Is Truth or Love More Important?

Why do we need to pit them against each other? They are both important. They are both needful.

Our church just finished reading through the book of Revelation together. In chapters 2-3, God lists seven different churches along with what was good and bad about each one.

The church at Ephesus was commended for testing “those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false” and for hating “the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:2-7) But they were rebuked for having “abandoned the love you had at first.” They were admonished to “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

The church at Pergamum (2:12-17) was commended for holding fast to their faith and not denying God’s name, yet rebuked for having some who held to false teaching. They were warned to repent, or “I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth,” previously identified as His Word. The church in Thyatira (2:18-29) was commended for “your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance” but rebuked for allowing false teaching.

God is love (1 John 4:8). And Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

God wants us to love Him with our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). He searches mind and heart (Revelation 2:23).

Truth is so important to God that all the prophets and almost all the epistles warn against false teaching. Sound doctrine is brought up again and again. In fact, Paul instructs:

 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)

You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:5)

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:11)

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. (Titus 1:11-14)

By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:19b-20)

Wow, some of that sounds harsh. But how loving is it to let people go on in a false doctrine themselves or lead others astray? Spurgeon once said, “To pursue union at the expense of truth is treason to the Lord Jesus.” Paul aims for restoration as much as possible: “Warn him as a brother,” “that they may be sound in the faith,” “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

We get into trouble if we stand for truth without love, if we use truth as a steamroller or sledgehammer, with pride in being “right.” “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

But we also get into trouble if we tolerate any behavior or aberration of doctrine for the sake of love. We need to be gracious, to give people time to grow, to realize we all make mistakes and stumble.

And we have to be careful that the truth we stand for is the bedrock truth of the Scripture: the gospel, the deity of Christ, the verity of the Bible, etc. There are many other areas where good people can differ, but we too often elevate those and defend our views on them with more vehemence than we do the fundamentals.

But if someone’s lifestyle and teaching contradicts the clear Word of God, we have to take our stand with God. The prophets and the apostles proclaimed truth and exposed and corrected errors and false doctrine. Every book of the Bible proclaims truth, and almost every one warns about those who would corrupt it.

We can’t follow the “nice” (to us) parts of Scripture and leave off the rest. All of God’s Word is inspired.

May God give us wisdom and grace as we walk in truth and in love.

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Remembering the Relationship

“It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship.”

Christians often say this when sharing the gospel with unbelievers. We want them to understand that Christianity isn’t just a matter of changing churches or habits or rituals.

We enter into a relationship with God when we repent of our own way and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We actually become God’s children.

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). (See What does it mean to be a born again Christian?)

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

This relationship changes everything, and we spend the rest of our lives growing in it and learning the implications of it.

The main way we grow in that relationship is the same way we grow in other relationships: communication. We read the Word God left here for us, the record of what He wants us to know and practice. We talk to Him in prayer.

Because we’re human, we set up habits and routines to helps us incorporate prayer and Bible reading into our everyday lives. We find a Bible reading plan or study book that works with our schedule. We stake out a serviceable spot and assemble tools: good lighting, highlighters, pens, journals.

And then life happens. We wake up too late one morning. Or we wake up early because we have to be somewhere. Or someone is sick or company comes. Or we don’t feel inspired.

If our time with any other member of the family gets disrupted, what do we do? We touch base as we can and make arrangements to talk one-on-one another time.

When our time with God gets disrupted, what do we do? We feel nagging guilt because an item on our to-do list didn’t get crossed off. We forget the relationship aspect of it

I love what Sue Donaldson says here: “We don’t worship the habit, but habits help us worship.” We set up the habits in love, in order to foster our relationship with God. But then we devolve into just keeping up the habits and forget what they’re for.

We often approach our devotional time out of duty rather than anticipation of spending time with God. A quiet time begun as a sense of duty can turn into something that touches out hearts and draws us close. Remembering our purpose will motivate us to look for Him rather than just dragging our eyes across the page.

We don’t always feel warm fuzzies when in any relationship. But love isn’t always warm fuzzies. Sometimes it’s doing for another when we don’t “feel” like it. A mom awakened at 2 a.m. by her baby’s cries might not feel warm and nurturing at first. But she gets up out of love for her child, and the warm feelings kick in later. Remembering our purpose, our history, and the relationship can help restore the warm feelings.

