The Lawless Times

“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.”

Matthew 24:12, NASB

It is so easy to turn a deaf ear and form a cynical heart towards community decay. Newscasts are filled with stories of people being shot, crime, rape, child abuse, political bickering, and an overall disregard for established law and order. If the incidents take place blocks or miles from our comfortable existence, we can become insulated and isolated in our thinking about our community’s pain.

Jesus in His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25) discusses what the times will be like before His return- wars, natural disasters, persecution of believers, false prophets, and rebellion to name a few signs. (Jesus also speaks of these events  in Mark 13 and Luke 21).

God knows our limitations as people and He knows how overwhelming bad news and events can weigh on our minds. Just the major events in our own lives- the death of a loved one, addiction, divorce, job loss, and financial problems can trigger anxiety and depression, causing us misery upon misery.

As overwhelming these events seem in Matthew 24:12, that people’s love for each other and God will grow cold, Jesus us offers us hope.

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13, NASB).

Verse thirteen is not dealing with eternal salvation, it is dealing with a sense of protection or deliverance in the midst of suffering.

Now that we have a reason to hope, Jesus gives us an assignment.

“The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then, the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, NASB).

We live in lawless times, but there is a way not to become overwhelmed and unloving regarding people and their suffering. We must reconnect with the love of God by repentance, prayer, study, and being community with other believers. As we grow in our love for God, our love for people will be a natural offspring and a platform for sharing the gospel with them. God bless you.

Do Not Dwell on the Former Things

Nostalgia is a double-edged sword. While we can look back fondly on childhood memories and the “good ol’ days” in general, nostalgia often clouds our judgment of past events and can be exploited by others. In the United States, politicians and political movements rise because of nostalgia. In a world of increasing technological, social, and political change, these politicians play upon the fears of people, speaking in general terms of how if elected, the country will go back to a simpler time, before all of these changes happened. In essence, they will turn back the clock twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years.

Nostalgia is also big business. One of the constant complaints about Hollywood is “They’ve run out of ideas. It’s all sequels, reboots, and comic book movies.” Of course, not every film will be financially successful, but marketers know that if there is a built-in audience for a movie, that audience will go see it and maybe bring along the next generation. It becomes a vicious circle when audiences reject movies with new and different themes or stories, so Hollywood then has to go back to what makes money. For me personally I too am film nostalgic, as I grew up in the late 1970s/1980s and watched the original Star Wars trilogy over and over. To this day, I can almost quote the movies word for word and I look forward to the new movies in the upcoming years.

If we are not careful, we can fall victim to a “spiritual nostalgia,” where we long for our days before Christ. I know in my personal life the circumstances that brought me to Christ seem less daunting today than what I have gone through with Christ. I do not long to go back to a time when Christ was not in my life. If you are honest with yourself, was high school really that great? Do you really want to go back to the days of brokenness, pain, addiction, hopelessness, and frustration? Probably not. In your “BC” days, you were comfortable in your slavery to sin. Satan had you where he wanted you.

The Israelites complained about how they had it better in Egypt, they had food and water, and how Moses led them out to the desert to die. While the Israelites complained about their current situation, their nostalgia glossed over the fact they were slaves back in Egypt. For over 400 years, the Israelites and their ancestors broke their bodies building monuments of Egypt’s power and glory. Everyday served as a reminder of “We’re great, you’re slaves.” Why would they want to go back to that? Keep in mind that these are the same people who crossed the Red Sea. We must not allow nostalgia for the past to override the present moment. Even in your days before Christ, God’s prevenient grace allowed you to get through the hard times and you will get through this. Once we have crossed our Red Sea, there is no going back to Egypt.

