Hope And Blessings In The Darkness

faith, hope, uncertaintyWe all find ourselves in dark places from time to time.  Places where answers are hard to find and the future seems uncertain.  In those times our world seems to shake around us and the foundations we have laid for ourselves no longer seem capable or strong enough to last.  What we thought we knew no longer applies and we find ourselves perplexed and dismayed.

Everyone searches for hope in the darkness but few seem to find it.  Why is that?  Could it be that we often look in the wrong place for hope?  Could it be that we are ignorant of the source of true hope?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1 (NASB)

As a child of God, our hope should be in God and God alone.  He is the only one with the power and the authority to speak calm into our turmoil and light into our darkness.  But even in this there is a proper time and a proper order that God alone knows.

When we find ourselves in a place of need, desperately searching for an answer, our first response should be to cry out to God.  But what if God does not answer right away? What if God does not answer in the way that we think He should?

Then we are blessed to be able to exercise our faith.  Faith is the assurance of that which we hope for and it is our conviction that even though we can’t see our way out we know that God can!  With just a word God created the world and everything in it.  When God speaks, all creation must take heed.  God’s word still has the power to completely change our lives and to perform miracles in places without hope.

God’s will is to take us home to be with Him in perfect fellowship for all eternity.  But we often forget that only He knows the path that will lead us home.  Sometimes the darkness is allowed to persist and the uncertainty lingers.  And the more uncomfortable our situation the faster we want out and the more we struggle against it.

Sometimes we must be led through the darkness in order to increase our faith and so that we may be a guide for others who are following behind us.  Our dark periods are not just for us alone and have far reaching spiritual ramifications that we will never fully understand until we see Jesus face to face.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,  while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NASB)

We must learn to use our eyes of faith and see beyond that which is temporary to that which is eternal.  Whatever we are going through now and whatever situation we find ourselves in on this earth will change.  Good or bad, it will pass away and it will not persist.  In the light of eternity, it is momentary.  But even these moments, as confusing and uncertain as they often seen, can be used by the Lord God of all to produce in us an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond all comparison.

Trust in God, even in the darkness.  Don’t forget your hope and remember to look forward to the day when all is revealed and your reward is received.  It will be worth it all.

What Comes Next?

witnessing, praise, Psalm 9In the last post, we talked about what constitutes a proper memorial for a Christian.  We know that we have the privilege to remember all that God has done for us and then celebrate, rejoice and give thanksgiving to the Lord for his goodness and provision.  And this should be an ongoing practice for all of us who are born again.  Today’s battles are tomorrow’s victories and the next day’s rejoicing.  But what comes next?  Because I assure you, there is still more to do!

I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart;
I will tell of all Your wonders.  Psalm 9:1 (NASB)

Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion;
Declare among the peoples His deeds.  Psalm 9:11 (NASB)

That I may tell of all Your praises,
That in the gates of the daughter of Zion
I may rejoice in Your salvation.  Psalm 9:14 (NASB)

Notice how David, in Psalm 9, links praise with declaration.  In the three verses above, praising God is always accompanied by telling someone else about what God has done for him.  And so it should be with us!  We should rejoice privately, absolutely, but we also need to be rejoicing publicly and making sure that those around us know how blessed we are to be children of the most high God.

In verse 1 of chapter 9, David says he will “tell of all your wonders”.  In verse 11, he says he will “declare among the peoples His deeds.  And in verse 14 he says “that I may tell of all your praises”.  Clearly, David was so enthusiastic about what God was doing that He had to go and tell someone else.  I wonder, do we have that same level of enthusiasm when it comes to telling others about the goodness of the Lord?  Are we excited about the prospect of encouraging someone else with our stories of God’s victories over our troubles and strife?

I truly believe that one of the greatest tragedies in modern America is the relative silence of so many of God’s children.  We enjoy His blessings and we rest secure in His salvation but never share His goodness with those who need it most.  We see the lost and the hopeless all around us but allow them to continue on their way, never introducing them to the God who makes all things new.  We have been given the keys to the kingdom of God and are assured of every spiritual blessing but so often seem to be more interested in stockpiling and hoarding than dispersing and sharing.  (And by the way, the fastest way to rid yourself of many of God’s blessings is to try to keep them to yourself instead of using them to bless others.  Blessings are always meant to be shared!)

Let me conclude this by saying that God has gifted each one of His children in a unique way.  Some of us are artistic, others are builders and still others can teach or sing.  These gifts are often our best vehicle for sharing the good news with others.  If you are a quiet and shy person like I am then you will be glad to know that you can share your faith with others in more ways than just words alone.  As long as you are committed to sharing your faith and allowing God’s blessings to be channeled through you to others then God will give you opportunities to do what you do best under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit.

