Transform ‘Losses’ Into Gains

Transform ‘Losses’ Into Gains

Chapter Four

Transform 'Losses' Into Gains
"All Things" 64 From Pit To Pedestal 72
"I Am Here" 66 He Knows; He's Never Late 74
"Under The Circumstances" 68 Living By The "At Leasts" Of Life 76
Coming To Terms With 'Chocolate Messes' 70 Discussion Questions 78

Romans 8:18-28

"All Things"

Not everything that happens in a Christian's life is good. Not everything that happens in a Christian's life is pleasant.

After having heeded the call of God to serve as a missionary in Alaska, there were events in our lives that brought tremendous stress. Because there was no hospital in the village where we lived, we had temporarily moved to the city of Nome, Alaska, to await the birth of our second child. Very early one cold February morning, my wife woke me with an urgent plea for help. We immediately transported her to the hospital where the doctor announced to me that we had a serious problem. His words were frightening indeed. He said, "I am not certain that we can save either one of them; I will simply do my best." He proceeded to do an emergency caesarean section and several pints of blood were required for saving the life of the mother and child. Both were saved but the financial implication of that experience was devastating. We had no health insurance, and what little savings we had was wiped out completely. Our tendency was to wonder why God would call us to be missionaries and then allow such devastation in our lives. It was a difficult period of time.

About eight and-a-half years later, my wife passed away from a cerebral aneurysm very suddenly. After her death, we visited the doctor who expressed great surprise that the aneurysm had not occurred during childbirth. By this time, there were three children. It was explained to him that, due to this emergency eight-and-a-half years previously, both of the younger children had been born by caesarean section. He immediately said: "That's the secret." That caesarean section had given her another eight-and-half-years to live.

It does not always happen, but occasionally God gives us glimpses of the truth of His Word that "all things work together for good to them that love God, and are the called according to His purpose." That which had seemed so devastating was now seen in a totally different light.

Your circumstances are probably totally different today. However, they may seem just as devastating. Please be assured that there is complete integrity in the promise that "all things work together for good to them that love God, and are the called according to His purpose." You can take that promise to the bank.

"Dear Lord, help me to see my circumstances in the light of your promise that "All things will work together for good" to me. Amen!"

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AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Not all things that happen to us are good, but all things that happen to us can work together with all of the other circumstances in our lives to bring good and positive results.

– Edward Rickman –


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Romans 8:18-28

"I Am Here"

When my wife passed away very suddenly with a cerebral aneurysm, it was a very traumatic event. When the doctor pronounced her death at 4:00 in the morning, it took a little time to gather myself and to exit from the hospital. On that early May morning as I exited the hospital at 5:00 a.m., it seemed like every bird in the world was sitting in the trees singing the words of the old familiar hymn: "All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres." It was at that moment that it seemed the Lord almost spoke audibly to me and said: "I am here."

They say that time heals everything. However, time is likely not long enough in this life to heal every wound. The days passed, the years passed. The Lord helped me in significant ways to put my life back together. He gave me a wonderful new wife and an additional child. However, in the Spring months, I continued to experience an annual depression that just about destroyed my ability to function. Such was the case on an early May day exactly five years after my wife had passed away. I was extremely tired and very depressed and even considered the possibility of ending it all. In fact, as I was driving along toward Cincinnati, I fell asleep. When I awoke I had crossed the median and was heading toward the oncoming traffic. My first thought was "just let it go!" However, God helped me and kept me safe. On that particular night, I laid in my bed somewhere in the middle of Cincinnati and prayed desperately that God would deliver me from this terrible depression. I prayed: "Lord, if you don't deliver me from this terrible depression, I can't go on." At exactly 5:00 the next morning, I awoke to hear all of the birds sitting outside my window 'singing at the top of their lungs'. God again spoke to me and said: "I am here." At that moment, the depression disappeared and has never returned.

The great truth of the Word of God is that there are times in our lives when we are so destitute of strength, emotion, and resources that we cannot even think clearly, much less pray. The promise of the Word of God is that at those times the Holy Spirit takes over and prays for us. And the beauty of that truth is that the Holy Spirit already knows how to pray and what to pray for, better than we. Thank God that in the moments of our problems and destitute condition, the Holy Spirit is at work on our behalf. And again, He will work out all things to His honor and glory and to our good if we trust Him.

"Dear Lord, please take the circumstances of my life today, and the devastation and the depression of my life, and turn them all into good for your honor and glory. Amen!"

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AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: When I can't pray, the Holy Spirit does pray and intercede for me in ways that are beyond my comprehension!

