This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Faith's Consolation

"Day by Day" is a precious hymn that I sing to myself often. I love all three stanzas, but I am often drawn in particular to the opening words of the third stanza.

"Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word." (Lina Sandell)

God's promises do not fail. Even if a believer forgets or doubts, God remains faithful to His Word. Therefore, a Christian won't lose the end result that God has determined, but he can lose something precious in the midst of the journey. When he forgets or doubts God's promises, he stands to lose "faith's sweet consolation."

There is sweet comfort in the promises of God. In fact, many of His promises are given for the very purpose of providing comfort. Jesus comforted His disciples with a promise: "Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:1-3).

Paul reminds the believers of this same truth, and he urges them to use the truth to comfort one another. "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words" (II Thessalonians 4:16-18).

In the business world, a promise might be nothing more than a contractual obligation. Mr. Smith promises to pay $1000 to Mr. Jones when Mr. Jones delivers the promised merchandise. There is nothing terribly exciting or comforting about that.  God's promises, by contrast, provide a spiritual benefit that heightens the value already intrinsic in the promise. In the verses above, the fulfillment of the promise - the day that Jesus breaks through the clouds to take His children to heaven - will be amazing indeed, but the benefit is not limited to the consummation of the promise. The anticipation of that promise gives comfort and hope to believers while they wait for that day. Trust in the promise strengthens them to endure the trials of life.

Hebrews 13:5-6 provides another promise that affects the spirit. "For He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,' so that we may confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.'" The promise of God's faithful, constant presence gives confidence and freedom from fear, both of which are beyond the actual companionship.

I John 1:9 states, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Again, there is a benefit beyond the actual remission of sins. The promise provides peace and freedom from overwhelming guilt. It gives the believer the boldness to actually come and ask for forgiveness, no matter how great his sin.

James 1:5 promises, "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him." The promised end is the wisdom, but the very fact that the promise exists gives hope. Knowing the promise can lift a man from the discouragement, frustration, and hopelessness that are brought about by his lack of wisdom. He can reap these spiritual benefits before he ever receives the promised wisdom.

The list of examples could continue. Over and over in His Word, God gives promises to His children. The promise itself is wonderful, but there is an additional sweet hope and consolation found in the anticipation of the promise. What makes God's promises so special?

Considering promises made by people provides an inkling of why God's promises are so special. The business transaction between Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones is a cold and mercenary promise, but a father could provide some consolation to his son by promising a special outing. If Dad promises Johnny on Monday that they will go fishing together on Saturday, the hope of that promise can buoy Johnny's spirit and can carry him through the entire week.

There is something about the promise from Dad to Johnny that is different from the promise from Mr. Smith to Mr. Jones. The difference is love. Because of the loving relationship between the father and son, and because of the love-motivated reasons for the promise, the promise becomes special. This is certainly true of God. Every promise that God makes comes from His overflowing heart of love for His children. While God may also be doing other things (like promoting His glory or proving His faithfulness), His promises are permeated with love for His children. This love makes the promises extra-special, and the believer who remembers the promises and trusts in them will receive the sweet consolation that they are able to provide.

"In the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago." Titus 1:2 (NASB)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Who Will Stand?

Many states currently face pending legislation that could significantly impact Christians. Legislators and judges have defied morality before, but the current battles could have historically serious ramifications. While part of me cannot believe our country has reached the point that it would stand for the closing of churches or the mass imprisonment of Christians, I recognize that some Christians have already faced consequences, fines, and litigation for standing for what is right.

America no longer allows Christians to publically declare the full truth of the Bible. Demands for morality and justice are perceived as hatred, and Christians are increasingly confronted with challenges to their beliefs. Sadly, many churches have caved under the pressure, settling for the proclamation of an anemic message. This weakening does not match Biblical demands for godly men, nor does it follow the example of heroes of the faith.

God sent Moses before Pharaoh to demand the release of God's people from slavery. His own people initially opposed Moses, while Pharaoh ridiculed Moses, lied to him, and eventually threatened to kill him if he ever showed his face again. Moses unflinchingly obeyed God and appeared before Pharaoh fourteen times with God's messages.

