When the World Weighs Heavy

I don’t watch the evening news, but I’m still flooded with the sometimes unspeakable suffering across our globe.

Haiti is suffering the aftereffects of a major earthquake. Japan has experienced an earthquake, floods, landslides. Potentially devastating storms from tropical depressions and hurricanes hit our coasts. Horrible stories are coming out of Afghanistan, with more to come as the Taliban takes over.

And these are all on top of the long-term worldwide pandemic we’re still dealing with, made worse by the division over how to respond to it. Several friends have had COVID, some severely. A nurse friend tells of staff exhaustion and patient suffering in the COVID ward of her hospital.

As Christians, we’re concerned that our country and world are ebbing ever further away from biblical truth. We wonder what kind of world our children and grandchildren will face.

Plus we have personal concerns. A friend is taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s alone. A dear older lady is in the hospital with severe pain from an old hip replacement. Others have varying issues to deal with.

All these things weigh heavily. How are we supposed to go about everyday life with so much suffering and wrong in the world?

Well, maybe we aren’t.

There are times in life to stop everything, pray, fast, mourn. The 9/11 attacks here were like that. Everything stopped as we watched the news coverage, grieved, and prayed for those affected and those helping.

But at some point, the needs of life intrude. Laundry must be done, the family must be fed, family members must go to work.

Perhaps our concerns can guide how we do our tasks and how we think while we do them.

The world’s news can:

Inform our perspective. Disappointment over an activity canceled due to weather pales when I learn that Afghani Christians are being killed if a Bible app is found on their cell phones.

Remind us how small we are and how much we need God.

Remind us to pray. We can’t save the world. The sheer magnitude of suffering and sorrow in the world is overwhelming to us, but not to God. Some years ago I received this prayer guide from Voice of the Martyrs:

Remind us to weep with those who weep. Particularly concerning those believers undergoing persecution, Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

Remind us this life is not the end. The world isn’t getting better and better until we reach utopia. Jesus said there would be wars, earthquakes, famine, pestilence, persecution. Heaven will be a place of no tears, pain, or sorrows, but on earth we’ll have plenty of each.

Remind us God cares for our sorrows. He “doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33, KJV). Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) and wept with those who grieved.

Remind us to cast our cares on Him. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). I love Octavius Winslow’s phrasing in his poem: “Nor fear to impose it on a shoulder which upholds the government of worlds.”

We need to remind ourselves as well that though it sometimes looks like the world is in chaos, God is still in control. As the old hymn says, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.” Olympic runner Eric Liddell became a missionary in China. As the Japanese army committed atrocities leading up to WWII, Liddell wrote, “Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. God’s love is still working. He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out His wonderful plan of love” (Eric Liddell, The Disciplines of the Christian Life [London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1985], 121–122).

Why does God allow these things then? That would be a question for another post. He has many reasons for allowing suffering, and we can trust that He has a purpose. As Joni Eareckson Tada has often said, “God permits what he hates to accomplish what He loves.” Sometimes God is not as concerned about removing calamity or persecution as He is about accomplishing His will in people’s hearts through them.

While we wait for His purposes, timing, and help, everyday life can be wonderfully grounding. Elisabeth Elliot wrote that in the aftermath of her husband’s death, she would sometimes feel overwhelmed not only with grief, but with new decisions and tasks she had to take on as a jungle missionary without her partner. She was helped by an old English poem which said, “Do the next thing.”

The poem says, “Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, leave all resultings, do the next thing.” That is a wonderfully saving truth. Just do the next thing.

There may be tangible ways we can help those suffering. James reminds us not to just wish people well, but to give what they need. (I would caution great care, however, about the charities that seem to spring up overnight to help the most recent calamity victims. Research organizations or ask for recommendations from people you trust.) Sometimes even our small everyday tasks help towards meeting someone’s need.

But sometimes there’s nothing we can physically do to help someone. We can pray along with Jehoshaphat, “We are powerless . . . We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

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Remembering How God Has Led

I don’t know what triggered my trip down memory lane. I sat with my Daily Light open but unread, and began to pray for God to open my understanding and speak to my heart from His Word.

I thought back with wonder of the many different paths my life could have taken. Several events led to my salvation. What if one of them hadn’t happened?