The Apostle Peter fell prey to spiritual nostalgia. John 21 tells the story about how Peter decided to go fishing. Some of the other disciples joined Peter. Keep in mind that this event occurs after Jesus’ resurrection and previous appearances to the disciples. The Bible does not give us details about Peter’s inner dialogue, but maybe it went something like this:

This whole thing with Jesus was nice while it lasted. I left my livelihood and gave up three years of my life to follow Him. What am I supposed to do now? I failed. I failed miserably. I denied Him just like He said I would. One time He even told me ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ Maybe I’m not cut out for this whole ministry thing. I’ll go back to being a fisherman. If nothing else, I know how to fish.

However, Peter had an encounter with Jesus and his life and the world has not been the same since. Just weeks after seemingly giving up, the Holy Spirit empowered Peter to preach a sermon that led to 3,000 people to Christ. Peter was also the first apostle to share the Gospel with the Gentiles.

As Christians and as the Church, we must understand that while God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He also does not want to get caught up in the religious bondage of man’s past traditions. We must be spiritually attuned to God’s voice and what He wants to do today. God’s methods may change, just as Jesus did not always heal people or raise people from the dead the same way every time.

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

As we go forward with God, let us not long for the past nor fear the future at the expense of the current moment. Let us be mindful and present as to what God is saying to us now. God bless you all.

The Throne of Our Thoughts

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul, like a great trial lawyer, goes point by point to build his theological case. Romans serves as one of the foundational books that explains the Christian faith and is also one of the primary books Christians use to share the Gospel with others (also known as the “Romans Road”). Paul’s theology in Romans is like his other Epistles in that it is practical and can be applied to everyday life. One of the important areas Paul stresses is the need for us to renew our minds and change our thoughts.

Paul uses five different Greek words to describe our minds and the pattern of our thinking. What we think has a direct effect on our lives. If we try to think in more positive terms, we will be able to adapt to the constant change that is life. However, if we continuously focus on the negative, the hurt, the rejection, we will live a life of self-defeat, fear, and anxiety. As I have stated in past posts, we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control our responses to what happens.

Our Thoughts Represent our Power and Authority

As Christians, we believe in and serve a living and powerful God. However, we must also contend with our very real enemy, Satan, our own sinful natures, and daily interactions with others. Think of your mind as a throne. A throne represents a seat of power and authority for a king or queen. If a monarch chooses not to rule with their given authority or if they abdicate their throne, they are no longer in charge. To what and to whom we choose to think about determines if we are really on the throne of our minds. In fact, the word used the most for mind in Romans is the Greek word Nous (Strong’s #3563), which means, “The intellect- the seat of the will, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.” The following verses speak of a matter of voluntary surrender, good or bad, when it comes to our minds and our wills. Thus, in order for our thoughts, wills, and lives to line up with what the Word says, it is a matter of choice.

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” (Romans 1:28, KJV).

“But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:23-25, KJV).

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, KJV).

Our Thoughts Shape our Spiritual Reality

Throughout Romans, Paul makes the use of contrast between the renewed spiritual life we have in Christ and the continuous war of the carnal life we live within our sinful natures (or flesh if you prefer). The Greek word Paul uses is Phroneo (Strong’s 5426), which means “to be minded in a certain way” concerning our opinions and sentiments.

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:6, KJV).

“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” (Romans 12:16, KJV).

Our Thoughts are Seeds

Paul switches words from Romans 8:5 to Romans 8:6, to show the contrast. Here, Paul uses the word Phronema (Strong’s 5427), which means “what one has in mind or thought.” We have to think of our thoughts as seeds. No matter what type of seed it is- all seeds need the proper amount of light, soil conditions and water to grow. Our thoughts are no different, what we allow to grow in our minds can change a beautiful garden into a dried-up wasteland.

“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be…And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:6-7, 27, KJV).

Our Thoughts Should Bring Harmony

It is a given that we will encounter difficult people. It is easy to find an everyday occurrence where we can allow someone or a situation to make us angry. We can choose to hold onto bitterness and not forgive others. However, we are not living life in the Spirit if we follow our carnal inclinations. Instead, our thoughts toward our brothers and sisters and our fellow man, in order to bring glory to God. The word Paul uses in Romans 15:6 is Homothumadon (Strong’s #3661), which means to be “unanimous, in one accord.”

“Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6, KJV).

 The Battle for our Thoughts and our Mission

With every day we are blessed enough to live, we will have a raging battle for our minds. Just because you fight of a negative thought on Monday does not necessarily mean you will not have to fight it on Tuesday or any other day. Our minds are like muscles and we must keep them strong and in shape. We can fortify our minds not only by reigning from the throne of our thoughts, but by remembering every battle we have won. In essence, we need to remind ourselves daily of the victories and God’s grace. The word used to describe this situation is Epanamimnesko (Strong’s #1878), which means “to remind again.” We must remember our mission in this life.

“Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God. That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. ” (Romans 15:15-16, KJV).

 

The Holy Spirit our Comforter

In the hours leading up to his arrest, trials, flogging, and death on the cross, Jesus shared a Passover meal with His disciples commonly referred to as “The Last Supper.” Jesus took this precious time to teach many things to His disciples. One of the topics Jesus taught – the role of the Holy Spirit- is what makes Christianity unique among world religions, where God comes to live inside of us and we can have a relationship with God. Jesus taught many things about the Holy Spirit, and we will examine the comforting aspect of the Holy Spirit.

In His discourse, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “The Comforter.” The Greek word for comforter is Paraklietos (Strong’s #3875), which means “intercessor, consoler; one summoned or called to one’s side.” Jesus introduces the Holy Spirit by stating:

“If ye love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever. Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14:15-17, KJV, emphasis mine).

What comforting words that because we know God, God comes to dwell in us and is always with us. Religion gives us a checklist of things to do and maybe, just maybe, God will approve of us. For Christians, we only have to believe.

Life can be lonely. Even when we are surrounded by our families, friends, and the beauty all around us, our trials and our grief can isolate us. We become adept at putting on a front, fooling the outside world, while inside it feels like our spirits are being torn to shreds by a savage beast. The pain is real. The struggle is real. God may be silent, be He has not left you, as Jesus states:

“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:18, KJV, emphasis mine).

The Greek word for comfortless is the word Orphanos (Strong’s #3737), which means “fatherless or orphaned.” God does not leave us to fend for ourselves. Our Savior did not stay dead in the grave, He is alive! His Spirit is within us. The world may abandon you, but God never will.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:26-27, KJV).

When we remember God’s Word and everything we have been through, we can have peace in the worst of circumstances. Inner peace is a choice as happiness and contentment are choices. We can make these choices easier when we come to the revelation that God is by our side.

“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27, KJV).

Jesus goes on to explain how the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth:

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” (John 16:7-8, 13-14, KJV).

The deeper you go into a relationship with someone, the better you get to know them. This principle applies no matter whether the relationship is romantic, familial, or friendship. You learn the person’s voice, habits, appearance, and their likes or dislikes. If someone were impersonating your spouse, child, or friend, you could spot the impostor. As Christians, we have that same opportunity with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit regarding learning the truth, knowing God’s voice and His Word. Though the temptation is always there when times get rough, to run away from God and everyone else, we can go a different route. We can refuse to listen to Satan’s lies and listen for God’s truth.  We can unload our troubles on God like we can a phone call to our best friend or a conversation with our spouse. God knows you are hurting. Let Him comfort you. You may not get an explanation in this life as to why events have unfolded the way they have, but we can be guided by Christ through the Holy Spirit. We can have peace in the midst of pain; joy in the midst of sorrow; comfort in the midst of tragedy. God bless you all.

Finding Comfort in Sorrow

A common theme throughout both the Old and New Testaments is how God seeks to comfort His people. Just as the ancient Israelites awaited the arrival of the Messiah, so Christians await the return of Christ. The Book of Revelation describes how Christ will wipe away all our tears and restore all things; the Old Testament also eludes to this fact.

