Fears, Facts, and Faith

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The leadership team of our church met (online!) to discuss what kinds of policies we will have in place when FDC starts to gather for worship again. At least that hope is now on the horizon! Our conversation was complicated by the differing ideas about best ways to deal with the virus.  Hard facts are hard to come by in a world of contradictory information provided by the ‘experts’ who cannot or will not admit that they are often learning as they go.  The politics that are wrapped up in this terrible crisis makes it even harder to get to the truth. Do you find it confusing to sort through it all?  I surely do. Fear can grow when facts are in short supply.

Each day I remind myself of ONE thing that I KNOW, an anchor point for me.  My foundation is expressed in the words of Paul, written to his younger pastor friend who was a timid man.

It is God who saved us and chose us to live a holy life. He did this not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan long before the world began—to show his love and kindness to us through Christ Jesus. And now he has made all of this plain to us by the coming of Christ Jesus, our Savior, who broke the power of death and showed us the way to everlasting life through the Good News.

And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News. And that is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (2 Timothy 1:9-12, NLT)

If anyone could be excused for being fearful, Paul could. His life which was dedicated to the Gospel of Christ was hard. As he penned those hopeful words, he was on death row in a miserable Roman prison. Yet, he is confident- not in himself but in Christ Jesus, his Lord.  “God saved us … God chose us … His plan was to show love … suffering is real but I am not ashamed, for I KNOW the ONE IN WHOM I TRUST.”

At the core of my being there is a simple faith – I am God’s child, saved by His grace.  Do I still wrestle with questions about life? Well, of course.  Suffering remains a thorny issue.  Evil in all its expressions roars in my face, challenging my faith.  But, I choose to rest on His declaration and to say “I know in Whom I have believed and that He is able to keep me!”  From that solid foundation I find the footing to deal with life, to remain hopeful, to endure trials, to experience joy.  Ah, friend, will you trust Him?

Give up all attempts to play ‘Let’s Make A Deal’ with God. We cannot impress Him. We cannot wring favor from Him with songs, prayers, or rigid religiosity. The moment we shift our hope from His grace given freely to us in love, we lose our assurance.  But, if we ‘fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’  we defeat fear and live with wisdom.  We are not foolish to choose to be confident in this – nothing that comes our way is too big for Him, will surprise Him, or can overcome His gracious love.

Does that mean we become simpletons who deny the realities of pain or disappointment that exist all around us? Not at all.  We are still very much part of this world which is, ‘with devils filled and threatens to undo us!‘ (Martin Luther)

But, a GREATER truth secures us: that we are in the hands of the King whose power has triumphed over sin, Hell, and death. So, we trust – in Christ Jesus of whom we say – “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12-14, NIV)

Choose simple faith. From the Word, understand the core Truth of God’s eternal nature, of the triumph of Christ, and of the Spirit’s power – and place those things at the center of your life. Ask the Lord to teach you to respond in faith to the issues of your life, choosing the way of the faithful consistently. And, you will find rock-like stability in a confusing world!

In our word from the Word, James reminds us of the importance of simple faith. Read it carefully and prayerfully.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8, NKJV)

If you are not a Christian, receiving God’s gift through faith, do it now.
When we know Who holds tomorrow, who holds our hand, we are able to be at rest.
Do you know Him? Is He really Lord? Then, trust Him!

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I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

I don’t know about tomorrow
I just live from day to day
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to gray
I don’t worry o’er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I’ll walk beside Him
For He knows what is ahead

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand

Ev’ry step is getting brighter
As the golden stairs I climb
Ev’ry burden’s getting lighter
Ev’ry cloud is silver-lined
There the sun is always shining
here no tear will dim the eye
At the ending of the rainbow
Where the mountains touch the sky

I don’t know about tomorrow
It may bring me poverty
But the One who feeds the sparrow
Is the One who stands by me
And the path that is my portion
May be through the flame or flood
But His presence goes before me
And I’m covered with His blood

Ira Stanphill © 1950 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.) CCLI License # 810055

Taking the heat

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Fire is a great blessing and a terrible curse. Fire can purify as well as destroy.  Ore containing gold is subjected to intense heat and when it liquefies the precious metal locked in the rock can be drawn off. The process is hard but the result is something of value and beauty.  Are you feeling the heat these days? Is the uncertainty testing your faith, making you feel like you want to give up?  If so, you are not alone. Whatever novelty might have been part of the first couple of weeks of quarantine is long gone. We are seeing the results of slamming on the brakes of the economy as businesses are closing, for good. In many homes, tensions are rising. Christians are experiencing temptation more than ever. Yes, we are in the fire!

