From Uncertainty To Eternal Hope . . . .

Months have passed since the pandemic began; the loss of life, of dreams and of fellowship has taken a toll on all of us. In addition to the threat of a virus, tensions have mounted between people ensnared by a willingness to hate.

  • How ARE we, as servants of Christ, to respond to the uncertainties of our time?  
  • What would He have us learn along the way? 

I believe the first thing we need to recognize is that uncertainty in this world is nothing new, Jesus was born into a dark time such as our own, with truth-seekers and truth-haters in need of a Savior. As we approach the celebration of the birth of God’s Son, at the end of this most challenging year, I invite you to join me in savoring the wisdom and encouragement of the Apostle Paul:

Now we have this treasure in jars of clay
to show that this surpassingly great power is from God and not from us.
We are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair,
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed”

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 
For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us
an eternal glory that is far beyond comparison.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

II Corinthians 4:7-8, 16-18

How are we to respond to adversity in uncertain times?  Paul reminds his friends (and us) of our human vulnerability in a fallen world: fragile . . .earthen . . . clay pots. Because of this, we are to rely on God’s Spirit and the Scriptures to provide the wisdom and strength we need each and every day. In such times, when we feel crushed and broken beyond repair, I have found it helpful to distance myself to from whatever has happened and then ask God to give me His eyes to see two things:

  1. The blessing of His protection and provision–that He is with me always.
  2. To learn (and remember!) whatever lesson He wants to teach me.. 

The blessing is that Paul doesn’t leave is in our vulnerable uncertainty,  but encourages us to embrace the certainty of our hope in spending eternity with Christ Jesus! I especially love that Paul calls us to fix our (spiritual) eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen–God Himself

I invite you to join me in asking God to help us look at the past year through His eyes– to see how He watched over and/or provided for you and I. (For me it was this past August when I was hospitalized. It was a place I greatly feared, and yet through it I received the greatest blessing when He removed my fear and drew me to Himself.)* Also, is there a particular lesson you learned, or insight gained about God, that you want to hold onto as we prepare to enter the coming year? (For me, I will never take hugs for granted again!!!)  If so, then please share how God watched over you to encourage others in the comments below!

All to His Glory!

*To read about my journey you’ll find it HERE. . . . ❤️

When Evil Appears To Have The Upper-Hand . . . .

Several years ago I listened to the testimony of a man who had escaped the atrocities being committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.  The man went into grim detail about what he had witnessed–entire families being buried alive, young and old suffering torturous deaths–because they refused to abandon their faith.  The man was obviously dismayed by the retelling, yet it was as he described the perpetrators of such evil as “animals” devoid of their humanity, that he sobbed uncontrollably.

As I watched I realized that he was crying out to God–not only for the people who were killed or for those who are still trapped or have been displaced from their loved ones and homes–the man wept as he begged God to save the perpetrators of evil from themselves. As I watched I remembered Jesus crying out on the Cross:

“Father forgive them . . .
for they know not
what they are doing.”

Luke 23:34

When evil appears to have the upper-hand, how are Christians to respond?  It is tempting to react in kind-–“an eye for an eye”—that’s biblicalright?  Here is what Jesus had to say about that:

“You have heard that it was said,
‘eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. 
If someone strikes you
on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic,
let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile,
go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you,
and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” 

Matthew 5:38-42

With regard to dealing with our enemies, Jesus went on to say:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” 

(Verses 43-45a)

To turn the other cheek, to offer one’s cloak or go the extra mile are not passive acts–they are examples of an intentional Christ-centered love that is not of this world.  Such love and prayer should always go hand-in-hand when it comes to dealing with evil.  The man in the interview saw the deadness in the eyes of his perpetrators and wept for them–and so should we.  We should weep and pray as we remember that it is from such deadness that we have been saved.

When evil appears to have the upper hand, Christian love reaches out intentionally and sacrificially to help those in need.  The entire chapter of Romans 12 gives instruction on how we are to respond when evil threatens.  It says in part:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.

(verses 9-13)

The Apostle Paul also warns against repaying evil for evil, but encourages the faithful to trust God to bring about ultimate justice:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right . . .
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath . . .
If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

(Verses 17:19-20)

As I reflect on all of this I am struck by how much courage it takes to love as Christ loves us. I wrote this post six years ago and decided I needed the reminder it contains today.  How about you? Living in the world we live in, does it at times come easier to hate than to love?

I invite you to join me in praying for the courage needed to love as He directs our steps.  Rather than giving way to hatred, pray for wisdom and a deepened faith as we resist the temptation to repay evil with evil–God IS in control and is worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory!

Every Day A Gift . . . .