There were different temptations, some of which I regret failing. I could have been done in by any of them.

My life could have followed any number of paths, not just theoretically, but due to influences at the time. I could have become an alcoholic. I had planned to get married right out of high school, not realizing I would be marrying the wrong person. I not only would have missed meeting my wonderful husband, but I would not have experienced all I learned both intellectually and spiritually at a Christian college.

I could have fallen for a television evangelist’s false doctrine (I actually called the number on the screen once). People are so vulnerable just before and after salvation, when their interest in the Lord is aroused but they have no discernment yet.

In 8th or 9th grade, we moved to a new town. The school I attended was the most cliquish place I had ever been. Well-defined groups didn’t allow for new members. My mom had to plead and almost push me out of the car at school in the mornings. I spent many lunch breaks walking around the grounds by myself in tears. Finally I became friends with another girl who was also, for some unknown reason, outside the school’s social circles. I discovered years later that it was the Lord’s mercy that kept me from getting involved with the popular crowd, as they were into a lot of unhealthy activities. What if I had gotten in with them? I probably would have gotten into some kind of trouble and possibly would have become proud and condescending.

Between my sophomore and junior year, my mother left my father and took my siblings and me to Houston. The break had been coming for years, but it still hurt when it finally happened. We moved from a very small town of less than 200 to the teeming metropolis of Houston. The culture shock was very real. In those days before the Internet, I had little contact with my friends from school. I had no opportunity to make new friends since school wouldn’t start for months yet. It was the loneliest time in my life. I remember lying on my bed clinging desperately to Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Looking back, I didn’t know fully what that verse meant. But I knew that, to the degree I knew how, I loved God, and I trusted Him to work things out for good. Though that was one of the lowest points in my life, it was also pivotal. It was through this move that God provided miraculously for me to go to a Christian school for two years, led me to a good church, helped me make sure of my salvation, and let me know about a Christian college.

Somehow God led me all the way.

My heart was tender thinking back over God’s working in my life. As I opened my Bible reading for the day, I came to Deuteronomy 8:2: “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness.” It’s amazing how God prepares me for what I am going to encounter in His Word. I thought my mental wanderings about my past were just daydreams and rabbit trails, but here He had led me to do just what the Scripture said.

Several times in Deuteronomy 8, Moses urged the Israelites to remember the Lord and not forget Him. Peter wanted “to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:13; 3:1). Jesus told the Ephesian church, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:4). As God called Israel, back to Himself, He said, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (Jeremiah 2:2).

This is what I most want my children, grandchildren, readers, and anyone with whom I have any influence to know, to remember: that Christianity is not just a culture, not just a set of doctrines, not just what we do and don’t do. It is the basis of all of those. But first of all it’s that personal relationship with the Lord.

Do you have that? Have there been times in your life you knew God was at work in you, drawing you to Himself? Do you have warm and tender moments where He met with you personally?

If you professed faith as a young child, you may not remember a definite “before” and “after” to your life of faith. But you can be grateful for God’s preventative work in your life and the scars and bad memories He kept you from. As you’ve walked with the Lord, I am sure you’ve found that the “big sins” are not always the dramatic ones that everyone sees. Inner wrestlings with pride and self-will are just as deadly. You’ve discovered that it takes as much of God’s grace to battle those as it does to defeat addiction. You’ve probably experienced times when God answered prayer or something in His Word met your need of the moment. It’s not the drama of one’s initial testimony that determines what kind of Christian life we have: it’s simple faith, not in our faith, but in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Nothing stirs up our love and gratitude towards the Lord like remembering how He saved us and led us. It’s a blessing to sometimes review the “Ebenezers,” those special times of help that we’ve experienced along the way. Then we can say along with the psalmist:

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
 when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
 for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
 My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:5-8

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Easter Teaches Us of New and Better Life

Several years ago, we got word that a lady in our former church had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She had been one of the merriest people I’d ever known. When we went back to that town for a visit, it was hard to see her in the church lobby looking confused and suspicious.