Peter, a man who knew about being in tough times, writes to encourage us.  “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7, NIV)

In short, he reminds us that trauma can produce transformation IF we endure it while steadied by faith.  The ancient preacher spoke truth for today when he said that God is our Refiner.  He allows us to feel the heat, not to destroy us but to make us holy. “Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.” (Malachi 3:2-3, NIV)

When a person goes to serve in the Marines the first 13 weeks are tough!  Boot camp is designed to shock a young recruit out of his assumptions about life and to mold him into a disciplined soldier. In basic training they are scared silly, intimidated, yelled at, awakened in the middle of the night, have their head shaved, are pushed to physical limits of endurance. To civilians, basic training looks cruelly sadistic. But if you ask the soldier about it when he’s under fire in combat he will tell you that the trauma transformed a bunch of kids into a disciplined, military unit, making him tough enough to stand up under fire.

Wise parents let their offspring appropriately experience difficulties, too. They let them work through conflict, understand disappointment, feel some level of stress all the while standing in the background to keep them from destruction. The wisdom of the Word speaks to us as we go through the fire. “Don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children.”  (Hebrews 12:5-8)

James 1 is familiar. “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.” (The Message) One might ask, “Is God serious? Why would I welcome tough times as a gift, or as an “opportunity for joy?” (NLT) The short answer is that trauma produces transformation.  It is hard not to complain when you’re getting melted in the fire, but pray for the ability to faithfully welcome the challenge as an opportunity to grow.

Will you accept this truth for times of trial? God says that “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.” (I Cor. 10:13 The Message)

Keep these truths in mind when things get tough, when the fire heats up.

First – God is present! We are not alone.

Second – We are called into community! We are part of the Body of Christ. Let’s act like it.

Third – Greater glory awaits! This (what we see today) is not all there is.)

By the way, don’t blame all of your trauma on the Lord. Sometimes we stupidly, sinfully, or shortsightedly invite the fire right into our own heart! Peter wisely says “Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:17, NLT) “So if you are suffering according to God’s will, keep on doing what is right, and trust yourself to the God who made you, for he will never fail you.” (1 Peter 4:19, NLT)

Here’s a word from the Word for this day:  God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, NLT)
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Blessings

We pray for blessings,
We pray for peace comfort for family
Protection while we sleep
We pray for healing for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand
To ease our suffering
And all the while You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

 ‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise

 We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness
We doubt Your love
As if ev’ry promise from Your Word is not enough
And all the while You hear each desp’rate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

 When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not this is not our home
It’s not our home

 ‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is a revealing of a greater thirst
This world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain the storms the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

Laura Story © 2011 Laura Stories (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Yes, He can!

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Last night, before sleep, I picked up a little book by a well-known author who declared “God sent this corona virus on the earth.” His argument is that since God is sovereign, meaning that He rules answering to no one higher, that we must conclude that He purposefully did this to the earth. His reasoning troubles me because it makes God the source of great suffering. Perhaps you think I’m splitting hairs in these words.

I am convinced that God does what He wills to do, answering to no one higher than Himself. I am equally convinced that He operates from goodness, that His desire is to save not to destroy.  He was never unaware of the coming pandemic, but the fact that He allowed it is, at least in my thinking, far different than thinking He caused it.

So, what does God desire in all of this?
What are His purposes in allowing the virus on this earth?

To answer that question with specifics is truly arrogant. I cannot, nor can you, completely explain the purposes of a God whose ‘ways are higher than our ways.’   However, I can tell you this. God is at work in us and for us. He has a way prepared that will lead those who trust and follow Him,  a way that leads to life, to more glory than we can imagine. When the ancient people of the Lord found their nation devastated by invaders, their city and Temple leveled by Assyrians, many concluded that they were finished as a nation.

But, Jeremiah heard from God and urged them to look past the obvious, to the sovereign (remember that word?) abilities of the Living God.  “This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’” (Jeremiah 33:2-3, NIV) The Message says it like this: “Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.”

By faith, I accept what my natural mind cannot see in this moment- that God will do things that are beyond my imagination!  The LORD is not telling us that He will do exactly what we want Him to do. He will do what is best for us… often in ways that we couldn’t or wouldn’t expect. That is where I think the faith of some gets mis-focused. Somehow they become convinced that the power of the Almighty God can be used to further their own plans, that He will serve their agenda. Prayers, well-meant perhaps, become selfish and small.
“God give me the money I need for that new project.”
“God, make my wife love me in a way that makes me a happier person.”
“Lord, give me a new job that provides me more free time.”
“Heal me… comfort me… give me …”

Do not misunderstand what I am saying. There is nothing wrong with asking God for the desires of our heart. In fact, James teaches us, “Tell God what you need.”  The greater issue is getting our hearts aligned with His purposes, surrendering our self-will to His, so that we are asking Him for things that are best.  When we are full of faith we approach His throne in prayer as beloved children, presenting our requests, opening our hearts to Him, even as we know with full assurance that God knows our need better than we do. In that confidence, we accept the grace He gives and what He allows us to experience. We know that He is the giver of ‘good and perfect’ gifts.

