Fear Not

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)

There are certainly plenty of things in this life that cause fear and anxiety.  Natural disasters seem to be everywhere.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and floods.  Nations rattling their sabers. And then there are the things a little closer to home.  Relationships are stressed, families struggle, and finances seem a bit short.  Even closer can be the health issues we might be facing.  Sometimes it all can seem just a little bit overwhelming.

There is Someone who wants to take you through the things you are facing.  It’s true that with just a word, He can make all the problems disappear.  Yet He might not choose to keep you from the difficulties.  Sometimes He prefers to walk with us through them.

You may no longer have a parent you can talk to, or a friend who knows the answers to what you are facing, but you don’t have to be alone with your fears.  God longs to be an intimate part of your life.  He wants to help guide you through the days ahead.  He delights in His children.  He wants to take us by the hand and remind us that He not only knows what we’re going through, He wants to take us there.  Hold out your hand and grab His.

Not Shallow

And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, (1 Thessalonians 1:6)

The apostle Paul didn’t spend much time in the city of Thessalonica (Acts 17), but during the few weeks he was there, a small, vibrant church was born.  The church took root in a city that was not open to the gospel.  It took root in a hostile environment.

That hostility against the gospel didn’t keep a few from believing.  They received the truth about salvation through Jesus Christ with much joy.  Even after they were persecuted, they kept believing.

Jesus told a parable about how some people are like shallow soil.  When the seed of the gospel is planted into their life, they are joyful at first, but after persecution hits they wither away (Mat. 13).  The Thessalonian church was not made up of shallow Christians.

Today the gospel is not a popular topic.  Some folks become quite hostile when you mention the name of Jesus.  The Thessalonian church is instructive in two aspects.  First, it’s a challenge to us who believe.  Don’t be shallow in your faith.  Deep faith endures hard times.  Second, don’t be discouraged. Even in days of persecution, there will be some who will respond to you sharing the gospel, and they too will believe.

Judgment

Behold, the day of the Lord comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. (Isaiah 13:9)

Many people hear about God’s coming judgment and quickly turn away.  Some mock Christianity as using fear to keep the drones in line. Some “Christians” feel as if they should spend their days yelling at “sinners”.  Would you mind if I shared two thoughts?

First, I know of very few people who wouldn’t like the idea that “bad people” will finally get what they deserve.  It’s not an uncommon thing to wonder how evil people can get away with doing bad things.  Well, they won’t.  There will be a day when they will face God’s judgment. It may not come as quickly as we want, but it will happen.

Second, God’s “anger” is not like our anger.  God isn’t happy when a person is judged. God “takes no pleasure” when a sinner dies (Eze. 33:11).  Our wrath demands judgment “now”, while God’s anger is patient, hoping that a person will turn around. The fact is, God doesn’t actually want anyone to perish. He wishes everyone would turn around (2Pet. 3:9).  God even went so far as to send His own Son to be a sacrifice for our sins so we wouldn’t have to face judgment, if we will only turn to Him and believe.  Judgment is indeed coming, but our loving God has made a way out.

Belonging

I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me. (Song of Solomon 7:10)

It’s called the “Song of Solomon” or the “Song of Songs” (1:1).  One translation calls it “Solomon’s Finest Song”.  It might be a bit racy in parts, but hey, it’s all about love and marriage.  Solomon’s song is a duet, a husband and wife singing to each other.  Some have suggested it’s also a picture of how God loves us, with Jesus as the Groom and the church as His bride.

Marriage is at it’s best when both husband and wife are careful to nurture their desire for each other. Desire isn’t a constant in marriage.  It’s something you must work at.  Proper cultivation involves both how you talk to each other, as well as the things you do for each other.  It involves doing the right thing whether you “feel” like it or not. There are not too many things in life greater than knowing that you are the “desire” of another, and they are your desire.  Mutual desire produces the security of “belonging”.

The same ideas apply to our relationship with God.  God certainly doesn’t have to do anything to maintain His love for me because it never changes.  I am the one who needs to work at what I say to Him and what I do for Him. Cultivating intimacy with God leads to me to realize I truly belong.  There is nothing better.

Enjoying Life

Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

Toward the end of his life, when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon was still a wise man, but the years tempered some of his ideas on life.  He didn’t quite look at things through the rose-colored glasses of his youth.

Solomon had seen people who lived their entire life working for more, more, more and still being unhappy.  He had seen wealthy people who lived in constant fear of losing their treasure.  He had seen both rich and poor people who were continually jealous of what others had.

When it all came down to it, all these people were miserable.  Solomon concluded that a wise person was one who learned to enjoy what they had. He wasn’t talking about living a wild life of sinful pleasures but learning gratitude for the blessings of God.  You may not feel like you have much, but you do have gifts from God. Your spouse is a gift.  Your children are a treasure.  Your job is a blessing.

Stop looking at what others “have”.  Stop comparing yourself to others. Learn to enjoy what is yours.

