Rejoice!

sunrise and wheat

“…weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NIV).

As I write these words, we are in a difficult time in the history of our world.  The coronavirus pandemic is upon us, causing fear and uncertainty, sickness, even death.  What better time to turn to Scripture and look to God’s promises?

Written thousands of years ago, the message of God’s ever-present goodness is as relevant today as it has ever been.  In the above Psalm, King David writes that “…weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NIV).  Isn’t that a great description of the hope we have in our God?

Although the “night” may be long, rejoicing is still coming.  That’s the precedent of God.  Even Jesus experienced the “night” as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he faced arrest, and as he was beaten, broken, and hung on a cross to die.  Still, rejoicing came with the sunrise on that first Easter morning.  Through his resurrection, Jesus proclaimed that even death doesn’t get the final word.  Rather, the final word is one of rejoicing.

I don’t know how long this current pandemic will last, but this is what I do know – rejoicing is coming.  For followers of Jesus, we have the promise that whatever happens in this life, it is only a shadow of the life to come, in Heaven, where rejoicing will be complete.

I want to encourage you today to let this time of darkness be illuminated by the light of Jesus.  He is with you throughout the “night”.  Strive to patiently endure this time, knowing that a new morning is coming.  We have God’s promise of that.  So, rejoice!

When Mountains Fall

waters raging

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-3, NIV).

With these words, the psalmist describes a frightening and almost unimaginable scenario, where the “waters roar and foam”, and the “mountains quake”, tumble, and crash into the sea.  In other words, about everything that can possibly go wrong is happening right before the psalmist’s eyes.  The world is literally turned upside down, as the mountains fall, and the seas rise.  Still, the psalmist remembers that God is his “refuge”, his “strength”, and his “help”, and he makes the conscious decision to not be afraid.  He realizes that, ultimately, God is still in control.

We live in challenging times.  As I write these words, our world is suffering the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.  Life, as we know it, has changed, and it doesn’t seem to be returning to “normal” anytime soon.  Still, God is in control.  And, while we may not understand all his workings, especially when it comes to the presence of suffering in the world, we can still trust and believe in him.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words, that “…(nothing can) separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39, NIV).  A pandemic of disease cannot separate us from God’s love.  Neither can our doubts, nor our fears, our pain, nor our questions.  Even our sin cannot separate us from the love and mercy that God shows us in Jesus.

When our world, like mountains, seems to be crashing down around us…  When the seas rise and threaten to overtake us…  When our world and lives are shaken to their core…  God is still in control.  Trust him, and do not be afraid.

Wait, Worship, and Witness

chains

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:25-26, NIV).

No one said that following Jesus would be easy.  In fact, Jesus himself told his disciples, “ ‘…In this world you will have trouble…’ ” (John 16:33, NIV), and that each of them was to “ ‘…take up their cross daily and follow (him)’ ” (Luke 9:23, NIV).  For Paul and Silas, this meant spending the night in prison.  Beaten and bruised, shackled and chained, the two were punished severely for their “crime” of sharing the good news message of Jesus.

Yet, Paul and Silas did something remarkable, even while confined to a dark, damp prison cell.  They worshiped God through prayer and singing, and their very act of worship provided a witness to the other prisoners.  We find out later in Paul and Silas’ story that a guard, entrusted with the task of watching the prisoners came to faith in Jesus, all because of Paul and Silas’ worship and witness.

Have you ever had to wait in less-than-ideal conditions under less-than-ideal circumstances?  Perhaps your “night in prison” refers to your desperate attempt to overcome an addiction.  No matter how hard you try to break the “chains”, you cannot free yourself from the grip they have on you.  Or, maybe your “night in prison” involves a disease or an illness, where you are simply too weak to fight off the ill-effects.  Whatever you find yourself bound to or imprisoned by, you can learn a lot from this story of Paul and Silas.

The way we wait, worship, and witness changes things.  At the very least, it changes us.  Perhaps the chain-breaking, prison cell-shaking, earthquake was merely coincidence.  Or, maybe it was a divine response to the worship and witness of Paul and Silas.  In either regard, let’s use times of waiting as a means to worship.  The world will see our witness and praise God for it!

