Whence Comfort?

www.bible.com/1713/2co.1.3-4.csb

Where does your comfort come from? A soft, fuzzy pillow? A teddy bear who is always ready to listen to your troubles? A shoulder you know you can’t count on to cry on from time to time? A familiar listening ear? Or even from God Himself?

He is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction.” That’s a tall order, but a necessary one. We are in need of a Comforter, and weal in our time of affliction. And who else is there? Who else can comfort us?

When I was a child, I needed someone who was stronger than I was, like my parents, who would be comforters. I could run to my mother or my father in the middle of a thunderstorm and weep in their arms, knowing there I would be safe.

As adults, we find we have the same needs for such comfort when the storms of life are too big for us. But to whom shall we turn? Whose arms do we run to when we are the ones who are supposed to have it all together? May I suggest the Comforter, the One who made us, Who calls us His own. His arms, though we often can’t see them, call upon our eyes of faith to feel. Do you trust in the Lord God to help you through and comfort you when you scared?

As an adult, we are not so much scared of the storms, but the catastrophes, both personal and public. We are scared of the hurricanes and tornadoes, the wildfires and the pandemics. We ought to have some fear of them, as such fear inspires caution and taking measures to protect ourselves. But what about personal illnesses, creeping cancers and major organ failure, when you can see the monster coming for you with the face of tumors and anuerysms? We still need a Comforter, and arms that can enfold us, and tell us its going to be okay. I still need that. I still cling in faith to the God who raised His Son from the dead. I still trust in His promises He made for me. But I fear those times especially when my faith will be tested. I know times will come when I question God and ask why He would put me through such things. I’ve done it before. And when the test was over was when I realized with relief that it was all done to strengthen me, improve my faith, and help me forward to the next test.

When I am confronted by someone who questions God, all I do is ask if God has been faithful before. Has God answered your prayers in the past? Has He blessed me when you weren’t looking? Inevitably, the answer is yes. Even in the darkest times and hardest situations, God’s light has always found a way to shine through. Then I ask if God has stopped being faithful, stopped loving, stopped hearing prayer. So too here the answer must give way to grudging acknowledgment. Even in my dark times, God has been working behind the scenes to bring about His glory and show His love to me.

So today, as you are going through the test, remember what God has done for you. It was not accidentally that when Israel was going through hard times, God reminded them of the Exodus, of bringing them through the Red Sea and their time at the Mountain, or the bread in the desert. He reminds them of their past for the sake of their present. He will remind you too.

God, You have been so kind to me, especially when I didn’t deserve it. I called on You and I thought You weren’t listening. I called to You and You didn’t seem to answer. I was angry at You. I hated You because I thought You loved me and You turned Your back to me. I thought I was Your child, and You were silent. Thank You for being so patient with me, because I discovered at the end of my trial, You were right there all along. I cannot know all the things You shielded me from, and the disaster I could experienced, because You do love me. I repent and apologize for all the mean things I said and did, because in my human frailty, I couldn’t see the light, the care and compassion You have for me. I twisted and fought at the end of my rope because I could see the One who was pulling me in. Thank You God for loving me and granting me peace. In You Name I pray, Amen.

The Way of Jesus

www.bible.com/1713/luk.9.23-24.csb

The way of Jesus follows the way of the cross. The path of the cross begins at the place of torture and beating, and ends with the impaling of nails into flesh. Jesus says this path, as a disciple, is to be taken daily. The path itself is one of humiliation, which the crowds who witnessed Him mocked him for the criminal they assumed He was, shouting at Him that He deserved His fate. So it should not surprise us when the crowds do the same. Jesus says from the outset that His path isn’t one of glory and joy, wealth and blessing. We are blessed surely when we receive such, but that shouldn’t be our expectation. Our problems don’t go away in Jesus. In fact the temptation becomes much harder, because once the Enemy has lost us, he has to work twice as hard to try and get us back. And he will.

But while the path of the cross is painful, it is brief. There is an end to that path, and once achieved, you will receive the reward of a life lived for Jesus. In some ways it seems Jesus works very hard to reveal to us that this life isn’t our ultimate goal. This life is merely temporary. It is the next life, the eternal life in heaven that should inspire us and give us hope.