– Edward Rickman –


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Mark 4:34-41

"Under The Circumstances"

Benjamin Disraeli once said: "Man is not the creature of circumstances; circumstances are the creatures of me." This is a truth that is well supported in scriptural ideals. God never intended that His people should be victims of their circumstances. Yet when we look around us and evaluate even our own lives, it often seems that it is indeed the uncommon individual who is not a victim of his own circumstances.

As Christians, we are not the victims of circumstances. Certainly the question is in order – how can we avoid it in the environment in which we live? The answer is just as simple. We must be conquerors and victors over our circumstances by using them to develop the God-given character, abilities and principles He has for us. Think of the many great leaders of whom you have read. Many of them faced seemingly impossible circumstances, but faced those circumstances with confidence and determination, and turned them into a magnificent victory in their lives.

Think of Jesus Himself. Has anyone faced more difficult circumstances than when He prayed in the Garden with the haunting knowledge of the cross weighing heavily upon Him? Was He a victim of circumstances? No! There was never an expression describing Himself as being a victim. He faced the circumstances and used them to fulfill the greatest plan ever devised by God Himself. When Jesus clearly faced the circumstances of heading toward the cross, it was His finest hour. He was purchasing deliverance for every individual. He was not a victim. He was a conqueror!

The disciples of Jesus faced some very difficult circumstances. Here they were in the midst of a great storm with clouds, lightning, thunder, and waves so high they were overflowing into their boat. In fact, the boat was nearly full. What was their reaction? Their reaction very closely resembled panic!

However, there is another part of that same picture. With the storm raging around them and the disciples in panic regarding their circumstances, here was Jesus asleep in the same boat. It's all part of the same picture. Twelve persons in panic over their circumstances and one individual at perfect peace.

The disciples should have learned something from that picture. But apparently they didn't. Instead, they awoke Jesus with a strong accusation, "Don't you care that we're about to perish?" Obviously there was something missing in their lives. They didn't yet get the connection between their circumstances and the abilities of the Master.

But what about us? What about your circumstances today? Do your circumstances

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seem overwhelming? Do your circumstances seem impossible? Does it appear that you cannot survive the circumstances of your life? If so, we need to be reminded that it only takes a word from Jesus to wipe away all of the circumstances and deliver us from the cause of panic and fear. It only takes a word. The question of Jesus to these disciples was simply this – "How is it that you have no faith?" What a stinging indictment!

Where is your faith today? Have you allowed the circumstances of your life to drown your faith? Remember, Jesus is still there. He knows your circumstances and it will only take a word for Him to wipe those circumstances away and to set you free. Why not trust Him to do so today? If Jesus does not 'remove' your difficult circumstances, He will give you strength and wisdom to face your difficult circumstances and to use them for your 'good' and for God's 'glory'.

"Dear Lord, you see my circumstances today and you have the ability to deliver me, to make me victorious, to make me conqueror over all my circumstances. Please to so today. Amen!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: God always uses the circumstances of our lives to draw us to Himself. If we allow circumstances to move us in any other direction, we are the losers. Moving toward Him will make us conquerors.

– Edward Rickman –


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1 John 1:1-10

Coming To Terms With 'Chocolate Messes'

There are times when life tumbles in, and hope is gone, and despair sets in. Did you know that it is in times like those that God begins to do a great work in us?

Someone has said, "When God wants to do a miracle, He begins with an impossibility."

Ken Taylor's Living Bible begins with these words…

"When God began creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was a shapeless, chaotic mass, with the Spirit of God brooding over the dark vapors." (Genesis 1:1)

It was Easter, 1972. Our family had presented us with a copy of The Living Bible. We kept it on our coffee table.

The next morning our two granddaughters came to visit briefly before they went on to grade-school and day-care. As we were about to have our family prayers, Cindy, just 6, said: "Grandpa, can I read the Bible for prayers?"

"Of course," I said, "take the Bible and read."

"But where shall I read?" Cindy said hesitantly, unsure she could handle just any passage.

"Just find the first verse in the Bible and start there, " I said.

She had no difficulty finding Genesis 1, and without delay, began to read." She did well until she came to the second phrase, where, in word-recognition haste, she read –

…the earth was a 'shapeless chocolate mess!"

We collapsed in merriment at her misstatement, done in childlike innocence, and we never let her forget her choice of words! It's true, isn't it, that her rendering of that great First Event, was almost right? At times our world can really seem to be nothing better than a 'chocolate mess!'

And how shall we put the 'chocolate messes' of our lives right? The next verse is "And God said,

"Let there be light."