In my previous post, we took a deeper look into the Hebrew word, Nacham (Strong’s #5162), which means “to repent or comfort” from the perspective of how we can draw comfort when we repent and show the strength to take a new course of action. To read the previous post, click here https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/finding-comfort-in-our-repentance/. In this post, we will examine Nacham from the comforting or consoling aspect of the word. Once again, I will be quoting exclusively from the King James Version.

 

Job’s Well-Intentioned Friends

When tragedy or difficulties strike our family and friends, our heart aches for them. We often feel so powerless and overwhelmed when we realize nothing we do or say is going to take away their pain. Our hurting loved ones need our presence more than social clichés. We do not have to say anything. Just be there. Give them a hug. Tell them you love them.

 Perhaps no one in the Old Testament suffered more than Job. In a quick succession of time, Job’s ten children died, he became ill, he lost his livelihood, and his wife, out of her pain, told him to “curse God and die.” Job, to the best of his knowledge, could not think of anything he did to bring on such suffering and tragedy. Up till the end of the book, God remained silent. When God did speak, Job was not given an explanation for his suffering, but was blessed in the end with more than he had before. Job’s three friends went to comfort him.

 “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came everyone from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him. And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent everyone his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:11-13, KJV, emphasis mine).

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar started out with noble intentions, as all three decided to visit their friend. The three men also joined Job in his mourning by following the Hebrew customs of weeping openly, tearing their clothes, and sprinkling dust on their heads, which were all signs of mourning. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar offered no condolences or words of wisdom, they simply sat on the ground in silence for a week, covered in dirt and torn clothes. Job’s grief was so great that his friends did not recognize him at first.

During times of tragedy, we can find ourselves trying to explain why God would allow something to happen. However, the truth is that we cannot fully know God’s reasons nor even begin to understand His ways. Therefore, we do need to speak for God. If we say the wrong thing, we will only add to someone’s grief, which is what Job’s three friends did. If Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, had remained silent when Job began to speak, they would not have added to Job’s grief. However, Job’s three friends accused him of harboring a secret sin and that sin brought on his troubles. In multiple debates, the three friends reasoned with Job that he brought this on himself. This frustrated Job to no end.

“Then Job answered and said, I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all. Shall vain words have an end? Or what emboldeneth thee that thou answerest? I also could speak as ye do; if your soul were in my soul’s stead, I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you. But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should assuage your grief.” (Job 16: 1-5, KJV, emphasis mine).

 At the end of the Book of Job, he received the comfort he needed not only from his submission to God, but also from everyone who came out to see him and blessed him.

When the Grief is too much

The pain of yesterday and the uncertainty of the future only adds to the grief in the current moment. When we cannot see past the pain, life becomes too and we fall into despair. If you have reached despair, hold on to hope. There will be difficult days, but you will get through them. If you question “Where is God in the midst of all of this?” do not fret, because the Bible addresses this as well, showing us that we are not alone in how we feel.

“My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word. Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, ‘When wilt thou comfort me?’” (Psalms 119:81-82, KJV, emphasis mine).

“So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of the oppressors there was power, but they had no comforter.” (Ecclesiastes 4:1, KJV, emphasis mine).

 “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.” (Psalm 69:20, KJV, emphasis mine).

Comfort is on the Way

Though we often picture the Old Testament prophets as bearers of “gloom and doom,” and pronouncing “Woe unto you,” God makes beautiful statements concerning a day when His children will be comforted, even in the midst of famine, suffering, grief, or an invading army. We too can take solace in these beautiful words found in Isaiah.

“Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. I, even I, am He that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass.” (Isaiah 51:11-12, KJV, emphasis mine).

 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint them that mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3, KJV, emphasis mine).

If you are experiencing grief and loss, please do not give up hope. This is a process and will take time. There is no set timeframe for this. You do not have to go on this journey alone. In fact, you are not on this journey alone. Though you may have days of darkness and doubt, know that God still loves you. God bless you all.