There are other ways we often lose the focus of our relationship with God:

  • When we have a need, we look for verses to plug into it rather than remembering, “This is what my Father said about this issue.”
  • We avoid sin to avoid punishment or protect our reputation rather than, like Joseph, cringing at the thought of acting unseemly toward God. He’s done so much for us. How can we disregard Him or do things that hurt or displease Him?
  • We set up our ministries and cram all of our service into that time slot, thinking we’re “off” the rest of the time. Instead, we should remember God’s family is our own, and we minister by His grace whenever a need comes up.
  • We treat prayer like a vending machine—insert request, receive answer—rather than a conversation with our God.
  • We witness for Christ during our official church visitation time instead of looking for ways to point people to Him all through the day.
  • Modesty becomes rigid standards for hairlines, hemlines, and necklines rather than a heart attitude to please and rightly represent God.
  • We feel we’ve had a great worship experience because we knew all the songs or sang our favorites, even if we didn’t have a conscious thought of the greatness of God while singing.

Israel was rebuked all through the prophetical books for forgetting their why and their who. Their habits and rituals then became empty, a weariness. It wasn’t too long before idolatry provided a seemingly more exciting alternative.

But they weren’t the only ones. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day stressed God’s law, but missed its heart and purpose. The church in Ephesus did all the right things outwardly but had left their first love.

How can we guard against just going through the motions? How can we keep a warm, nurturing, and loving relationship with God at the forefront of all we do?

God gave Ephesus a twofold instruction: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5a).

Remember. Remember how God saved us. Remember what our life was like before: “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Those who were saved very young can think about what life might have been like if you hadn’t heard the gospel from your earliest days.

Remember our “Ebenezers,” those times we especially saw God’s hand at work. Remember prayers God has answered and how He has led in the past. “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands” (Psalm 143:5).

Remember and meditate on His attributes. Focus on Him in our Bible study and worship. Perhaps go through a book like Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him and In His Image.

Read though some psalms or other Bible passages that especially drew us close to God’s heart in the past.

Repent. We pray and ask His help to love Him as we ought.. We reverse the list above. We go back and evaluate all those activities and relationships in light of our relationship with God.

There for me the Savior stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps and loves me still.

Pity from Thine eye let fall,
By a look my soul recall;
Now the stone to flesh convert,
Cast a look, and break my heart.

Now incline me to repent,
Let me now my sins lament,
Now my foul revolt deplore,
Weep, believe, and sin no more.

From “Depths of Mercy” by Charles Wesley

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Shining light in a dark and drowsy world

The room is just the right temperature. The covers are the perfect weight. The lights are off, your body relaxes, and you’re just about to drop off to sleep.

What’s the last thing you want to happen in that moment?

Someone to shine a light in your face.

It might help to remember, when we’re trying to let our light shine in this world, that some people don’t necessarily want to be awakened.

And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil (John 3:19).

Many missionaries have heard calls to the field telling the woes of people who have never heard the gospel and are crying out for someone to come. They invest a great deal of time and money preparing to uproot their families, leave their loved ones, and go to a faraway country, full of hope and big plans. But then they find no one is really crying out in need. No one wants their message. Everyone seems pretty self-satisfied. It’s no wonder that some missionaries of old who blazed the trails, like Adoniram Judson, went for seven years in Burma without any response.

Does that mean we don’t shine our lights? No, Jesus told us to:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

But we understand that people might resist, even reject it at first. We try to make the message as inviting as possible, but we understand that others consider the cross itself foolish, or even an offense, no matter how unoffensively we try to present it.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Sometimes we need to wake people up in a hurry due to an emergency or danger. Or some don’t wake up to a gentle approach. Some people need a sudden Damascus Road experience like Paul , where the light suddenly shines forth in such brightness that they’re blinded. And only then, the scales fall from their eyes and they begin to see.

But many people experience more of a slow dawning. The light of the world we share is Jesus. As they see glimpses of Him and His truth, they are drawn to Him.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:4-5).

When I am trying to fall asleep, light is an irritant. When I lay down on the couch for a nap, the overheard light in the living room or dining room is right in my eyes. Then I have to wrestle with getting up to turn it off, which will wake me up more, or trying to ignore it to go to sleep.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart (1 Peter 1:19).

But once I am awake, I am thankful for the light that drew me from drowsy darkness, even if I was irritated and grumpy at first. Sometimes I even berate myself for not responding to the light earlier.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:19).

We shine our lights by using the Word of God.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).

We shine our lights by how our transformed conduct differs from the world.

For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them (Ephesians 5:8-11).

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain (Philippians 2:14-16).

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:12-14).

We shine our lights by pointing back to our light Source.

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should remain in darkness (John 12:46).

We try to stress the urgency of waking.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (Romans 13:11).

Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep (Mark 13:35-36).