So the question laid to us is this: If I am not experiencing any of the suffering normally associated with being a Christian, am I really being a Christian? Am I truly living the life He has called me to?

I have asked myself these kinds of questions for years. It is one reason I desired full-time Christian service, feeling that was one way to put myself at the Lord’s mercy for work. Of course asking the rest of my family to live with my choices is another matter.

I feel in part that because I live in America, I do not receive the kinds of threats to my life and faith as I would in Indonesia or Iraq. In this nations all points of view are tolerated. It’s live and let live. And even though churches have been forced to closed due to the pandemic, we still worship and function, and in my part of the country, being a Christian is socially approved. Lucky me, I guess.

But my temptations come in other ways. My Christianity is more sorely tested, because my living and lifestyle must stand out more to be distinct from the world around me, and it is far easier to be a “nominal” Christian. If Jesus were the only words from my lips, I would be considered “crazy” and “hyper-religious.” Neither of those are particularly winsome or persuasive. I am more free to be a Christian, but it is far harder to stay a Christian.

But I want to encourage you fellow believer, wherever you are, that Christ is for you. Christ has work for you to do, in whatever walk you are in, because the path of Christ is for all of us. be watchful today for those opportunities to share with others the faith that is within you. God bless you all today!

God, show me today those opportunities that are unique to me and my station that only I can do to share the hope that is within me. May You work in me to share a gift so gracefully given. Thank You Jesus. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

 

Faithful

www.bible.com/1713/heb.10.23.csb

Though we often use the word “faithful” in religious contexts, there is another context that is used almost as often. That is marriage. More to the point, the antonym of this word is often used in the marriage context, “unfaithful”. And that word can bring some folks to immediate depression and anxiety, so I apologize if that word has negative connotations for you.

Recently I spoke to an individual who was truly suffering because of unfaithfulness. Though this person had never formally committed to any of the relationships, this person noted that every one ended in unfaithfulness. And this fact destroying this person. It’s one thing when boyfriends and girlfriends step out on you because there are no formal commitments. That is frowned upon nevertheless because there is an expectation that a person will be “faithful” as long as they are dating until they break off dating or break up. That is acceptable. But it is unacceptable for a person to go and date another person while they are still dating the first person. That kind of individual gets a reputation. But it can be devastating for the first relationship because there is an assumption of faithfulness.

It gets worse in marriage. And the consequences become even more drastic. In marriage, there is a formal commitment made in front of witnesses. This formal commitment the couple to monogamy, and no others will be allowed in the implied sexual relationship between the two of them. “Unfaithful” is what we call it when that covenant agreement is broken. The consequences then also include separation, divorce, destruction of assets, and children, as well as broken family relationships. It is more widespread and more far-reaching, but obviously, I don’t have to tell some of you that. You’ve lived it.

But it is in this marriage context that we find meaning for “faithful”. I hope you have all been witness to marriage relationships, if not your own, where both husband and wife have been together for decades. It is a good picture of faithfulness because we see that it was not all good. Sometimes faithfulness is hard, even impossible, if not for the bonds of marriage keeping them together. We faithfulness is forged and well-earned, not without effort. Faithfulness sis oftentimes the more difficult path, and one less traveled.

So it is with God. With God, our journey with Him is forged into stronger bonds of trust. As we encounter increasingly difficult terrain, we find our faith tested, and His faithfulness to us returned in answer to our prayers. We find God more faithful, more devoted, more true, but not without effort. We find that the answers to our questions are immediate, but they do come in time. We find the One who promised is faithful and will continue to be faithful, even when it looks like He is not. God never forgets you.

Heavenly Father, today there will be times where it seems You have forgotten me. There will be times I will feels at the end of rope pulled by a sailboat in the dark. I will not see You, just the rope, and I will be forced to trust the rope without seeing the boat to pull me in. There are sometimes Lord when I doubt You are really there, whether You are really listening. But it is at those times I need to still the storm, because it is not all around me, but it is in my soul. And I pray Lord help today to still the storm in me, so that I can clearly see the path before me. Thank You Lord for being faithful. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

Need a Reminder?

www.bible.com/1713/rom.8.1.csb

As human beings we faced with a terrible problem. We have a sin problem. All of the other problems we possess are minor by comparison. You may differ on this point. And you would be right to, saying we have much greater issues to deal with, like war, poverty, hunger, lack of basic health-care, income inequality and so forth. Those are real problems as well, but at their roots lay sin.