Take heart, God can use even you.  (I know, because if He can use me then He can most certainly use you!)

The Christians Proper Memorial Day

memorial day, remembrance, praise and worshipOne of the things I love about my Lord is how He never ceases to amaze me.  His goodness is truly awesome and some of the best gifts that He has ever given me were things that I never saw coming, involved no plan or idea of mine and had absolutely nothing to do with my merit or worth.  In each of these instances I perceived that God was pouring out His love on me in a visible and remarkable way and all I could do is receive it in humility and thanksgiving.

I had such an instance recently and not only did it grow my love for the Lord and His ways it also reminded me of past events where I know He displayed His love for me in grand fashion.  Having just celebrated Memorial Day, which is all about remembering and celebrating the heroes who served, many giving the ultimate sacrifice, I can’t help but see the correlation to my remembrance of God’s love for me and the fact that He is the One who gave His only son for the sin of all humanity and deserves to be celebrated as the true hero for all mankind.

At Christmas time we are often told to “keep Christmas in our hearts all year long”, and we should.  At Easter, we are told to keep the crucified and risen savior in our minds at all times, and we should.  But is it any less important to have those times of remembrance and celebration that Memorial Day calls to mind?  And in those times of remembrance and celebration for all that God has done we can hopefully draw strength and inspiration as we look back and see the victories that God has won on our behalf and the way that He displayed His lovingkindness for us.

Taking it a step further, our remembrance and celebration should also cause us to seek God ever more strongly and ask for Him to show His glory and power again and again.  I truly believe that one of the reasons that we don’t see more miracles and open displays of God’s glory is because we aren’t asking for them.  We make the mistake of not expecting God to be awesome and limiting His power and intervention by our doubt and our lack of asking, seeking and knocking.

God truly wants us to pray with fervent expectation in our hearts.  If we come before Him seeking Him to work in power and glory then He will, although it will almost never be in the way that we expect (it will be much better!).  Celebrate all that God has done for you.  Remember who He is and how much He loves you.  And then seek Him with all you have, expecting Him to show His power and glory in your life.  I promise that you will be amazed when you perceive His work!

 

Worth Celebrating

holiness, salvation, Exodus 19It always amazes me how God uses His Word to speak to us.  By reading about the events of the past and how God worked through His people to bring about great miracles it can encourage and teach us something in the present day.  The happenings recorded in God’s Word may all be historical in nature but God’s Word is always present tense in the sense that it is alive today.  It is powerful today.  And it is sufficient today, right now.

As I read Exodus Chapter 19 recently I was given a fresh picture of our Holy God and how awesome was the work that Jesus did on the cross through his death and resurrection.

Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, or else the Lord will break out against them.” 23 Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.’” 24 Then the Lord said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, or He will break forth upon them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.

 If you aren’t familiar with this passage of scripture then a little explanation is in order.  God is setting the stage for the giving of the ten commandments.  He’s preparing Moses, Aaron, the priests of Israel and all the people for the giving of His law.  The people have left Egypt and are on the way to the promised land and God is in the middle of establishing a special covenant relationship with them.

The first thing I noticed when I read this passage is that mighty Mount Sinai physically can’t handle God’s presence.  It rumbles and quakes violently and smoke pours out of it “like a furnace”.  In other verses it says that thunder and lightning accompanied the smoke and the shaking and in verse 19 when Moses spoke God answered Him with thunder.  How cool is that?

How awesome is our God that even the mountains quake and tremble in His presence?  His power can’t be contained by even the largest things on this earth and yet he chooses to love and to cherish the weakest things (us) as His very own.

The second thing I notice is His holiness.  God repeatedly tells Moses not to let the people gaze upon or come near the mountain lest they die.  The priests even have to go through a special consecration even to be able to serve in their normal capacity because God is so near.  God’s holiness and the people’s sinfulness are so incompatible that they can’t even approach God without fear of death.

Now contrast that picture with the state of the redeemed today.  We are just as sinful as the people in Exodus chapter 19.  Sin is sin and one sin or one thousand sins is more than enough to separate us from a Holy God and condemn us to death.  Yet Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came and lived a perfect life and died in our place satisfying our sin debt forever and making us clean before God.  We no longer have to fear for our lives in God’s presence because of the blood of Jesus Christ that washes away our sins.