Until it happened, few of us could imagine the vast machinery of civilization being shut down. With streets and airports mostly empty and the future uncertain, we locked our doors and limited our exposure to others as an invisible foe caused us to face our own mortality.  In the decades to come the question frequently asked will be, “Where were you when the pandemic hit?” and, “What did God teach you?

I had just completed a series of spinal injections and physical therapy  to relieve debilitating pain in my lower back and left leg. Our oldest grandson was home visiting, so we were vacationing for a week at a place rented months before as a family get-away. Three days into our seven day vacation we were told not to drive across the causeway to the mainland because we would not be allowed to return,  When we returned home, all my medical appointments had been canceled we were told to stay home due to COVID-19 . . . the shutdown had begun.

Here is some of what I have learned thus far:

  1. Every day is a gift from God-not a right.
  2. Humanly speaking, it is easy to give way to fear. But God is faithful to help us switch spiritual gears when we confess our fears in faith.
  3. The best way to replace fear with faith is to give thanks to God for His Sovereign Goodness.*
  4. While looking for wisdom in Scripture I found hope in the sufferings of Job:

“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;
He does great things beyond our understanding.
He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ 
and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’
So that everyone He has made may know His work,
He stops all people from their labor.”
Job 37:5-7

Quite frankly, I almost choked as the last seventeen words reminded me that God does what He will to draw us closer to Himself and is still in control!

The person who spoke those words was a young man named Elihu– the only one of Job’s friends to urge him to trust God in his suffering.

While reflecting on God’s possible purposes in the “storm” we find ourselves in today, I found the insight of commentator Mike Mason helpful:

“Is not the whole book of Job about men who have been stopped from their work? It is about an enormous work stoppage, an enormous inconvenience that has fallen out of the sky and forced five busy people to drop everything they were doing and to turn for a while to a more important task.” *

And that more important task?

To look at whatever we face with eyes of faith,
as we embrace each day as a gift from God.

The following passages provide further food for thought as we make our way through the pandemic::

“Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for He will freely pardon.
‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways My ways,’
declares the Lord.
‘As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways
and My thoughts than your thoughts.'”
Isaiah 55:7-9

As with the whole of Scripture, the Apostle Paul spoke truth in love in his opening remarks to the church in Rome: 

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven
against all the godlessness and wickedness of men
who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
For what may be known about God is plain to them,
because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities,
His eternal power and divine nature,
have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship,
so that men are without excuse.”
Romans 1:18-20

Paul offered those living in uncertain times in his day these words of encouragement in Christ:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
since as members of one body you were called to peace.
And be thankful.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly
as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom
through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,
singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 3:15-17

God continues to encourage those who are in Christ through His Spirit and His Word.  Know and trust that as you continue to give thanks for each new day, He will continue to carry you through any storm you face.

All to His Glory!

*Thanking Him for His love and mercy . . . that we are never alone . . . that His ultimate goal is blessing.

**Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job: An Honest Look at Pain and Doubt from the Life of One Who Lost Everything, January, 1994, p. 379.

 

 

The Hope of Easter . . . .

One of the benefits of living in uncertain times is that we stop taking life for granted. I can still remember the vividness of 9/11–the shock of watching the television screen, trying to make sense of the tragedy inflicted on so many people. Throughout that day I cried out to the Lord,

“Help me! I don’t know how to make sense of this!
What would You have me do? How would You have me pray?”

Throughout that day and late into the night, as I watched and prayed. I felt helpless and overwhelmed. When I went upstairs, carrying the heaviness of that awful day, I slowly got ready for bed. Then just as I began to pull the covers on my bed back, a most gentle voice spoke to my heart: “Hate what is evil. Cling to what is Good . . . GOD IS GOOD.”

I remember looking around my bedroom, trying to figure out what had just happened. No one else was there, but I realized that a peace had settled over me that was inexplicable. Nothing had changed . . . the world was still an awful mess . . . but a quietness of spirit settled over me that provided rest for my soul and much needed sleep.

The next morning I opened my Bible and found this verse in Romans 12:

“Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”

(Verse 9)

Since that moment I have carried that message in my heart and mind through dark and light days. Many times it has rescued me from fear as it has reminded me of God’s faithfulness in all things.

“He has risen, just as He said!”

In times such as these, we are forced to face our own mortality and to reassess our priorities. It is then that we realize the importance of our relationships with others, and with God . . .❤️

So why am I writing this post? It may seem a bit early to be writing about Easter since it’s a couple of weeks away, but I was inspired by a drawing posted on Facebook by a friend of mine. Done in soft pastels, it depicted a wooden cross that had a lily and other flowers draped around it and the opened Scriptures declaring,:“Christ is Risen!”  The greeting at the bottom of the drawing, “Happy Easter” initially startled me as I wondered, “Did I miss Easter?” But then tears came with my next thought, “That’s exactly what we need right now, the Hope of Easter!”