Disciple, God does have a plan for you and me! Our greatest joy is found in letting Him set the pace. He is a good God; not tame, not predictable, not bound to our limited perspective; but amazingly wonderful.  Begin your prayers with worship, praising Him for Who He is, thanking Him for the complete salvation that you know through Christ. Lean on Him, rest in Him. Then, the petitions that flow from your heart will be less whiny, less ‘gimme that, God’ and more, “Lead me in the paths of life everlasting.”

Paul says, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, NIV)  Will we let Him set the pace, take the lead?  Nothing, no one, can keep Him from doing what He desires. Yes, He can!  It is life-sustaining truth to know that “My word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, NIV)

Here is a word from the Word. May the Spirit use the eternal Truth to inspire, in you and me, the faith to let God be God! “I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. May he be given glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever through endless ages. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:17-21, NLT)
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Be Thou My Vision (Slane)

(don’t skip this hymn, pause and listen as you look at the words.
it is an amazingly inspiring prayer)

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, Save that Thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light

 Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee, and Thou with me Lord
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one

 Riches I heed not, Nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, Now and always
Thou and Thou only , first in my heart
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art

 High King of heaven, when vict’ry is won
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all

Eleanor Henrietta Hull © Words: Public Domain

Are we there yet?

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“Are we there yet?”
   Little voices coming from the back seat of the car, often when we were just an hour into the ride, asked that question. My children could not understand that 500 miles meant a 10 hour long drive. They just knew our destination was a beach house and a week of fun at the ocean.  When we did arrive at the ‘cottage’ they had only glimpsed in the rental brochure’s pictures, they would jump from the car to explore the place that would be their ‘home’ for the next week. The allure of the vacation just made them want to know “Are we there yet?”

Of course, being the kind and patient Dad that I was (smile), after the question was asked for the umpteenth time, my tone of voice as I replied “We will get there when we get there, don’t ask again!” stilled their inquiries.

This experience with COVID19 has made me like a kid wondering when it will be over. I find myself asking the Lord, “Are we there yet?” Along with the desire to renew patterns of living, I am full of questions about what life will look like even when schools are back in session, when restaurants are open, when churches gather in sanctuaries again, when we are told it is safe to resume our family gatherings.

Most likely it will take some time for many to feel a level of comfort that allows them to hug again, to sit in the company of friends, to resume those social engagements that once were ‘just life.’

And, there are even deeper questions than just rediscovering those patterns of life. I wonder, and perhaps you do as well, what will survive this crisis? Will there be a job to go back to? What institutions and/or companies may fail because of the economic hard stop that came with this virus? You are not alone and you are not strange if you are feeling anxious about security. Most of us are feeling terrible uncertainties.  One evidence of that are those dreams that so many report, sleep patterns broken as our brains try to sort out the issues of the world we now call home.

The world is not about to end. Remind yourself of that often. However, the world is changing and nothing is more difficult for human beings than change. Most of us do not even realize how hard we work to preserve the status quo. But, life constantly changes and those who will work to adapt, with faith and hope, emerge from trauma intact, discovering grace for each new day.  I love this quote:
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
” – William Arthur Ward

We will get ‘there’ but it is going to be a journey. In no way do I want to minimize the struggle, nor do I suggest that the best response is the one I offered to my questioning children all those years ago. It is not healthy – spiritually or emotionally – to just shut up and go for the ride!

Especially those who are disciples of Christ Jesus have a real responsibility to one another. Paul, inspired by the Spirit, directs us to mutual care. “Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:4, The Message)  We need to be patient with those who need to talk it out, even when they go on endlessly. We need to absorb the storm that is kicked up by some who deal with their anxiety in angry words.  We need to lovingly hold up those who become so overwhelmed that they want to drop out of life. We must carefully encourage those who have lost sight of the destination, who are paralyzed in fear.

The word from the Word tells us to ‘accept one another.’  God wants us to stay connected, to patiently encourage, to listen to the questions without irritation, so that TOGETHER we can get to that tomorrow that is secured in His providential love. Here is the passage. I hope you will spend a few moments with the Lord and pray for understanding, even if you’re asking, “Are we there yet?”  