What causes war? Injustice, land grabs, disagreements that cannot be resolved because of pride. You name it, there is a sin cause.

What causes poverty? Indolence, laziness sure, but also greed, avarice, the desire to take from others what is not rightly yours. Sounds like sin again.

What causes hunger? Because the fact that people become hungry, you might as well couple this to the same causes for poverty.

What causes the lack of basic health care? Let’s talk about the needs for basic health care. Why do people need health care? Because we live in a broken world. It has been broken by man’s sin. Because Adam sinned in the garden, the world now faces horrific natural phenomena and disease. And then there is people’s own indifference to their own health needs, by eating too much, drinking too much, abusing drugs, exercising too little, etc. Where does the fault lie with “lack of basic health care”? Certainly there are areas that are underserved, but even in Applachia where I work, folks are only 30 minutes away from the nearest Emergency Room. No one is turned away.

Are there other problems? Certainly. Can they be traced in one way or another back to sin, man’s inhumanity to man, to something similar? Almost certainly. Because what we consider evil in this world always leads back to sin. So is sin the worst problem that we face? Yes.

So how do we solve the sin problem? Before I proceed, you need to know that sin and its effects did not become what they are today overnight. While sin is almost always at the root of the evil we see in this world, even pulling out the sin by the root will take some time to take effect in the larger scheme. Sin has caused very complex problems. Simply removing one man’s sin from the equation will not solve the problem.

Let me give you a case in point: When the four men brought their friend to Jesus to be healed, they let him down through the roof of Peter’s house, because there were too many people present. When they finally got the man in front of Jesus, Jesus accounted that the man’s sin was forgiven. The man was not immediately healed. In fact, there was some argument (from the Pharisees and their pride) about whether Jesus had the power to forgive sin. After some discussion, the man’s illness was healed. My point is that even though the man’s sin problem was solved initially, it took time for the physical healing to take place. It was not immediate. Jesus can heal immediately, but I think this story is important by way of illustration. You can heal the sin problem today, but still have to deal with the consequences of the sin problem a little while longer.

The answer to the sin problem is Jesus of course. Saving faith in Jesus Christ, His death, burial and resurrection, being baptized for forgiveness of sin and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then seeing that faith reflected in your daily activities is really the proof of that salvation. Seeing that kind of life transformation is what changes things. But the effects of a life lived in sin may take longer to work out. A father who didn’t raise his kids as Christians, who then comes to faith in Christ, will not see his kids suddenly become Christians too. Life has consequences. A man jailed for murder, who then becomes a Christian in prison, does not undo the murder that was committed. He must still pay the penalty for his act of evil.

So if salvation doesn’t fix the problem, why do we bother trying it? Because it is the only solution to the problem. Psychology does not transform the way salvation does. Social programs cannot change the heart of a man. Only God can do that. And the problem of sin lies in the human heart. As some have said, we have to “trust the process.” God will work out His will among men in His time. We can only do what only we can do, and that is put our faith in Jesus and trust Him for the outcome.

We know that in this world we will have trouble. The poor we will always have with us. But we aren’t really hoping to live forever in this world, are we? This is why we work on the sin problem, because there will come a time when we will stand before God and must give an account. If we have placed our faith in Jesus, there will be no condemnation for in Him, we are justified because of our faith. That’s how you solve the sin problem.

Lord help me today to walk by faith, to work out that sin problem in my own life by working on my faith, that it be not mere mental assent to the truth of Jesus, but it be lived out in my life. Help me show the world that I am a believer, a disciple, and faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. In His Name I pray, Amen.

