Where to Look When You’re Hurting

There’s a little voice inside all of our heads that likes to speak up when we’re in the midst of trouble and hard times.

And this voice likes to say something along these lines: “If God really loved me, and if God really had his eye on me, and if God is all-powerful as he claims to be, then why wouldn’t he prevent all these troubles and hardships? What’s the point? Why would a loving, powerful God want to see me suffer like this?”

That voice can be a powerful voice at times. And listening to it can really derail our faith.

“God has forgotten me,” it tells us.

Or, “God does not want me,” or “God hates me,” or worst of all, “There is no such thing as God.” After all, we think, if there really were a loving God, why would he continue to let me twist in the wind in such agony and misery?

This is why it’s so important to constantly go back to the promises of the Bible and have our hearts and minds informed from the word of God rather than from our own human reasoning based on current events in our lives. If we try to figure things out without the word of God, our judgment will be clouded and we’ll end up reaching the wrong conclusions.

Paul directed the Romans’ attention to God’s promises and God’s heart, reminding them that God’s true intentions with all of us are motivated by love. When we’re determined to go our own way, he may allow us the freedom to go that way. But his goal is never our destruction or death. He takes no pleasure in rejecting us or removing us from his presence.

God’s end game is always to move us toward reconciliation and eternal salvation. Think of the story of the Prodigal Son. Everything he does is designed to lead us back into his loving, forgiving and merciful arms.

“For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:32, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, July 28, is 1 Chronicles 4:9 – 5:26, Romans 11:11-32 and Psalm 89:19-29.

Lord, help me to always look to your words and promises in tough times. In my troubled heart, I am tempted to believe that you are so angry with me that you want to cut me off from your love. Assure me always that nothing pleases you more than when I turn away from my sins and return to you. Help me to know that you will welcome me with open and loving arms.

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The Pain of Abandonment, The Joy of Perfect Connectedness

Every now and then we come across abandoned buildings. Have you ever noticed that sense of loneliness associated with an empty, desolate, deserted building? It’s difficult not to think of it as a place that was once busy and bustling, and filled with people, relationships, purpose and love.

It’s not so very different with people.

Have you ever gotten the feeling that you’ve been abandoned? Have you ever experienced the loneliness of being left behind? Sometimes it’s friends who don’t stick with you through thick and thin, as you expected them to do. Or perhaps you’ve gone through the agony of separation in your marriage, or the geographical (and not infrequently the emotional) distancing that comes with moving away from home. Or maybe you were the one who stayed back and experienced the pain of the “empty nest.”

Separation from the love of our family and friends — whether emotional rejection or geographical distance — is painful. It can lead to inner struggles with our self-confidence and outer struggles with our sleep schedule, amongst other things. The pain of abandonment is very real, and very acute.

But have you also noticed that there seem to be people who are somewhat independent of the hurt that other people can cause them? Not entirely, of course. It almost always hurts to be abandoned by and separated from those we love.

But some seem to be able to rise above this pain. What is about them that allows them to do this?

I contend that they have someone in their life whose love is steady and faithful.

As Paul writes to the Romans, he talks about Someone who is not just any someone. He our Creator, our Sustainer, our Heavenly Father. He is the One who planned and carried out a plan of salvation, a plan that involved the sacrifice of his one and only Son. This One — God — pledges that nothing will be able to separate us from his love. He will never abandon us — no matter what challenges or obstacles we might face in life. He will never leave us nor forsake us, no matter how many others do.

His connection to us is perfect and forever. With him, the outcome is always the same. We will overcome. We will win. We will conquer.

Against all comers. And even despite all leavers.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, July 24, is Hosea 10:1 – 11:11, Romans 8:18-39 and Psalm 89:1-8.

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No Excuse

It’s not easy to talk about these things. These are decidedly inconvenient and unpleasant truths.

But the apostle Paul did not hold anything back. He really wanted to tackle a question that he must have been asked many times. I know I have been asked this question more than once.

And the question is this: “What about all the people who haven’t had a chance to hear about Jesus? What is God going to do with them? How could God ever consign such people to eternal condemnation in hell?”

Paul’s answer is that God has not hidden from anyone. He’s given us instincts. And he has shown up in creation. Anyone who is willing to study a bit, open their eyes and see — in other words, listen to those instincts — will understand that there has to be someone who designed all this.

