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

Suffering for Doing Good

So how do you feel about that old saying, “No good deed goes unpunished”?

Are you of the opinion that this statement is dead-on correct?

Maybe you’ve experienced it personally. You resisted the temptation. You made the right decision. You took the high road. You sacrificed and you patiently stood last in line. But at the end of the day, the end result was not pretty. You didn’t get ahead. You only got further behind.

Why does this happen? Wouldn’t you think that if a dearly loved child of God made good choices — moral, God-pleasing choices — that this would be rewarded?

But so often it feels as if instead of a reward, all we get out of our suffering is more suffering. Being in agony for doing good — it just doesn’t make sense to us. And we often feel victimized when it occurs.

Peter has an antidote for the victim-mentality and turmoil in our hearts when the aforementioned, unpleasant circumstances come to pass in our lives.

His solution is to point us to the suffering of Christ. Our willingness to suffer with peace and joy in our hearts comes from recalling the cross Jesus bore. He reminds us that Jesus’ suffering is to be an inspiring example for us.

More important than that, Jesus’ suffering leaves us with a grace-altered heart. We know now that we can entrust ourselves to God. He will judge justly in the end of things.

Most critical of all, because of his suffering and sacrifice on the cross, Jesus will not judge us for our sins. Instead, he will grace us, forgive us, and heal us from our sins. Jesus’ good deed will make sure that we go unpunished — and return us to our close relationship, our right relationship, with him.

Return to Jesus, the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul, and your entire perspective on suffering will be transformed. And this is especially true when the suffering involves suffering for doing good.

 “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

 ‘He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.’

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:20a-25, NIV).

It’s true, Lord. I have strayed like a lost sheep. But you, through your suffering and sacrifice have restored me to a right relationship with yourself. Thank you for your grace and forgiveness. By your Spirit’s power, teach me do good, even if I must suffer for it.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 23, is Ezekiel 43:1 – 44:31, 1 Peter 2:4-25 and Psalm 132:1-18.

Header image based on "Stray sheep on track." by Hefin Owen, CC By-SA 2.0

Grab and Go!

Answer this one question: Who is Jesus, really?

According to the author of the book of Hebrews, he is…

  1. God’s Son
  2. Our great high priest, who represents us before the Father
  3. Our ascended Lord, who from his powerful seat at God’s right hand rules the entire universe for the church’s benefit
  4. Our empathetic Savior, who understands us perfectly because he subjected himself to every temptation we face in our daily lives
  5. Our sinless Substitute, who offers his perfection so that we might claim it as our own righteousness, and be made acceptable in the eyes of a holy God

Since this is who Jesus is, we should let no person and no event diminish our faith in him. Our faith is rightly placed when it is placed on Jesus Christ. By faith, we should fiercely cling to Jesus — like a person being lowered over the edge of a cliff by Bear Grylls clings hold of the climbing rope.

Grab hold tightly. Have no plan to loosen your grip.

And then?

We go freely to God. We approach him with confidence, as a child approaches their loving parent or grandparent. We go to him with boldness. We’re not held back by guilt or shame. We’re not worried that we’re not enough. We don’t turn and run because we’re frightened by his holiness. And we’re not angry and frustrated because we can never seem to measure up.

Jesus has that all covered for us.

So, we go to God in full freedom and with absolute confidence. And we find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.

Simple. Grab Jesus and go.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me by your Spirit’s power to grab hold tightly of you. And then, confident of your grace and mercy, guide me to go to the Father’s throne in prayer and make my requests with boldness and confidence.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, November 3, is Ezekiel 1:1 – 3:27, Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10 and Psalm 119:153-160.

Header image based on "Hebrews 4 16" by New Life Church Collingwood, CC By 2.0

Foolish and Stupid Arguments

Have you ever been in a foolish or stupid argument? I’m guessing you know what I mean — if you’re a human being, that is. I like how Dr. Emerson Eggerichs describes these kinds of disputes in his book Love and Respect. One person reacts to an event without love. This causes the second person to respond with disrespect. And thus “The Crazy Cycle” begins.

Dr. Eggerichs goes on to say, “The point is simple: Craziness happens when we keep doing the same things over and over with the same ill effect. Marriage seems to be fertile ground for this kind of craziness. Ironically, there are more books being published on marriage today than ever before… but with all our knowledge, the craziness continues” (Love and Respect, p. 29).