Finding Comfort in our Repentance

It is a natural human desire to seek comfort in the midst of tragic or difficult circumstances. When we know of someone who has suffered a devastating event such as the loss of a loved one or is dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster, we pray that God would comfort their hearts, souls, and minds. Comfort can bring us a peace that transcends understanding. We can also pursue comfort by seeking a certain financial and/or material standard of living.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 4th edition defines Comfort as “1. (V) To soothe in time of affliction or distress. 2. (V) To ease physically, relieve. 3. (N). A condition of feeling or pleasurable ease, well-being, or contentment.” The Bible, of course, has much to say concerning comfort in the sense of consolation and providing solace and support, but we will examine comfort in the sense of strength and repentance. For this post, I will be conducting this word study using the King James Version.

The Hebrew word most often used for comfort is the word, Nacham (Strong’s #5162), which means “to repent, comfort.” More specifically, Nacham means “to make a strong turning to a new course of action.” Repentance simply means going in a different direction. For instance, if you repent of a sin, you go in a different direction by not committing that sin. Comfort is derived from the words Com (with) and Fort (strength). Strong’s Concordance goes on to explain: “When one repents, he exerts strength to change, re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of action.” Thus, repentance and comfort in this particular instance does not place the emphasis on God’s grace, but on our responses and the actions we take concerning our circumstances.

Before we go further, let me state that there are times when God allows difficult circumstances in our lives and what we go through is not always a direct result of our sin. Hence, I am not condemning anyone. We will examine biblical people who brought comfort by turning the situation around, examples of personal strength, and how God brought comfort to wayward ancient Israel.

Noah

From Adam to Noah, humanity grew excessively wicked and God sought to cleanse the world with the Flood. God chose Noah to bring repentance to humanity.

“And Lamech lived a hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son: And he called his name Noah, saying ‘This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.” (Genesis 5:28-29, KJV, emphasis mine). Here is the first instance of the link between repentance and comfort.

Joseph

If anyone had a right to carry a chip on their shoulder, it would be Joseph. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, falsely accused of attacking Potiphar’s wife and subsequently falsely imprisoned.  Joseph was forgotten about in prison and stayed there longer than he should have been. However, God brought Joseph to prominence and placed him in a position of authority to save countless people during a famine. This famine was used to unite Joseph with his brothers and his father, Jacob. After Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared for their lives, that Joseph was biding his time and would take his revenge after their father died. Joseph’s brothers repented before him, pleading for mercy. Joseph, showed strength and comforted his brothers and explained to them the greater good of what happened:

“And Joseph said unto them, ‘Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me: but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones.’ And he comforted them, and spake kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:19-21, KJV, emphasis mine).

Comfort and Repentance in the Psalms

The Psalms, for me, have always been a source of hope and inspiration. Though some of the Psalms deal with Israel as a nation, the vast majority of the Psalms are personal reflections of people as they dealt with the harshness and trials of life. The writers of the Psalms gave an honest acknowledgement of their sins and the comfort brought on by repentance.

“He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:3-4, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Thou, which hast showed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth. Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.” (Psalm 71:20-21, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope. This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.” (Psalm 119:49-50, KJV, emphasis mine).

“I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.” (Psalm 119:75-76, KJV, emphasis mine).

Comfort and God’s Judgment of Israel

From the Book of Judges on, a pattern is established in the Old Testament where Israel would fall into sin and idolatry, then God would raise up a prophet, judge, or king to urge Israel to repent of their sins and avoid God’s judgments. There were times when Israel refused to repent and God’s judgments came in the forms of invading armies such as the Assyrians or Babylonians. In the words of the Prophets, you can hear the heart of God, pleading to bring comfort to his suffering children. God would bring comfort when his people repented of their sins, thus, placing the onus on Israel and Judah to change their ways.

“And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:1-2, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1, KJV, emphasis mine).

“What thing shall I take to witness for thee? What thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? For thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?” (Lamentations 2:13, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:13, KJV, emphasis mine).