When our former pastor announced he had pancreatic cancer a few years ago, I was stunned that God would take someone in his prime with an active ministry and love for people who was doing so much good. Our pastor admitted he was going to have to take by faith that what God had for him in heaven was going to be so much better, because what he had on earth up til that time was pretty good.

I wondered why God would let one of His beloved children end up in pain or confusion.

But then I remembered this was not their end. Alzheimer’s and cancer were just stopping places in their long journey home. God promised that their sufferings would produce and eternal weight of glory.

 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

We get so caught up in the things we have to and want to do, our families, our ambitions, that we forget this world isn’t all there is.

We look forward to heaven . . . some day. But when we get there, we’ll probably wish we could have come sooner.

C. S. Lewis wrote to a friend of the unpleasant effects of aging: “the growing realisation that there were a great many things one wd. never have time to do,” studies one could never take up, facing retirement and “the infernal nuisance (to put it no higher) of patching up some sort of new life somewhere,” and so on. “I am therefore (with some help from the weather and rheumatism!) trying to profit by this new realisation of my mortality. To begin to die, to loosen a few of the tentacles which the octopus world has fastened on one.” He acknowledged that a good night’s sleep or a pleasant day would likely dispel his gloomy mood. But, he went on to say:

One ought not to need gloomy moments of life for beginning detachment, nor be reentangled by the bright ones. One ought to be able to enjoy the bright ones to the full and at that very moment have the perfect readiness to leave them, confident that what calls one away is better. . . (Letters of C. S. Lewis, October 15, 1949).

It was said of those in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 that they desired “a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (verse 16).

I admit I am too caught up in the bright moments of this life. God kindly breaks in and turns my attention up and away to that world to come. “Eternal glories gleam afar . . .”

I’ve found a Friend, O such a friend! All pow’r to Him is given,
To guard me on my onward course, and bring me safe to heaven.
The eternal glories gleam afar, to nerve my faint endeavor;
So now to watch, to work, to war, and then to rest forever.

James G. Small, “I’ve Found a Friend, O Such a Friend

Easter speaks to me of many things—redemption, forgiveness, new life, and more. But this year it reminds me that this world and its pleasures and problems are temporary. We’re going to spend a lot more time in eternity than we did here. Are we ready?

Jesus came to earth as the Son of God, God in flesh. He lived a perfect life in our place because we never could. He died to take on the punishment for our sin so we wouldn’t have to. When we repent of our sin and believe on Him as Lord and Savior, His righteousness goes on our account: God sees Him instead of us.

Forgiveness of sin, His presence, His peace, his help, His grace—and heaven too!

Do you know Him? Are you ready for eternity?

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Come, let us return to the Lord

IMG_2191?ver2God pictures His relationship to His wayward people in the prophet Hosea’s relationship to his adulterous wife, Gomer. Gomer didn’t just drift away, nor was she seduced unaware. Chapter 2:5-7 says she pursued other lovers. She had children by men other than her husband. She thought they would give her “my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink” (2:5).

However, God declared, “she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal” (2:8). She not only didn’t acknowledge God, didn’t even thank Him for His gifts, but she used His gifts to worship a false god.

Later God likened Israel as a child whom He loved and taught to walk, yet “they did not know that I healed them” (11:3).

The Bible says God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17). “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything…In him we live and move and have our being” Acts 17:24-28).

God gives us everything we have, even our very breath. Do we acknowledge Him? Thank Him? Or use His gifts in wrong pursuits?

Warren Wiersbe says, “The essence of idolatry is enjoying the gifts but not honoring the Giver” (Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship).

Romans tells us:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:20-21).

The chapter goes on to say that since people persisted in living without acknowledging God,

  • “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24).
  • “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (1:26).
  • “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (1:28).

Wiersbe says, “One of the greatest judgments God can inflict on any people is to let them have their own way.”

Fortunately, God doesn’t give people up easily. Further in the Acts passage that we looked at earlier, Paul says God  “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).

Back in Hosea, God disciplines His people and then shares these “I will” promises:

  • I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (2:14).
  • I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope” (2:15).
  • For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more” (2:17).
  • I will make for them a covenant on that day” (2:18a)
  • I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety” (2:18b).
  • I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord” (2:19-20).
  • I will answer” (2:21).
  • I will sow her for myself in the land” (2:22).
  • I will have mercy” (2:23).

