The pamphlet, “God’s Hand in Our Hardship” by Joni Eareckson Tada is a very thought-provoking tool to use as a beginning discussion to many individuals suffering from various issues in life. Specifically I can utilize it as I speak with individuals infected with HIV regarding God’s involvement in their journey. Tada discusses God’s role in the suffering of His people and how suffering can occur from a loving God which many people grapple with; especially individuals who were infected while they were following God’s commands in their life.
Tada discusses the reasons that God does not eradicate suffering or even heal those who are suffering from illness not due to their own behavior. I have been asked many times why God doesn’t just heal those who are infected with HIV, which God could do if He desired. Tada answered this question with a hard but true answer: “If God were to eradicate suffering from the world, he would have to get rid of sinners—suffering is inextricably linked to our rebellion against God back in the garden. But God does not want to obliterate sinners; he wants to save them”.
How about those who are already “saved”? Tada discusses some hard questions and provides hard biblical answers. “There is hidden mercy here! By tasting suffering in this life-hell’s splash-over-people are driven to ponder what may face them in the next life. In this way suffering may be our greatest mercy”. Tada explains that suffering reminds us that it is a “heaven to be reached for Christ’s sake, and a hell to be avoided”. Instead of looking at who we are in our own standards we need to view who Christ is and His standards; He is the measuring stick.
Tada who is a quadriplegic after a diving accident discusses what good can come from suffering. I believe she is qualified to speak on this subject because it is from an authentic point of view. Tada reflects on Apostle Paul who went through various sufferings and delighted in his weakness because of his relationship with Christ (2 Cor. 12:10). God allows events to occur in life for our benefit and His glory; Satan can only do what He allows.
Finally, Tada has a list of the good that can come from our suffering which I love because there is always a benefit-finding component in our sufferings. As Tada says, “suffering pushes us to let go of the sins that Christ suffered to forgive”.
I recommend using this pamphlet especially for individuals as a beginning discussion piece in small group study. Rose Publishing has provided me with an advanced reader copy.
Things will happen. Life is hardly ever fair and out of nowhere life’s journey shifts and an entire new set of circumstances surface. I was in Chicago recently to conduct research while I complete my doctorate degree. The weather is Chicago didn’t take notice of my urgency or my schedule; it rained the entire time I was there with the exception of one day. The streets and highways flooded and citizens of Chicago endured days of flooded basements and streets. During that time I thought I can at least get a little writing done until my laptop’s operating system crashed. What was I here for while my mother was in Hospice respite care? I rested, then de-stressed and reengineered my trip salvaging its purpose. My trip was a success and I was able to accomplish what I came to do.
My life has been a longer version of the past week. I started out with so many plans in mind and I have accomplished many of my goals along the way. What happens when “life” throws a proverbial wrench in your best laid plans? What happens when the love of your life no longer loves you? What happens when your perfect child has a permanent link in their brain and mental illness becomes the new normal? What occurs in the will of a person to deal with a stigmatized illness in a community that doesn’t yet understand how to deal with even minor issues in a society? How do you become the caregiver and pseudo-mother of your mother who once provided you with instruction? How do you deal with your beloved mother who doesn’t know who you are?
So many questions surface in this metaphysical journey that challenge who and what I am and examines my foundation. Belonging in an intimate relationship with my Lord and Savior is where my foundation begins: without my relationship with the Lord I would be devastated by the events of my journey. The encouragement that an individual sometimes seek from friends and even family is often non-existent and the journey seems harder and longer. We spend so much of our lives seeking approval and validation from individuals who don’t even matter in the scope of our journey and the purpose of our lives: we realize along the way that we are humans seeking perfection in an imperfect world.
Perfection can never be achieved however a perfect peace can be. As humans we need to seek validation from a level higher than we are: that level is the Creator. He says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you”; however we sometimes expect validation and peace from the citizens of the world. Our dreams, our reality and our purpose are far away from the understanding of most individuals. Individuals can understand success however often anyone comprehends the obstacles it takes to make those dreams a reality.