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV)

Unlike the Israelites in Exodus we need not fear coming before our God any longer.  God has not changed.  The mountains in our day still can’t handle his presence and nothing on heaven and earth can stand against Him.  His Holiness is still just as awesome today as it was on that day so many years ago.  So what changed?  Our status.  Praise God that we are raised to son and daughterhood by our belief and profession of faith in Jesus and that we may come boldly before God at any time.

Established By God Himself

established by God, victory, 1 Peter 5:10What does it mean to be established?  Typically we see the word establish as being related to a building, business or corporate body but the meaning actually goes deeper than that.  To be established can actually mean all of these things as well: “to make firm or stable” , “to put into a favorable position”  and “to put beyond doubt” according to Webster’s Dictionary.

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.  1 Peter 5:10 (NASB)

Despite being a single verse, 1 Peter 5:10 is absolutely profound.  And although I am focusing on the idea of being established as a child of God, let’s take a look at the rest of the verse leading up to how God establishes us.  Right away, in the very first clause, is an acknowledgement of trouble and strife and the suffering it can bring for the believer.  No matter the time or place we were born in, if we desire to live a Godly life then we can be assured that at some point along the way we will go through some suffering.  Much of the book of 1 Peter deals with the Christian’s reaction to suffering and how God uses our suffering for his glory, to win others to Christ and for our betterment.

The Holy Spirit through Peter wants us to know that on the other side of our suffering lies glory.  God Himself calls us and He intends to share with us the same glory that He has reserved for His only son, Jesus Christ.  We our joint-heirs and can expect an eternity that words can’t begin to adequately describe.  All of that is in front of us and we have a lot to look forward to.

Until that time, God will use the things we go through in this life to perfect us (make us mature and complete) strengthen us and establish us.  Looking back at some of the definitions of establish that we began with, let’s insert those words into this verse and see what happens. 1. God Himself will “make us firm and stable”.  Our spiritual position will be strengthened and the foundations of our character will become stronger.  2. God Himself will “put us in a favorable position”.  Ultimate victory is reserved for God and God alone.  Only He can help us be victorious against that which would come against us in this life.  In our day to day struggles, do we take point or do we allow God to fight our battles for us?  (Once I began to understand this truth and started asking God to fight my battles for me and trust Him with the outcome it changed my life!)  3. God Himself will “put us beyond doubt”.  To me, this means that I accept God’s victory and acknowledge that He has already won the battle.  My responsibility is to trust Him, to bring all of my doubts and worries to Him and to seek His presence above and beyond anything else.

To be established by God Himself is an amazing truth and an amazing promise for all believers.  What is so perplexing to me is that so often we do not live as members of God’s establishment.  Despite being given everything we need, we choose to walk in doubt, fear and error.  That’s why it’s so good to be reminded at every available opportunity just how much God loves us and just how much He has given us.  No matter where we are now or what mistakes we might have made, God has given us today and right now to turn back to Him.  I don’t want to miss out on what God has for me, how about you?

The 50 Year Prayer

prayer, Luke 1, faithfulnessHave you ever prayed for someone or something that you knew was God’s will but it didn’t seem like your prayers were being answered?  Perhaps you prayed for weeks or months or even years and you saw no outward sign that your prayers were having any effect at all.  How did you react to that situation?  What’s the right answer, for a prayer than seems unanswered?

I believe that God answers all prayers that are prayed in His will.  Sometimes we see the outcome, and if that happens, consider it a blessing and treasure it.  But perhaps much more often God uses our prayers and answers them in ways that we will never see on this side of eternity.  In this, it is our faithfulness that counts and our continued trust and reliance on God’s perfect will and perfect plan.  Even when we can’t see His hand working, we must trust His heart and continue to pray and do what He has asked us to do.

And then there are times when we have all but given up on a prayer but God shows up and answers it in a way that is far above and beyond anything that we could have hoped for or imagined.  In the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, Zechariah had such an experience.

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.  Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.  But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Luke 1:5-7 (NIV)

Luke is setting up the story here and he makes sure to let us know that Zechariah and Elizabeth were good, righteous people but that they were childless (which carried a social stigma and some degree of shame during this time period) and that they were very old.  In other words, they were both well past the age at which conception and healthy child birth would have been possible.

 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.  When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.  But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,  for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. Luke 1:11-15 (NIV)

And then something amazing happens.  As Zechariah is going about his priestly duties an angel appears to him and tells him that not only has his prayer been answered but that God is going to gift them with a son that “will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord”.  As we know, Zechariah and Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist who prepared the way for Jesus and eventually baptized Jesus.  To say that God used John the Baptist in a mighty way would be putting it lightly!