God draws us with “cords of kindness, with the bands of love” (Hosea 11:4). He seeks out the lost sheep.

From Wiersbe’s book one more time:

The key word is return (Hos. 3: 5), a word that’s used twenty-two times in Hosea’s prophecy. When Israel repents and returns to the Lord, then the Lord will return to bless Israel (2:7–8). God has returned to His place and left Israel to herself (5:15) until she seeks Him and says, “Come, and let us return to the Lord” (6:1 NKJV).

Sometimes the return we need to make is a simple confession of loss of focus, lack of acknowledgement, thankfulness, or love. Sometimes it’s a full-blown 180-degree change of direction.

That’s the essence of repentance: turning from our way to God’s way (for more on repentance, see here). That happens at salvation, but it also needs to happen throughout our Christian walk. As we learn more of His will and Word, we continually adjust ourselves to them as we walk with Him.

May we return to His gracious love quickly and wholeheartedly.

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Songs to Celebrate the Resurrection

songs to celebrate the resurrectionI wrote a post a few years ago about “The Perfect Christmas” and how disappointed we are when our celebration doesn’t meet whatever criteria makes it perfect in our estimation. I compared that to the first Christmas, which was so different from ours: a tired couple, a crowded city, no decorations, no Christmas cookies, unexpected unusual visitors. Yet that first Christmas produced our Savior.

I feel the same about Easter this year. For most of us, this Easter is a stripped-down version of our usual celebrations. What’s usually one of the most special services of the year will be on Zoom or YouTube. We probably won’t wear new clothes for it. We’ll have a good dinner and Easter baskets, but without extended family.

Yet, as As Gretchen Ronnevik tweeted, “Maybe huddling together as a small group of disciples in a home, wondering what God is doing, and what will happen next, and where do we go from here… is the most Easter-y of all Easter things to do.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way we celebrate Easter now, but they didn’t have all those things the first Easter. Yet that Easter changed the world and the ones who first heard and told of it. Maybe our circumstances this year will help us refocus our attention on the reality, the miracle, the joy of it all.

Music is one my my main ways of feeding my soul truth. I shared some of my favorite songs about Christ’s death for us a few days ago, and I wanted to share some of my favorite Easter songs today.

For decades now, The Majesty and Glory of the Resurrection CD by Tom Fettke and Billy Ray Hearn has been has been my Easter morning breakfast-making companion. I love using that time to think about what the day means and to prepare my heart for the service. I like the mix of old and new and the majestic way they handle the music. The songs cover the death of Christ as well the big picture of Who God is. I think if you click here, the whole album automatically plays. But the individual tracks are on YouTube, and the album is available on iTunes.

This is one of my favorites from that album, especially “The Strife Is Over” and the second “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”

This is a medley of four different hymns:

I never heard “The Easter Song” by Annie Herring until I found it on the end of the above medley, and I was struck by the pure joy of it. I’m glad the Eversons recorded the whole thing:

“Weep No More,” to the tune of the folk song, “Down By the Sally Gardens,” is on the Pettit’s CD Higher Ground:

“The One Who Lives Again is a new one by Matt Collier and Matt Taylor of the Wilds Christian Camp (words here):

He Is Risen is also on the Wilds Camp’s “Risen” CD, but I can’t find who wrote it.

“Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed” by Keith & Kristyn Getty:

Many songs cover both the crucifixion and resurrection. “Mercy Tree,” mentioned last time, is one.

And, of course, there are multitudes more.

I hope you can celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and all it means whether alone in your kitchen, with your family, and/or virtually with your church.

Happy Easter! He is risen!

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“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith”

Several days ago, many American Christians reeled with the news that a prominent pastor and author announced that he no longer considers himself a Christian.

Speculation and commentary abounds concerning what led to this declaration. Some have traced his history and pointed out problems with the movements he has been associated with. But no one really knows his heart.

When a person becomes a Christian, he is “born again” (John 3:3-21, I John 3:4-10). That’s one of many reasons that a Christian can’t lose his salvation. He can’t become unborn spiritually.