We hope, we trust, we pray that the Light will chase away the shadows and drowsiness, and draw the spiritually sleepy to the joys of the full light of day.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light (Psalm 36:9).

For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness (Psalm 18:28).

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Mason Is in Heaven

Precious to God is the death of His saintsA few times here on the blog, I’ve asked you to pray for Mason, a little boy battling leukemia. Mason had just turned seven a few days ago. He was the grandson of a former pastor. He’d had leukemia, which had gone into remission. But then it came back. Mason battled hard, but finally went to be with the Lord a few days ago.

His family is rejoicing that Mason is now free from pain and with Jesus. But while there are no tears or sorrow in heaven, there are still plenty here. This sweet family has kept their eyes on the Lord through all the high and low points of this journey, but they have really been through the mill. If you think of them, I’m sure they could use prayer for grace and healing. They have two younger children.

While dealing with the death of any loved one is difficult, it hits especially hard when a child has died. His loved ones lose not only his presence, but the potential of all that could have been and the milestones that will be missed. We naturally feel that our children and grandchildren will outlive us, and it’s jarring when they don’t.

One thing that the death of one so young teaches us is that we’re not promised 80+ years. We don’t know the days God has appointed to us. May we not only live our days to their fullest as Mason did, but be ready to meet Jesus at any time.

And a young one’s home-going also reminds us that even a life of seven years can have an impact for eternity. As I have followed updates on the family’s Facebook page for Mason and read just a handful of the comments, it’s been clear that God has been moving in hearts.

Once when one of the children that Amy Carmichael was Amma (Mother) to passed away at the orphanage Amy established in India, she was comforted by something Samuel Rutherford had written to a grieving mother some 200 years earlier:

You have lost a child. Nay, she is not lost to you who is found to Christ; she is not sent away but only sent before, like unto a star which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere: you see her not, yet she doth shine in another country.

 

If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that hath she gotten in Eternity; and you have to rejoice that you have now some treasure laid up in heaven…Your daughter was a part of yourself, and you, being as it were cut and halved, will indeed be grieved; but you have to rejoice that when a part of you is on earth, a great part of you is glorified in heaven…There is less of you out of heaven that the child is there. (Frank Houghton, Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur)

“What she wanteth of time that hath she gotten in Eternity.” Mason and little ones like him  have a head start in heaven.

My heart aches for the family, and I pray that God’s merciful kindness will be for their comfort, according to His word (Psalm 119:76).

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. John 17:24.

(Sharing with Grace and Truth)

Dwelling Richly

Letting God's Word dwell richlyHave you ever wondered what Colossians 3:16 meant when it said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”?

A couple of translations and one commentary connected “rich” to the “Word of Christ,” indicating that God’s Word is rich, and we should let it dwell in us. It is, and we should.

However, most translations phrase the verse so that “richly” modifies “dwell.” In fact, according to the definitions at the bottom of this page, the Greek word translated “richly” is an adverb meaning “Richly, abundantly, copiously.”

So how do we let God’s Word dwell “richly, abundantly, copiously” in us?

One former pastor put it this way. When a guest of honor comes to your home, what do you do? You “roll out the red carpet” for them. You give them the best bed, the best room. You bring out the guest towels and dishes that you save for company. You make your best recipes. You generally set aside your normal pursuits to some degree to spend time with that person.

In these days of more casual entertaining, you might not have special dishes or towels for guests, and you might have everyone work together on the meal and the clean-up. Still, you make some accommodations for a guest. You don’t generally put them in a drafty back room with a lumpy mattress where the Wifi doesn’t reach. You don’t invite someone over and then ignore them. You don’t go about your business and then bump into them in the hallway and act surprised: “Oh! I didn’t know you were here. Carry on.” Well, you might if one of your children’s friends came over unexpectedly.

What do most who come to your home value? Time, the hardest thing to give. As lovely as special table settings, wonderful food, and a well-appointed guest room are, they all fall a little flat if the hostess is constantly flitting about taking care of details. As Martha learned, Jesus cared more about her time, attention, and open heart than what was on the menu.

So how do we let the Word of God dwell richly with us? First of all, notice the word “dwell.” The Bible isn’t just a special guest who comes to visit once a year. It stays, lives in, abides in, inhabits us. Jesus spoke of His words abiding in us. God often tells people in the Bible to meditate, think over, chew on, His Word. You can’t think on what you don’t know. That meant they had to have read or heard it enough to mull over a piece of it at a time.

