Powerful Words for Times Like These

Have you ever experienced something that absolutely knocked you off your feet? Have you ever been so terrified that you completely froze?

I think of recent events in Paris and California. There were people in both incidents who were so terrified that the only thing they could think of to do was to pretend they were dead. They played “possum” as their only means of survival.

The apostle John had this very experience himself. As the book of Revelation opens, the apostle John turns around to see a rather terrifying vision of “someone like a son of man” that caused him to fall down and become motionless as though he were dead.

The vision was a vision of Jesus in all his power, with all his authority, and all his holiness in full evidence. The thing is, no one can stand in the presence of such glory — not even “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” In reality, John was blessed to be only “as though dead,” and not really, truly dead.

But what happens next is absolutely wonderful, and perhaps a bit unexpected given the vision John is seeing. Jesus’ next action makes explicit the kind of relationship he wants to have with his people. The powerful, authoritative, holy Son of God places his right hand on his apostle, and he says four very powerful words to him: “Do not be afraid.”

What amazing words! And what an amazing act that Jesus placed his right hand on John. The significance of Jesus placing his right hand on John — a significance that can easily be missed — is incredible. In ancient times, a person of very high rank would place his right hand on a person to indicate that he is giving him equal honor with himself and recognizing him to be a person of equal dignity and authority.

The beautiful symmetry of this is that Jesus himself stands at the right hand of God the Father, even as he places his right hand on John. This shows that the one granting such mercy to John is the Messiah to whom is given the power and authority to subdue his enemies. Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

This is the Son of God who is rightly terrifying to sinners. This is also the Savior of all mankind, who in grace and mercy looks at a sinner like me (and like you) and tells us in mercy and grace, “Do not be afraid.”

Jesus says to each of us, “Do not be afraid of me. Do not be afraid of beginnings or endings. Do not be afraid even of death. I have my hand on your shoulder. I give you equal honor to myself. I assure you that you possess the same dignity and authority as I do. By faith, you are mine, and all I possess is now yours.”

Do not be afraid. Just four simple words. But, what powerful words for times like these!

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18, NIV).

Jesus, help me to hear your voice speaking to me, “Do not be afraid.” I repent of the times when I have allowed my life to be driven by fear, and my heart splintered with terror. Allow me through your promises and your Spirit’s power to be fully confident that your right hand is also on my shoulder.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 9, is Zechariah 9:1 – 11:17, Revelation 1:1-20 and Psalm 140:1-5.

Header image based on "Paris" by Moyan Brenn, CC By 2.0

Faith Over Fear

When trouble comes, do you run away from it, or do you run toward it? Does trouble put you on defense, and cause you to back off, or back down? Or does trouble put you on the offense, and spur you to step up, and step forward?

These are important questions for a Christ-follower to answer. That’s why the author of the book to the Hebrews puts the question to his readers.

The Hebrews had started out early in their journey of faith by being the bold ones. They needed a reminder of this, so that they could rediscover their original confidence and endurance: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering” (Hebrews 10:32, NIV).

The fact was, their boldness had begun to wane, and their faith along with it. Some wanted to make a u-turn and go back to the Judaism they had left. And that’s the whole point of this letter to them. What they now had was superior. Why shrink back from the challenges they were now facing?

Are you sometimes tempted to make a u-turn in life and turn the clock back to a time when you were not a follower of Jesus Christ? Or do you sometimes long for a time when believing seemed easier and you didn’t feel the need to take your faith so seriously — or to exercise it so strenuously? Are the challenges you face to your life of faith causing you to have second thoughts?

Through the letter to the Hebrews, the Holy Spirit reminds us to stand strong in the love and power of God, keep the faith, and claim the crown that Christ has won for us. We are not the kind of people who cut and run.

We are the kind of people who let faith rule over fear. And in the power of him who is faithful to his promises, we endure.

“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39, NIV).

Lord, I repent of the times I allow fear to cause me to want to cut and run, to shrink back and to abandon my faith. Strengthen me by the power of the Spirit through your word and sacraments. Make me bold and remind me that I belong to those who have faith and are saved.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 11, is Ezekiel 20:45 – 22:22, Hebrews 10:19-39 and Psalm 123:1-4.

Header image based on "Hebrews 10:23" by Church Iglesia, CC By 2.0

Divine Safety Net

Marcus Aurelius was the original “philosopher-king.” Emperor of Rome for 19 years, from 161-180 AD, he was also considered one of the greatest Stoic philosophers. He was a big advocate of self-sufficiency and personal self-empowerment. He once wrote, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

What Marcus Aurelius said almost 2000 years ago has become a rallying cry for modern American culture. “It is all within yourself,” we are told. We can make our own way, create our own life, carve our own path. Be fiercely independent. Or, as Frank Sinatra famously put it in his iconic song: “I did it my way.”