Christians can sometimes fall away from what they’ve been taught to varying degrees. That may be influenced by listening to false teaching, failing to grow in the Lord, neglecting His Word, bitterness, or any number of things.

But that’s a different thing from repudiating their profession of faith alltogether. When that happens, all we can conclude is that they were never genuine believers in the first place.

I hold out hope, as do others, that the man I mentioned has not truly walked away from God and his core beliefs but is instead just confused and out of fellowship. Hopefully with prayer, contemplation, and counsel, he can get things straightened out.

But I shared all of that to say this:

Whenever this kind of thing occurs, I can’t help but ask myself, “How did that happen?

Jesus said one day people will stand before Him who called Him Lord, prophesied, cast out demons, and did mighty works in His name, and yet He’ll have to tell them, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:21-23).

I can’t imagine a more tragic or frightening prospect. For years I feared every time I heard or read this passage. How did I know I won’t end up like these poor people?

When I asked this of a former pastor, he said that these folks all pointed to what they did. None of them said, “I came to Christ confessing my sin, repenting of it, and asking Him to be my Savior and Lord.”

That helped me a lot. But, since then, I have known people who made professions of having done this, yet fell away in later years. How does that happen?

I think perhaps for people who have grown up in a Christian culture, it’s easy to just go with the flow. They’ve heard it all their lives. It’s part of their thinking. Isobel Kuhn was like this. She says in her autobiography, By Searching: My Journey Through Doubt Into Faith, that when she went off to a secular college, she could have held a debate with anybody defending doctrines of the faith. But all it took was one professor saying, “Oh, you just believe that because your parents told you it was so” for her to realize he was right. She went off to gleefully live for herself, free from the restrictions she had grown up with. But God, in His mercy and grace, brought her to Himself.

Perhaps others did not grow up in a Christian culture, but weren’t adequately taught. Some I know responded to “positive peer pressure”–when all their friends were making professions, they figured they needed to get in on it, too. Or the person witnessing to them was so aggressive, they felt they dare not refuse to pray with the person. I’ve heard of many people who raised their hands in a church service, walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, yet did not consider themselves truly saved until later in life. Perhaps they weren’t taught well; perhaps they placed their trust in those acts rather than in Christ. But however it happened, they realized some time later that they were not believers and needed to be. Some had been professing Christians for years and were even pastors or pastor’s wives.

The Bible tells us to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

The last thing I want to do is disturb the peace of genuine Christians. I lived nearly half my life unsure of my salvation, and that’s a miserable way to live. Just about the time I thought I had it settled, some new angle of doubt would creep in. I told more about that situation here.

But I’d dearly love to spare even one person from being told by Jesus, “I never knew you; depart from me.

For more information on how to become a Christian, see How to Know God.

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
 1 John 5:12

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. John 3:16-18

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

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Do We Know God for Who He Really Is?

Someone recently told me of a gift sent by a friend of her family’s. Though she appreciated that this person thought of her, the gift revealed how much the giver didn’t really know the receiver.

Of course, we don’t always the hit the nail on the head even with those closest to us. I try to always get gift receipts just in case something isn’t right, even if I bought the gift from a link the recipient sent to me. Sometimes we thought we saw the person admiring that item, only to find they considered it and decided against it. Sometimes faulty memory or understanding leads to poor choices. Sometimes we make an educated guess that falls flat.

But usually the better we know a person, the better we are at choosing just the right gift for them.

There are other ways we reveal how much we know another person. I’ve heard myself and my motives described in ways that make me wonder what led the speaker to those conclusions.

Some years ago I read a greeting card for a husband to a wife that was meant to be humorous. The card had several cartoonish drawings of things the husband got wrong with short captions. At the end, the card declared, “I may get all these things wrong, but I sure do love you, honey!”

But blissfully saying, “I love you!” is undermined when one’s actions display a lack of thought or consideration. Yes, we all fail each other sometimes, and need to be forgiving and forbearing. Yet there’s a difference between occasionally letting each other down and a whole lifestyle that shows either blatant ignorance of what pleases the other person or a lack of care.

Truly getting to know someone as they really are takes lots of time together: time talking, doing things together, observing one another.

