We’re all in this together

Wars, pestilence, political turmoil, and the increased lawlessness in the world today are frightening. Every day we hear about people dying from disease or violence. Circumstances like these tend to make us more aware of our own mortality.

In the past two years several of my close relatives have died. When some of my family members were dying, hospice workers came in and helped to ease the final days for my loved ones. Their gentle, compassionate care was a real blessing to our whole family.

It occurred to me that we shouldn’t need to experience a fatal illness in order to be treated with such tender, loving care.

Perhaps if we took the same care of one another’s comfort and dignity on a day-to-day basis as the hospice care people do for their clients this would be a much nicer world.

In today’s atmosphere of hostility and uncertainty, such consideration is needed more than ever.

In one respect the family of God is in the hospice care business, helping people live the most beautiful, fulfilling lives they can as they journey toward inevitable death … only we have an extra benefit to offer: eternal life with Jesus.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35 (NIV)
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What’s next?

From time to time, we all have to face circumstances we fear; whether a trip to the dentist, a bad medical diagnosis and painful treatments, breaking bad news to a loved one, or simply facing a new, unfamiliar situation. As much as we would like to avoid them, sometimes our fears must be met head on.

Surrendering to fear goes against God’s Word.

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

Isaiah 41:10

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

Especially today, when we face previously unimaginable challenges almost every day, it is helpful to develop strategies to get through these potentially paralyzing fears.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

I have learned to cope with fearful situations by thinking past them and visualizing what I will do afterwards. With my mouthful of scary dental equipment, I will imagine myself saying, “Farewell,” to the dentist, getting into my car, and driving home. I try to imagine this what’s next scenario in the greatest detail I can, adding sights, sensations, and even smells.

While I’ve found this to be a useful tool when facing things that intimidate me in my personal life, I think it works in the larger context, as well.

Looking at the dire predictions or potential catastrophes in our world as temporary conditions to live through on our journey to Heaven puts them and our fears into perspective.

Even the most unpleasant circumstance can be more easily tolerated when we see ourselves beyond it.

It helps to think about what comes next.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven…

Matthew 5:12
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OMG?

O my God, I trust in You;

Let me not be ashamed;

Let not my enemies triumph over me.

Psalm 25:2

On television home makeover shows, the people often react to the reveal by crying, “Oh, my God!”

“OMG” is a common social media acronym to show amazement about something. These initials stand for “Oh, my God.”

In the Bible, we see this expression used to cry out to God in either praise, thanksgiving, or petition, as in the Psalms of David. It is a way of addressing our Creator, showing respect and acknowledging our relationship to Him.

11 ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

Deuteronomy 5:11

When we cry out, “Oh, my God!” to express mild surprise or annoyance, or mindless excitement, with no thought of our Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient Creator, isn’t that a perfect example of using His name in vain?

The ancient Hebrews treated God’s very name with reverence and awe. When we trivialize references to our Lord, we undermine His presence in our lives.

Using this expression casually can become a habit that is difficult to break. Perhaps, whenever we find ourselves writing or uttering these words, or even the initials, we should complete the thought with words of praise and thanksgiving. We are, after all, calling upon God’s attention. Let’s give Him something worth listening to.

O God, You are my God;

Early will I seek You;

Psalm 63:1

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“Fear not,” still bears repeating…and obeying

You can be certain that in the last days there will be some very hard times. People will love only themselves and money. They will be proud, stuck-up, rude, and disobedient to their parents. They will also be ungrateful, godless, heartless, and hateful. Their words will be cruel, and they will have no self-control or pity. These people will hate everything that is good. They will be sneaky, reckless, and puffed up with pride. Instead of loving God, they will love pleasure. Even though they will make a show of being religious, their religion won’t be real. Don’t have anything to do with such people.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (CEV)

The two words the New Testament records as repeated most often from the lips of Jesus are Fear not. The fact that Jesus said these words so often lets us know how important they are, especially for us today.

FDR’s famous “nothing to fear but fear itself” seems ludicrous when we have only to look around us to see that this world is a scary place with plenty to be afraid of. However, FDR knew that fear is a powerful weapon of the enemy; instilling fear in your opponent causes confusion, discouragement, and saps his will to resist.

Our Enemy today knows this tactic well. Fear causes us to distrust our neighbors, draw into ourselves, and retreat from challenges. In the Spiritual Battle we face, we must not allow ourselves to succumb to the enervating forces of fear.