In these words, we have covered only one aspect of comfort, with the emphasis on repentance. There are numerous examples of Nacham being used in the traditional sense of comfort, which I will cover later, Lord willing. If you are going through a painful season, please keep in mind that God has given you all of the tools and opportunities to start anew. Although it cannot change what happened, we do not have to stay where we are at and we can go forward with grace and strength. God bless you all.

Using our Liberty in Christ

Our spiritual freedom in Christ is one of God’s greatest blessings. Being in Christ, we are as the Apostle Paul stated, “free from the law of sin and death.”(Romans 8:2). We are spiritually free from our past, and we can go forward knowing there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. We are free from eternal damnation because we have eternal life in Christ. In knowing that we have been given this freedom in Christ, how are we using it?

Are we striving to become better people? Are we hiding behind the façade of grace to live as we wish? Do we use God’s Word to draw ourselves and other closer to God or do we use the Word to bring division? I am not teaching works-based theology-I am simply stating that we should be cultivating and bringing forth fruit worthy of our repentance and God’s grace. No matter our age or station in life, we should always seek to mature and improve in Christ.

The book of 1 Peter addresses the issue of Christians remaining faithful in the midst of trial and persecution. Peter writes an instruction manual concerning Christian conduct in the world in which they live, even in the face of extreme trial, persecution, or suffering. If our focus is not on Christ during our trials, it is very easy to grow resentful and bitter about our circumstances and the world around us. However, Peter urges us to live wisely as servants of God, no matter the circumstances, no matter how people treat us, no matter who is the leading the nation. As Christians, we must remember this is not our home- our home is in heaven.

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evil doers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:11-17, NASB).

As we go forward, let us remember that even in the most seemingly evil and corrupt times, God is still in control. God is being patient and is giving everyone the chance to repent. We must live our lives to point others to Christ, not to condemn them. Remember, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin, not ours. God bless you all.

Philippians 1: Remaining Steadfast

You are a work in progress. You are the marble slab in the hands of the Master sculptor. You are the canvas in front of the Master painter. The days, years, and events of your life may look and feel like random brush strokes, but when you take a look back, they are pieces of a mosaic that form a larger, grander picture.

The Apostle Paul understood that God is an artist when he wrote to the Philippian church, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, NKJV).

Did Paul write these words while on a successful missionary journey or when everything in his life was going great? No. Paul wrote these words from prison in Rome. I have never been to prison, but I cannot imagine the depths of despair people sink into as they are locked away from society. Or think about how the elderly and disabled are often discarded when society and their family deem them as no longer serving a purpose. Everyone has purpose. No matter your current station in life, God has a plan for you. The final chapter has not been written in your life’s story.

During our trials and tribulations, we can focus outwardly and reach others, as Paul did with the Philippians.

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11, NKJV).

As we go through difficult times, it is easy to pull out the victim card and cry “woe is me!” We always face the temptation of giving up. However, if we understand that God has allowed this trial in our life, we can ask, “How can I glorify God in this situation?”

“But I want you to know brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ, and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NKJV, italics mine).

What a testimony Paul had in the midst of his circumstances. Everybody knew he was imprisoned for preaching Christ and it encouraged others to preach Christ without fear of the consequences. Of course, some were trying to cause more problems for Paul, but Christ is being preached. Think of how your testimony could empower someone else through their trials. What has God brought you through that you can pass on to the next generation?

Paul’s confidence and faith were in God alone, thus he was ready to accept his fate whether he would become a martyr or walk out of prison a free man. Paul was willing to be called home if the Lord desired it, but he was still willing to reach others.

“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death.” (Philippians 1:19-20, NKJV).

Paul gets to the heart of the matter: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:21-24, NKJV).

Paul’s heart was still directed toward his mission and if the Philippian church needed him to further develop them as disciples, Paul was willing to do that if it would bring rejoicing to their hearts by seeing him again (Philippians 1:25-26, my paraphrase).

Paul ends this section of his letter with a reminder of how the Philippians were to act whether he were to be present or absent: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27, NKJV).

Paul goes on to emphasize that our suffering for Christ is a privilege and proof of our salvation.