So what is the Hope of Easter?  I like the simplicity of Matthew 28, as it depicts this hope through two women who went to the the tomb where Jesus body was laid after His crucifixion. When they arrived, the large stone that had closed the tomb had been rolled back. As they approached, an angel spoke to them saying.

“He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead,
just as He said would happen.
Come, see where His body was lying.”

(Verse:6 )
(New Living Translation)

Can you imagine the wonder and excitement generated in the hearts of those women who, just days before, had witnessed the battered, lifeless body of Jesus being taken down from the Cross? But the blessing did not stop there. As they ran from the empty tomb, they were stopped again:

“Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ He said.
They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him.
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.
Go and tell My brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see Me.’”
(Verses 9 & 10)

The Scriptures do not tell us what the women said to each other as they ran to tell the disciples what they had seen and heard.  I imagine there were assurances exchanged between them like, “Did you see what I saw? Was it really real? Do you think anyone will believe us when we tell them about seeing the angel and Jesus?”  

It was in such encounters that Sunday morning that the Hope of Easter was born. Centuries later, the Hope of Easter remains in the promises of Jesus, fulfilled in His resurrection from the dead.  Had Jesus not overcome death on that third day after His crucifixion, we would have no such hope. But because He DID we can enter each day with this wondrous hope:

“He came to that which was His own,
but His own did not receive Him.
Yet to all who did receive Him,
to those who believed in His name,
He gave the right to become children of God—
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband’s will,
but born of God.”

John 1:11-13

Like many of you, I am missing the traditions of advent leading up to the celebration of Easter in my church right now:

  • Hearing the Scriptures faithfully read each Sunday that remind us of the events that took place as Jesus headed toward Jerusalem for the last time.
  • Receiving Communion in small groups around the Cross draped in purple on Maundy Thursday . . .
  • On Good Friday, seeing the Cross draped in black while listening to the account of Jesus’ suffering as the candles are snuffed out one by one ,. . .
  • Then on Easter Sunday, the joy of seeing the Cross covered in fresh flowers as we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death for our redemption as a church family . . . oh the wonder of it all!

We do not know what the immediate future holds as to when things will get back to “normal”, but we hold fast to the faithfulness of Jesus as we live each day looking for ways to glorify Him. I write this to encourage you to embrace the Hope of Easter–Christ’s redemption won for all who place faith in Him.

Perhaps the best way servants of Christ can truly encourage one another, is to  daily (starting NOW) exchange the greeting traditionally shared on Easter morning:

“Christ is Risen!”
“He is Risen indeed!”

I challenge you to join me in taking hold of the Hope of Easter in these uncertain times, by embracing  the truth that, Christ has indeed risen and He’s coming again!

All to His Glory!

 

Let Us Run With Perseverance . . . .

Happy New Year!

I woke up this first day of 2020 with a verse from Hebrews pulsing through my mind. I think of the passage as, the great ‘Ta da!” moment in history, when God’s ultimate plan was revealed to all mankind. I offer it to encourage you as we enter into this new year together:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us . . . .”
Hebrews 12:1

 To maximize the impact of what the writer is pronouncing in his letter, it is needful to consider its context–what it was placed there for: 

In what is referred to as,“the by faith chapter” (Hebrews 11)–the lineup of those who proved themselves faithful to God begins with the Bible’s first martyr, Abel: “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Verse 4)

The passage continues with a grand, hall-of-fame lineup of people who proved themselves faithful to God. Hebrews 11 concludes with these words:

“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two;
they were killed by the sword.
They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,
destitute, persecuted and mistreated—
the world was not worthy of them.
They wandered in deserts and mountains,
living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith,
yet none of them received what had been promised,
since God had planned something better for us
so that only together with us would they be made perfect.*

Living in a world today where Christians are suffering persecution, unimaginable hardship, torture and even death because of their faith**, I am humbled, challenged and yet encouraged by their steadfast courage as I reflect on what follows Hebrews 12:1,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus . . . .”

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand
of the throne of God.
Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

(Verses 2-3)

To be sure, we miss the point of Hebrews when we focus on those who have gone before us or on those who suffer today. Instead, we find direction and courage when we see Jesus looking beyond the cross to His Father.

Where was His focus?

  • First and foremost, He sought to honor His Father.
  • Secondarily, to redeem all who look to, follow and trust in Him for the salvation of their souls.

