Friday, November 6, 2009
"But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; and they shall mount up with wings like eagles..."(Isaiah 40:31, ESV).
"Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him" (Psalm 37:7, ESV).
When we are "still" before the Lord, we are calm, silent, and listening to His word. His word guides us and teaches us how we should live. Ps. 37:5 tells us to "commit your way to the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." When we follow God's way, we can trust that He will provide for us, just as Jesus taught in Matthew 6:33, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [life's necessities-KH] will be added to you" (ESV).
"Waiting" on the Lord requires patience. God works in His time, not ours. Do you imagine that Job thought his suffering would never end? Job endured, and in the end, was doubly blessed. During Job's suffering, there is no indication that he thought everything would be better eventually. He mourned that he was even born.
In the same way, when we suffer, we do not know what good may come at the end of our trial. We may enjoy better health, financial security, or restored relationships, or our suffering may end with our eternal reward if we have been faithful to God.
In Isaiah 40:31, the word translated "wait" has an interesting meaning. According to James Burton Coffman Commentary on Isaiah, "The basic word from which 'wait' is derived means to wind or to twist, the word rope being a noun that comes from this term. The meaning here is that the believer should let the Lord be his lifeline, his cord of escape."
By waiting on the Lord -- allowing Him to be our lifeline -- we find the freedom a soaring eagle represents. But as Coffman points out, "[. . .] And the real test of his faith comes, not when he flies or runs, but when he must plod along. It is in the monotony of everyday life that the man of faith reveals his true character."
When trials come -- and they will -- we must trust in God while we continue to follow Him. We must be patient and wait for His answer and refrain from taking matters into our own hands. Note: This does not mean that we sit back and wait for something to happen. But we do what we can with faith that God will fill in the blanks. For those who are serving the Lord, we know that no matter what answers God provides in this life, we also have His promise for an eternal home with Him where trials and suffering will no longer exist.
(Photo from art.com by Robert Travers)
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I woke up today with a better attitude about our situation and with a feeling of contentment. No matter what happens, we must keep this life in perspective: it's temporary. As Christians, we have a "bonus" in life -- the encouragement of our brethren.
Contentment can be learned. Paul says, "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content; I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." He then concludes, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:11-13).
For most of my life, I've lived with an abundance. Most of us have. My parents told me that when I was little, there were times when we'd be down to a can or two of beans, and that's it. But I never knew it; I never felt needy because of how my parents handled the situation. Isn't that what our Heavenly Father does for us?
We still have a lot to be thankful for; and if the situation deteriorates, we can still be content. I've learned in one grocery shopping trip just how much we CAN live without! And I'm learning how many "needs" are nothing more than "wants" than can either be lived without or delayed.
No matter what life throws our way, God will give us the strength to endure. And when we do endure, we will grow closer to God and have a better appreciation for His gifts -- here and in eternity.
Friday, June 12, 2009
We should “render service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6:7). Paul echoes this same sentiment in his letter to the Colossians: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward” (Colossians 3:23).
No matter what job we have, no matter what good deed we may do, we should always have the attitude that we are doing it to please the Lord. This is especially helpful if our boss (or the recipient of our deeds) is ungrateful for our service. No matter what man may think, God rewards our hard work and will always appreciate our service. That alone should motivate us to keep working for the Lord.
Hand in hand with the knowledge that our work is for the Lord, we must remember it is for the glory of the Lord, not our own, that we serve. Jesus condemned the Scribes and Pharisees for doing their deeds to be noticed by men. They wanted the praise of men more than the praise of God. Jesus says, “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11, 12).
**All Bible quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
But what happens when someone who is not used to disappointments experiences a let-down? They tend to crumble. Fall apart. Stress out. Why? Perhaps it’s because they have not (yet) been given the opportunity to produce steadfastness by the trials life often hands us.
James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Trials have a purpose. First, they test our faith. God wants to know we serve Him not just when things are going well, but when life is difficult. When the rich, young ruler learned what he must do to follow Christ, he turned away. To this young man, Jesus asked too much of him. We must be willing to give up everything in order to serve God. That means we will remain faithful to God and refuse to escape into sin when trials come our way.
As we endure each trial, the next one becomes a little easier to work though. We continue to build our faith and patience (or steadfastness) as we take one step after the other in God’s service. James says that the “full effect” of our steadfastness is completeness (in our character). As my dad used to tell me, life’s trials “build character.”