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Let the light of God's Word shine on the messes we make. Read His infinite wisdom to see things set right.

Psalms 119:105 tells us "(His) word is a light unto our path and a lamp unto our feet."

1 John 1:7 says: "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another."

"O Lord, please shine the light of your Word on the messes I have made of my life, and the path I take, so I may more perfectly please you and serve you in love."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: When I spill 'the brownie dough' I have the light of His love to help clean it up.

– Eugene Stewart –


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2 Timothy 2:1-13

From Pit To Pedestal

The best known lady in America lives on an island. She's 151 feet tall and weighs 156 tons. Her name is Liberty, of course. She stands on a pedestal that itself would be an imposing monument, for it is 154 feet tall, weighs 27,000 tons and has a museum in it! She sways five inches in a 50-mile wind, which is not uncommon in New York Harbor. To keep Liberty on her feet the pedestal is on a foundation dug down some sixty feet to solid rock. Observation: The first thing they did in 1884 when erection of the statue began was to dig a pit.

One of the best known stories of the Old Testament begins with a boy in a pit. Joseph, the pride of his father's old age, was envied by ten older brothers. To kill him, they threw him into a dry cistern (a hole built into the ground to store water that was impossible to escape from). Then they were able to sell him to foreign traders, who took him to Egypt and sold him into slavery (Genesis 37). Observation: This story ends with Joseph on a high pedestal of power as the ruler of Egypt second only to the pharaoh (Genesis 41:40).

Application One: An experience in the pit may be necessary to prepare us for greater responsibility and its challenges.

Who in the New Testament had more "days in the pits" than Paul? In his first letter to the Corinthians he lists the turmoil he had been through (11:16-33) and it is more than we can imagine surviving. Then he says that God promised, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (12:9) and amazes us by saying that because of these painful events he has learned to "delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (12:10). The pit experience, Paul says, helps us become stronger.

Application Two: It may be necessary to be in the pit so that we know how to enjoy the "pedestal experience." Near my home in beautiful southeastern Tennessee the altitude in the river valley is about 650 feet above sea level. The rugged cliffs and wooded slopes of the Cumberland escarpment rise above to about 2,300 feet. It is a beautiful area. The highest point in Kansas, Mt. Sunflower, at 4,039 feet is a lot higher. Mt. Sunflower is a wheat field so flat that it is very difficult to find the highest point. As a native Kansan I appreciate how beautiful that can be in its own way, but it lacks drama. Sometimes it is contrast that makes the view.

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That can be true in life experiences, too. We may fail to appreciate our rewards without the costs. Sigurd Olson, the great naturalist and writer of the northern Minnesota canoe country, wrote eloquently about one of his favorite lakes, a remote destination that required many miles of paddling and several difficult portages. He was captivated by the lake's beauty each time he visited until the time he flew to it on a float-equipped small plane. It wasn't the same place, he said, because it wasn't the same experience. Not working for the prize cheapened it. Maybe when God spreads a table before us we don't properly find meaning or have gratitude for it unless we have gone through the valley of the shadow of death. (See Psalms 23).

"Dear God in Heaven, I claim to want to be rock solid for you, but I run at the first sign of a 'pit experience' that would prepare me for higher service. Forgive me. I wish to be ready to move closer to you through whatever it takes to prepare me. Amen!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: "If we endure, we will also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12).

– Richard Walters –


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Psalms 111:1-10

He Knows; He's Never Late

This is my understatement of the year: "It's been a hard two weeks. Never in my life have as many frustrations crashed into my life, one after the other, than in these weeks. Never have more questions not only been unanswered, but seemed unanswerable. Never have I been misled more often by persons who claimed kinship in Christ. Without wanting to I have said, irritably, "Where are you in all this mess, God?"

Last evening, driving to have supper with my son, I turned on the truck's radio and the first phrase I heard was a gospel group singing, "He knows what you're going through." On the return trip the first words I heard from another song were, "He's never late; Jesus is never late."

Think of that! He knows what I'm going through and he will not be late with his responses of love and care! Hallelujah! That's better than seeing the Cavalry arrive in an old cowboy movie! But God's grace doesn't stop when the cup is full! This morning my first Bible reading was this: "Relax, everything's going to be all right; rest, everything's coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way!" (Jude 2, from The Message).

Yesterday I saw a motor home headed back to Ohio from its occupant's revelry in New Orleans. It was painted "Mardi Gras or bust," with other slogans describing the various forms of debauchery for which Gulf Coast Mardi Gras events exist. Today, Mardi Gras is bust, except for the hangovers. Whatever the people looked for and found is over, but God's love endures.

