a transition: What to do.

The Lord is my Rock.  Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.  Shelter me under the Rock.  (found all through the Psalms)

You’ve just been released from one job (position, place of service, ministry, etc) and you are preparing for the next one.  What to do in the meantime?

You’ve lost your spouse of many years, whether by death or divorce or something else.  What do you do until the way opens up before you?

You’ve moved from the only home you ever knew to a new city/country, and you’re finding it difficult.  What now?

Keep your eye on the Rock.

Changes can be hard.  But they can be lifegiving and life-altering.

Life is about change.  Anyone who does not like change is going to have a lot of trouble in this life.  Any Christian who cannot handle change is going to have trouble following the Lord Jesus.

Here are our top ten suggestions to you on how to make the most of the transition time…

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The most difficult aspect of praying

“We do not know how to pray as we should” (Romans 8:26).

I know some things my  pet does not.

My dog thinks he wants to fight that pesky cat next door. By his barking and straining at the leash, Albie gives every indication that chasing that cat would be the high point of his day.  It wouldn’t.  It would be his greatest nightmare.

That little cat sits on the driveway, completely unmoving when my dog walks within 10 feet, barking and snarling and threatening.  The cat hardly blinks an eye.  Another day at the office.  Another house dog who thinks he wants a piece of me but has no idea the trouble he’s asking for.

I know what a fierce cat can do to a sweet little house-broken dog that has never been in a real fight in his life.  I know his instincts tell him to chase the cat–that this is what he was put here on Earth for–but I know better.

I hold the leash and lead this lovely little canine on to other things, and as far away from that fierce little feline as we can get.

And just so does our Lord lead His children.

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Why the Lord is so rough with some of His best people

“O you of little faith!  Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

The teacher is hardest on the best pupils.

The Master Teacher is hardest on the Star Pupil.

The coach is in the face of the player with the greatest potential, on his back, never letting up.

Check out these words from the Lord Jesus.  “Get behind me, Satan.  You are a stumbling block to me;  for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23).

He said those harsh, cutting words, not to the Pharisees, but to Simon Peter, His “star apostle.”

Simon Peter–the disciple with the most potential, the one Jesus renamed as “Rock.”  He called Peter a “satan” (adversary) soon after commending him for his confession that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  When Peter said that, the Lord said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Called him blessed one moment and turns right around and calls him a devil.

What’s going on here?

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Is God interested in making me happy?

“He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

“…And now I am happy all the day” (“At the Cross,” a gospel song in our hymnals).

It’s good to be happy.  I’m all in favor of it, and I think the Lord is also.

However.

God’s primary concern is not in making us happy.  He does not fret because someone is displeased with the job He is doing, someone else is .unhappy with the way a Scripture text is worded, and another is complaining about the weather today.

Pleasing us does not appear to be high on His agenda.  He seems not in the least concerned that some of us do not like His methods or the personnel He has sent in our direction as our teachers, pastors, comforters, companions.

I can just hear it now.  “Lord, are you aware that some of us are unhappy with you?  Doesn’t that concern you?”  He that sitteth in  the Heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. (Psalm 2)

Scripture shows that God is far more interested in pleasing Himself and making Himself happy than in satisfying us.

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The power of a good life-altering crisis

“No chastening for the moment seems enjoyable, but painful. But afterwards, to those who have been trained by it,  it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

In the middle of the pain, no one enjoys the experience. Only in looking back–at some distant day–do you see how God  used it.

Life is understood only in looking backward, the saying goes. But it must be lived going forward.

It doesn’t work that way for everyone, Hebrews 12:11 is implying. For some, the trials are fatal.  It just depends.  “To those who have been trained by it” surely means “the people who have learned to give their woes to the Lord for His purposes.”

We can wallow in our defeat, be chained in despair by our sorrows and troubles, or we can rise above them by putting our trust in the Savior and finding His purposes.

In her book Character, Gail Sheehan tells of the lengthy rehabilitation Bob Dole endured after his World War II injury. (German machine gunfire hit him in the upper back and right arm. Medics gave him the largest possible dose of morphine, then wrote “M” (for morphine) on his forehead with his own blood, so no one who found him would give him a second, fatal dose.)   Dole went through multiple surgeries and experienced recurring blood clots, life-threatening infections, and long periods of recuperation and therapy.

An interviewer once asked Senator Dole, “How did this delay your career plans?”

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“What I did for love”–Every believer’s two-sided resume’

“But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God:  in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of the truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report, as deceivers and yet true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying and behold we live; as chastened and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10).

I can imagine picking up this guy’s resume’ and having it say: “In one of the two churches I served as pastor, I endured a four-hour deacons meeting in which some wanted to lynch me for preaching the gospel.  Not only did I frequently preach revivals in some outstanding churches and baptized hundreds of converts, but my wife became the target of a gossip campaign because she wore a pants-suit to church one night.  So, I think I’m qualified for anything now.”

A full resume’ would tell both sides of our story.

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The scripture half of the Lord’s pastors tend to overlook

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…. (Men) will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake….  Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…. Do not think that I am come to bring peace on earth…” (Matthew 10:16ff)

(Note: Invariably, when I write something in support of the Lord’s servants who have been mistreated by the Lord’s congregations, someone will reply calling my attention to the sins of preachers.  As if I did not know.  I will readily admit there are some men in the ministry who need to be out, who are bringing reproach on the name of Christ and shame to His church.  But most of the pastors I’m acquainted with who have been driven from their pulpits were guilty only of crossing the wrong people.)

Suddenly, that great church which the pastor was enjoying and had been bragging about to his colleagues turned on him and wanted him gone.

Without warning it seems, those precious people who had welcomed him so warmly just a couple of years back have now joined the vicious mob clamoring for the pastor’s head.

That wonderful deacon fellowship which had devoted themselves to serving God’s people and ministering to the needy suddenly arose and announced their intention to oust the pastor.

That sweet family to whom the pastor ministered again and again misinterpreted something he did (or believed something they heard) and began to devote themselves to seeing that he was fired.

Why, Lord?  Pastors and their families wonder that.

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Humor and grief in ministry…hand in hand

“There is….a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

The doctors at Houston’s M. D. Anderson Medical Center confirmed to Ted that the lung cancer had indeed metasticized to his brain.  “Perhaps six months, more or less,” said the doctor when Ted asked how long he had.  The worst news imaginable.

However, that night the doctor called his room.

“I’ve been studying the brain scans,” he said. “And I believe yours is Primary Lung Cancer which has moved to the brain.”  He went on to say that Primary Brain Cancer is not treatable, but a metasticized Primary Lung Cancer behaves differently in the brain and is often treatable.

There was hope, after all.

When he got off the phone, Ted explained this to his family. He was quiet a minute, then said, “Well, you know it’s your basic bad situation when you’re praying for lung cancer!”

And they laughed.

Can you weep and laugh at the same time?

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