When you find yourself being overwhelmed with feelings of fear and despair, do a Bible search, either online or in your concordance, for verses related to fear and courage, like those below, and be filled with God’s peace.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

7For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

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Self-evident Truth

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights

Declaration of Independence

When our founding fathers were struggling against the tyrannical rule of British King George and his poor treatment of the Colonies, they agonized over the decision to fight for independence and how to present their case to the world. In making their declaration, the very first words acknowledge the self-evident and widely accepted truth of a Creator.

As we approach our July Fourth Independence Day celebrations it is worth noting that the latest national poll indicates that only 81% of Americans claim to believe there is a God.

This is no surprise, as our government and institutions have been waging a war on belief in God for decades. This denigration of a Creator has led to a devaluation of our Constitution, as well.

It may actually be surprising that the percentage is as high as it is, considering the current cultural climate. However, unless it is actively suppressed, there is a core in most thinking people which observes the majesty and complicated minutia of creation and knows this didn’t result from random chance.

20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.

Romans 1:20

Whether from pride, ignorance, or a desire to be their own god, those who close their eyes to the truth are without excuse and will ultimately see that God is real, to their eternal chagrin.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

Psalm 19

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A tool to help us cling to the narrow way

All around us civil society seems to be disintegrating, with immorality, debauchery, and depravity being openly, proudly, promoted as the approved lifestyle.

When clinging to Biblical standards is attacked as not just old-fashioned and out-of-step, but actually bigoted and dangerous, it is important to get back to basics to remember why our struggle is so terribly important.

Daily studying of the Scriptures is necessary, of course, but from time to time it is helpful to see Biblical truths condensed into a simpler narrative.

I have found that occasionally re-reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress is helpful. Even in the original with its archaic language, the eternal truth comes through. There are modern language editions which are extremely helpful, too.

The most recent iteration of this classic, a twenty-first century retelling, The Postmodern Pilgrim’s Progress: An Allegorical Tale, by Kyle Mann and Joel Berry (of Babylon Bee fame) applies most pertinently to our current culture.

Written in a style reminiscent of the late Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), the book uses humor, pathos, and rock-solid Biblical truth to brilliantly expose the struggle today’s Christians face as we try to keep our eyes on Christ and our feet on the narrow path.

In a world of distractions and excesses we need all the help we can get. I think everyone should read this important and enjoyable book.

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Weary?

Does it seem to you that our world is falling apart? That no matter how we try, those who scoff at the bounds of decency and truth seem to prevail? Is this a sure sign of the End Times? Is God about go all Sodom and Gomorrah on us?

While we see in Scripture that God certainly does chastise whole nations when He sees fit, we also see that He deals with individuals with infinite patience, and that centuries are the same as nano-seconds for God.

We can’t know if the Lord is preparing to soon wreak judgment on our pagan nations, or if His plans are for Good to win this skirmish in the spiritual battle, but we can know how He wants His people to respond.

King David shared our frustrations and wrote about his feelings beautifully in Psalm 73:

1-5 No doubt about it! God is good—
    good to good people, good to the good-hearted.
But I nearly missed it,
    missed seeing his goodness.
I was looking the other way,
    looking up to the people
At the top,
    envying the wicked who have it made,
Who have nothing to worry about,
    not a care in the whole wide world.

6-10 Pretentious with arrogance,
    they wear the latest fashions in violence,
Pampered and overfed,
    decked out in silk bows of silliness.
They jeer, using words to kill;
    they bully their way with words.
They’re full of hot air,
    loudmouths disturbing the peace.
People actually listen to them—can you believe it?
    Like thirsty puppies, they lap up their words.

The wicked get by with everything;
    they have it made, piling up riches.
I’ve been stupid to play by the rules;
    what has it gotten me?
A long run of bad luck, that’s what—
    a slap in the face every time I walk out the door.

15-20 If I’d have given in and talked like this,
    I would have betrayed your dear children.
Still, when I tried to figure it out,
    all I got was a splitting headache . . .
Until I entered the sanctuary of God.
    Then I saw the whole picture:
The slippery road you’ve put them on,
    with a final crash in a ditch of delusions.
In the blink of an eye, disaster!
    A blind curve in the dark, and—nightmare!
We wake up and rub our eyes. . . . Nothing.
    There’s nothing to them. And there never was.