Trials serve another purpose. Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4). Not only does God comfort us during our trials, we can pass this comfort along to others when they face difficulties. How do we do that? Since my breast cancer diagnosis almost 15 years ago, I have had the opportunity to offer encouragement and comfort to other women facing the same disease. When a brother or sister faces a trial similar to one we have experienced, we can say, “I’ve been there. I survived, and so can you!”
Paul also points out in 2 Corinthians 1:9 that trials are designed to help us rely on God. When we hit bottom and require Someone greater than ourselves to lift us up, God is waiting for us to grab His hand.
There are several steps we can take when facing trials to help us successfully endure.
1. Remember to do the right thing. Often when we face trials, we also face temptations. Sinful options may be very appealing when we are in survival mode.
2. Remember the reward. James says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him” (1:12). There is nothing in this life worth having if it means giving up eternal life with God.
3. Remember that others have endured. You may feel alone in your struggle and that no one else has ever hurt as much as you do. But Scriptures are filled with examples of men and women who faithfully walked with God during their darkest moments.
4. Lean on your brothers and sisters-in-Christ. The Hebrew writer tells us to exhort and encourage one another to help prevent us from falling away from God. Trials may present a faith challenge, and we need encouragement to help us continue down the straight and narrow.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Most of us have never experienced the persecution the early Christians did. But I see the prospect of persecution increasing in this country. The prevalent attitude in America is that we are living in the "post-Christian era" (USA Today). The majority of the politicians do not consider God's laws when writing the laws of the land. Our president is establishing policies that violate God's emphasis on personal responsibility and the purpose of government -- to punish those who do wrong and reward those who do right.
I predict that we are heading into a time like no other in our nation -- a time when Christians in one form or another will be persecuted.
While reading 2 Thessalonians the other day, the above passage caught my attention (even though I've read it hundreds of times before). A recurrent theme in the New Testament is Paul's praise for those who remained steadfast in the face of persecution. In 2 Thessalonians 1:5, Paul ties faithfulness during persecution with being considered "worthy of the kingdom of God." Isn't it easier to be faithful when our lives are uncomplicated than it is when we face difficult challenges? Jesus noted that even sinners love those who love them (Lk. 6:32). That's easy. However, loving and doing good to those who hate and abuse us is far more difficult, yet it's the path Christians must walk. And in doing so, we become the "sons of the Most High."
Our reward and relief may not come during our time on earth. In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul tells us that God will afflict those who afflict us and grant relief to us WHEN Jesus is "revealed from heaven with his mighty angels" (vs. 7).
I say this to encourage all of you who are trying to do God's will and are concerned with the direction our country has taken. Times may get tough, but we need to look beyond this life to what God has prepared for us in eternity.
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight 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 Cor. 4:16-18 ESV).
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Anyone can call himself a Christian. We even use the word as an adjective -- a "Christian" nation, a "Christian" family, etc. Luke writes in Acts 11:26 that the disciples of Christ were first called Christians in Antioch. Throughout the New Testament, we read God's instructions to Christians about how they should live their lives. For example, prior to Jesus' death, He teaches His disciples how to respond to the world around them:
"But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27-28).
Similarly, the inspired apostle Paul writes in the book of Romans, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God...." (vs. 17)
"To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink...." (vs. 20)
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (vs. 21).
Does this sound like a person Homeland Security needs to add to their "terrorist suspect" list? Of course not! Yet those who live by these values and standards are included in the "right-wing" crowd our government considers a threat to our nation's well-being.
No doubt, there are always individuals who call themselves Christians, but by their fruits (behavior), they deny Christ rather than glorify Him. A distinction must be made between those who label themselves Christians and those who are Christians.
**All Bible quotes are from the English Standard Version.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
I've been teaching our ladies Bible class from the book But How Can I? Improving Your Christian Attitude by Doris Black and Charlotte Mize. The authors recommend that we focus on two aspects of life in order to avoid the emotional fallout from disappointments.
Focus on our Blessings
In 2 Timothy 1:15-18, Paul discusses his disappointment that everyone in the province of Asia deserted him. But then he turns his attention to the one who helped him - Onesiphous. Instead of obsessing over those who abandoned him, Paul focuses on the blessing of Onesiphous' support. When we are faced with disappointments, we should remember our blessings. If it helps, list them on a piece of paper and review them often.
Remember Your Purpose in Life
Paul never lost sight of his purpose in life. We need not forget either. On numerous occasions, Paul faced imprisonment or physical persecution for preaching Christ in public. No doubt, these were disappointing times for Paul. Yet, he remembered his purpose...."I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus." Living for Christ and bringing others into the same relationship with our Savior was Paul's purpose, and he kept-on-keeping-on regardless of the consequences.