I Have Been Crucified

www.bible.com/1713/gal.2.20.csb

I once was dead, but now I am alive. I once was lost, but now I’m found. I once had no purpose, no direction, and no point to my life, until I met Jesus. In Him is life, a better life than anything that I could have ever imagined. I owe it all to Christ, who gave His life for me. Since I have been crucified with Christ, I have also risen with Him. Since I have been baptized in Christ, I have been raised with Him. Though I may live in my flesh, I live by faith. I live by hope. I live by the promise of the Son who rose that I too will rise again when my flesh is no more.

Do you know what it’s like to feel loved like that? To be loved so much that someone is willing to give their whole life for you? Paul makes it personal in this verse. He does not remark “He died for us,” but “He died for me.” Paul knew what Jesus was like. He had met Him. Though some debate it, I believe Paul and Jesus had long conversations together outside of Damascus for three years, with Jesus teaching him personally. I believe Paul applied a unique understanding to this education through his vast intellect and education in the rabbinic schools. Of all the disciples, only Paul possessed this kind of education. It was because of this education that he became a zealot for persecution, and this was also his greatest shame. Like Peter before him, Paul needed that extra measure of time and attention from Jesus (“Peter, do you love Me?”)  to turn his soul around. I see Jesus taking the necessary time to transform Saul to Paul, the raging anti-Christian zealot to the devoted follower of Jesus. Imagine the contrast Paul must have seen between the forgiving Christ and the Church he met in Jerusalem. They didn’t want him and were afraid of him. But he had seen and known Jesus. He loved and eventually overcame their insecurities to become a powerful evangelist and missionary due in part to Barnabas’ patience.

If you have ever been in need of motivation, I want you to take some encouragement from the Apostle Paul. Paul made it personal because it is personal. Jesus died for you. He died for all but He also died for you. Jesus made it personal when He came in the flesh and we discovered His name, Jesus. He was no longer the “Word” of God. He was God in flesh, flesh just like mine. He lived and breathed. He had a real human voice. He did this for me. He loves me so much, He not only had prophets predict His coming, but Apostles to ensure that His story would reach my ears. This is the love of a God who loves me above everything else. This is the God who saves, and saves me, even such a one as me.

It is helpful sometimes to consider that Jesus saves me, because sometimes I don’t feel very useful or important. But Christian don’t hold onto this as if it’s your very own, and only your own. This is a message that needs to be spread to all people, all the “me’s” out there who are desperate for purpose, for mission, for direction in their lives. Savor the personal nature of salvation, but don’t hold onto it. Share it! Savor it, but spread it! Let it motivate you to become a spokesman to someone else. Let the love of Christ so overflow the banks of your own heart as to fill someone else. The flow you receive will only grow stronger when it goes out to others.

Lord Jesus, help me to practice this faith, in my life and in my home. I need you today more than ever. Show me those today for whom I can pray and share my faith. Grant me the discernment not to throw my pearls before swine, but for hearts that have been prepared for Your message this day. For this I pray. Amen.

Trust and Confidence

www.bible.com/1713/jer.17.7.csb

Still warming up to today? That’s okay. It took me a while to get moving today as well. Not an especially warm day today, but I think we’ll warm up to it. It is merely a balmy 18F this morning. What can I say, it’s winter. Spring is coming next month, so we have a little time to wait.

I am encouraged by the word this morning. We often put our trust and confidence in things not worthy, such as government, our employer, other people. While they are trustworthy to an extent, how long would it take to replace you at your job? If you died, would the government send a “we miss you” card? Not likely. And more often that not, the world is out to swindle us of any extra cash we have, rather than trying to help us take advantage of the next great deal.

Rather, we put our trust and confidence where it is most deserving, and that is in the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot go wrong with Him. Even when it seems He’s not listening, or not close by,  we know He is. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. But as a wise person once said, “the teacher is always silent during the test.” Sometimes He steps away from our immediate perception when out faith is being tested, or when we suffer a little while.