I write this on Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season; when we turn our thoughts from Christ's birth to his death. The crucifixion, with all its ugliness, is the event that brings the possibility of a beautiful new way of life for all who will believe. The Way is not easy for us, just as it was not easy at times for Paul, Peter, other early Christians, or even Jesus. But it is precisely because it was not easy for Jesus that we can sing, "He knows what we're going through." He knows, because he's been where we are.

Because he cares, he died. Crucifixion was such a horrible way to die that the depraved Roman Empire which sanctioned abortion and slavery, and for whom watching gladiators fight to the death was a spectator sport, did not crucify its own citizens. Jesus, loving us, said "I'll go."

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He knows; He cares. Because he cares, he provides what we need, when we need it. "Where are you, God?" The answer is astonishing. It is the most reliable truth that exists: God says, "I am with you, for you!"

"Thank you, mighty God, for your never-ending love. Because you love me, you provide all – yes, all – that I need, and when I need it. You are never – yes, never – late. No sacrifice is too great for you, who owns the universe, to make sure that little old me can have what I need. How can I thank you? I lift my wobbly voice in praise, 'Holy God, I adore you, and I am yours.' Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I give you back the life I owe, today and always.

– Richard Walters –


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Psalm 105:1-6; Philippians 1:12-18; Philippians 4:6-7

Living By The "At Leasts" Of Life

Good advice is often received from unlikely sources. You expect to receive guidance for daily living through the ministries of the church. One reason for the spiritual discipline of regular devotions is to receive inspiration, encouragement and admonition. While reading the Bible there are truths which impact you, and in prayer God enlightens. But if we are tuned in to receive ideas from daily surroundings we will pick up some jewels for living as well.

Recently my wife and I were in the office of a medical specialist. While waiting for the doctor, his nurse was busy taking my height, weight and blood pressure. I'm not sure what brought up the subject, but she also shared the following story from her own life.

"When my first husband walked out on me I was devastated. That's when I was so helped by a psychiatrist friend – my husband was a psychiatrist, by the way. I just had to have someone help me get my life together and this woman did that. One thing she said I will always remember, 'We live by the "at leasts" of life.' By that she meant things could be worse; 'I may not have any shoes, but at least I have good feet.' 'I may be bald, but at least I have a good looking head!' And you know, that made a real difference in my life. Don't you think that was pretty good advice?"

We had to agree that it was. She was on to something. Situations in life may be bad, but they could be a lot worse! When we think in terms of the "at least" we change the negative into the positive. Self-pity becomes praise, and grumbling is translated into gratitude. If we take this rather homely principle and add the mercy and grace of God, we get not only "at least", but "abundantly above." God with us means that we will realize his best in life. With God in control the bad can be turned into good.

In Philippians chapter one the Apostle Paul declares that his being in chains has served to advance the gospel rather than to inhibit it. God was using Paul's imprisonment to reach persons who otherwise wouldn't have heard about Christ. He goes on to declare that some people are preaching Christ out of selfish ambition and not sincerely. But here Paul says, "Whether from false motives or true, the important thing is that 'at least' Christ is being preached." And Paul rejoices in that fact.

Are you facing a situation, which seems nearly hopeless? Does the future appear bleak? Are you worrying about circumstances or people? Then, why not let God help you see the "at leasts"? Let him suggest a way out or through. Remember, "in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God."

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"Lord, I am truly thankful for all your blessings. And I thank you that you have made it possible for me to live today by the 'at leasts.' I want to sense you working strongly in me to accomplish your purposes, whatever they are. This I pray with thanksgiving in your name. Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will live by the "at leasts" of life, thanking God for his all-sufficient grace, trusting him, and giving him glory.

– Robert A. Crandall –


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Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever had a time in your life when, after a crises or calamity had passed, you 'looked back' and realized that God was working 'in' and 'through' that difficult experience to being great good to yourself and increased glory to God? How does the truth of Romans 8:28 give you comfort and reassurance of God's intervening power in your life? Even though all things which happen to you are not 'good' or 'pleasant', do you believe that God (with your cooperation) can use everything (both good and bad experiences) to bring ultimate benefits and blessings to your life?

  2. From your own experience, share a time in your life when you sensed the unusual presence of God and the reassuring 'voice' of the Holy Spirit, giving you comfort and encouragement soon after the death of your loved one or friend.

  3. Share a time in your life (or in the life of someone near to you) when, after you had suffered a hard and long depression, you were miraculously delivered from that horrible and debilitating depression.