The wise man Solomon, inspired by God, tells us that man's whole duty or purpose is to "Fear God and keep His commandments" (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
I was recently disappointed when a job I hoped to cinch didn't pan out. I may still be without a job, but I must remember that my purpose in life is to serve God and teach others -- no matter what my situation may be.
During this time of personal financial and job loss for many, we can find comfort and strength in remembering God's promise to care for those who put Him first, as well as the purpose God has given us that can never be taken away from us!
Monday, January 26, 2009
I believe immorality will grow more rampant, thus our elected officials will respond by enacting laws that represent the country's moral bankruptcy. Our freedoms will erode, and Christians may find themselves persecuted for speaking out against sin. As capitalism dies and socialism takes over, more and more people will become enslaved to the government for answers, job losses will increase, and we'll have less money for good works -- let alone to provide for our own needs.
I have no hope for the future of our country. But I am not worried nor depressed. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). I have to live in the world, but I don’t have to get caught up in earthly worries.
As our preacher pointed out in our sermon Sunday morning, the deterioration of our country may be God's way of telling Christians to "wake up!" We have been blessed to live in perhaps the best time in American history. Have we served God out of convenience? If we can't bring ourselves to meet with God's people three times a week for study and worship, will we muster the courage to secretly gather with our brethren? If we are down to our last dollar, will we still be able to say, “God will provide”?
Consider the environment the first century Christians lived in. The corruption and persecution didn’t keep them from serving the Lord “no matter what.” Christians were not deterred from teaching and preaching God’s word in spite of the authorities telling them to stop. And they encouraged one another to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2).
What’s done is done. We cannot – nor may we ever be able to – change what has happened. But we can encourage one another to be faithful and trust in God – no matter what. In times that can be economically challenging, we should pray like Solomon:
Monday, January 12, 2009
Fame, fortune, and material possessions fail to bring true happiness. Miserable people often abuse alcohol and drugs in an attempt to numb their pain. When that fails, they take their own lives to escape what they feel is an endless life of sorrow.
The wise man Solomon knew that worldly pursuits could never lead to happiness. In Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, Solomon writes,
“Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure. For my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.”
Searching for happiness through pleasures, accomplishments, and accolades are like grasping for the wind – we simply can’t grab hold of it no matter how tightly we close our fists.
We can't Take it With us
Solomon knew that no matter how much wealth or material possessions he accumulated, he would eventually leave it all behind, perhaps to a fool who would waste the inheritance, and definitely to someone who never earned it: “For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?” (Ecclesiastes 2:21-22a).
Earthly treasures can never achieve what God has already accomplished. “Those who trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches, none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him – for the redemption of their souls is costly” (Psalm 49:6-8). Jesus reminds us, too, of this in Matthew 16:26, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” The salvation of our souls has already been purchased -- not with money -- but with the blood of God’s Son.
Our Most Important Task
Solomon isn’t telling us that we should never experience enjoyment in this life. He also writes in Ecclesiastes 2:24, “Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God.” God’s blessings are for us to enjoy, but we must keep our priorities in check. Overworking to become rich, trusting in wealth and possessions, living for selfish purposes are the result of forgetting what – or Who – we are living for.
Solomon experienced it all. He indulged in every pleasure he could find. He sought to satisfy his flesh with wine. He built houses, planted vineyards, gardens, and gathered for himself treasures, servants, and all kinds of musical instruments. He found no joy in his indulgences and determined that this was all “folly” and “vanity.”
Becoming rich and seeking pleasure is not what life is all about. There is only one way to live that brings joy, satisfaction, and peace: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Saturday, January 3, 2009
This freedom is deceptive. Paul declares in Romans 6:16, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” We have only two choices: be a slave of sin or a slave of righteousness (see previous entry “Whose Slave are You?”/ 8/8/08). While mankind typically equates slavery with a lack of freedom and happiness, God has a better formula.
Those who are slaves of God are liberated from the consequences of sin – eternal separation from God. Those who choose not to serve God cannot be liberated from the worst entrapment man can find himself in – sin and the spiritual consequences that result. If Dawkins wants to be truly “liberated,” he’s going to have to become “enslaved” to our Creator. Unfortunately for Dawkins, his understanding of freedom is myopic. By erroneously deciding that God does not exist, he declares himself free from accountability. Thus, Dawkins forfeits spiritual freedom in exchange for an eternal prison.