I recently stumbled across the story of 9-year-old Louis. He was watching his father work with leather in his harness-making shop in 19th-century France. “Someday, Father,” said Louis, “I want to be a harness maker, just like you.”

“Why not start now?” retorted his father. He took a piece of leather and showed his son how to work with a hole puncher.

Excited, the boy began to work, but soon the hole puncher flew out of his hand and pierced his eye! He lost sight in that eye immediately. Later the other eye failed, and Louis was totally blind.

His life came to a standstill until one day when Louis was sitting in the family garden, holding a pinecone. As he ran his sensitive fingers over the layers of the cone, he could picture it clearly in his mind. Suddenly he thought, “Why not create an alphabet of raised dots to enable sightless people to read?” So Louis Braille opened a new world for the Bust of Louis Braille by Étienne Leroux found at Wikipediablind, something that would never have happened if not for the tragedy he experienced.

There have been times I could look back and see something good come out of a bad situation. I’ve heard about a death in a family bringing two estranged relatives together again. And natural disasters can bring out the best in communities as people pull together to help one another. A lot of times, though, it seems to me that sad and hurtful circumstances happen for no good reason.

Regardless, I can choose one of two ways to respond to hard times. I can choose to become angry and bitter; however, that will only make the difficulty more painful. Or I can choose – by God’s grace and with his help – to endure. A pastor colleague I know once compared going through hard times to the work of a jeweler. Like an excellent jeweler, the Lord brings his most treasured possessions – you and me – to journey through the crucibles of fire so that you and I become stronger and more beautiful on the other side. In the Bible, the apostle Peter puts it like this: “Troubles test your faith and prove that it is pure. And such faith is worth more than gold. Gold can be proved to be pure by fire, but gold will ruin. When your faith is proven to be pure, the result will be praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ comes.”

I don’t like hard times. I don’t go looking for them. But, as Louis Braille discovered, God can use them to bring about something good. In fact, one of the greatest miracles is that God – the one who knows how to bring back to life that which was dead – regularly uses hard times so we can grow, live, and hope in him.

I shared the story of Louis Braille in a chapel with the students at Rock Valley Christian School last week. I wrote these reflections for this week’s Rock Valley Bee.

Faithless < > Faithful

Crazy Love by Francis ChanIn his book Crazy Love Francis Chan asks,

—–What are you doing right now
—–that requires faith?
(p. 124)

When the question was first posed to him in a class at Bible college, Francis Chan came to the conclusion that he wasn’t really doing anything in particular that required a whole lot of faith.  He figured his everyday life wouldn’t be a whole lot different for him if he didn’t believe in God.

On the one hand, I empathize with Francis Chan.  A lot of times I’ll make plans and run with them, only afterwards asking God to “baptize” them with His blessing.  And then there are the occasions when I find myself completely overwhelmed by some situation only to discover that not once have I brought it to God in prayer.  I don’t think I’m the only one to profess a trust in God … as long as everything’s in control, there’s money in the bank, I’m healthy, and the right people think well of me.  I say I live by faith … but I have my backups and safety nets in place as best as I can just in case the unknown happens.  So often I go on my own strength, and only when I really run stuck will I turn to God.  (Of course, there’s something to be said about needing to live wisely and responsibly…)

Having confessed that, there’s also a part of me that would answer the question by saying “Everything!”  You think being a human being, husband, father, friend, and pastor is something I can do well naturally?!  If it weren’t for the gift of faith and for the reality of God’s grace and Spirit, I wouldn’t be who I am doing what I do.  None of it would exist.  I don’t think I’d exist!

So I feel it’s a bit of a trick question.  Sure, asking it challenges you, but it might also create undue guilt.

Related to this is a better quote from the book that I want to be able to honestly say myself more and more:

I’m thankful for the unknowns and that I don’t have control, because it makes me run to God. (p. 45)

Joy in trials

I feel that people just getting to know Jesus or people desiring to be baptized or give their testimony for the first time ought to be warned: Friendship with Jesus, while extraordinary, is not easy.  Whether Christians face more trials than people who do not follow Jesus, I dare not say; however, it should be said that enduring tough times come with the package of being a disciple of Jesus.  The fact is: Satan is not very pleased with my decision to walk with Jesus, and he’ll find both blatant and subversive ways to distract me from my faith.

Biblical author James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”  Notice he does not say, “Consider it pure joy if you face trials…”  As brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s a matter of when – not if – we’ll experience tough times.

Some people leave it at that.  Expect trials.  Period.  Deal with it.

But instead of a period, may I suggest a semi-colon?

The apostle Paul recognized that the church in Thessalonica was going through a tough time, so he sent his co-worker Timothy to them “to strengthen and encourage [them] in [their] faith.”  Note how Paul says this within a breath of acknowledging that we are indeed destined for trials.  Yes, trials will come; but I believe so will strength and encouragement.  This strength and encouragement may come from the words and actions of a Godly person like Timothy or perhaps simply knowing deep inside that God is right there in the trial with me and you.

Now don’t say you weren’t warned…  And given a promise.