Trust in God, and…

hand washing

I’m not for sure who initially coined the phrase, but it goes something like this – “Trust in God, and lock your car doors.” This advice tells us that we should trust in God, but that we should still take precautions in life. There’s a bit of a tension here. We are to trust God with every ounce of our being, while, at the same time, understand that we live in a world that is fallen.

In the present light of the coronavirus pandemic, the old phrase, “Trust in God, and lock your car doors” might better be presented as “Trust in God, and wash your hands.” Or, maybe it’s “Trust in God, and stop touching your face.” Whatever advice we choose to convey, the lesson is the same. We are to trust in God, but realize that God wants us to use common sense in how we live and interact with one another.

I would share just one warning – do not let your safety precautions become an idol in your life. Do not look to them for your ultimate safety or security. Jesus is the one who should be lifted up, held high, and looked to for that. Understand this – hand sanitizer never saved anyone from their sins. Hoarding bulk amounts of toilet paper never saved anyone from their sins. Social distancing never saved anyone from their sins. Only Jesus can save us from our sins. Please remember that!

The coronavirus seems to be spreading like sin throughout the world. Still, God is in control. Do not be afraid. We’ll get through this. In the meantime, “Trust in God, and wash your hands.”

A New Thing

stream

“ ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland’ ” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV).

God had a message for his chosen people, the nation of Israel. His was a message of deliverance from bondage in Egypt through a sea-splitting escape from Pharaoh and his army. It was a message of God’s past glory, his present protection, and his future provisional abundance. Yes, God had a message for Israel, and although he reminded them of former things, they were to no longer focus on the past. God was ready to do something new, something grand, something only God could accomplish.

I believe God wants the same for his chosen people of today, followers of Jesus, believers in his truth. You need to hear his message today! Perhaps you are wandering in a wilderness of doubt and despair, and there seems to be no clear path out, but God is telling you that he will make a way for you. Maybe you’re in what can only be described as a wasteland, a barren space filled with skeletons of your sin, your regrets, and your shame, but God is about to refresh these dry places with a stream of his righteousness.

What if you truly are standing on a precipice, looking out across a land, a life, that God has promised and provided for you? What if you’re just one faith-filled step away, one prayer away, or one decision away from receiving what God has planned for you? I’d say to you – hold on, because God wants something good for you. God wants you to know that you are loved with a love that only he can give. He wants you to experience abundant life, both now and eternally. He wants you to know that you’re forgiven, that you’re free in this life and in the life to come.

Yes, God is truly doing a new thing! And, all we need to do is receive it by faith. May God bless you in your journey as you trust in him.

The Father of Lies

fire

“ ‘…(The devil) was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies’ ” (John 8:44, NIV).

You’ve probably seen the cartoon caricatures. A little red devil, with horns on his head and a pitchfork in his hand, mysteriously appears on the shoulder of an unsuspecting individual. This devil stands in opposition to an angel, a winged being clad in white, with a halo gracing his head, who sits strategically atop the individual’s other shoulder. Each attempt to persuade the conflicted person to heed their advice. The devil is seen as a trickster, the angel as a moral compass. Their banter is playful and predictable. Ultimately, the individual must decide. To whom will he listen?

But I urge you – do not let the cartoons fool you! The devil is very real and shares little in common with his pitchforked friend. He wants more than to lead you down a wayward path. The devil wants your very soul, and he’ll do anything within his power to attain it.

Jesus called it like he saw it, referring to the devil as a murderer, who seeks to steal both the present and eternal life of his victims. The devil is a liar to his very core. There is no truth found within him. He speaks only the language he knows, language that is weaponized with shame, sin, and mistruth, each aimed directly at the heart of man.

Still, Jesus is greater. Jesus is truth incarnate. He embodies love and acceptance, mercy and forgiveness. Listen to his grace-filled words. He, too, is whispering in your ear – you are loved, you are redeemed, you are free.

You Have the Words

bible open with red bookmark

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’ ” (John 6:68, NIV).

It was a tipping point in Jesus’ public ministry, a proverbial line-in-the-sand moment. Jesus’ claim to be the Bread of Life was seen as offensive, and many of his followers chose to desert him. Yes, Jesus’ words were challenging to his disciples and demanded a decision – to stay with Jesus, whatever that would entail, or to leave him and forfeit his message of grace.