  4. During those times in your life when you (as a believer) are so destitute of strength and emotion and resources that you cannot think clearly or even verbalize a prayer, what is the basis of your comfort and hope and strength? (Read Romans 8:26 and John 14:16)

  5. Instead of being a 'victim of circumstances', is it possible for a follower of Christ to 'take control of his circumstances' and to use all circumstance (regardless of how 'bad' they are) to help him to develop a more Christlike character? What is the difference between a 'thermometer Christian' and a 'thermostat Christian'? Tell if you believe the following testimony (by the Apostle Paul) accurately describes a 'thermostat Christian': "I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of contentment in every situation, whether it be a full stomach or hunger, plenty or want; for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power." (Philippians 4:11-13, Living Bible)

  6. During your 'storms of life' (when the 'waves' of adversities are high, and the 'winds' of persecution are strong), how does your faith in the wisdom, love, and power of God help 'still' your fears, and 'calm' your heart, and 'restore' your peace? (Note Mark 4:34-41) (remember the following during your 'storms':

    (1) God is all-wise (i.e., He knows what is best for you).

    (2) God is all-loving (i.e., He wants to do what is best for you).

    (3) God is all-powerful (i.e., He is able to do what is best for you).

  7. Give your interpretation and application of the following statement: "When God wants to do a miracle, He begins with an impossibility."

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  8. In the midst of your personal chaos and darkness (confusion and calamities) and 'messes' (mistakes and sins), how has the 'light' of God's Word helped bring guidance and comfort and forgiveness and deliverance to you? (Note Psalms 119:105 and 1 John 1:7)

  9. How would you describe the 'pit experiences' of your life, and how have such experiences helped prepare you for your 'pedestal experiences' in life (and your appreciation and enjoyment of such experiences)?

  10. Tell with what degree of 'conviction' (assurance) you believe the following statement: "Jesus knows what I'm going through and He will not be late with His responses of love and care!" Share your response to the following promise from God's Word (Jude 1:2): "Relax, everything's going to be all right; rest, everything's coming together; open your hearts, love is on the way!"

  11. Does it give you encouragement to realize that the 'evil pleasures of the world' soon will come to an 'end' and be 'justly punished', and that the 'unjust sufferings of the godly' soon will also come to an 'end' and be justly vindicated and rewarded – because of God who is sovereignly powerful, altogether holy, and longsuffering in His mercy?

  12. When you are experiencing grief because of a great loss in your life, do you think it would help you to 'gain perspective' in life if you would acknowledge that, even though you think that your situation is 'bad', there are other heroic persons whose troubles are 'worse' than your troubles (or that your 'troubles' could be far worse than they presently are)?

  13. From your knowledge of the Bible, or from your 'general observation' of life, or from your own 'personal experience', share an illustration which demonstrates the truth of the following statement: "With God in control the 'bad' can be turned into 'good"'. (Note Philippians 1:12-18; Philippians 4:6-7)

  14. Put a 'T' by those statements which you believe are 'True' (from a biblical viewpoint), and a 'F' by those statements which you believe are 'False'.

    • ___ (1). When one becomes a Christian, his problems are all over.

    • ___ (2). In the early days of Christianity, when one became a Christian, a variety of problems oftentimes resulted – such as separation of family, persecution, and sometimes even death for one's faith.

    • ___ (3). The innocent people many times have to suffer problems, caused by the wrong moral choices of the godless people.

    • ___ (4). God is not the author of suffering and problems.

    • ___ (5). Because God is all-powerful, He should prevent the good people from suffering.

    • ___ (6). Jesus is with us during our problems and sufferings, because Jesus was called 'a man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief.'

    • ___ (7). God can turn every problem into a 'project' of divine grace, and God's

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      'projects' are always successful.

    • ___ (8). The Lord can use every problem for the Christian's growth and for God's purposes.

    • ___ (9). I see the following advantages in having problems and/or suffering (check those statements you a with).

      • __a. Problems and suffering can cultivate Christlike character in a person.

      • __b. Problems and suffering successfully met are a powerful witness to unbelievers.

      • __c. Suffering causes one to fix his focus and attention on heavenly glories instead of on problems.

      • __d. Problems cause one to depend more on God's power and resources, instead of on man's wisdom and strength.

      • __e. Man's weaknesses provide opportunity for God's power and glory to be manifested.

      • __f. Problems help produce spiritual growth and maturity and strength.

      • __g. Problems and suffering can develop a tender heart, more responsive to God's love and human needs.

      • __h. Those who are most effective in ministry are those who minister in an area in which they have personally suffered most.

      • __i. It is a Christlike work to sooth and to sympathize and only those who have suffered themselves can truly sympathize with other people who suffer.

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