So we don’t treat God’s Word as a once- or twice-a-year visitor. We let it abide, dwell with us. That involves spending time with it. As we’ve discussed before, that doesn’t necessarily mean spending hours a day reading and studying it. Some days and seasons of life allow for more time than others, but we try to give it some time most days. We try to give it the best time of our day when we can get the most out of it rather than the leftovers of our day. One of my mottoes regarding the Bible is any time spent with it is better than nothing. So there may be busy, weary days when we fit it in whatever spare moments we can find. But as much as we can, we make room and time for the Bible.

And then, throughout the day, we think about it. That might involve listening to Christian music, sermons, Christian radio or podcasts. Or it might involve just thinking. John O’Malley suggests in Overcoming Your Devotional Obstacles that we jot down on a 3 x 5 card something that stood out to us during our Bible reading, and then set the card where we can see it through the day and think over it.Some people have memory verse cards they’ll go over when their hands are busy but their minds are free.

Many mental health experts recommend getting away from the constant barrage of information available through our phones and computers, especially when so many agitated opinions are flung about. Instead of automatically checking our phones, we could spend those minutes reading the Bible or thinking about what we read earlier.

Psalm 1:1 says “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”

What’s the result of this rich dwelling we give God’s Word? Colossians 3:16 continues: “ Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” When we fill up on God’s Word, we spill over into serving others and worshiping God. Psalm 1 goes on to say that the one who meditates on God’s Word day and night is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” When we’re filled with God’s Word, we have a continual source of nourishment.

If our service seems lifeless and forced, our worship barren, our inner spirit dry and withered, we probably need some time letting God’s Word dwell richly in us.

What are some ways you let God’s Word dwell richly with you?

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Blind Spots

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My oldest son’s first car was a used convertible. When I borrowed it once for an errand, I commented to him that the car had a huge blind spot. The corner between the small plexiglass back windshield and the door window was wider than in most cars. If I looked back over my right shoulder, I could hardly see anything. My son responded, “Yeah, but if the top is down, there’s no blind spot!”

We know that vehicles have blind spots—areas where we can’t see what’s around the car. So we use mirrors, signals, and occasionally other passengers to help make sure the way is clear when we need to change lanes.

If you’ve ever read about the blind spots of an 18-wheeler, you know not to drive your car next to the truck in a spot where you can’t be seen.

But somehow we go barreling through life without thinking that we might have personal blind spots.

Our church has just finished reading through Malachi, where God brings up several different issues with His people. But their response to each charge is basically, “What are you walking about? We’re doing fine.”

God said of the Laodicean church in Revelation, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

You’ve probably read online conversations, as I have, where someone lashes out at others over some issue, and then complains about feeling judged. But somehow these folks miss their own judging of others that they’ve just displayed. The irony would be been funny if it wasn’t so serious.

And then, just about the time I get all stirred up about other people’s blind spots, God reminds me that I have a few of my own.

What causes blind spots?

We think we know more than we do—at least, more than the other person.

We’re too busy looking at the speck in another person’s eye to see the log in our own.

We haven’t given enough thought or prayer to a subject.

We assume we know the other person’s meaning and motives.

We haven’t studied the Bible enough to know what it says on certain issues, or we study with preconceived conclusions in mind.

We don’t want to change our views on a subject, so we don’t listen to other perspectives.

How can we combat blind spots? What tools, mirrors, assistance, or signals can help us navigate and avoid collisions?

Humility. We don’t know all there is to know on any issue. We don’t know every perspective. Sometimes we’re quick to jump on and expound upon a topic because we’ve read and studied it out before. Still, even if we’re an expert in an area, we have to be careful of appearing arrogant. And there might just be a thing or two we could still learn about it.

Ask for others’ feedback. Just as a fellow passenger can see what we can’t from their viewpoint, a friend or mentor can give us a kind but honest assessment.The first time I turned in a partial manuscript for a paid critique, I was astounded and humbled at the number of mistakes the editor discovered. The experience was a painful but necessary step to improvement.

Prayer. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” This is something we should be doing regularly. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?Other versions say “desperately  wicked” or “incurable.” We’re probably deceived about ourselves more than anyone or anything else.

Listening. James 1:19 says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” If I am getting riled up about something, that’s usually a clue that I need to step back rather than launch in. And before I share what I think, I need to really hear what the other person is saying and look at it from their point of view. I still might not agree with them, but I might understand them better.

Read and listen to God’s Word. Anatomically speaking, we all have a blind spot where nerves pass through our retina. At the spot where they pass through, there are no rods or cones, so our eyes don’t see light there. The brain usually fills in what we don’t actually see. Spiritually, though, we don’t need to have any blind spots. We need God to turn His searchlight on to show us things we need to confess to Him and seek His help to overcome. If something keeps coming up in our Bible reading, books, sermons, and conversations, God might be trying to get our attention about it. Instead of being quick to brush it off, we need to take it before the Lord.