But it’s all an elaborate deception. That message is a lie.

There is a much better way, and it involves not going it alone. It means doing life together with God. It entails leaning on him for strength and wisdom, for courage, forgiveness and peace. It means believing that God is right when he tells us, “Two are better than one.” And that’s especially true when one of the two is God.

Consider this. When God is at our side, we have the Creator of heaven and earth beside us. When God is at our side, we have one who never needs to rest or sleep beside us. When God is at our side, we have One who desires to shade us from harm and who wants to to keep our foot from slipping. He knows the entirety of our life, and he knows the little bits and pieces of our life too — right down to every time we leave to go somewhere, and every time we return.

Sometimes life can be as risky as a trapeze act. But God is our divine safety net. He is where our help comes from.

Which means — as the Psalmist writes — he would be a pretty good person to keep close at hand at all times.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:1-8, NIV).

Lord, thank you for being my protection. I am grateful that you watch over me, and over my coming and going. Help me to always recognize my need for you and your protection. Walk with me and guard my life.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 9, is Ezekiel 17:1 – 18:32, Hebrews 9:16-28 and Psalm 121:1-8.

Header image based on "Lily on the Net" by Eden, Janine and Jim, CC By 2.0

Live Boldly!

Most of us would love to possess more confidence and live with greater boldness. It would feel great to finally overcome the timidity and the fear that too frequently hold us back.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul urges him to conquer any timidity he might have. More importantly, he shows Timothy how to do this and live with boldness and confidence.

Timothy does not have to manufacture this confidence, Paul says. He doesn’t have to dig deep within himself to find the boldness. Nor does he have to “fake it till he makes it.”

Because, as Paul reminds him, Timothy has been given the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, he has real power, love and self-discipline to give us. When we realize that we have God’s power, love and self-discipline as our own, this generates all the boldness and confidence we need.

So, would you like to be a more confident person? Would you like to enjoy living life more boldly? This is not as difficult as it might appear.

It begins with doing the things that allow us to tap into the presence of the Holy Spirit. Through these activities we can access the power, love and self-discipline that the Holy Spirit wants to give us:

  • Have a daily time for meditation on the Bible and prayer
  • Attend church regularly — weekly, if possible
  • Join a growth group or Bible study so that you can hear from God in a group setting
  • Make a regular practice of attending Holy Communion

As you do these things, ask yourself, “Where do I see God’s power and love here? How am I encouraged to respond with thanksgiving and love for God by exercising more self-discipline?”

And most of all, remember who you are. You are a dearly loved child of God, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ. You are a disciple of the Savior who boldly and confidently went to the cross on your behalf — to win eternal victory for you. So you have every reason in the world to live with boldness and confidence.

By faith in Christ, you have the Spirit dwelling within you. Check out these gifts that the Spirit wants you to have! And live boldly, my friend!

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV).

Lord, take my timidity away. Give me your Spirit so that I may have the Spirit’s power, love and self-discipline in my life.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, October 22, is Jeremiah 48:1 – 49:6, 2 Timothy 1:1-18 and Psalm 119:81-88.

Header image based on "43: Daily Inspirational Bible Verse" by Tito and Eva Marie Balangue, CC By 2.0

Should We Fear God?

What does it mean to “fear” God? The verb, in the Hebrew language, which is the original language of the vast majority of the Old Testament, is an interesting one.

The basic meaning of the Hebrew word is actually “to be afraid of, to be aware of a threat, to be in terror.” Certainly, God does provoke fear in this sense. As we see throughout the entire Bible, those who are about to incur God’s wrath because of unbelief and unrepented sin have every reason to be afraid.

The book of Hebrews reminds us, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31, NIV).

But this is not the best definition of the word for the believer who has learned of God’s grace and forgiveness, who knows Jesus as their Savior and who is in a loving relationship with God through faith in Jesus.

Within this relationship, to “fear” God is to be respectful and reverent toward him. It is to esteem him who is our Creator, our Redeemer and our Counselor — to treat him with the honor he deserves. It is to submit to his will, recognizing in trust and obedience that his ways are true and correct.

It is to be confident that his ways are “what’s really best for me.”

This fear starts with hearing the gospel and having our hearts and minds transformed by this beautiful message of forgiveness of sins. It continues with listening to the laws of God and loving those laws because we now love the Law-giver.

The fear of God is more than an emotion or an attitude. Fear of God leads us to walk in his ways and be obedient to him. It’s putting God’s law into practice (even the ones that seem impossible for us, or unreasonable to us).

It’s living with the purpose — the very purpose that God has given us. To fear God is to actually live in the wisdom that goes far beyond the wisdom of this world. Never perfectly, of course. We are still way too sinful for that, and always will be in this life.

The “fear” of God, put simply, is to really believe that what we believe is really real.