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:5-7, NIV)

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Blessed Assurance

Blessed assurance Jesus is mine
O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation purchase of God
Born of His Spirit washed in His blood

 This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

 Perfect submission perfect delight
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy whispers of love

 Perfect submission all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest
Watching and waiting looking above
Filled with His goodness lost in His love

Fanny Jane Crosby © Words: Public Domain

Let’s talk about those “Oh, Jesus!” prayers

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I sighed heavily, my prayer just 2 words, “Oh, Jesus!”

I know, somehow deep inside that the world is not as the Creator intended it to be. It’s not all grim! I enjoyed a sweet afternoon chatting with friends, joyful to be part of a team that served families from the Food Pantry at Faith Discovery Church.  The sun shone brightly and what joy there was in offering a bag of groceries and a word of hope to many.

But, then,  I came home to the awful story out of Georgia about a young black man shot in the street by two white men who thought he was a burglar. “Oh, Jesus!”
An email arrived that informed me that that I should prepare for the possibility that church ministries will be severely curtailed through the end of the year. “Oh, Jesus!”

I have prayed a lot of “Oh, Jesus!” prayers lately. Truly, I just run out of words, the vast need of the world bearing down on my soul like the weight of a heavy anvil.

This morning I read Paul’s words about the weight of sin and suffering. “And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us. Now that we are saved, we eagerly look forward to this freedom. For if you already have something, you don’t need to hope for it.

But if we look forward to something we don’t have yet, we must wait patiently and confidently. And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (Romans 8:23-26, NLT)

Is that not a great passage? The Spirit, living in us, whispers into our hearts that there is more beyond, that our human experience is not the complete expression of life. The last 2 months have powerfully reminded me (you, too?) that life can change quickly. This crisis has yanked me from complacency and renewed my thirst for the Living God.  How about you?

The Spirit would remind us that there is a whole NEW, wonderful life prepared for us, one for which we are to wait with patience. And, while we wait, the Spirit hears our “Oh, Jesus!” prayers. What humanity’s sin of rebellion released into Creation – pain, death, hate, despair – is answered with God’s promise of salvation through Christ Jesus.

Peter says it like this: “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:3-6, NIV)

Yes, we are fully reconciled to our Father, given access to His Throne, and promised that someday we will know our ‘full rights as His children.’  It is almost unimaginable, isn’t it, to think about a life where no one dies, no one hates, no one is lonely?  Don’t be tricked into believing that knowing Jesus is just about ‘pie in the sky by and by!’  Yes, Heaven is on the horizon but IF we walk with the Lord with hope today, we can enjoy a supernatural serenity; a ‘foretaste of glory’ even now.

The groanings and sighs, those “Oh, Jesus!” prayers, are not resignation to fate, nor are they a surrender to life as it is. They are the prayers of as soul that hungers to fully know the Spirit’s life in all the fullness of God.

Dear Christian, let us not be naive or escapist in our faith, people who refuse to see life as it is. Jesus once asked His friends to take a second look with spiritual eyes so that they would be able to see the opportunities right in front of them.  “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35, NIV)  So must we.  And, when we see the need and the more that is beyond, we will feel the weight of our calling and we will groan – “Oh, Jesus!”

The word from the Word is a familiar one. This Friday morning spend some time meditating here. If you feel the weight of the broken world, perhaps even your own failure, go ahead and sigh that prayer, “Oh, Jesus” not with despair but rather with faith.  For, “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NIV) So we pray, ever more earnestly,  “May your Kingdom come, and Your will be done – on earth, as it is in Heaven.” Amen.

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O That Will Be Glory
(an acapella version of this old hymn. Take a moment to listen. It will bless you!)

When all my labors and trials are o’er
And I am safe on that beautiful shore
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore
Will through the ages be glory for me

 O that will be glory for me
Glory for me glory for me
When by His grace I shall look on His face
That will be glory be glory for me

 When by the gift of His infinite grace
I am accorded in heaven a place
Just to be there and to look on His face
Will through the ages be glory for me

 Friends will be there I have loved long ago
Joy like a river around me will flow
Yet just a smile from my Savior I know
Will through the ages be glory for me

Charles Hutchinson Gabriel | Marilyn White © Words: Public Domain

Let’s talk about a Long Obedience

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“It was a hard day,” she wrote to me last night without any explanation, but I did not really need any. It was a hard one for me, too.  The unrelenting bad news, the focus now shifting from sickness and death to economic destruction, got to me! Mid-day I read the report that here in NJ our Governor is extending the restrictions to June 5, a controversial decision to be sure.