But let’s back up for a moment.  How long do you suppose that Zechariah had been praying for a child?  I think it’s fair to say that this prayer began when he and Elizabeth were married and continued through what would have been the normal child bearing years and it is very likely that this prayer was at least 50 years old.  I also believe that Zechariah, being human, had probably not prayed this particular prayer in quite sometime.  Even as he never gave up on God he gave up on this particular prayer because he couldn’t imagine how God would answer it so many years later.  But answer it, God did, because 50 years and physical limitations are no barriers at all to Him who loves us so!

And don’t you know that Elizabeth and Zechariah rejoiced to have their prayer answered after so many years and marveled at what God had done for them?  I believe if you could ask them, they would tell you that it was worth the wait.

I hope you can see that there’s a strong lesson here for all believers.  God’s not through yet and He’s not finished with us either.  Keep on praying and keep on being faithful and get ready to be amazed.  His answer to our prayers will be perfect and will come at exactly the right time.

 

 

Always The Right Choice

praise, petition, trust in JesusIsn’t God good?  I hope that you know for sure that He is.  I hope that you have allowed Him to prove His goodness and mercy to you.  The fact is that His love towards us is constant and that His power and grace are always available to us if we will humbly acknowledge Him and His sufficiency,

The more we rely on Him and the more we acknowledge Him the more He is able to show us His goodness and His love towards us.  It is the sweetest thing when we begin to daily rely on the Lord for strength and can rest in His blessed assurance that no matter the circumstance we know that God is able.  We see Him working and can perceive with our spiritual eyes the way that He holds us up and empowers us to do His work.  We feel His hand of mercy and can sense Him working all things to our ultimate good.

Are you familiar with the hymn, “The Longer I Serve Him, the Sweeter He Grows”?  Here is the chorus and the second verse:

The Longer I Serve Him, The sweeter He grows
The more that I love Him , More joy He bestows
Each day is like heaven My heart overflows
The Longer I Serve Him, The sweeter He grows

Every need He is supplying
Plenteous Grace He bestows
Every day my way grows brighter
The Longer I Serve Him
The sweeter He grows

Is the hymn writer really saying that God is getting better all the time?  No, the writer is not saying that.  God’s goodness is constant and He is unchanging.  What the writer is trying to convey is that our perception of His goodness improves with our willingness to serve and acknowledge His Lordship.  In other words, the only people who think that God is not good are those who do not truly know Him and only those who know Him best know how truly good He can be!

Deciding to serve the Lord and to trust Him with everything, day in and day out, is always the right choice.  Despite distractions, despite circumstances and despite our strengths and weaknesses, God’s way is always the best, the sweetest and the most blessed.

My prayer is that we would all call on the name of the Lord as often as possible.  My prayer is that His praises would forever be on our tongues and that we would ever seek to know just how good He can be.  And my prayer is that we would seek to share His goodness and His message of salvation with all those who are willing to receive it.

 

To Seek The Living Among The Dead

Luke 24:5-6, Easter, rebirth, renewalHere we are, just a few weeks on the other side of Easter and for most of us, it is life as usual.  We carry on, as we always have, performing our duties and responsibilities and trying to do the best that we can.  And there is honor in that aspect of daily life.  As long as we are keeping 1 Corinthians 10:31 in mind (summarized as “whatever you do, do all for the glory of God”) then God will use our daily lives for extraordinary things.

But for just a few moments, let’s go back to that first Easter morning and in particular to the moments immediately following the arrival of the women to the tomb.  We see their alarm, their worry and their fear that Jesus’ body has been taken and that He is not where they expected Him to be.  How will they be able to carry out their duties?  How can they anoint his body for burial and follow the proper procedures if His body is not there?

While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?  (Luke 24: 5-6) NASB

Seeking the savior and looking to serve Jesus should be a lifelong pursuit.  But do we sometimes get so caught up in ritual, in duty and in procedure that we miss the divine?  I know that I do.  I know that I have a certain way of doing things and tend to follow a certain schedule as I go about my day and that interruptions or deviations from that schedule are usually met with irritation and annoyance rather than as opportunities to serve or to grow.

Shouldn’t I be using my eyes of faith instead?  Shouldn’t I be inviting God to step in to my regularly scheduled life and do something totally unexpected?  After all, this life I live is not my own.  It is a life that is bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me!

And unlike the women at the tomb on that first Easter morning, I know Jesus is alive.  I know that He is the resurrected Lord.   I also know that He has made me alive spiritually and no power in heaven or on earth can stand against His will being done.  So why do I so often fall back into routine and walk by sight instead of by faith in my living savior?