Have you ever had a spiritual moment in nature? Have you ever gazed at the stars through a telescope, or observed a living cell through the lens of a microscope? Have you ever watched a lion or a cheetah pursue it’s prey, or an elk nurse its young?

Have you ever felt a close bond to a pet? Or an attraction to a cute puppy or kitten at the pound?

Why is the ocean so beautiful? Why are the mountains so majestic? Why are the waves of grass on the prairies so mesmerizing? What makes the wind blowing through the trees or the drumbeat of raindrops on the roof sound so magical to our human ears?

Do the sights, the sounds, the smells of nature ever make you think of the possibility of heaven? The scent of pine trees does it for me!

If your answer, like mine, is yes, then know that you’re not alone. That’s exactly the way God designed it to be.

And that’s why, as Paul says so bluntly and clearly, we are without excuse if we choose to screw our eyes and ears shut and ignore all our instincts:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, July 13, is 2 Kings 24:8 – 25:30, Romans 1:18-32 and Psalm 84:8-12.

Lord, open my eyes to see you and know you as the only true God, and to trust in Jesus Christ whom you have sent for my salvation.

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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto!

Did you get the feeling today? By that, I mean the “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!” feeling…

Let’s face facts. Those who hold that the Bible is completely true in all its parts, and absolutely relevant and applicable to our lives today are now in the minority in the United States. Honestly, we probably have been for a while.

So, it’s not always easy to be a Christ-follower. Our world has become increasingly foreign to us. Sometimes we’re not the most popular people. And certainly, our views about things are, at times, totally detested by the majority culture in the United States (and elsewhere around the world).

As our culture moves further and further from a Biblical worldview, we need to look more and more closely at the apostle Paul.  He operated in a world that actually knew nothing about a Biblical worldview. Further, Paul’s world had absolutely no history or cultural memory of such a worldview. Imagine that world for a moment!

We will benefit greatly from studying his approach, because what we will see is that Christians who are both grace-filled and truth-filled can do very well in such a world. Even more, we will see that the Christian faith can not only survive in such a scenario, it can thrive and grow!

The city of Corinth was not exactly the kind of place that put godly morals on prominent display. Just the opposite! But the apostle Paul shows us we need not fear. It’s not necessary to shrink back and be silent. Rather it’s necessary to dive right into the fray.

Withdraw? Not at all! Instead, engage that world.

Notice, however, Paul’s engagement was not a political engagement. It was a law-gospel engagement. He “devoted himself exclusively to preaching.” We have a Savior to offer the world. We have divine truth to extend to our neighbors. We have amazing grace and certain forgiveness to give away. We have life and peace — in this life, and more importantly, in the life to come.

We, like Paul, need to teach and live in God’s grace and God’s truth — gently, winningly, and also pointedly. No, it won’t always be easy. We can expect that people won’t understand or agree with us. Some will actively oppose us. And some will go further than that and become abusive.

But that didn’t stop Paul. And it won’t stop us, either! When it comes to teaching about the truth and love of Jesus, we will not yield, but press on. When it comes to enduring abuse, we will not freak out or become unnerved, but quietly repay evil with good.

“Love!” is always our job description as Christ-followers. Love by sharing truth. And love by showing kindness.

“After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth… Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles'” (Acts 18:1, 4-6, NIV).

Lord, help me to be bold to proclaim Jesus to a fallen world, to proclaim divine truth to a deceived world, and to proclaim God’s love to a hurting world.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, June 27, is 1 Kings 18:16 – 19:21, Acts 17:22 – 18:8 and Psalm 78:17-31.

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Powerful Tools and a Thoughtful Process

Paul was now on his second missionary journey. He had developed a methodical process for sharing the gospel.

He knows where he wants to begin. He would start with those who already had a base of knowledge about the true God — the Jews. In this way, he could quickly build up a congregation in a city or town. He would begin with people who were already mature in their faith in God, but simply needed to hear that God’s messianic promises had been fulfilled in Jesus.

He’s willing to invest time. In the case of the Thessalonians, he would devote three weeks showing the Jewish people that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah. His goal was to keep the conversation going from one Sabbath to the next, and then to the next.

He’s clear about his approach. Paul doesn’t argue. He doesn’t preach at the people from on high. Rather he simply “reasons with them” using the Scriptures as the basis for his reasoning. He explains the Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillments.

And finally, his goal is firmly in mind. He desires to demonstrate clearly — “to prove,” as Luke writes — that Jesus is truly the Messiah.