In the afternoon, I stood in the empty sanctuary at my church and wept, tears of pent-up frustration growing out of a sense of helplessness and sorrow for the losses that so many are experiencing –sickness, death, lack of interaction, no income, destroyed businesses, strained and/or broken relationships… it is a long, long list. So, yes, my friend, you need not explain when you say “It was a hard day.”

I recall a book written by Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, an exposition of the Songs of Ascent, Psalms 120-137, songs that those traveling to Jerusalem for holy festivals sang as they traveled the road leading up to Jerusalem. They are celebrations of the restoration of the Temple. Most include pleas for spiritual renewal from the Lord. These Psalms share a common theme – “The Lord GOD delivered us in the past. We trust that He will deliver us now and in the future.”

Psalm 126 is the seventh of those songs and provides us with reason for hope.
A song for the ascent to Jerusalem.
When the Lord restored his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream!
We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy.
And the other nations said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”

Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy!
Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
but they sing as they return with the harvest.”
(Psalm 126:1-6, NLT)

They remembered the joy of God’s people when miraculously, after 70 years in Babylon, there was opportunity for the children of the captives to return to rebuild their city and their Temple. It was like ‘living the dream!’ No other nations destroyed by the Assyrians had been allowed to return and rebuilt so they rejoiced that God was revealing His love and gaining praise.

But, they knew there were struggles ahead, too.  They sang of the farmer who took the seed saved from the previous year’s harvest into the fields, grain that could feed his children at that moment and he sowed it in faith. He wept as he did for he knew that his planting was with risk – of drought, of blight, of crop failure.  However, he also planted with hope, anticipating the harvest to come.

Faith is sustained when we consciously connect the past, the present, and the future – remembering what the Lord has done, experiencing His Presence now, and hoping for His providence for tomorrow.  Peterson writes, “Faith is not a precarious affair of chance escape from satanic assaults. It is the solid, massive, secure experience of God, who keeps evil from getting inside us, who guards our life, who guards us when we leave and when we return, who guards us now, who guards us always.”

Ah, friend, let’s choose to live that ‘solid, massive, secure experience of God.’  The sentimental faith built around an occasional moment of stirring when our favorite worship song plays is not enough. The faith that surfaces only on Sunday morning when all the right prompts are in places is insufficient. He is as much present where you are right now as He is in the so-called holy moments or places.

Dear friend, this is a time for a long obedience. Practice the disciplines of the Spirit – contemplative prayer, study, service, generosity, worship – to name a few; that allows the Spirit’s life to flow into us through the channels we open into our heart and mind. Temptation will come to find comfort and solace. When those assaults that grow from the world systems, the inner compulsion of the body, or the work of the Devil come our way, we turn to the Lord and we find, in Him, strength to choose to live as He desires.

I quote Peterson again. “We speak our words of praise in a world that is hellish; we sing our songs of victory in a world where things get messy; we live our joy among people who neither understand nor encourage us. But the content of our lives is God, not humanity.

Here is a word from the Word. May the Spirit lead us to a long obedience in the same direction. “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” (Hebrews 10:35-38, NIV)
_________

Cornerstone

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame\
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name

 Christ alone cornerstone
Weak made strong in the Savior’s love
Through the storm He is Lord
Lord of all

 When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil

 He is Lord Lord of all

 When He shall come with trumpet sound
Oh may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless stand before the throne

Edward Mote | Eric Liljero | Jonas Myrin | Reuben Morgan | William Batchelder Bradbury © 2011 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Let’s talk about the Big Three

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Evidence of the building stress in our nation is cropping up everywhere. Mental health providers report sharply increasing numbers of calls to help hotlines. A few of us are going to extremes shown in things like the shooting of a Walmart security guard who asked a man to put on his mask or armed men pushing into the capitol building of Michigan. Mostly it is a quieter plague. Kids are fighting more because they have been isolated for weeks now. Spouses are waging wars of passive aggression without realizing that they are channeling their frustration about life on each other.

Facebook, always a mixed blessing (can I get an Amen?) is marred by intemperate outbursts of angry words directed at those on the ‘other side’ of whatever point is being made.  “How could you be so uncaring that you would want to get our economy back to work? You’re an ugly capitalist who cares nothing for human life!”  is matched with “Well, isn’t it nice to have your paycheck still coming so you have the luxury of sitting around condemning the rest of us? You socialist!”

I plead guilty to letting stress get to me, too. Too often, I find my heart slipping towards an awful unfocused anger. I want somebody to blame. Faith takes a hit and I start to question God- “Are You listening? Will You act?”- even though I have known His faithfulness for many years.