Listen to criticism and correction. Sometimes criticism is totally unfounded. But instead of getting defensive, we need to examine criticism for any truth in it. “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31).

Proceed cautiously. I was extra-careful in my son’s convertible since I knew I couldn’t see traffic in one area well. Similarly, there’s a turn on our way home that’s right on top of a hill. I can’t see oncoming traffic until I get to the top, so I am careful not to turn early. Ephesians 5:15 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.”

I usually use a Swiffer sweeper on our hardwood floors, because it gets dust and hair more efficiently. But one day I got the broom and dust pan to sweep up some crumbs.The sunlight was streaming in the windows as I swept, and I saw a cloud of dust swirling almost chest high from my efforts. Without the light shining in, I would never have known that I was stirring up more dust than I was getting rid of.

How desperately we need God’s truth to shine in on our lives and show us what we wouldn’t otherwise see. How we need His wisdom, cleansing, and guidance.

To open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:18).

Clara H. Scott wrote a hymn in 1895, asking God to open her eyes, ears, mind, and heart to His truth. It’s a good prayer for us today:

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.

Refrain 1:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.

Refrain 2:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my ears, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my mind, that I may read
More of Thy love in word and deed;
What shall I fear while yet Thou dost lead?
Only for light from Thee I plead.

Refrain 3:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my mind, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my mouth, and let me bear,
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with Thy children thus to share.

Refrain 4:
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my heart, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

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My Journey with the Bible

My journey with the BibleI never heard Handel’s Messiah until I was in high school.

I had not grown up listening to either classical or religious music. (I grew up hearing “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and other such lovely little ditties). So while I was impressed with the beauty and grandeur of Handel’s oratorio, I can’t say I got much out of it. It was like drinking from the proverbial fire hydrant.

But my college performed selections from the Messiah frequently. And the church we attended the first fourteen years we were married did the same. I even got to be in the choir at church some of those years, so I learned the songs in more detail. Plus, I had become a Christian in later high school, so I could understand more of the spiritual significance and message of the piece.

When I learned that The Messiah had been composed during the Baroque era, with its “excessive ornamentation or complexity,” I understood why it was written the way it was.

As a result of hearing The Messiah over and over, becoming more familiar with it, learning more about it, and growing in the Lord, I came to love this piece of music. I anticipated each section just like I would rereading a favorite book or rewatching a favorite movie.

And then, just from growing familiarity with the music, I began to notice details. For instance, I had always thoughts of Isaiah 53:6 as somber and sad: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him   the iniquity of us all.” But the tune Handel put to this verse seemed almost jaunty to me at first. Then one day I noticed the notes on the word “astray” were going astray.

Further into that piece, on “We have turned,” the notes are turning over and over.

Isaiah 40:4 says, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” In the song based on this passage, the notes on the word “crooked” go up and down—they would look crooked on the sheet music. And the melody on “straight” and “plain” is mostly straight. The notes on “exalted” go up.

The melodies illustrate the words! And I had listened to and sung this I don’t know how many times before that clicked. In fact, I just caught “exalted” going up watching this video.

In many ways, my journey with the Bible parallels my journey with this piece of music.

I had attended church occasionally growing up. I knew some basic Bible truths and narratives. But I didn’t start reading the Bible myself until high school. The church I started attending when I was sixteen strongly encouraged its people to read the Bible through in a year. So I did.

And it was like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

But I am so thankful for that emphasis at the outset of my Christian life. That grounded me more than anything else and set me off with good habits.

I didn’t understand everything I read. Similarly, in church, I couldn’t have told you the main points of the sermon afterward. But I got enough to chew on and to nourish me. The Bible speaks of those young in the faith as taking in milk from the Word. So I took in and digested what I could, and my life was changed.

When I got to something I didn’t understand, I’d just keep going.For instance, Psalm 60:4-5 says:

Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah. That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me.

And I would think, “Wow, that’s good!” Then the next few verses listed a bunch of names I didn’t know. And then I came to verse 8: “Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me.”

And I thought, “Huh?”

And then I’d keep going to verses 11 and 12: “Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.” And I’d think, “Wow, so good!”

I don’t know if that’s the best way for a new Christian to go about Bible reading. But no one had told me what to do about the parts I didn’t understand. I had never heard of study Bibles in those days. Still, the Lord met me in those times with His Word.