“And not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” (Philippians 1:28-30, NKJV).

Brothers and sisters, we are in Christ and we are not of this world. We may live in different towns, cities, states, and countries, but our citizenship is in heaven. There is no external possession in this world that compares to the glory of Christ. During our struggles, let us focus on the eternal rewards and live for Christ. God bless you all.

 

 

More than a Conqueror

Alexander the Great. Julius Caesar. Genghis Khan. Napoleon Bonaparte. The names of these men and others echo throughout the halls of history because they conquered nations and forged empires. However, despite the aptitude of their generals, their victorious strategies, the efficiency of their armies, and the most advanced weaponry known at the time, there were two enemies these men and their armies could never defeat: sin and death. The One who dealt the decisive blow to the curses of sin and death and is coming back to conclude his march against the army of darkness: The Lord Jesus Christ.

Please keep in mind that I am not glorifying war. I believe the horrors left by war have damaged the psyches of our brave men and women who have fought and have left a Grand Canyon size wake of tragedy and destruction in the lives of all of the innocents affected since time began. I believe it will be the return of Christ and only the return of Christ that will wash out these horrific stains from the fabric of humanity.

Though most of us may never serve our country in the respective branches of the military, we do on a daily basis face spiritual battles. In these battles against our sin natures and Satan’s forces, we are either winning, losing, or trying to maintain against the siege. Our demons can come from within or from the pits of hell, it is all the same. The struggle takes its toll and we can become fatigued from the constant fighting. When the despair grows stronger, we can find ourselves giving into the darkness, the bottle, or the needle, but it does not have to be that way.

If you are reading this and you have made it this far into life, let me congratulate you. You are an overcomer. You have been blessed with another day to seek God and to vanquish your foe. You have strength beyond measure. Life may have knocked you down to your knees, but you are in the perfect position to pray and receive your new strategy.

Romans chapter eight is among one of my favorite passages of Scripture. I cannot but be encouraged every time I read it. In particular, we will take a look at Romans 8:28-39.

 God is working it out

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28, KJV, italics mine).

Whether you are experiencing a nightmare while awake or just living day by day, keep in mind that God is working it out for your good. This does not mean that everything in life will be good, but God can turn the situation around to show His glory and make Himself known in our lives.

Your life has purpose

“For whom he did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30, KJV).

Though our lives can seem to be an unending series of obstacles, God is using these obstacles as opportunities to make us more like Christ.

 God is on your side

“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, KJV).

How can we even consider fainting and fretting when the fickle opinions and perceptions others have of us when the God who created the universe is in our corner?

God gave His all

“He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, KJV).

God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins, so who are we to doubt that God will carry us through this current trial?

We are justified in Christ

“Who is He that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34, KJV).

If the people around you reject you or do not hold you in high regard, do not worry about it. You have a God who believes you are to die for and He is praying for you at this moment.

We are more than conquerors

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” (Romans 8”35-37, KJV, italics mine).

The word used for conquerors is Hupernikao (Strong’s #5245), which means “to vanquish beyond; a decisive victory.” Hupernikao is derived from the words Huper (Strong’s #5228), which means “over, above, beyond, etc.,” and Nikao (Strong’s #3528), which means “to subdue.” Keep in mind that Nikao is the same word used in 1 John when it talks about us being overcomers in Christ. So to summarize this point, our relationship with Christ and our victory in Christ has earned us a clear and easy victory. In essence, Christ has run up the score so badly on the devil that he will never catch up. There are no substitutions or adjustments the enemy can make, the game is over, we are waiting for that last trumpet to blow. Because of His love for us, Christ will continue to intercede and defeat the enemy on our behalf. We are “hyper-conquerors” in Christ because we have more than enough firepower to subdue our enemy and to occupy what Christ has given to us.

We cannot be separated from Christ

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature , shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, KJV).

Go forth and conquer in Christ, for He has given you the victory. God bless you all.