Intriguingly, when we look in the Bible we find that another fertile field for this kind of craziness also exists. It happens to exist in the church. Maybe that’s because the church is also “family.” We can so easily and inadvertently fall into the crazy cycle with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and keep on having the same foolish arguments over and over with ill effect.

As Paul writes this message, he realizes he is about to be martyred. So when he counsels a much younger pastor Timothy, he is giving him the benefit of his many years of leadership experience in the church. And he is doing this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have much time left, so it pains him greatly to see anyone investing precious resources in the pursuit of foolishness.

“Don’t waste time and energy on quarreling over dumb things,” he advises Timothy. Paul was always up for a good fight when it involved important matters. He was not one to shy away from conflict by any means. But inane arguments and discussions? Paul tells Timothy: “Have nothing to do with them!”

“Replace an argumentative bent with kindness,” Paul encourages Timothy. “And don’t let anger take root in your heart. Because that will only lead to bitterness and long-term resentment.”

“When someone stands up to oppose you, be a gentle listener — a teacher who keeps his cool. Be firm, but very, very patient with those who refuse to listen to you.”

“After all,” Paul reminds Timothy, “God is intimately involved in all the affairs of his church. He is present. So we should always remember that God might wake them up and turn them around to see that what they are doing and saying is really from the devil. And then, with their eyes opened, they can escape the trap Satan has set for them.”

Great advice for the church in Paul’s day! And it remains wise counsel for us in the church (or the Christian family) of today!

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NIV).

Lord, I am sorry for all the time I’ve wasted in foolish and stupid arguments. Please forgive me, Jesus. Thank you for shedding your blood to forgive me for wasting valuable time. Help me to rid my heart of all bitterness and resentment. You had every right to stay angry with me forever, but you did not. You forgave me, as the prophet Micah proclaimed long ago: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 23, is Jeremiah 49:7 – 50:10, 2 Timothy 2:1-26 and Proverbs 25:21 – 26:2.

Header image based on "Argument" by Kurt Bauschardt, CC By-SA 2.0

Handling Anger

Laurence J. Peter is best known for the formulation of the Peter Principle: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” But he is also well known for helping identify the noblest of all dogs: “The noblest of all dogs is the hot-dog; it feeds the hand that bites it.”

Peter also had something important (and humorous) to say about anger, and you probably haven’t heard this one: “Speak when you are angry — and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

Anger is a volatile emotion, and it has to be handled very carefully. Really, for those of us who are Christ-followers, it has to be handled by Jesus. So what does it look like when Jesus lives inside of an angry person? How do we handle anger when Jesus guides our hearts and minds?

Paul describes that for us in Ephesians, chapter 4:

  • Anger is handled with truth.
  • Anger itself, while not a sin, is handled as a potential trap door easily leading to sin.
  • Anger is handled in a timely fashion. If at all possible, it is resolved daily, so that grudges don’t build.
  • Anger is handled without acts of revenge, like stealing to get back at someone.
  • Anger is handled with speech intended to build up, not rip apart or tear down.
  • Anger is handled by recalling that that the devil is the real enemy.
  • Anger is handled by recalling that the Holy Spirit has identified us as his own.
  • Anger is handled by deleting options like bitterness, rage, brawling, slander and malice.
  • Anger is handled with kindness and compassion.
  • Anger is handled with forgiveness.

And since God has every right to be angry with us because of our sins, the most important thing to remember is that we are sorely in need of forgiveness too. It is much easier to forgive and handle anger positively when we recall that we have hurt and angered God many times, and he has always forgiven us. And he always will forgive us.

Because forgiven people forgive others.

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for forgiving me for all my sins. You have every reason to be angry with me. I have sinned against you in my thoughts, my words and my actions. And yet, you have forgiven me time and time again. Please help me to handle my anger with grace and mercy, and to show the same forgiveness and love to others who have hurt and angered me. Live in me so that you can handle my anger for me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, September 26, is Isaiah 63:1 – 65:16, Ephesians 4:17 – 5:7 and Psalm 112:1-10.

Header image based on "Gazed and confused" by jazbeck, CC By 2.0

Redefining Rituals

Rituals are nurturing practices that allow us to learn about God and be reminded of his most important attributes — his holiness, his love, his omnipotence, his mercy, his omniscience and his forgiveness.

Healthy worship rituals help us to meditate on God’s holy will expressed in the law. And they help us dwell again and again on God’s gracious promises expressed in the gospel. Rituals help us to form helpful habits that feed our faith, and do so on a consistent basis over the long haul.