Elijah boldly carried God's message of judgment to wicked King Ahab. For three years Elijah was forced into exile, living for a time by a remote brook and then being cared for by a poor widow. Then Elijah obeyed God by appearing again to Ahab, who hated him. After a faith-permeated challenge and a tremendous victory, Elijah again had to flee for his life, yet he later confronted Ahab again at God's command.

After Esther became queen to Ahasuerus, the Jews' lives were put at risk due to a plot approved by Ahasuerus. Esther took her life into her hands by appearing before the king without pre-approval. Her precarious position continued until her appeal was heard and new legislation allowed the Jews to defend themselves and live.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced a decree from Nebuchadnezzar, ordering them to bow down and worship an idol. When everyone else knelt, these three men courageously remained standing. When given a second chance, the three men remained adamant. When facing death in a fiery furnace, they refused to compromise.

Daniel was confronted with a law that forbade prayer to God. He knew the decreed punishment; offenders would be thrown into a den of ravenous lions. Daniel openly prayed anyway, doing what he had always done, rather than yield to a law that undermined his beliefs.

Peter and John were arrested for doing God's work. At their trial they spoke boldly of salvation through Jesus. When they continued preaching, they were placed in jail, narrowly escaping a death sentence. They were later beaten and threatened, yet continued preaching.

Paul was often beaten and imprisoned because of his ministry with the gospel. He faced riots, murderous plots, and years of trials. Paul continued preaching the gospel even when he was imprisoned and kept under constant guard.

In their obstacles, the characters above proclaimed bold statements of faith and resolve. Moses called out confidently, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD" (Exodus 14:13).  Elijah rebuked Ahab, "I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have" (I Kings 17:18). Esther declared, "If I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego affirmed, "Even if He does not [deliver us], . . . we are not going to serve your gods" (Daniel 3:18). Daniel rejoiced, "My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths . . . inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him" (Daniel 6:22). The apostles proclaimed, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Paul stated, "I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course" (Acts 20:24).

These men and women obeyed God and stood for truth even at great personal risk: angry rulers, death threats, exile, poverty, potential execution, a fiery furnace, a lion's den, imprisonment, beatings, martyrdom, and years of litigation. Hebrews 11:35-38 describes more heroes: "Others were tortured, . . . others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, . . . wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground."

God highly commends these believers who suffered so much, calling them "men of whom the world was not worthy" (Hebrews 11:38). Are believers today willing to face the same risks and suffer the same consequences in order to be true to God? Will they purpose to remain faithful so that one day they also can hear words of commendation from God: "Well done, good and faithful slave. . . . Enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21)? Are they willing to face fines, prison, courts, vandalism, protests, being ostracized, loss of property, poverty, and shame? Am I willing to exchange the writing that is dear to my heart for jail if that is where God places me instead? Am I willing to give up my freedom and comfort for what is right? Does God's glory mean more to me than the specific circumstances of my life?

My pastor just preached a sermon that included many of the above thoughts. He made it clear that our church will operate based on conviction of the Word of God rather than political pressure or public opinion. He ended by inviting those who are committed to remain faithful to come to the front of the church. The space could not hold us, as members moved immediately en masse to declare our intention. We don't know what will that mean and perhaps some will not follow through, but it was amazing to see our church united in the resolve to stand for Christ. I don't want severe consequences any more than anyone else does, but I know that I want my heart to be committed to God above all else.

Christians across our country and world must stand for what is right, declaring and living out the truth of the Bible even when it is unpopular or difficult. They must study the Word and be faithful in a good church so that they know what that truth is. They must stand behind godly leaders, pastors, and public figures, who will be on the front lines in the attacks. If those leaders are taken, believers must move into their positions and continue the fight. Christians must pray for their leaders now, that God will protect them and help them to be strong. Christianity may face more difficult days in the future, but following God will always be right and will ultimately bring victory.

"As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:15 (NASB)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

When Life Goes Wrong

Life sometimes hurts. It can seem that nothing is going right and that everything is going wrong. Past joys are swallowed up in the difficulty of the moment, and discouragement infiltrates the soul. Any Christian who thinks he alone has suffered such a difficult time is abysmally mistaken. Psalm 77 tells about Asaph, a man who struggled deeply with the discouragement of apparent reversals in life.