There is a better way. The Word counsels all of us to actively practice what I’ll call the BIG THREE disciplines that defeat anxiety and release us into the healing Presence of the Holy Spirit. Here it is – the wisdom of God for you and me this morning. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV) Let’s take that apart together.

The most important truth is in the last 2 words: “in Christ Jesus.” Christian friend, He defines us, our very Life! We are His, held by Him, our lives secured IN Him. Bring that fact to the forefront of your mind. Confess it out loud. “I belong to Jesus, my life is hidden with Christ in God.”  He is the Foundation of our hope, our eternal Lord whose promises secure us beyond the last enemy, death itself. Next, we read,  “This is God’s will for you.” The big three we are about to explore are not suggestions, mottos, or slogans. They are Divine marching orders for us to keep us where God desires us to live. The big three cannot be practiced apart from one another. They operate together, each feeding strength to the others.

“Be joyful always.” We can choose joy. We may not want to because being angry makes us feel more in charge, temporarily lending us a faux power. But, we can remember who we are because of Christ and lean into the joy of the Lord. Joy does not mean we ignore the truth about the difficulties we face. It does not require us to shy away from being honest with ourselves. Joy comes when we wrap it all up and take the next step.

“Pray continually.”  An ongoing conversation with God is not only possible, it is essential. We learn to talk with Him about everything when we develop an ongoing awareness of His Presence in us and around us ALL OF THE TIME.  Because we know the grace of being ‘in Christ Jesus,’ we do not conceal our failures. Instead we ask Him to forgive and to help us do better next time. We thank Him – for things great and small. We share the needs of our friends and family with Him as we become aware of them. When temptation comes our way, we turn to Him for strength. Regardless of whether we recognize His Presence, HE IS THERE, EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME. Nothing that is happening to us is outside of His knowledge. That brings us to the next direction.

“Give thanks in (not for) all circumstances.”  James, in the pithy wisdom of his letter, says “And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water?” (James 3:10-11, NLT) It is impossible to remain where God desires us to be if we are spewing filthy speech, dumping angry words, pouring out contempt, or complaining about every inconvenience.  Remember, we are ‘in Christ.’ When He is changing our heart, there is a supply of ‘living water’ that refreshes and one evidence of that heart change is an attitude of gratitude.

There they are, the BIG THREE, that will challenge and change us.
Joyful, Prayerful, Thankful.

Here is a word from the Word to close.
“A song for the ascent to Jerusalem. (A pathway into the Presence of God)
Those who trust in the Lord are as secure as Mount Zion;
they will not be defeated but will endure forever.”
(Psalm 125:1, NLT)

O Lord, do good to those who are good,
whose hearts are in tune with you.
But banish those who turn to crooked ways, O Lord.

Take them away with those who do evil.
And let Israel
(God’s people) have quietness and peace.” (Psalm 125:4-5, NLT)

___________

Yet Not I But Through Christ In Me

(lots of wonderful Truth in this song)

What gift of grace is Jesus my redeemer
There is no more for heaven now to give
He is my joy my righteousness and freedom
My steadfast love my deep and boundless peace

 To this I hold my hope is only Jesus
For my life is wholly bound to his
Oh how strange and divine I can sing all is mine
Yet not I but through Christ in me

 The night is dark but I am not forsaken
For by my side the Savior he will stay
I labor on in weakness and rejoicing
For in my need his power is displayed

 To this I hold my Shepherd will defend me
Through the deepest valley he will lead
Oh the night has been won and I shall overcome
Yet not I but through Christ in me

 No fate I dread I know I am forgiven
The future sure the price it has been paid
For Jesus bled and suffered for my pardon
And he was raised to overthrow the grave

 To this I hold my sin has been defeated
Jesus now and ever is my plea
Oh the chains are released I can sing I am free
Yet not I but through Christ in me

 With every breath I long to follow Jesus
For he has said that he will bring me home
And day by day I know he will renew me
Until I stand with joy before the throne

 To this I hold my hope is only Jesus
All the glory evermore to him
When the race is complete still my lips shall repeat
Yet not I but through Christ in me

 When the race is complete still my lips shall repeat
Yet not I but through Christ in me
Yet not I but through Christ in me

Jonny Robinson | Michael Farren | Rich Thompson © 2018 CityAlight Music , Farren Love And War Publishing , Integrity’s Alleluia! Music CCLI License # 810055

Let’s talk about being KNOWN TO GOD

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Do you ever feel invisible? These days, given our social distancing rules, that can be even more of a struggle for some. Develop a chronic or disabling illness and many people will steer clear of you. Have a struggle with mental illness and even your family might stop calling. Have a child with profound disability and people will start to look past you, unsure of what to say. Lose your money or your job and, in the eyes of many, you will quickly become a number, a case, not a person. More than one elderly person has told me how they feel like living ghosts, forgotten by the world.