 

 

Resting During the Storm

My dog, Henry, is terrified of thunderstorms and fireworks. Henry, before and during the storm, will get jittery, pace around the house, and seek comfort from me and/or my wife. A thunderstorm rolled through this afternoon and I took to our dog calming ritual of turning on the space heater and sitting with Henry in our home office. Within minutes of reassuring Henry it was going to be alright, he fell asleep at my feet. I smiled and thought about how we are supposed to sleep at our Heavenly Father’s feet during the storms of life. Just as my presence and the warmth of the space heater comforted Henry, so too are we to be comforted in the warm embrace of our God’s presence.

Somewhere right now on our planet, people are experiencing both meteorological and spiritual storms. Rain is essential for life on earth. If it did not rain, crops would not grow, which in turn would hurt the world’s food supply. All of us will experience spiritual storms in our lives, whether it be overwhelming grief, illness, family issues, financial stress, a loss of faith, or all of these trials at once coming at us with the force of a hurricane or tsunami. God can uses these storms to grow us and to feed our faith.

In the midst of our pain and suffering, we cry out and pray to God for relief, yet, there are times when the rain keeps coming with seemingly no relief in sight. However, your storm will pass. Just as the storm that terrified Henry was over in a few minutes and the sun came out, so too will your dark clouds give way to the sunshine on the horizon.

The big questions we ask during a storm is “Where is God in all this?” “Why doesn’t He do something?” “Why doesn’t He just stop it?” Be honest, you have posed those questions. I know I have. Believe me, you are not the first person to pose such questions, for The Bible gives us multiple examples of people weathering storms.

Probably the most famous biblical example is Jesus quieting a storm as recorded in the gospels of Matthew (8:23-27), Mark (4:35-41), and Luke (8:22-25). Matthew and Mark place this event after Jesus spent the day teaching a crowd of people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Night came and Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” (Mark 4:35b, NIV). Jesus and His disciples left the crowd on the shore and began their trek to the other side. Mark’s Gospel describes the scene: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” (Mark 4:37, NIV).

Notice Jesus’ approach to the storm compared to that of the disciples, four of whom- Peter, Andrew, James, and John- were experienced fishermen and I am sure weathered many storms while on the water.

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mark 4:38, NIV, italics mine).

This must have been quite a storm to upset such experienced fishermen, but these are the same disciples who saw Jesus perform many miracles- healings, exorcisms, and raising people from the dead! The disciples’ reaction is not really that much different from ours, as we question God, asking Him, “Don’t you care about me?” or “Why did You let this happen?”

“He [Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be Still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to His disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!” (Mark 4:39-41, NIV).

The storm did not catch Jesus off guard, just as He knows when the storms will come in your life. Man with his radar technology tries to predict when storms will come in and determine their path. However, despite our technological advancements, the weather predictions do not always pan out, due to circumstances beyond our control- the wind could shift the weather front. God’s “radar” is never wrong.

Just as Jesus and His disciples had contrasting reactions to the storm, my dogs have different reactions. My other dog, Maggie, is older than Henry and has seen many storms. Being the older, more experienced dog, Maggie can sleep easy through the strongest summer thunderstorms. As we grow older in our faith, we can rest easier with each passing storm, because we know the Lord has carried us through so many storms before.

Our response can determine the length of the storm. If we have right thinking and are standing on the Word of God, we can stand upright. We go through storms so that we may be a future comfort to someone else. Jesus knew He was going to quiet the storm. He knew His disciples had not built up their faith to ride out the storm. Jesus also knew something that the disciples did not know- that there was a demon possessed man on the other side of the Sea of Galilee who needed to be delivered. The disciples went through the storm so another man could be delivered from a legion of demons and proclaim Jesus’ work.

Just as God spoke to Job in the midst of his “whirlwind,” so too can God speak and comfort us in our storms. God will also sustain us in the storm.

“When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.” (Proverbs 10:25, NIV).

The Lord will also guide us out of the storm:

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven.” (Psalm 107:28-30, NIV).

God bless you all.