Generally, whenever we are using a powerful tool or instrument, it’s a good thing to have a process. Doctors have processes as they practice surgery. Special forces have processes as they utilize advanced weaponry to carry out a mission. Contractors have processes as they use heavy machinery or power tools to build homes.

Christians have powerful tools at their disposal too. The Bible. Baptism. The Lord’s Supper. These are supernaturally filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. And they have the capability of conveying the Spirit into the hearts of the people who listen to them and put them into practice.

Do you have a process, like Paul did, as you go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV)? 

Consider using Paul’s process…

  1. Know where you want to begin. Write down the names of some people you want to start with. Put that list in a place where you will see it regularly. Pray for them. And then, when the timing is right, begin to share your faith with them. Or, like Paul, think of a place that might be conducive to sharing your faith. At CrossWalk we have Bible classes at Starbucks, and guests sometimes just come and join us!
  2. Be willing to invest time. The Holy Spirit often does his work slowly and gradually. Just keep the conversation going. Use today’s conversation to set up the next one.
  3. Be clear about your approach. And there is no one right approach. The power is in the word and sacraments, not the approach. That being said, there is a lot to be said for an approach that is not argumentative or “preachy.” Use Biblical truth and reason with people on the basis of the Scriptures.
  4. Keep the true goal firm in your mind. You want people to hear about Jesus, about his grace, forgiveness, mercy and steadfast love. You may need to set this up by showing people their need for a Savior. But the goal is never to moralize or show someone how to be better in their own strength or wisdom. The goal is always to bring the grace and peace of Jesus to troubled hearts.

“As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said” (Acts 17:2-3, NIV).

Jesus, help me to carry out the Great Commission you have given us to make disciples. Thank you for the powerful tools you have put at my disposal — the word and sacraments. Help me to have a wise and thoughtful process for putting them to use in my life, so that I can glorify you in the world, and share the love of Jesus with others.

Our Bible reading for Friday, June 26, is 1 Kings 16:8 – 18:15, Acts 17:1-21 and Psalm 78:9-16.

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Track Record

Sometimes when we go through really tough times in life, we begin to question God’s love for us, or God’s ability to change things for the better.

Asaph, who wrote Psalm 77, demonstrates a good approach for times like this. He shows us that, as he goes through his own tough times and doubts, he takes the opportunity to step back and remember that God has a track record.

And that track record is one we all ought to examine from time to time. We’ll find a pattern of love. We’ll discover a habit of grace and mercy. We’ll observe a custom of displaying infinite power — for just the right reasons, at just the right time.

Which quite possibly begs the question: Is this the right time for you to remember God’s track record, to consider it, to meditate on it, even?

You can find that amazing track record right here in the Bible!

“I will remember the deeds of the Lordyes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:11-15, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, June 23, is 1 Kings 11:14 – 12:24, Acts 15:22-41 and Psalm 77:10-20.

Lord, help me recall your track record. Help me remember your deeds and miracles, your works and might. Most of all, help me remember your grace and mercy in Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord and my Savior.

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Worth Fighting For

This is the age-old debate. Is Jesus enough? Or do we need to add something of our own?

Paul and Barnabas were dealing with some people who had come into their home congregation in Antioch to teach the people that Jesus was not enough. They told the people in Antioch, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1, NIV).

Paul and Barnabas knew this was completely incorrect. They knew the truth. Jesus is enough. He is completely sufficient. And he has taken care of everything we need for salvation.

So they pushed back. Big time. Even to the extent of traveling all the way from Antioch to Jerusalem to defend the truth that it’s all about the grace of God.

They knew well, there’s no ceremony, no tradition, no act of goodness, no performance of duty, and no obedience to the law that’s needed from us. It’s purely and solely by God’s undeserved love and unmerited favor that we are saved.

Jesus has done it all.

How amazing is that?! What peace there is for those who know of God’s grace! And neither Paul nor Barnabas were about to allow anyone to steal that peace from their brothers and sisters in Christ at Antioch.

For them, and for us, the grace of God is always something worth fighting for!

“No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:11, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for your amazing grace! Thank you for the peace it brings me. I trust that you have done everything needed to win forgiveness and eternal salvation for me. Help me fight away every thought or suggestion that would attempt to sway my heart or mind away from you, Jesus, and your pure grace.

Our Bible reading for Monday, June 22, is 1 Kings 9:10 – 11:13, Acts 15:1-21 and Psalm 77:1-9.

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