When it appears that our foundation is being shaken, we can remain steadfast only if our relationship with Christ is solid and not based on politically correct sayings or religiosity. Our foundation can’t be based on an abstract God in a far away universe untouchable to His creation. Our God must be intimate, relateable, touchable and with us in every day, hour, minute, second and moment.
I went to Chicago on a journey to obtain three letters in my tagline. Three simple letters can mean so much or nothing at all: PhD, EdD, DBA. The first three acronyms align with formal educational accomplishment. Some individuals would like to believe that one of the three is more significant and important than the other two even though all three require the same amount of dedication and commitment. That’s what we do; especially “saved” folk. We don’t always encourage and inspire each other because we are too busy in our own egotistical world. The three aforementioned acronyms usually mean that the individual that is striving to own the acronym has committed and dedicated themselves to owning their craft and internalizing the knowledge surrounding this effort. The acronyms provide validation for the seeking individual and displays to the society-at-large that this individual has accomplished and dedicated themselves to the highest level in their field.
I am living with three-letters every day. It’s not something I was striving to obtain or even wanting to experience. It is something that I was introduced to and then it crept into my system until it made itself known in 2005 when it could no longer be silent. It is something that is purposeful in its intent to destroy me however something that I must master. I must not only own it but I must investigate and discover every tidbit of knowledge so that I can implant the information into my reality. I understand that whether God’s healing comes through modern medicine or instantaneous curing, I am walking in the plan that He has for me and it is for His good. It was one of the biggest proverbial wrenches thrown into my reality however it has caused me to make a complete paradigm shift to live fiercely purposeful in His power alone.
I have been absent for a minute due to things that I allowed to get in my way: ME. It is so easy to allow obstacles to cloud my thinking and take over my energy so that I become ineffective for the purposes that I was sent to earth to accomplish; my own individual calling from the Lord. Luke 9:62 states that we should continue to “plow” ahead. Plowing is an active and forceful pressing with intense strength to ensure that the furrows are deep enough and straight for preparation of planting to produce a bountiful harvest. The initial purpose of plowing is to tear up and turn the earth in preparation for making the straight lines for planting. Even before I need to worry about the straight lines I have to make sure that I can hold on to the plow while it tears up the ground and turns it over making a new soil.
At times Christians become so “in love” with the word love that we forget to speak the truth and forget that the Word of God is also for rebuking and reproving. We are so careful to be politically correct and not offend anyone else while we are offended and ridiculed for holding on to our views because they are not popular. Jesus Christ was a radical and He “tore and turned over” the norms of His day; He was not politically correct.
Christians shout and sing yet sometimes we are the most judgmental to the world without turning the mirrors on ourselves. We often do not take care of our body temples, our homes, our families and definitely not our friends. We smile and praise the Lord on Sundays and then we mistreat the person we sat next to by Sunday evening. God requires more of us than we are currently giving Him; I am including myself.
Once we accept the call of the Lord and begin to plow, our focus must be to continue to look ahead for the rocks or/and obstacles in our way. The Bible states if we look back we are not fit or euthetos for His kingdom. Many people would state that Jesus had harsh and unrealistic words! I have to take a real look at what Jesus is saying in Luke chapter 9 . The Lord does not want an ambassador with a divided mind who constantly looks back and questions, “Am I plowing in the right field?” Am I constantly looking at another’s field and wondering why their field at least looks easier to plow then my own? Am I voiding out my harvest in plowing incorrectly because I am complaining about the rocks that may be in the way or the sun beating on my back? If this were an easy walk then everyone would be walking my journey. If the path to success was an easy journey then everyone would be successful. My pastor, Pastor Williams in Nashville, stated that many times we do not consider the steps to the dream that the Lord has shown us because God showed us the dream and not all the hills and valleys to get there.
