A reminder in adversity

solo treeIt takes two things to blow down a tree: a heavy wind from the outside and rot and decay on the inside. So it is with man. The winds of adversity may cause him to bend, but if — by God’s grace — he’s strong and vigorous within, he will arise and grow to new heights after the storm passes.

Author unknown

Picture occurs courtesy Stuart Low photography

Finding hope in despair…

During difficult times we all need hope. The Psalmist captured it this way:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation (Psalm 42:5).

 I can’t remember who said it, but the words were wise:

If I am in despair my hope must be in the wrong place.

A simple search on the phrase hope in brought about the following results. Read them slowly and soak them in.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 33:18).

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you (Psalm 33:22).

Though he slay me, I will hope in him (Job 13:15).

… So that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments (Psalm 78:7)

Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word (Psalm 119:74).

You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word (Psalm 119:114).

. . . Hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption (Psalm 130:7)

. . . But the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 147:11).

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:22-24).

And here are some others passages on hope:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

. . . so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain (Hebrews 6:18-19).

So if you find you’re in despair, perhaps it’s time to refocus your hope. What are you hoping in…?

Faith and Submission

So much is misunderstood about faith. Sometimes we tend to think that faith is about boldly going where no one has gone before. But recently I began to examine those precious lives in the Scriptures who practiced their faith through submission. In fact one writer said, “True faith always involves surrender to the will of God.”

When Jesus went to the cross, he went by faith. He entrusted Himself to His Fathers’ hands. Hours before his trial and crucifixion He cried out to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Thine be done” (Matt. 26:39).  

When Abraham walked up Mount Moriah to sacrifice His only son, Isaac, he didn’t know that there would be a ram in the thicket. He went by faith, fully prepared to sacrifice the son of his love. He had surrendered his will to  God’s will (Gen 22:10,16). God acknowledged that Abraham would not even hold back his only son.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three friends that faced a fiery furnace. The pagan king asked them to bow down to his false gods.  They didn’t even blink. They assured the king that if God wanted to, He could protect them from the fire, but   even if He chose not to, they (out of submission to the true God) wouldn’t bow down to the king’s false gods. (Dan 3:17-18).

 What is God asking you and me to submit to? It may take more faith to surrender your will to His, than to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Heaven is a real place…

As a pastor a portion of my life involves the home-going of our people. I mean by that their entrance into heaven. From a human perspective we think of death as the end. But for the Christian (the one who has placed their faith in Christ for salvation) death is spoken of as a beginning. That is why Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). That is also why Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6)

Nonetheless, death is painful. It hurts those it leaves behind. From grandchildren to grandparents – death honors no age boundaries.

In the midst of walking through this pain with a family once, it was a five-year old boy’s smile that reminded me of the reality of heaven. I’d entered his home to speak to his step-mom about the passing of her mother. Her emotion was understandable. Even when we think we are prepared for the death of a loved one, we are never quite ready. I assured her, through her tears that I would stay with her step-son until the father returned from work so that she could go see her mother a final time. She had hardly left when the father returned home, and together the two of us sat down to explain to the five-year what had happened.

From the Bible I began to share what heaven was like: that there was no pain, or death, or tears there (Rev. 21:4). The boy’s father chimed in: his grandmother wouldn’t need her cane or her glasses anymore (I Cor. 15:53-57). And for the next few minutes, we just talked about heaven. The whole deal: streets of gold and gates of pearl. The more we talked the bigger his smile grew. Heaven, you see, to this five-year old, was a very real place. It wasn’t the figment of someone’s imagination to ease the fear of death.

Sometimes as adults we say that children don’t fully understand, but I wonder if they understand better than we do. You see, Jesus said heaven is a real place (John 14:1-6). Sometimes it just takes a five-year old to remind us.

Prayer, Fear, & Angels

The Biblical accounts of people talking with angels have always fascinated me. Nearly every time it happens in the Bible the angel tells the human being to not be afraid. There is something about their unexpected appearance that frightens people. Such was the case with Daniel in an interesting conversation he has with Gabriel in Daniel chapter 10. The angel says, “Do not fear Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.” (Dan. 10:12).

The angel Gabriel is talking to Daniel about a vision that he had seen earlier. Daniel had requested an interpretation, and was still waiting 21 days later for his answer. What I find fascinating is that Daniel had probably knelt and prayed for an answer. It was his habit to kneel and pray 3 times a day (Dan. 6:10). He probably got up from his knees and said, “O.K God, I’m ready for an answer.” But the answer didn’t come that day or that week for that matter. It didn’t come until Gabriel showed up at his doorstep 3 weeks later. Nonetheless, on Daniel’s prayers God had dispatched the greatest archangel in the Bible on his behalf.

Can you imagine? You and I kneel to pray, we get up from our knees, and in our world it doesn’t appear as if anything is happening. So we assume that it isn’t. But at our prayers God may have dispersed an entire battalion of angels on our behalf! Such was the power Daniel had! And the same might be said for us.

But Daniel had to do two things first. He set his heart to understand, and he humbled himself. Both are prerequisites to prayer. How passionately do we plead with God for an answer? And how often to we humble ourselves before Him, and patiently wait on an answer?

Next time you pray, be careful. You may not see anything happen in your world, but you may have unleashed angels that will spring into action at the command of the Lord!

Courage in the Face of Storms

There is a simple prayer uttered by the early disciples of Christ in Acts chapter 4.  In the face of threats from the religious bureaucracy of the day they prayed to the Lord for courage. In their words, “grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word” (Acts 4:29). Remarkably, in spite of the persecution that ensued, God honored that request.  What you discover is a group of men who preached the gospel about Jesus Christ in spite of the outcome.

While at the temple they were found to be preaching the message of salvation through Jesus and they were thrown in prison (Acts 5:17).

 Unbeknownst to the jealous religious leaders, and the jail-keepers that night an angel let them out of prison. The next morning when the leaders went to the prison to bring them to trial, they opened the door and found they weren’t there! But these prisoners didn’t simply evaporate. While the high priest wandered how he could find them, a messenger brought him word that they were back telling the truth about Jesus in the temple (Acts 5:25) – the very place where they had been arrested the first time. When confronted and asked to stop preaching the message about Jesus, Peter responded, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

 This time before their release they were beaten (Acts 5:40). That would seem to be a fairly effective deterrent for most of us. If when we proclaimed a message we were beaten for it, we might have a tendency to speak with greater political correctness the next time around. However, this group had a different perspective. Know where they went upon their release? Right back to the temple, and there they “didn’t cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42). What a great example these disciples provide us with.  The Gospel of Jesus was something worth being courageous about.