No matter what you may be facing in this new year:

  • Be it the loss of a loved one,
  • Disappointment,
  • Health issues,
  • Or perhaps just mustering the courage to keep up with the daily news,

be encouraged by your identity that is established in Christ:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness and patience.

Bear with each other and forgive one another . . . .
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love,
which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Colossians 3:12-14

As we enter this new year together:

  1. Be encouraged as you remember that you were chosen by God and are holy and dearly loved by Him.
  2. Be strengthen each day as you look to Him for the courage you lack to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient as He helps you to forgive in the same way He has forgiven you.
  3. Be intentional in loving those He places on your path as your means of honoring and glorifying Him.

All to His Glory!

*Hebrews 11:5-40
**I consider Open Doors, USA a viable resource to keep up what is happening to fellow Christians around the world. .

When In Doubt . . . .

“You can never learn that Christ is all you need,
until Christ is all you have.”
Corrie Ten Boom

It was a time when darkness was all that I could see. Certainly friends were there . . . and family too. But depression kept hope at a distance as doubt ruled my perceptions. Certainly I had cried out to God for help, but even then, the darkness continued to prevail.

When in doubt, give thanks for God’s Sovereign Goodness . . .❤️

Then one day, while listlessly sorting through a pile of mostly junk mail, I realized the young man who had just become my son-in-law was standing near me. After clearing his throat, Nathan said something about attending Youth Group when he was in high school. Nathan said he didn’t get a whole lot out of it except for something a special speaker shared that had been helpful to him. The speaker told the group that in the future they would likely face difficult, times–times when they felt as if God had abandoned them.

As Nathan spoke I found myself listening closely, realizing that was exactly how I was feeling. I felt totally alone even though I was surrounded by people who loved me. As he continued Nathan said that there were two things about God the speaker told them to hold to above everything else:

1. That God is Sovereign and
2  That God is Good.

Struck by what Nathan had said, I was not even aware when he stepped away. It was in that moment that I remembered Psalm 139, a place where I had found comfort in the past. David begins the Psalm with,

“O LORD, You have searched me
and You know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You understand my thoughts from afar.”

I was comforted by the reminder that God knew exactly where I was and what I was feeling. I realized that whatever I experienced in my life was not foreign to Him, that He understood completely . . . .

David continues with:

“Where can I go to escape Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to the heavens, You are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle by the farthest sea,
even there Your hand will guide me;
Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me,
and the light become night around me”—
even the darkness is not dark to You,
but the night shines like the day,
for darkness is as light to You.
(Verses 1-2, 7-12)

It was as I read, “Even the darkness is not dark to You . . . for darkness is as LIGHT to You,” that tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes as I realized that, I had been so focused on myself–my fears mostly-that there had been no room in my heart for God to step in.

As I reflected on the truth of God’s Sovereign Goodness, the light of hope dawned. It was then that I prayed:

Thank You, Lord, for loving me–even in my foolishness.
Thank You, that You are truly Sovereign and
that You are exceedingly Good.

In that moment, as I leaned into the promised strength of God’s Sovereign Goodness, that the light of hope replaced the fear that had overwhelmed me.

As I look back to that moment, I praise God for loving me
through a tough time where I felt stripped of everything but Him.
It was then, when I surrendered my pride, my fear-tinged doubt and my anger–that I experienced new depths of His love and mercy that changed not only how I view Him, but how I look at myself and at others
.

Since then, sharing that moment and the timeless wisdom of my son-in-law, has encouraged countless others in the Counseling Room, As a result many a Client has found courage to embrace this truism as they surrender their burdens to Him:

When in doubt give thanks to God,
for His Sovereign Goodness
.

Feeling alone or uncertain about the future?

Give thanks to God that He never, ever abandons His people. I love contemplating the promise given in Deuteronomy 31:6:

“The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you;
He will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Feeling overwhelmed when bad things happen? 

Give thanks that God’s ultimate plan is for your good and His glory. James is always my “go-to” when difficulty strikes personally or when overwhelmed by the hate-fueled actions of others:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers,
when you encounter trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith
develops perseverance. Allow perseverance to finish its work,
so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
 *
James 1:2-4

Uncertain about making decisions?

Give thanks to God as you prayerfully trust Him to lead the way.*

His goal for you and I is not to provide a cushy life on this crazy earth. God’s goal for you and I is to ultimately hone us into the likeness of His Son, Jesus–as we trust in Him with thanksgiving and in faith..

Struggling with doubt right now as life gets crazy?

Give thanks for His Sovereign Goodness
as He frees you to love others as He has loved you!

All to His Glory!

*Another one of my favorite Corrie Ten Boom quotes: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”  Give thanks for prayer and trust in His perfect timing!