So here, we are into our second month of a new year. Who knows what our future will be? What will we do with our time and our energy? Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days so that we may obtain a heart of wisdom”. Tomorrow is not promised so we need to make it count by continuing to accomplish our individual plan. I recently found my father’s datebook from 2006. My father had terminal cancer and passed on August 17, 2006. He knew his time was approaching in July when I last saw him alive however, he had dates scheduled to December 31, 2006. His scheduling of dates was not based on feelings, emotions or even his amazing will. His scheduling was based on a promise that he made to the Lord that he would keep his hands to the plow until he physically could not. Three days before he passed his health declined and he went into a coma. I had asked him in July of 2006, “Why us Daddy, you with cancer, me with HIV?” He responded, “Why not us?” So I looked at him without an answer but understood that God allows it “to rain on the just and unjust” and that I can either live my life plowing crooked lines and producing an unfruitful harvest or I can keep my hands on the plow while tearing and turning up the earth, while making straight lines. I can prepare my field for a bountiful harvest so that whether I am plowing, watering or reaping during my watch, I am doing just what I was put here to do.
Stay on track this year. Pick up a notebook and write down what you want to accomplish this year with measurable and realistic goal dates. I would suggest write down the obstacles in your way and how you intend to eliminate them to reach your goal. Plow ahead and Plow straight!
As the year begins many individuals will be reflecting on the past year; the focus will be on accomplishments and failures. There were unrealistic plans that failed and realistic measurable goals that survived the year of challenges. What was learned in 2012 that can be taken forward? What items do we need to bury and leave in a year that is now almost over?
I can authentically speak for myself and I have learned that I can produce excellence if not perfection however, my excellence only goes so far and it is subjective. The early philosopher Aristotle wrote, “Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts”. Excellence is grown and nurtured daily. My excellence is based on what I feel is right and just; it is based on my judgment. I have a greater authority than myself that I am measured against; I must measure myself against absolute perfection. The Word of God states that I am clearly not perfect however, my striving for perfection must always be the goal therefore it is a continuous task of “reaching for the prize”. My complete being must align with the holiness and perfection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Vince Lombardi stated, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we catch excellence”. We are complex creations and so many times we exhibit excellence in one or more components of our lives however it is not complete; the one area that we leave tucked away and where excellence is not nurtured we leave to mediocrity. Some events that occur in life I realize I cannot control no matter how careful or diligent. We live in a fallen world and unjust events occur however, there are things that I can control such as my attitude, diet, exercise, and tongue. Many people do not think these are big items however; one area of mediocrity can overshadow the excellence in our lives so we become ineffective in all the components of our lives and we appear and indeed are inauthentic beings.
Aristotle re-stated what Peter stated in I Peter 1:5, 2 Peter 1:5
“…applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your
moral excellence, knowledge…” The building blocks for excellence is first to make a habit; a routine of the character trait that we want to build within ourselves. The choice to build the character/trait is deliberate and purposeful with measurable goals that align with the Word of God. It is possible to build this character because we are partakers of God’s divine nature (2 Peter 1:3) and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The deliberate purposeful decision to align with the Word of God increases our faith in God, which our decisions and actions align with His. Excellence is then exhibited in our daily actions whether it is cleaning the kitchen or feeding the poor. Excellence is in every component of our lives and is a part of our transformation rather than modification.
Our excellence is based on something that is real and powerful: Knowledge. Knowledge can assist an individual to rise above the stigmas, negative comments, gossips and fear of living with a stigmatized chronic disease. I plan to exhibit excellence in every area of my life; my knowledge is not based on feeling. I do not want anyone to have to deal with living with an HIV infection however neither do I want any individual to live in fear or condemnation that is infected. I plan to continue to read, learn and talk about the prevention of HIV and the success of living an abundant life if an individual is infected with HIV; it is a two-sided calling.
I plan to continue in 2013 to take care of “my temple” better than I have in previous years. I plan to continue to exercise at least 6 days a week and eat better. I plan to continue taking my supplements (www.positivelyliving1.com) and drinking my protein powder (Body by VI). I am setting obtainable and measureable goals of excellence, which will always be by New Year’s Resolution.
Seriously, our goal should be striving for excellence, producing “fruit” and ensuring that we are not only concerned about individuals’ souls but their minds and bodies. Many times, we are so inundated with our own goals that we forget to align ourselves with the goals of God and we somehow mix up our goals with His. If we focus on Him, obey, and listen to His Word then our goals will be accomplished because they will be measurable and attainable with our transformation into His divine nature. We should be about Kingdom business first and then all of our goals will align with His because His Word is a guidebook on living a positively authentic life of excellence.