21-24 When I was beleaguered and bitter,
    totally consumed by envy,
I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox
    in your very presence.
I’m still in your presence,
    but you’ve taken my hand.
You wisely and tenderly lead me,
    and then you bless me.

25-28 You’re all I want in heaven!
    You’re all I want on earth!
When my skin sags and my bones get brittle,
    God is rock-firm and faithful.
Look! Those who left you are falling apart!
    Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again.
But I’m in the very presence of God—
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

Psalm 73 (MSG)

So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9 (NET)
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We still have a choice

After a recent prayer session spent complaining to the Lord about all my concerns, I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4, that he had found “the secret of being content in any and every situation,” and his advice in his letter to the Thessalonians to” give thanks in all circumstances.” I was inspired to ask forgiveness for my discontentment.

If I truly believe that God is a loving God who hears and answers prayer, that He wants what is eternally best for me, and that everything He allows in my life is for my good and His glory, how can I be discontented? 

Like Paul, I should choose to be content in every situation. Paul found the strength of will to be content in the harshest circumstances by accepting God’s will and by being grateful for whatever God allowed in his life.

Gratitude and discontentment cannot coexist for long. Sooner or later, one will dominate and extinguish the other. The one we feed and nurture will grow strong, while the other will shrivel through neglect. What begins as merely a transient emotion can become a fixed viewpoint, always seeking reasons to take offense and complain.

Paul chose to adopt an attitude of gratitude, looking always for the eternal perspective in his life rather than dwelling on the various temporary thorns and afflictions that beset us all.

Our culture today seems to be driven by discontentment. The Blame Game is becoming our national pastime. While dissatisfaction with the status quo can be an impetus for improvement and growth, it is necessary to stop focusing on the problems and begin taking stock of the good that exists before we can imagine how to make things better.

We can choose to focus on the irritants and disappointments in life or we can look for the blessings in our very existence.

Paul was an exceptional man and an example to us all. He lived his life to point us to the ultimate example of the life well-lived, Jesus Christ.

I am a Christian who believes all the incredible, wonderful, amazing things God’s word tells me. I know I’ve been granted salvation by grace. How can I not choose to be grateful?

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Deliver us from evil

And lead us not into temptation,
    But deliver us from evil

Matthew 6:13

It is undeniably true that evil exists. Where there are selfish people, there will always be acts of evil; acts that willfully cause pain and suffering to others. While we can sometimes understand evil acts committed for personal gain, heinous evil committed for its own sake is incomprehensible.

When Christ taught his disciples to pray for deliverance from evil, he knew they would be subject to the evil acts in the world around them, just as we all are. He didn’t tell them to ask for protection from evil, but deliverance.

Coming right after the plea to, “lead us not into temptation,” could this be recognition of our human temptation to respond to evil with evil of our own? Could the verse be interpreted as “deliver us from doing evil?”

Matthew 6:13 is often translated, “…deliver us from the evil one.” We know from the rest of Scripture that the Evil One, Satan, wants to appeal to our baser urges and to tempt us to draw ever further from the Lord’s presence in our lives. We need to pray for God to deliver us from this evil influence which exists all around us.

When confronted by inexplicable evil, such as we have been in Uvalde, Texas, this week, it is tempting to try to make sense of it by lashing out and laying blame, rather than upholding the hurting families in our prayers for comfort and healing.

And lead us not into temptation,
    But deliver us from evil, for yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory, Forever. Amen

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A matter of trust

During the 1960’s there began a shift away from innocence in our country. Young people were urged to “trust no one over thirty” and told that our government was irredeemably corrupt. As many of our elected representatives failed to keep campaign promises or were exposed as immoral or corrupt, our confidence diminished further.

The exaggerations, media spin, and outright lies promoted during our last election, the pandemic, and since have led to a deep skepticism of our formerly trusted institutions.

It seems that trust has been another victim of the pandemic.

When there is nothing to trust, the world becomes a frightening place. People may panic and react irrationally in their attempts to find something to cling to.

However, we can take heart that through all of this turmoil there is One in whom we can place our trust without fear of being disappointed.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

While experience shows us that even the most well meaning among us are prone to bad choices and mistakes which let us down, Our Lord never will.

It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in man.

Psalm 118:8
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