The worst, however, is feeling as though God has forgotten us. That’s a real issue as this crisis drags on. There nothing wrong with you if your heart cries for solace, if you are feeling alone, perhaps even forgotten. David, the poet/king who knew God so well, cried “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?” (Psalm 13:1, NLT)

You are not forgotten! You may feel as though you are. The enemy of God and good will dance on that theme, for nothing serves his purposes any better than increasing your sense of isolation, which is fertile soil in which fear and despair can grow.

In Genesis we meet a young woman named Hagar. She was an Egyptian slave girl to Abraham’s wife, Sarah. When Sarah thought she was too old to have a child, she gave her servant girl to Abraham to be a surrogate. How awful was that, though not uncommon in that era. After becoming pregnant with Abraham’s child, Hagar offended Sarah. Was it Sarah’s jealousy? Was it Hagar’s mistaken assumption that she was secure since she was carrying Abe’s baby? Whatever the cause, she found herself thrown out of the household.

Abraham abandoned her and left her deal with the abuse of Sarah. In time, she choose to run away, a choice of sheer desperation, knowing that she would almost certainly be enslaved yet again. Sitting alone and afraid by a spring, she met God who spoke to her heart with promise! Amazed that the Lord would take note of a slave girl, Hagar gave God a Name – El Roi– meaning, “The God who sees me.”  (Genesis 16) She found courage in that to return to her situation and work through it, hard as it was.

My prayer for you today is that you will realize that no matter your status, your troubles, your challenges – YOU are not invisible to God!  I pray that you will know Him as “El Roi” – the God who see me! When we know that God cares, it may not immediately change our situation, but it changes us. In Him we discover worth, dignity, and resources that allow us to press ahead.

If you are feeling invisible, consider how personally God knows you. Jesus says “Not even a sparrow, worth only half a penny, can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to him than a whole flock of sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-32, NLT)

Our word from the Word is a comfort. Meditate on it for a while today.
“Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord. Yes, happy are those who delight in doing what he commands…
When darkness overtakes the godly, light will come bursting in. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous …
They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.
They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly
” (Psalm 112:1,4,7-8, NLT)

Look up and wait for El Roithe God who sees me!

_________

The Blessing
(take a few moments to soak your soul in this song)

The Lord bless you and keep you
Make his face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn his Face toward you
And give you peace

Amen

May his favor
Be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family
And your children
And their children
And their children

May his presence
Go before you and behind you
And beside you
All around you and within you
He is with you, He is with you

In the morning
In the evening
In your coming and your going
In your weeping and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you

Chris Brown | Cody Carnes | Kari Jobe | Steven Furtick © 2020 Capitol CMG Paragon (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Kari Jobe Carnes Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Worship Together Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
Writer’s Roof Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Music by Elevation Worship Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

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Let’s talk about ENCOURAGING PEOPLE

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November, 1987 was a low point in life, so much that I was planning to leave my calling to ministry. In a hotel coffee shop, an older minister took note of my struggle. He poured love into my heart, affirming the call of God, reminding me that failure need not be fatal, that life could begin anew. It was more than a pep talk! Those 30 minutes of encouragement got me back on my feet and I have never forgotten his care. When Joe Beretta stepped into eternity last October, I shed some grateful tears for a man who changed the course of my life.

Are you an encourager? This world needs people to fill this role now more than ever in my memory.  All of us are wondering what the future holds for us. In many part of the world things are even more dire than they are in America. This morning an email arrived from a pastor in a developing nation. “We have no money, food is running out. Pray for us.” Most of us, even if we have not been personally touched by COVID19 know someone who has. Yes, we need people who are ‘encouraged in the Lord’ who will offer sincere encouragement to others.

The Acts contains a favorite Bible story. We meet a man in the opening chapters named Joseph. Joe, an immigrant in Jerusalem, came to faith and became known for his willingness to help those in need. When Paul the former persecutor of the Church came to Jerusalem and met with skepticism and fear because of his past, Joe stood with him and offered his endorsement.  Over time, people forgot Joe’s real name and he was called Barnabas.  Why that name? “Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus.” (Acts 4:36, NLT)    Son of Encouragement!

Oh, Lord, help us to become known in our times as people of encouragement! That can be hard to do in times of crisis, when you’re at home with the kids every day, when money is short, when the future is murky. Full disclosure here.  I get moody and respond to the news with something less than faith and hope some days. But, my prayer, my aim is to help people to look higher, to live better, to trust the Lord.