Asaph doesn't reveal the specific source of his discouragement; maybe it wasn't even anything in particular. What he does reveal is a heaviness in his spirit, a heaviness that has turned his life upside down. The first six verses of the psalm describe his desperately troubled spirit.

In verse 2, Asaph discloses that he is troubled "in the day" and that "in the night" he unceasingly seeks relief; in spite of his seeking day and night, he finds no comfort. Asaph notes in verses 3-4 that he is "disturbed," that he sighs, that his "spirit grows faint," that he is unable to sleep, and that he is "so troubled that [he] cannot speak." This man is crushed in his spirit and overwhelmed with the difficulty of his situation. He seems to be a mere shadow of a man, going through the motions of living, but with no joy or peace.

One thing adding to his discouragement is that it wasn't always this way. In verses 5-6, Asaph remembers better days. As he thinks about those prior days of blessing, he remembers the songs that he used to have. His heart has something to meditate on, and his spirit has something to ponder, because he has memories so positive that they further trouble his spirit. He is "disturbed" when he "remember[s] God" (v. 3), because his memories seem to mock his current life and seem to highlight the disparity between the past and the present.

In his despondency, Asaph asks some heart-wrenching questions in verses 7-9, questions that reveal Asaph believes God has forgotten him. "Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?"

These questions of despairing doubt lead to a distressing conclusion in verse 10. At this low point in his life, Asaph laments, "It is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed." This is a terrible conclusion indeed. Asaph has known a God of love, promises, grace, and compassion. He has known a God who helped him, blessed him, and encouraged him. Considering all that God has been in the past, it is the greatest disappointment ever to conclude that such a God no longer exists. Asaph believes that his previously faithful God is now characterized by rejection, anger, neglect, and forgetfulness.

Any true believer wants to cry out to Asaph, "No, it's not true. God hasn't changed. He is still the same great God that He always was." Asaph himself realizes that the conclusion he has just reached cannot be true, and he deliberately turns his thoughts for the remainder of the psalm.

Asaph makes a conscious choice to think about who God is - who He always has been and who He continues to be. Asaph resolves, "I shall remember,” “I will remember,” “I will meditate,” and “muse” (vs. 11-12). Asaph chooses to stop his wrong thinking and to think instead on the truth he knows. In verses 11-15, Asaph recalls God's deeds, His wonders, His work, His holiness, His greatness, His strength, and His power. He shouts out rock-solid truth: "What god is great like our God?" (v. 13).

Now that Asaph has determined to meditate on God's great works, he finds hearty sustenance for his thoughts. He considers some of the phenomenal things God has done in the past. In verses 16-20, Asaph recounts some of God’s most amazing deeds. He considers the flood - the depths of the waters that trembled before God, the clouds that poured out water as they had never done before, the thunder and lightning that proclaimed the power of God, and the upheaval that changed the entire earth. Asaph also recalls one of the most phenomenal epochs of Israel's history - the deliverance of God's people from Egypt. God performed unbelievable miracles leading up to and including the exodus, all so that He could deliver His chosen people.

Now Asaph has an anchor for his thoughts. He has just recalled the great deeds God has done in the past. He has checked his thoughts, realizing that God has not and cannot change. The God of Noah, of Abraham, and of Joseph is the God of Asaph. He is the same God with the same love, the same faithfulness, the same power, the same wisdom. God did whatever He wanted to do in the lives of those men, and the same God will do that for Asaph also. Nothing will stop God's plan now, just like it could not then.

The discouraging circumstances were the wrong place for Asaph to fix his gaze, leading him only deeper into despair. With his thoughts fixed on his amazing God, however, Asaph could trust steadily and confidently in his great God. His life situation may not have changed, but the state of his heart was altogether different. Thinking on what God had done and what God is like put Asaph again on the right path. Such a victory was possible because of Asaph's direction in the very first verse of the psalm. Even in his despair, he knew where he needed to turn. "My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; my voice rises to God, and He will hear me." Asaph started by going to the right Source and allowing his heart and thoughts to be directed in God's ways.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8 (NASB)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Woman-Strength - Part 2

"You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman." (I Peter 3:7 NASB)

The previous post, based on the verse above, presented two ideas. First, women are weak in comparison with men; woman-strength is not sufficient for every demand. Second, crying is a natural and appropriate indication that the limits of woman-strength have been reached.