And as I kept reading in the 40+ years since (though not through the whole Bible in a year any more), I understood more and more. I saw how individual verses and books fit within the whole. I know what Moab and Edom and Philistia are now. There are parts that are as familiar as any favorite, much-read book. There are parts holding dear memories of God giving me just the right words in an hour of need. I anticipate what’s coming next in a passage. But I am still learning new things even from old, familiar stories and chapters.

So, why am I telling you this today?

I want to encourage you to get into a habit of reading your Bible, if you’re not already doing so.

And I want to encourage you to read all of it. Maybe not in a year. There are two-year plans and five-year plans and almost any kind of plan you could think of. But if we just keep turning to our old favorite passages, we’ll miss so much.

And if you’re discouraged because there is so much you don’t understand, I want to encourage you to keep reading. You’ll “get” more and more of it the more you read it. Someone has said that the Bible is shallow enough for a child to wade in, but deep enough for an elephant to swim in. God can speak to you and minister to you even if you don’t understand every little thing in the passage. In fact, we’ll never exhaust the Bible in this lifetime.

The Bible says to “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2-3), and then to go on to solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-2) as we “ mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrew 5:11-13).

But even more than spiritual food, the Bible provides spiritual fellowship. We don’t read the Bible as an end in itself, but to get to know God better. The Bible is the primary way God speaks to us. From the time God’s words were first written all the way through until the end of time, God expected His people to read and follow it.

God’s thoughts are precious to us. The Bible bears witness about Christ, increases our faith, guides us, teaches, improves, corrects, trains us in righteousness, equips us, builds us up, gives us hope and comfort, helps us avoid sin, makes us stable and fruitful, gives us life, understanding, joy, hope, wisdom and discretion.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Peter 1:3-4).

What a treasure trove we have in the Bible! May we partake of it every day.

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts (Jeremiah 15:16).

Taking in and rejoicing in God's WordSee also:

Finding Time to Read the Bible

Ways to Both Read and Study the Bible

Real Life Devotions

Studying the Parts to Understand the Whole

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The Cares of This Life

Cares of life can choke God's wordThere’s a lot to be concerned about in this life, isn’t there? Making a living, maintaining a marriage, raising children, getting along with coworkers and neighbors, car and house repairs, health concerns, preparing for retirement, church ministries, political discord, the latest negative news. And that was before a global pandemic and rioting in the streets. We truly have a lot to occupy our thoughts and time. Sometimes we feel we can’t keep up with it all.

But the cares of this life can have a detrimental impact in unexpected ways.

In Mark 4:1-9, Jesus told a parable of a sower—a planter—planting seeds. Only a few of the seeds took root and grew. Some were eaten by birds, some landed on rocky ground, some were choked out.

The disciples asked Jesus the meaning of this parable in Mark 4:10-20. He said that the seed was the word of God. The seed being eaten by birds is a picture of Satan snatching the word away before it can germinate from people who don’t understand (Matthew 13:19). The rocky ground represents a stony heart that might have soil enough for a plant to sprout, but not enough to nourish the plant. Some people seem to believe, but then never progress because they never dealt with the bedrock in their hearts. Then some of the word is choked by “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (verse 19). The ESV Study Bible notes say, on the account of this parable in Matthew 13, “Competing for nutrients from the soil, weeds choke out the good plants, which are then unable to reach maturity and bear fruit.”

Some say that this parable is about the gospel, not the whole word of God. Even if that’s the case, we can choke out the word of God in general when we’re distracted, can’t we? I’ve experienced not being able to take in or rest in God’s promises because my attention is on my cares.

In Luke 21, Jesus mentions the cares of this life again, along with “dissipation and drunkenness.” These distractions can preoccupy people from warnings to prepare for His coming, and then that day will “come upon you suddenly like a trap.”

How can we keep the cares of this life, this world, from distracting us from more important things?

“Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NKJV; other versions say “anxieties” or “worries”). The word for “care” is the same Greek word as “cares” in the two passages above:

But before we can cast our cares on Him, we have to back up to the verses that come before this:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 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 5:5b-7, ESV). 

We have to humble ourselves before God, acknowledge Him for who He is and ourselves for who we are. He’s our sovereign Lord. He made us. He redeemed us through Christ’s death on the cross. He is wise. He has the right to call the shots. But He is also love. He is kind. He is our provider. He cares for us.

Then we “cast our cares” on Him. The Greek word for cast means “to throw upon; to place upon.” In prayer and in faith, we place them on Him, knowing He loves us, knowing He can take care of the problems and meet our needs.

How do we know these things? From His word.

Psalm 1 tells us that the person whose “delight is in the law of the Lord” and who “meditates day and night” on it is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.”