Validation

But as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything: by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardship, by difficulties, (2 Corinthians 6:4)

Validation comes in all shapes and sizes. If you get your parking stub validated at the doctor’s office, you receive the blessing of free parking during your visit.  At a high school reunion, we might hope to impress our classmates and show that we made something of ourselves.  At pastors’ conferences, pastors like to talk about the size of their church, with all humility. of course.  Some people make sure they share their witnessing exploits at church functions so others will give them validation. Paul was aware that to some of the Corinthians he needed a type of validation, yet the validation he offers doesn’t sound like the typical stuff.

Paul didn’t boast about how easy his life had become as a Christian, but how much pressure (“affliction”) he was under.  He didn’t brag about his great wealth, but the poverty (“hardship”) he faced.  Paul didn’t list “smooth sailing” on his resume but that, at times, his life seemed caught between a rock and a hard place (“difficulties”).  Chief on Paul’s list of accomplishments was that he endured.  As hard as things were, he didn’t quit.  What really matters in life?  God loves the one that hangs on.  Just hang on.

Why

“Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, For the hand of God has struck me! (Job 19:21)

Are you going through a rough time right now?  Do you know someone who is going through a rough time?  How do you respond when difficulty arises?

It seems to me that both Job and his friends were asking the same kind of difficult questions we tend to ask when going through a trial.  The questions are typically all about the “why”.  Job wonders why he is going through such pain.  Job wonders what he did to deserve such trouble.  Job’s friends were wondering what kind of sin Job must have done to bring such trouble.  They felt it was obvious that Job needed to repent of some secret sin.

There are certainly times in life when we need to face up to the consequences of our bad behavior.  Yet the lesson in the book of Job is not that sin leads to difficulty, but that righteous people will sometimes suffer.  Job was a righteous man.  God was proud of Job.

Be careful my friends of going down the rabbit hole labeled “why”.  If the answer is not readily apparent, it might be better to stop pursuing something that’s not there.  Job’s friends needed to learn compassion, not criticism.  Job needed to continue to trust God, even though he didn’t understand the “why”.

Job, the Man, no Myth, the Legend

This week’s Pastor to Person was written by Daniel Grant.

Job’s story is not one that many of us want to emulate. It is one of those head-scratchers.  Job forms a part of the wisdom literature and helps us answer the question of what we ought to do when life goes wrong, VERY WRONG!!

“Job was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1). He was also REALLY rich (Job1:2-3), which begs the question: can a rich man love and serve God? Yes, he can – Job did, and did so excellently!! What we see from Job’s story is a man who was not wealth-focused, not fame-focused but a man who honored God and helped others honor God. Job would often intercede for his children, and offer burnt offerings on their behalf, just in case they had sinned.

Job had an eternal perspective – we see this the most clearly when he loses his riches and even his family. The only one who was not taken was his wife, who ‘the adversary’ used to try and break his spirit (Job 2:9). In all this Job did not sin”. (Job 1:22) He mourned and was in more pain than most of us will ever know, and yet he worshiped God even through the valley of the shadow of death. As a man of integrity, we have much to learn from Job. Like Job, let us worship God and set the example that our culture desperately needs. Have integrity. Live honestly. Faithfully serve our King.

Foolishness

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1Corinthians 1:18)

In some people’s minds, the cross is a pretty piece of jewelry that’s worn around the neck.  For those who are a little more adept at history and culture, the cross is an unusually morbid thing that unenlightened Christians are attached to.  To the ancient mind, the cross was a place of unspeakable pain, torture, shame, and contempt.  It was a punishment reserved for the worst of the worst, not for someone meant to be venerated. Paul said that the Christian message of the cross seemed like nothing more than “foolishness” (our English word “moron”) to those who don’t grasp the truth of it.

Here’s the irony of it all.  The very thing that seems morbid, shameful, or even foolish to men is what Paul calls the power of God, even the power of God that leads to salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16).

How could we value a God who is related to something so horrible?  We are in awe of the cross because it’s where Jesus bore all the shame and contempt that were meant for us.  While my sin separates me from God, Jesus died to pay for and remove that sin. This is not foolishness. This is love. O the wonderful cross.

Building Project

So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them. (Ezra 5:2)

Nebuchadnezzar had leveled Jerusalem, obliterated the Temple, and hauled the Jews into exile in Babylon. When the Persians allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, they immediately began to rebuild the Temple, but it wasn’t long before their plans stalled.  Enemies rose up and put political pressure on the Persians to stop the building.  Not all problems were external. The Jews themselves soon lost the drive to see the Temple rebuilt.  The prophet Haggai pointed out that they had become more focused on their own personal comfort than doing a work for God (Hag. 1:4).

Believer, you too are a Temple, and the Holy Spirit lives in you (1Cor. 6:19).  Even though you are a Temple, you’re an unfinished building project.  Your foundation has been laid in Jesus Christ, but how are you going to build on that foundation?  Sometimes it’s the external pressures like people and circumstances that cause us to stop building. Other times, it’s our own sense of personal “comfort” that keeps us from denying ourselves and serving Jesus. Get back to reading your Bible.  Get back to praying.  Get back to church. Serve others. Build that Temple.