We have got to disassociate ourselves from the notion that we are promised our best life now. That is a lie from Hell. If you think that becoming a Christian entitles you to your best life now, you are mistaken. Our best life is yet to come. This life is the proving ground for the soul that will live in that ethereal best life, when we have our home together with Jesus. This life is the test. This life is the scantron to prepare us for what is to come. Every day, every year, we will learn a bit more, and be tested a bit more severely. God is working in us to perfect us. So we cannot expect (though we are given glimpses of that life) the best life in this life. God often chooses to bless us, and give us a taste of that life, and we are grateful for every bite. But our true best life is yet to come in the world to come in the presence of our Heavenly Father. What God seeks to test in us in this world is our faith, our ability to see that next life (which we have already begun through our salvation) despite our surroundings. It is faith that pleases Him and if He sees us smiling through our hardships and sufferings because we believe in a better resurrection, a better life, and better hope that what this life offers, He sees our faith, hope and love in action. This is what pleases God. It is Paul and Silas singing in the prison. It is Jesus forgiving others from the cross. It is Joseph saying, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” It is the three young men standing before Nebuchadnezzar saying, “we believe God will save us from this fire, but if He doesn’t, we still still trust Him.” It is every martyr on every beach preparing to die at the hands of wicked men, saying “Father forgive them.” That is trust and confidence in the Lord.

Lord, help me develop this transcendent trust. Father I have failed you time and again. Please forgive my unbelief and create in me a clean heart O God! Thank you Lord for Your indescribable gift! In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Faith and Strength

www.bible.com/1713/isa.40.31.csb

If I only had enough faith. Then I would be as strong as … who? Whose faith do you envy? Whose faith do you look upon as better than yours? I’ve seen a lot of people who say they have great faith, but much of it is misplaced. I was called a few years ago to the ER where a family stood waiting. When I arrived, they promptly asked me to raise the dead. Their loved one had just passed and they expected this particular representative of God to raise their deceased loved one. I think they were of the delusion that all one needs to do is ask, and God will give whatever you ask for for, if you ask for it in faith. Sadly, neither my prayers nor theirs were enough to raise the dead that day.

There is a popular notion in our area that faith merely needs to be claimed, merely apprehended by a word of faith and it will become reality. It is a poor understanding of God’s purpose. As Han Solo once said, “That’s not how the Force works.” That’s not how faith works either.

If we have have a request of God, we make it known to Him. We lift it up in prayer. We can pray for as often as we like. He is not obligated to satisfy that which does not fit into His will. His chief goal is that all come to the knowledge of the truth. How does your prayer fit into that? Not every prayer will fit. Some have to be “No” and others may be “wait.” But none will be “Yes sir, right away sir.” God is not at our beck and call. We ought to be at His, and He just might be more likely to answer if we are.

In fact this verse and it surrounding passage fees more like the latter. If we are serving God in all that we do and say, our will is more like His. And the things we ask for are more in line with what He wants, and He is more likely to answer as we ask. Faith is just asking God for stuff when you want. It is living your life as He wants, so that as you are carrying out His will, He is more likely to supply you with the strength you need to carry it out.

Lord, help me today to live my life according to Your will. Help me recognize in my own life those things I need to be rid of so that I can fill those places with You. Lord I am but human. I can’t see and know all things as You do. Help me Lord each day to make my life more in line with Your blessed will do that I will have that strength to carry it out. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.

Receive and Believe

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.1.12.csb

It may seem to you that God sets the bar kind of low when it comes to salvation in Jesus. Perhaps it is because we have watered down the language so much from its biblical use that we don’t even know what the Bible is asking us anymore. (I might note this is another subtle Satan hack.) This recent holiday season being an example, what does it mean to believe in Santa Claus?

I suspect that if you believe in Santa Claus, it’s not a belief you think about throughout the year. The practice of this faith means what: setting out milk and cookies on Christmas Eve, writing a letter to Santa, and visiting Him in the mall, once. If you are a fanatic, you might remind yourself that you need to be “good” relatively speaking to stay off the naughty list. Sure you decorate like all the doubters out there, but how much of you life is consumed with this belief? Do you have enough have to resist buying presents for yourself or others, trusting that Santa will come through this year?

Such is modern belief.

Belief in Jesus Christ calls for a bit more. Affirming that Jesus lived, probably died on a cross, and some say he rose from the dead won’t change your life. Believing that Jesus died for your sin and loved today, that’s something else. I don’t pray to Santa to change my circumstances. I pray to Jesus. I don’t pray that Santa would fix my marriage. I ask Jesus. I know Jesus is alive and well. I know Jesus rose from the dead. I know Jesus cares for me even now. Why? Because He told me in His book. Even as o write this, Jesus is present with me. I don’t have to hope it’s true. I know it’s true.