So, Jesus asked the twelve a very pointed question, “ ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ ” (John 6:67, NIV). And, that’s when Peter, always brazen in his actions, made his declaration of faith. That’s right, Peter, who would soon deny ever knowing Jesus, confessed that Jesus was the only one worth following.

Followers of Jesus share much in common with Peter, not just in regard to his foibles and failures, but in his decision to follow Jesus and provide a witness to the world. Like Peter, we, too, “ ‘…have the words of eternal life’ ” (John 6:68, NIV), words that cannot be had any other way than through Jesus. Like Peter, we must be bold in our witness that Jesus’ words bring life, not just in the present, but eternally. There is no other place to go or person to follow. Let’s proclaim this message to everyone!

God Is Present

sunset and mountain

“ ‘Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:24, NIV).

“We invite you God into this place.” You’ve probably heard this phrase or one like it. Perhaps, you’ve even said it. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with making such a statement. It’s just not completely accurate.

God is omnipresent, which means that he is present in all places at all times. Therefore, we do not need to invite God into any place, for he’s already there. God is in the still-quiet sanctuary on an early Sunday morning, preparing hearts to receive him. God is alive in Worship, stirring in people expressions of faith and adoration. God is in our schools as students nervously prepare for an exam. He is in our workplaces and in our homes. Most importantly, by his Holy Spirit, God lives within the heart of each believer.

Yes, God is present everywhere we look, and even in some places in which we refuse to look. We don’t have to search for God or fear that he is absent. He is present throughout the heavens and to the ends of the earth. He even dwells within us. God is perfect. He is powerful. And, he is present!

 

Doorframes

cross - doorframe

“ ‘Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates’ ” (Deuteronomy 6:9, NIV).

In Old Testament times, God gave the Israelites several commands, the culmination of which was, “ ‘Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ ” (Deuteronomy 6:5, NIV). God’s chosen people were not only to obey these commands, but they were to pass them on to their children and grandchildren. For this very reason, God told the Israelites to
“ ‘Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates’ ” (Deuteronomy 6:9, NIV). In this way, the Law of God would be remembered every time the Israelites entered their homes.

I find it interesting that the Law of God was to be written on the doorframes of the homes of the Israelites. For just prior to this command, the Israelite’s doorframes were written upon, not with the Law, but with the Gospel. During their captivity in Egypt, in an event that would become known as the Passover, the blood of lambs was spread on the doorframes of Israelite homes so that death would literally pass over these families.

Time and again, both then and now, the Law of God is covered by the grace of God. Such grace is found in Jesus at the bloodied frame of his cross. For on the cross, the Lamb of God was put to death on our behalf. Our sins are passed over and we are free.

“We Are” Versus “I Am”

i am

“Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’
‘My name is Legion,’ he replied, ‘for we are many’ ” (Mark 5:9, NIV).

Jesus doesn’t fear confrontation, even when it means standing against Hell itself. He never cowers in the face of evil. Jesus doesn’t run from danger, and he will go to the ends of the Earth to search for and save even one lost soul.

The Gospel writer Mark records a frightening, yet fascinating, account of a demon-possessed man and his life-altering encounter with Jesus. Mark’s description of the man is quite startling. He lives among the tombs in the region of the Gerasenes. No one can stand against him. Like a dog, the man is chained, and like a monster, he breaks the chains. He approaches Jesus, not out of aggression, but out of obedience, for “…even the demons submit…” in the presence of and at the name of Jesus (Luke 10:17, NIV). When asked by Jesus to identify himself, the man states, “My name is Legion…for we are many” (Mark 5:9, NIV). The demons speak for the man, but they have no authority over Jesus. The “Legion” of demons, the “We Are”, is no match for “Jesus”, the “I am”. At their request, Jesus casts the demons into a nearby herd of pigs, and to the demons’ surprise, the pigs stampede into the sea and drown. The collateral damage is massive, and the townspeople ask Jesus to leave the region, but the man, formerly demon-possessed, stays, providing a witness for Jesus to all who will listen.

Jesus referred to himself as the “I am”, identifying himself as the God of the Old and New Testaments. He said things like “…I am the bread of life…” (John 6:35, NIV) and “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6, NIV). Jesus, the personification of God, came down from Heaven and was victorious over the forces of Hell. Through the sacrifice of the “I am”, we are forgiven and free. And we, also, have an amazing story to share.