Such fear of God has its rewards. And those rewards are pretty sweet. Solomon writes about a few of those rewards in the book of Proverbs:

“Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:26-27, NIV).

Lord, I repent of all the times in life when I fail to fear you. I know that you love me. I know that I am forgiven through the blood and the merits of Jesus Christ. Send me your Holy Spirit and give me the love and wisdom to fear you every day of my life.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, June 13, is 2 Samuel 20:1 – 21:22, Acts 8:4-40 and Proverbs 14:25-35.

Header image based on "Commandments" by Charles Clegg, CC By-SA 2.0

Jesus Did Many Things

Scarcity mentality is what it’s sometimes called. It’s the mentality that was adopted by Eeyore. You might recognize it. It’s the feeling that you just might be the one that’s being followed around by a dark cloud hanging over your head.

It’s a mentality that’s easy to develop. As humans, we tend to see trials and troubles, rather than gifts and victories. And it’s common for us to feel as if blessings are few and far between.

Scarce, in other words.

Moreover, it’s a point of view that finds it hard to see God showing up in our lives. We start to feel like God has left us to deal with life’s hardships completely on our own.

The apostle John saw it the opposite way. For him, the stories of the amazing, powerful, gracious things Jesus did during his lifetime were many.

Not scarce at all, but abundant.

If John were here today, this is what he would tell you: “This is your Savior, Jesus. His love for you is abundant. And his power at work in your life is abundant too. The Library of Congress cannot contain the stories of his love and power at work in your life.”

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, June 2, is 2 Samuel 2:8 – 3:21, John 21:1-25 and Psalm 69:1-12.

Header image based on "Very cool dark clouds" by Josh, CC By 2.0

Five Kinds of Freedom

There are so many things that shackle us in life. There are the expectations of others. There are our own self-expectations.

Then there are our hurts, our habits and our hang-ups. Perhaps we’ve recently lost a loved one, and we’re deep in grief. Maybe we can’t break an addiction’s grip despite multiple attempts to pull away. We might have a fear that we simply can’t shake. Or perhaps we made a mistake in life that seems to just keep haunting us, like a bad horror movie.

I want to remind you of something Jesus once promised, and assure you that he meant that promise. At the time, Jesus was being challenged by the Pharisees every time he taught.

But not everyone was a skeptic. Some of the Jews believed him. He spoke to these Jewish believers and made an important claim.

If they would “hold to” his teaching, they would be free. What did Jesus mean by “hold to”? And what did he mean by “free”?

If we read other places, or even if you see what Jesus says in John chapter 8 to those who claim to be the children of Abraham, to “hold to” is to believe that what a person is teaching is really the truth. I would define it as trusting Jesus’ teaching to the point of actually resting in it for peace and putting it into practice in our lives.

What Jesus meant by freedom is release from bondage to things we don’t want to be enslaved to:

  • Freedom from sins. Our sins no longer cling to us. We are released from them and washed clean… yes, of all of them!
  • Freedom from guilt and shame. We are no longer condemned before God. We are no longer self-condemned either (unless we sadly choose to be…). Instead, we can walk with our head held high, because we have been given a verdict of “not guilty” in God’s courtroom. No matter what anyone else thinks about us, we know what God says!
  • Freedom from the power of sin. The constant temptation to cave in to sin — to return to sin and do whatever it tells us to — gradually also begins to recede as the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus and his teaching. This will never be perfect as long as we are on this side of heaven, but with God’s help our “new man” can gain territory as life progresses! And that’s an awesome gift!
  • Freedom from fear-based emotions such as worry, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, fears of failure or embarrassment, and fears of loss or helplessness or loneliness. The list could go on. It could also include what I like to think of as “compensating” emotions based in pride and selfishness, arrogance and self-empowerment.
  • Freedom from the terrors of death in all its forms — spiritual, physical and most of all, eternal. Because of the teaching of Jesus, I can believe in him as my Savior and my Lord, I can pass through physical death like it’s no more than a doorway, and I can enjoy the adventure of heaven for eternity.

Hold to Jesus’ teaching. Because Jesus’ claims that his teaching is the truth. Or maybe I should say it this way: The Truth. Jesus promises you that when you hold on to The Truth, his truth and his teaching, you will be free!

All we need to do, and with God’s help can do, is rest in it every day and put it into practice in our lives.

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'” (John 8:31-32, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, May 15, is Judges 20:1 – 21:25, John 8:31-59 and Psalm 61:1-8.

Lord, Jesus, I trust in you and your teaching. Your words and promises are pure gold. Forgive me for the times I have treated them as trash. Cleanse me from my sins of self-trust and self-importance, and help me to simply rest in you and your promises. Send me your Holy Spirit and empower me to put your words into practice in my life so that I may experience all the freedom you promise.

Header image based on "UNSHACKLED" by Steve Snodgrass, CC By 2.0