All I can say is, and this goes for all of us, that we will never find the living savior among the dead things of our old life and our old mindset.  Jesus is alive and He has made us to be alive with Him and to have life more abundantly as we walk by faith, step by step with Him.  It’s time to let the old ways go.  It’s time to forget those things that are behind and press on towards that which God has for us.  It’s time for us to seek the living savior and leave that which is dead well enough alone.

The Good Stretch

Philippians 4:8I did something unusual this morning.  After my usual routine of breakfast with bible reading and devotional time I arrived at work early and watched a video.  This video was by Sean Hyman (who I have written about previously) and was a review of investment positions that included a lot of charts and graphs.  It’s fairly technical stuff but Sean always does a good job for novices like myself in explaining what’s happening, why it’s happening and what it all means for the portfolio.

I admit, it is once in a blue moon that I actually sit down and take the time to watch one of Sean’s videos.  As good a job as he does the stuff that he is talking about is a long way outside of my comfort zone.  I’m not a numbers person and I am not a finance person (although I’ve improved and  hope to keep on improving) and it takes a good 45 minutes for me to get through one.

Here’s the thing though: every time that I watch one of Sean’s videos I learn something and I feel a little bit more comfortable with the subject and a little bit better about myself.  It might have been out of my comfort zone but it was worth doing and hopefully the end result will be a better financial position for me and my family.

Some things are just worth spending the time, energy and effort on.

The apostle Paul said it like this:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippian 4:8 NASB)

Now, more than ever, we as Christians need to “dwell on good things:”.  We are under assault from those who do not believe as we do and by the one who hates God and His children most of all.  I believe that Satan knows that his time is drawing to a close and that he has stirred up the hearts of men to hate, to blaspheme, to kill and to destroy all that is good.

If we let him, Satan would steal our joy and our testimony just as assuredly as he is working to steal the souls of those who have not believed on the name of Jesus.  Choosing to keep our thoughts and actions centered on those things that are “honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good reputation, excellent and worthy of praise” is an excellent defense.  Even if it stretches us in uncomfortable directions and forces us out of the familiar and into strange new areas, it is always worth it.

 

 

Gratitude Is A Mountain To Be Climbed

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, rejoice, give thanksWhenever I begin thinking and praying about a new topic for a post I try to call to mind what I have written before so that I don’t end up repeating myself.  Looking back at the history of this blog it would seem that I write about thankfulness fairly often and therefore I should write about something else this week.  Yet I feel in my spirit that this is where I am supposed to be and that if it were not important to the Lord then He would be leading me elsewhere.

I know what the Bible says about thankfulness, that we are to rejoice always and to give thanks in all things.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB) Paul wrote these words:

16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Even as these words comfort and encourage me they bring me to a realization: I don’t know what “rejoicing always and giving thanks in everything” actually look like.  As an ideal they are fantastic and challenging.  “I want to be this kind of person!” is what I think to myself.  But my practical mind wants to look around for examples, for some concrete image of what a person who rejoices always and gives thanks in everything looks like.

Let’s be honest, as human beings thankfulness is not natural.  Grumbling, complaining and whining come naturally but rejoicing and giving thanks most certainly do not.  So instead of looking for a human being to be my model for thankfulness I should instead be asking the Holy Spirit to be my teacher and to make me the kind of example that I am looking for.

Please realize this is not an indictment of anyone that I know personally.  Thankfulness is hard.  And it seems like the more blessed we are as children the harder it is.  Because we start off with so much many of us grow up feeling entitled to comfort and with the mindset that everything should come easily.

We grow up and encounter the real world and it doesn’t take too long before adult responsibilities very forcibly show us that most things that really matter aren’t easy at all.  We experience failure, heartbreak and lean times and we allow bitterness and complaint to take root. We become pessimistic and somewhere along the way we forget all about rejoicing and giving thanks.

I know because I have been there.  Not too long ago I was that person.  And perhaps God has me thinking and writing about thankfulness so often because I desperately need the reminders and the encouragement.  Maybe you do as well.

Let me end this by saying the key to rejoicing always and giving thanks in everything is found right in the middle, in verse 17.  “Pray without ceasing” it says.  Without our unceasing prayer and our heart and spirit lifted to the Father above we don’t have it in us to keep on rejoicing and giving thanks in the midst of terrible circumstances.  But with our prayer and our entreaty God can take our weakness and show forth His strength in us.  Oh that we would let it be so!