While women certainly have value, and while individual women vary in their strengths, women are generally weaker when it comes to physical tasks, decision-making, strong emotion, and intense pressure. Knowing the weakness of women, God has made provision for situations that are too big for woman-strength.

First, God has made an ideological provision. He has established men, who are stronger, in roles designed to support women; for a young lady that is her father, for a married lady it is her husband, and for a widow it is her son. These men are to love, cherish, protect, defend, comfort, and guide. They are to lead, make decisions, and manage life. Not surprisingly, these man-tasks correspond to the areas in which women tend to be weak.

When a woman reaches her limitations, she should depend on her husband (or other leader), allowing him to follow God's intended plan. Granted, a woman should not expect more of her husband than he can do, but acknowledging that God has established him in this role helps to support the woman's weakness and allows the husband to act in the way he is designed.

Second, God has given a practical answer. Husbands (or fathers or sons) cannot be the complete answer, because they also are human and sometimes fail. Additionally, there are women who lack a male leader. They might be single, widowed, or divorced, or they may have a husband who is incapacitated, alienated, or frequently away. God has also provided a place for these woman to turn when they realize that their woman-strength is overwhelmed.

The Bible reveals that God established family - fathers, sons, nephews - for this purpose. The primary responsibility rests on them. The Bible also reveals that when a woman does not have the resource of family, the church is to be her family. The church has a responsibility to lovingly care for the needy and helpless. While there are things that a husband would provide that a church member cannot provide or cannot meet as effectively, there are many needs that the church can and should meet for the solitary.

To provide balance, the woman should also love and consider the needs of her church. Whenever possible, she should take proper individual responsibility. She should make adjustments so that she does not push her limits too far; perhaps she may need to tackle a difficult task gradually, make do with a partial solution, or pay someone to do something for her. She should not unnecessarily place demands or excessively ask for help, but if she really needs help, by God's plan, she ought to be able to ask for it and receive it from the church.

Third, God has given spiritual provision. Ultimately, every woman must find her strength in God. This dependence is most frustrating in regard to physical tasks. God can't come and shovel snow, make a business decision, or give a hug. Because humans don't fully appreciate how God can work, it is easy to think that God doesn't provide in these practical situations. God, however, can prompt someone to shovel snow, or He can give surprising physical strength. He can give wisdom for the business decision, and He can powerfully surround with His love. God says He will meet every need, and He does.

God is also powerfully able to meet emotional needs when woman-strength breaks down. Every woman can recall times of weakness that were not adequately met by her husband or church. Even in the best marriages, man will fail or there will be things beyond his strength, but God is not limited, and He will never fail. When life becomes overwhelming, a woman at her deepest level must go to God, the only adequate source of strength. God loves, He is compassionate, He cares for the broken-hearted, and He heals their wounds. God gives comfort and restores the soul. God never forsakes His own. The woman must cry out to Him, talk to Him, and tell Him her burdens. She must rest in His care, submitting to His plan, yielding to His arrangement of her life, and trusting that He can thoroughly care for her. 

God provides hope and encouragement through the Bible, which reveals a God who is big enough for every challenge, loving enough to care in every situation, and wise enough to always do the right thing. God is the answer. He is a strong tower. He is omnipotent. A woman in trouble must seek God's Word and study the Bible to know God more. She must remind herself of His promises and character, and must focus on appropriate truth. Quality (and sometimes quantity) time in the Word can refresh the spirit so dramatically that even the practical challenges of life seem to be alleviated.

When a woman is alone in life, there will sometimes be situations in which things don't work out just right. While the life of a solitary woman will not be perfectly smooth, she has an all-sufficient God who can meet her in every situation and who can meet her every need. Woman-strength is very limited, but God's strength has no limits.

"He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary." Isaiah 40:29-31 (NASB)