It’s the same with God. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Yet so often people describe God in ways the Bible does not portray Him. Or they live out their lives the way they think He wants them to, without finding out for sure what He said.

If we don’t know God for who He really is, the results are more serious than a well-meant but inappropriate gift. We’re in danger of creating a god in our own image, according to our likes and dislikes rather than His. And if eternal life is a matter of knowing Him, then not knowing Him is a matter of eternal death.

We’ll never know God as completely here as we will in heaven, but we should be continually growing in our knowledge of Him and in our own transformation into His likeness. He’s given us His Word. Though it’s relatively short, compared to all the things He could have told us, it contains just what He wants us to know.

The ESV Study Bible notes in one of its appendices:

The Bible is God’s written revelation of who he is and what he has done in redemptive history. Humans need this divine, transcendent perspective in order to break out of their subjective, culturally bound, fallen limitations. Through God’s written Word, his people may overcome error, grow in sanctification, minister effectively to others, and live abundant lives as God intends (p. 2507).

Throughout the Bible, God says that people worship Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. Let’s not just blissfully express our love to Him without regard for who He truly is and what He truly wants. Let’s make it a priority to spend time with Him in His Word and prayer and get to know Him more and more for who He truly is.

 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15

Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD. Hosea 6:3a

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 3:18

For further reading: How to Know God.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith,
Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

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Hearing Hard Things

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The new, popular doctor has a specific trademark: he never tells anyone bad news. He never makes patients uncomfortable with invasive tests or procedures, never makes them take unpalatable medicine, never advises them to change their ways. Any physical problem can be addressed with a cheery talk and a few pills that have no unpleasant side effects. Never mind that his patients are dropping like flies. He’s just so nice, and everyone leaves his office feeling uplifted and encouraged.

Most of us recognize that as a ridiculous scenario. Such a doctor would never have a successful practice. Over the long run, this physician’s patients would realize that avoiding bad physical news and treatment is not the way to a long and happy life, no matter how pleasant it seemed in the short run.

I’ve been reading through Jeremiah and then Lamentations in the last few weeks. God’s people had ignored His warnings and pleadings, and the time had come for judgment. Jeremiah told Israel that the only right response now was to surrender to the coming Babylonians. Such pronouncements sound like treason, though, and the people either ignored him or persecuted him. They preferred to listen to pleasant prophets with seemingly better news.

“Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading” (Lamentations 2:14, ESV).

We don’t like to hear about sin, but attempting to overlook or redefine it has the same results as ignoring the tumor bulging from someone’s body. The first step in dealing with either sin or cancer is acknowledging that they are present: then something can be done about them.

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13, ESV).

We also don’t like to hear discipleship has a high cost or hard sayings. Jesus Himself lost followers when they didn’t like what He said. People loved Him as long as He healed and fed them and kept His message positive, but the crowds dwindled after hearing about sin, change, self-denial, and the like.

Preachers and writers who don’t expose sin gain a following, but they do their hearers harm in the long run. Ministers who highlight the benefits of Christianity while never teaching about its costs and mysteries make weak and even false disciples.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 2:3-4, ESV).

We need to be careful that the preachers, writers, and churches we follow declare the whole counsel of God. We need to read it all for ourselves, not just for the parts that make us feel good. We need to believe in God as He presents Himself in the Bible, not in our own images we make of Him.

It’s true that the Christian life is more than just avoiding sin. My husband observed at one church we attended that the primary conclusion of any message was “Don’t sin.” We rarely if ever heard about the joy in following Jesus or pursuing our relationship with Him. A family member recently told us that conversation with a certain group of friends seemed to always center on what awful sinners we all are and lacked the joy of walking in grace and forgiveness. God doesn’t want us to grovel or wallow in our sinfulness. He wants us to acknowledge our sin and come to Him for forgiveness and cleansing, yes, but then we pursue our relationship with Him and grow in love for Him. Our earthly fathers wanted us to obey them, but that was not the whole focus of our relationship: they wanted their children to enjoy their love and the rest of their interaction as well.