All this is a good thing — a very good thing!

Yet, there is a danger inherent in rituals. If we’re not cautious about rituals, we can lose the substance of our faith in the midst of carrying out the ritual forms of our faith. Though it looks perfectly healthy and right on cursory examination from the outside, faith becomes an empty shell.

That’s what occurred with the Jews in the days of Isaiah. They were still faithfully carrying out the practices and rituals of their faith. But somewhere in the midst of carrying out their worship rituals, they had lost their love for God and their neighbor. The things most important to God were ignored, while the things most abhorrent to God were affirmed.

God — through Isaiah — suggested that his people needed to seriously evaluate themselves and redefine their rituals, such as fasting. The most important “fast” is not simply to give up eating. It’s to share our food with those who are hungry. It’s to provide travelers with shelter. It is to give clothes to those who lack clothing to wear. It is to bring justice and mercy to those who are oppressed and being treated unjustly.

Making this change was critically important to God. So as a special encouragement to the Jews to redefine their rituals, God also attached promises of grace to his command to do so. He tells the Jews that those who will redefine fasting in this way will see their influence grow. They will experience God’s protection and his blessing on their work. They will see their needs being met. He even promises that health and strength will be the hallmark of the people who “fast” in this new way.

Fast-forward to us, today, already living in a position of great influence, highly secure and protected, not to mention quite wealthy (certainly far beyond needs simply being met), with the best health and medical care in the world. That’s not to mention the even more important spiritual wealth that we possess. Jesus, God’s Son, has given us his righteousness, peace, faithful love, forgiveness, the power to experience a changed life, and the right to call ourselves the children of God with eternal life as our inherited destiny.

Every now and then it’s good for us, as well, to evaluate our hearts and examine our rituals. It’s a healthy exercise to reconsider and, if necessary, redefine. It’s important to make sure that we have not lost the substance of our gratitude and love for God, or buried our love for our neighbor somewhere beneath the ritual rubble that’s supposed to be nurturing our faith.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:6-11, NIV). 

Lord, I thank you for your many blessings. You have graciously provided all I need for my body and life, as well as for my heart and soul. Help me to notice the needs of others and willingly seek to serve and generously give to those who need my help and assistance. Help me to love my neighbor as I love myself. Strengthen me to love sacrificially, as you have first loved me.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, September 24, is Isaiah 57:14 – 59:21, Ephesians 3:1-21 and Psalm 111:1-10.

Header image based on "Charity in the dictionary" by Howard Lake, CC By-SA 2.0

Incomparable God, Incomparable Grace

Anger is a tricky emotion. It can come out as a loud, violent and destructive explosion. But it can also simmer underneath the surface, quietly, almost unnoticeably.

When that happens, it’s not unusual for the anger to simmer for a long time. Bitterness kicks in. A deep-seated grudge develops. Like soup left to simmer for way too long, the relationship that is impacted by the grudge slowly but surely begins to dry up and evaporate, leaving behind only a hardened crust of the former relationship.

With both Israel and Judah doing the kinds of things that make God angry, it wouldn’t have been surprising had God decided to forsake them forever. It wouldn’t have been a shock if the LORD had decided to hold a grudge against them.

But it’s not in God’s character to nurse a grudge. And that makes him like no other. Because by his very nature, he is forgiving. He does not stay angry. His specialty is mercy and pardon. The thing that absolutely switches God on, that energizes him, is taking our sins and crushing them into dust and then throwing that dust into the deepest part of the ocean.

Our God — because of his grace — is incomparable.

Do you want to stand out in a crowd? You couldn’t pick a better way than to reflect the gracious character of God! And the way to do that is to pray and ask for God’s help and strength to make good choices about your anger.

With the Spirit’s help, choose not to nurse grudges any longer. Select forgiveness and mercy over wrath and justice. Let the thing that energizes you be the joy you get when you forgive someone who has hurt you — perhaps even hurt you deeply. Make showing compassion your daily pursuit.

And as you walk with Jesus Christ, realize that you need to wear steel-toed boots. Because part of the path involves treading sins underfoot and hurling iniquities into the depths of the sea.

“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19, NIV).

Lord, you have been shockingly merciful and forgiving toward me. My sins have been tread underfoot by you. My iniquities have been hurled into the depths of the sea. Help me to forgive others as you have first forgiven me.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, September 1, is Micah 5:1 – 7:20, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 and Proverbs 21:17-26.

Header image based on "work boots" by Wayne Truong, CC By 2.0