That’s the difference between belief and faith in our culture. Faith motivates. Faith influences action. Belief is often just something I think I know. Faith is knowing something for certain without having seen the proof.

This is what makes children of God. These are the children who have the faith that God is their father, that they are His children, and act accordingly. They have received the truth of Jesus Christ in their hearts and serve Him faithfully. This is true and authentic faith for the believer.

May God bless you in your walk with Jesus today.

Power in Weakness

www.bible.com/1713/2co.12.9.csb

This is one of my go to verses. If God doesn’t heal you of that illness or infirmity, what then? Where do you go when God doesn’t take the pain away? Most people reject God, saying they’ve prayed and prayed and God hasn’t answered their prayers, or they feel dejected because they didn’t have enough faith to move this particular mountain. Is that how it works? We just send a prayer off to God and He is expected to meet our need, just like that? Does God have any say in the matter?

If God doesn’t heal you, does that make Him an unloving God? Does make Him harsh or cruel? Can God only be glorified and praised only if He meets your need exactly when you need it?

Then imagine Paul’s consternation at not being healed of his infirmity. Though no one is sure what his “thorn in the flesh” was, some suspect it was an issue with his eyes, based on Galatians. Paul prayed to have this thorn removed. Paul’s faith goes without question. He had the ability to heal others of blindness. Why didn’t God heal his? Did God not care?

But God did care. And God have Him an answer, the same answer He gives to all of us. “My power is made perfect in weakness.” What does that mean? It means God takes the long view. He knows this world is not our home. We have a new and glorious eternal body that awaits us where there will no suffering, crying, or pain. The purpose of this life is to prepare our souls for the next, not to enjoy all the pleasures. His power is made perfectly evident in our weakness, for the more powerful message of unshakeable faith comes from the voice of the tested, not the untested. The more powerful comes from the testimony, not the untried.

God’s message and purpose is to save the lost. The lost are better won by one who has been tested and finds his faith unshaken. That God is glorified in the midst of such terrible weakness is powerful testimony, and will many to their knees in repentance. I have been at the bedside of hospice patients who will make you weep because of their unshakeable faith. That is power perfected in weakness. That is the unmistakable power of God.

So the next time God doesn’t heal like you expect, be prepared. God may have other purposes for your illness. He may be disciplining you, or he just may be preparing you for a powerful testimony.

God bless you today!

Unseen Evidence

https://my.bible.com/verse-of-the-day/HEB.11.1/46037?version=100

What is faith? This verse is often quoted as the answer to that question. Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Well, as a definition, it often strikes me as ”faith is being faithful.” it doesn’t really answer the question of what faith is. What I hope for doesn’t have a ”substance” and what I can’t see doesn’t really count as “evidence”, does it?

Here’s where you a probably thinking I am going to come back with an amazing answer to this question. But I don’t have one. Faith is taken by itself as evidence of things I don’t have. Confidence is sometimes placed in this verse as an answer, that faith is confidence that what we hope for will in fact happen. If I pray for healing, then faith is the confidence that I will be healed. If I pray for the Lord’s will to be revealed in my life, then faith is knowing that God will reveal that will to me. Faith is grasping what I can’t grasp with my hands. Only by faith can we comprehend things we cannot see with our eyes.

It is by faith that I believe my wife loves me. Either that or it’s an elaborate ruse to gain my confidence so that she can someday do something nefarious. So far, 24+ years on, she has expertly carried on as if she loves me. I can’t see love. But I can see meals prepared, hugs given and received, kisses, even four children brought into the world. If she doesn’t love me, then she has gone through an awful lot of trouble. I believe that love exists, because I can see what it does.

Faith must then be my active portion of that. Faith is what I do based upon what I can’t see, but know is there. Faith is active beyond my senses to my deductions based on what I can see. I believe in God because I see the effects of His creation around me. I believe in Jesus because of the evidence of His life and his work in me. I am not the same man I was when I was saved.

That may not be a great definition, but it is mine. Maybe it will be a help to you today. God bless.