When we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, the sins that came between us and God are forgiven. We’re born again. When we sin afterward, we’re not unborn, just as a child born into a family will always be a part of that family. But, just as a child’s disobedience mars the fellowship he has with his parents, so our fellowship with God is not what it should be when we sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV). A good parent disciplines his child for the child’s good and growth in maturity. Our heavenly Father does the same. So sin isn’t the entire focus of the relationship, but it does affect the relationship.

The focus in our relationships with both our heavenly Father and our earthly one is love. Love does not overlook sin. But love motivates us to avoid sin or confess and forsake it when we do yield to it.

And as for hard sayings and hard-to-understand concepts in the Bible, we have the same reply Peter did when Jesus asked the disciples, “Will ye also go away?

“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69, KJV).

We won’t understand everything, but we know Him, and we can trust Him.

“Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away” (Luke 8:18, ESV).

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Writer Wednesday, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

The blessing of certainty

Some years ago I caught part of a TV program involving a group of people from several different denominations discussing tolerance. How the conversation progressed was quite interesting. In the part that I saw, they were at first discussing how intolerance can lead to persecution of those who believe differently. Then someone remarked that even the term “tolerance” smacked of arrogance — that one group is right but they are going to tolerate, or allow for other groups. Someone else remarked that in order to tolerate others you must have a seed of doubt that your beliefs are right, that there is a possibility that you could be wrong and other belief systems could be right. The last sentence I heard before turning the TV off was, “There is no room for certainty.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

I do believe in tolerance. The first Dictionary.com definition is “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.” I don’t believe “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude” smacks of arrogance: just the opposite. Nor does it indicate doubt of one’s own beliefs.

And I do agree that intolerance has led to persecution and should not have. New Testament Christians, especially, are not told anywhere to persecute in any way those whose beliefs differ from ours.We believe that those of other beliefs have every right to exist and practice their beliefs. We’re to love, both our neighbors and our enemies. We’re instructed to share God’s truth, but if people don’t believe, we leave them to the Lord and hope and pray they have a change of heart. We don’t persecute them.

But what I disagreed with most was that last line about there being no room for certainty. I don’t believe that faith is a nebulous thing, that as long as you have faith in something you’re fine, that all religions are basically the same and lead to the same place. You don’t have to examine them very long to realize they don’t have all the same values and ends.

Our postmodern world wants to move away from absolute truth. “The questions are more important than the answers,” we’re told. Even people who call themselves Christians chip away at doctrinal truth.

It’s true there are mysteries to life and faith. We spend way too much time arguing over things that are unclear rather than living out what is clear.I often hear people say, “We’ll never understand until we get to heaven.” Surely we’ll understand much more than we do now, but I don’t see any guarantees in the Bible that even then we’ll understand everything. God’s mind and ways and thoughts will still be much greater than ours. But our trust will be perfect then.

Yet there is plenty in the Bible that is clear. God communicates specific truth to us. And sure, there are things we don’t understand, things we gain insight on from talking with and reading others, things we wrestle with, things that are hard to come to terms with. Most of us wrestle with a measure of doubt at times and carry around a list of unanswered questions. There are things we wish were more clear.

But reading and hearing the Bible taught shouldn’t lead us into more and more of a morass of uncertainty. There are plenty of bedrock truths to hold onto.

There is a God.

He made everything, including us.

He gave us His Word.

He is righteous, holy, and just, and we have sinned against Him.

He is merciful, kind, gracious, and loving and has provided salvation for those who will believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose bodily from the dead.

There is a literal heaven and a literal hell.

There are clear and definite sins.

Faith is too important an issue to leave up to uncertainty. God doesn’t leave us in a philosophical fog on the most important issues.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31, ESV

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. I John 5:13, ESV

For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1:16-21, KJV

 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 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. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.Hebrew 6:17-20, ESV

That doesn’t mean I feel I have all the answers to every little philosophical question or that I know how everything always works together. But I have a firm foundation, a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”

See also:

Why Study Doctrine?
What Do You Know?
The Foundation of Our Faith.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Faith on Fire, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Wise Woman)

He Is

I saw this at my friend Kim‘s blog, and because it is a longish video, it took me a while to get to it. But when I finally did – what an impact! I don’t know who the groups or individuals are who put it together, but they did a wonderful job magnifying Jesus Christ according to His Word. Well worth 11 minutes of your time.