Instead of our cares choking out the Word, we sink our roots deep into it. When concerns swirl in our minds, we take our thoughts captive and remind ourselves of God’s truth.

I don’t think it’s going too far to say that spending time with God is the most important thing we can do each day. Some seasons of life, we may have half an hour to an hour to spend with the Bible. Other seasons, we’re doing good to get five minutes. But I like what Sue Donaldson says here: “I figure if I can’t give God five minutes anytime on any given day, I’m not taking Him and our relationship seriously. ”

Psalm 1 speaks of not just reading, but delighting in and meditating in God’s word. We can write a verse out that spoke to us and keep it before our eyes through the day. We can listen to the Bible itself or to Christian music, sermons, podcasts while we’re driving, cooking, etc., setting our “minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

Some years ago, I attended a ladies retreat where, on the last day, the speaker had us write down a concern, burden, or prayer request on a small piece of paper. Then she asked us to fold the paper and turn it in. She collected all the papers and put them into a bag, then tied the bag onto a collection of helium-filled balloons. Then we all went outside. I think she prayed, giving all the concerns we had collected to the Lord. Then she released the balloons, symbolizing releasing these concerns to God.

Honestly, at the time I thought it was a little silly. And I wondered what the person who eventually found the little bag would think.

But a few days later, something I had written on my little paper came to mind. I don’t even remember what it was now. But as I turned it over in my thoughts, suddenly I remembered: “I gave this to the Lord. I don’t need to keep worrying about it.”

Perhaps some physical way of handing our cares over to Him might help cement the idea in our minds. I don’t think releasing more balloons would be good for the environment. One friend used to cup her hands and raise them up to the Lord while praying, physically reminding herself that she was giving her concerns to Him. Maybe a prayer journal would be a concrete way to note the concerns and requests we’ve given over to God.

Giving concerns to Him doesn’t mean we never pray about them any more. But when we do, we remind ourselves that He invites us to place on Him all our cares, and He’s the only one who can take care of them. Some prayer requests last a lifetime. But when God does answer others, we can record how and when. What an encouragement to faith to look back over that record.

What helps you to cast your cares on God?

1 Peter 5:7

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When others don’t do their part

When others don't do their partYears ago, it dawned on me that when Ephesians 6:1-3 and Colossians 3:20-21 teach that children should obey and honor their parents, it doesn’t add any qualifiers. Those passages, as well as the ten commandments in Exodus 20, don’t say “Obey your parents if they are Christians” or “if they are perfect” or “if anything.”

Some time later, I noticed that these passages mentioned responsibilities on both sides of relationships.

  • Wives submit to husbands as unto the Lord (Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18); Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25; Colossians 3:19).
  • Children, obey and honor your parents (Ephesians 6:1-2; Colossians 3:20); Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21).
  • Servants, obey as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25); Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). (I wrote about slavery in the Bible here. Generally we apply these verses to employee/employer relationships these days.)

Beyond these, the Bible speaks of relationships between people and rulers. When Paul in Romans 13:1-6 and Peter in 1 Peter 2:13-17 spoke of obeying and even honoring rulers, do you know who their ruler was? Nero, one of the worst rulers ever.

Then, most of the epistles speak to how we’re supposed to act towards our fellow church members.

Now, as an aside, we know from other passages of Scripture that we obey authorities unless they ask us to do something sinful. Then we have the right to refuse. And this passage does not give parents or spouses or anyone else the right to be abusive. If you’re suffering from abuse, please let a trusted teacher, doctor, neighbor, or someone know.

But for the purposes of this post, we’re just talking about everyday normal interactions.

In all of these pairs of relationships, it’s easier for one side to do their part if the other person is doing theirs. It’s generally easier for a wife to submit to a husband who loves her like Christ loves the church. It’s easier for a husband to love a wife who isn’t always at cross purposes with him. It’s easier to parent cooperative, obedient children; It’s easier to obey parents who are loving and nurturing. And so on.

But the Bible doesn’t say to do your part only if the other person does his.

It just says to do your part as unto the Lord.

That doesn’t mean we can’t discuss what’s wrong in a relationship. That’s healthy to do, even to call in help when needed.

But sometimes the grace shown by doing our part even when the other person doesn’t can lead to conviction, restoration, and encouragement.

We’re not only to love and do good to our friends and closest loved ones. Jesus said we’re to love, pray for, and do good even to our enemies.