A key to being an encourager, is to be encouraged.  We cannot give what we do not possess. David, while a fugitive in the time of Saul, shows us the way. “And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. ” (1 Samuel 30:6, KJV)  He got alone with God, in worship, and drew strength from the Spirit. We can (we must!) do this as well.

The world is filled with complainers, critics, and self-absorbed people. Some take no note of the people who are the ‘walking wounded’ around them.  Because God’s Spirit lives in you and in me, because He is loving, because we are loved – we need to be like Barnabas, looking for opportunities to lend courage, hope, and confidence to others.

The word from the Word is beautiful for this Monday morning. “If your gift is to encourage others, do it! . . . And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them. . . Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” (Romans 12:8-10)  Another passage teaches us to be creative in the ministry of encouragement! “Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24, NLT)

By the way, encouragement is like a virus, too. It is contagious!

En·cour·age:
To inspire with hope, courage, or confidence; hearten.
To give support to; foster: policies designed to encourage private investment.
To stimulate growth; spur onward in personal development

________________________

10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)

Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Worship Your holy name
Lord I’ll worship Your holy name

Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman © 2011 Atlas Mountain Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

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Let’s talk about being KEPT SAFE

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The Spirit invites us to secure rest by painting multiple word pictures for us in Psalm 91. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91:1-4, NIV)

The Lord inspired the writer to load those lines with one reassuring metaphor piled on another.

We read of dwelling, settling down, in the “shelter” of God. The word invites us to a hiding place, a secret place in the Presence of the Lord. When you were a kid did you have a place to which you could retreat, your hide-out? Maybe it was a corner of the attic, or a place at the back of your clothes closet, or a spot in the woods behind your house? In my case, I used to love to climb up into the hay loft of our horse barn, where I built little forts with the hay bales. It seemed like nothing in the world could find me there!

WE are invited to go and find a place with God and the result, the Psalm says, is “rest” in God’s overshadowing Presence.  I encourage you to retreat to that place often, especially now.

We know Him as our “refuge and fortress.”  The words have related but different meanings for us. The refuge was a shelter in a stormy time, where a person could get ‘out of the weather.’  I love a tempestuous thunderstorm IF I have a secure refuge from which to observe the fury of the wind and rain. The explosive crack of lightning followed by the roll of thunder awes me, if I feel safe. God invites us to come to Him and find a secure place from which we can observe the storm without fear.  In a related word, the Psalmist says He is a fortress. Not so long ago, in time of war the only secure place was the castle, the fortress with stone walls and strong gates.

When devils attack, when enemies circle, when we feel threat to our safety, God invites us to secure ourselves in Him. Remember, Christian, you are secure; Christ’s grace your fortress. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away.” (Romans 8:38, NLT)

The word picture I love most today is found in this phrase:  He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”  This was the comfort in which the Lord awakened me this morning. This farm boy knows the image well from my days around the chickens! When Mother Hen sensed danger, she clucked a rapid code that signaled her chicks to come running. She spread her wings, ruffled her feathers, and those chicks disappeared under her, hidden away. She put herself at risk from a hawk or predator in order to keep her chicks safe.

What a comfort to know that God loves us with a mother love, a self-sacrificing love. Jesus holds out a covering for us, our sins forgiven, our guilt erased, the accusations of our deadly Enemy rendered meaningless by God’s grace, shown in the Cross, and sworn true by the Resurrection.

With a childlike faith, secure yourself today in the secret place of the Presence of God.
Run to the refuge, feel the comfort of knowing that He is your secure fortress.
Ask for faith to let His wings of safety cover you.

Make this word from the Word your meditation today. “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare of the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I am trusting him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from the fatal plague. He will shield you with his wings. He will shelter you with his feathers. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” (Psalm 91:1-4, NLT)

___________

Your Wings

(take 3 minutes and listen to Lauren Daigle sing this song.)

When ten thousand arrows take flight
Remind me that You are my armor
There’s always a place I can hide
When I am desperate for shelter

 You’re my covering
I’m safe I’m safe
Whatever comes at me
I’m safe I’m safe

 You got me under Your wings under Your wings
I’m under I’m under Your wings
You got me You cover me You cover me
I’m under I’m under Your wings

 With every step that I take
You are before and behind me
In every fear that I face
Oh I’m constantly finding

You’re my covering
I’m safe I’m safe
Whatever comes at me
I’m safe I’m safe

 Jason Ingram | Lauren Daigle | Lauren Strahm | Paul Mabury
© 2018 CentricSongs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) See You At The Pub (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Fellow Ships Music (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) Flychild Publishing (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) So Essential Tunes (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

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