God exemplifies this for us. In most of His relationships with His people, they fail. There are a very few people in Scripture against whom no sin is recorded. That doesn’t mean they never sinned, because we’re all sinners, except for Jesus. It just means their wrong-doing wasn’t pertinent to the narrative about them. It may mean they sinned less than others. But the point is this: there is no fault, no failing, on God’s side. We fail Him often. But He doesn’t stand apart, arms folded, rescinding His promises because we didn’t keep ours. He pursues us in love, drawing us to Himself, leading us in His goodness to repentance. Jesus died for us when we were His ungodly enemies. He didn’t wait for us to clean up our act first. He knew that was impossible. Yes, God disciplines and chastens, but in love. He’s always faithful to His own.

And, by His grace, He calls us to be faithful to Him and to the others we have relationships with.

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:21-25, NKJV).

It’s natural to want to strike back or withhold love or respect or obedience when the other person fails to hold up their end. Doing so only widens the chasm. And as Christians, we’re not called to react naturally, but supernaturally—something we can only do with God’s help. We seek His grace do the right thing. “Do not be overcome by evil,” or failure or disappointment, “but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection (Colossians 3:12-14, NKJV).

Romans 12:21, overcome evil with good

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Psalm 91 and COVID-19

Does Psalm 91 protect from COVID-19?When COVID-19 first broke out, a lot of Christians posted verses from Psalm 91 on their social media accounts. Several verses sound like God will protect people who believe in Him from pestilence:

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you (Psalm 91:3-7).

A friend said in an email recently that some psalms seemed to provide blanket protection, yet she didn’t think that’s what was meant. Therefore, she was having trouble knowing quite how to apply them.

Psalm 91 is one of those passages for me, so as I responded to my friend, I looked up commentary on it. One interpretation said we may have to face these trials, but we don’t have to fear them. That conclusion was based on verse 5: “You will not fear the terror of the night, . . . ” the arrow, the pestilence, etc. Another spiritualized it: we may have to face physical trials but we’re safe spiritually. The ESV Study Bible notes said on these verses:

Pestilence (Psalm 91:3, 6) and destruction are diseases that God sends on his enemies or his unfaithful people (cf. Ex. 5:3; 9:15; Lev. 26:25; Deut. 32:42, “plagues”). The terror and arrow, together with a thousand may fall, envision God’s people under attack. If the psalm were describing every situation of danger, it would clearly be untrue: faithful people have fallen prey to these and other perils. It is better to allow Psalm 91:8 to guide the interpretation [“You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.“], pointing to cases in which these events (plague, battle) are sent as God’s recompense on the wicked (whether Gentile or Israelite); in such cases, the faithful can be sure of God’s protection (ESV Study Bible, p. 1054).

As much of a stickler as I am for context, somehow I had missed the importance of verse 8. And though I’ve read these comments before, I didn’t remember them.

So this psalm isn’t blanket protection: it’s not saying that God’s people will never suffer from disease or attack. But if God is sending disease or an invading army as a punishment or judgment, those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High,” who “abide in the shadow of the Almighty,” and who trust in the Lord as their “refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:1-2) will be safe.

However, not all plagues and diseases are sent as judgment on God’s enemies. Sometimes He allows His own to get deadly viruses, to suffer attacks. Hebrews 1 speaks of some who “were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:35-38). They were commended for their faith (verse 39) just as much as those who “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (33-34).

A missionary in Colombia takes issue with the phrase, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” He has amended that statement to say, “The most fulfilling, joyful, and peaceful place to be is in the center of God’s will. But it is not necessarily the safest.” After citing Scriptural examples, he says, “Most prayers in Scripture focus not on the personal safety and benefit of believers but on the power, majesty, testimony, and victory of God over his-and, of course, our-enemies.” He asks supporters to pray for their faithfulness.

If you’re like me, it’s unsettling to know that anything could happen to us. Does that mean we can’t trust in God’s protection?

We can. We can pray for it. We know that nothing that happens to us comes as a surprise to Him. We know He loves us and He is good: in Him is “no darkness at all.

In Daniel 3, everyone was called to bow down to the king’s idol. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused, even in the face of the fiery furnace and the king’s threats. They stood firm, saying, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). They were thrown into the furnace, and God manifested His presence to them, and to the king, in a marvelous way.

As Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

If God allows disease or trauma to come into our lives, He promises His presence:

I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him (Psalm 91:15).

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20b).

He promises His strength and help:

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. . .For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you. (Isaiah 41:10, 13).

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

He promises His love:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:35, 37).

He promises His peace:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27).

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

He promises His purpose:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-4).

 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 (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).

We can rest in the hollow of His hand, knowing that nothing reaches us there but what He allows. He provides His grace to deal with anything that comes our way.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him (Nahum 1:7).

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).

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