It’s Time To Look Up and See Our Saving Grace

Jude 1:24 (WEB)

Promise 270: I will keep you from falling until you joyfully stand blameless in My presence.
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Unity In Trials

Unity In Trials
Should it come as a surprise when we go through trials, especially prior to the Feast of Tabernacles?  Sometimes we may experience “heavier” trials, perhaps having the feeling of being alone, that there is nobody out there who can help or comfort us.  It’s quite normal to have that feeling at times but we need to understand that EVERYONE goes through trials and EVERYONE suffers in their own way.  We go through trials for the purpose of our individual course towards perfection.
These particular tests affect each and every one of us.  Not all trials are the same for each of us.   Our responses and reactions, our strength and our faith are always being tested.  Do we pray to God when we are facing difficulties, asking Him to give us strength through His Holy Spirit?  Or is it in the back of our minds, not valued as important enough?  Is prayer just something we do when we have the time for it, when it’s convenient, sometimes even forgetting to pray altogether?  Do NOT neglect the power of prayer for anything, because, as Paul says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
But we are human and we still think like humans, process thoughts by using our carnal minds, and at times give in to sin.   We can quickly change that way of thinking because we have something the people of this world don’t have who have not been called by God. We have the power of the Holy Spirit that we received during our baptism! God’s Holy Spirit helps us distinguish between right and wrong, which is why it is important to pray to God to grant us more of His Spirit when we are going through difficulties, and why it is so important to replenish it daily.
We shouldn’t be afraid when we go through trials, but it’s never a bad thing to ask ourselves why we may be going through certain trials.  Isaiah 41:10 tells us, “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.”  And 2 Timothy 1:7 continues on saying, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
David understood this, and he also faced many difficult trials. He pleaded with God with fasting and prayer and knew that he had to change.  He was not too proud to admit that he sinned when he recognized it and bitterly repented. He was still punished, but God accepted his repentance and he was forgiven.  After all, he was a man after God’s own heart.  His heart was in the right place.  He loved God’s law and he received strength from God.  He didn’t have anything to fear since his absolute faith was in God (compare Psalms 27:1; 118:6).
Our trials may be different from other’s trials, but we all go through trials for we are ALL being tested.  And that is why we pray for and comfort one another, because we are never alone.  It’s a unified effort!
Just as our beliefs and what we preach is unified, we then are to speak the same thing, agree that there are no divisions, be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10).  We need to be of one mind (1 Peter 3:8).  Romans 12:16 adds that we need to be of the same mind toward one another and not be wise in our own opinion.  If we think that we can make it on our own, saying that we don’t need the church or the ministry, don’t need to keep God’s law and just do what we believe is correct in our own eyes, we will fail.  Where do we put our trust?  Proverbs 3:5-6 gives us the answer.
Yes, God will direct our paths, but God also provides help because we are not alone.  Who can understand the Bible without direction, explanation and guidance? God provides help for the purpose of teaching (compare Ephesians 4:11-13; Acts 20:28).  We are to be helped by the ministry because we have a work to do.  But we need to be of one mind.  How can two walk together unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3).
To be truly unified we also must have humility (Philippians 2:1-8), we must have peace (Ephesians 4:3) and we must have love, which is the bond of perfection (Colossians 3:14).  Are we doing enough?
We ALL go through various trials.  Through unity of like mind, we receive strength and comfort from God and our brethren (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). We must allow God to help us when we go through difficult times. We must not take Him for granted nor His Church nor all the things that He has given us. Rather, we need to really think about what His purpose is for us.  Why are we here? What are we commissioned to do?  We ALL have a part—individually and as a whole.

 

Seeking To Understand The Mind Of God

Seeking To Understand The Mind Of God
I woke up this morning to news that a bus carrying fourteen senior adults from First Baptist Church of New Braunfels collided with a pickup yesterday afternoon. Thirteen bus passengers were killed. One passenger was hospitalized in critical condition; the pickup driver was hospitalized in stable condition.

The senior adults were returning from a three-day retreat at a Baptist encampment.

So far this morning, authorities have not determined the cause of the crash. No matter who or what caused the crash, the passengers were not at fault. Yet all but one were killed.

Tragedies like this bring us to the most difficult challenge Christians face theologically. We believe that God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful. No other religion affirms these tenets about a personal God as fully as we do.

Since God is omniscient and not bound by time, he knew that the crash would happen before it did (Psalm 139:4; 1 John 3:20). Since he is love (1 John 4:8), he would seemingly not want such a tragedy to come to his children. Since he is omnipotent (Matthew 19:26), he could have prevented the crash from occurring. The Lord who stilled the storms and raised the dead could have stopped a bus and a pickup truck from colliding.

Yet he did not.

Today there are families grieving the sudden loss of their parents and grandparents. A pastor is trying to help his congregation come to terms with a tragedy their church will obviously never forget. The rest of us will watch with sorrow for those who are suffering.

Many wonder why the God these senior adults worshiped didn’t prevent their deaths. So do I.

I often note that God redeems all he forgives. I’m confident that our Father will redeem for greater good even this terrible tragedy (Romans 8:18). But future hope doesn’t explain present suffering. We grieve, and we should. We ask hard questions, and we should.

But here’s what we should not do.

We need not wonder if the Christians who died yesterday share our grief or our questions. We need not wonder if God was able to redeem their suffering. One moment after they died, they stepped into heaven. When they took their last breath here, they took their first breath there. They moved instantly from our fallen world into God’s perfect paradise. Now they are more alive than we are in a world where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

In the face of tragedy, we have two options.

We can decide that God is not who he says he is. We can let our questions keep us from experiencing his transforming love and sustaining grace. We can trust our doubts more than we trust our Creator.

Or we can decide to have faith in our Father even when we don’t understand him. The harder it is to trust God, the more we need to trust God.

Which option do you choose today?

God’s Calling is the Qualifier

God’s Calling is the Qualifier

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Think of a time when you were asked to handle a particular task but felt you didn’t have enough education, experience, or ability to do it. We all tend to feel like this on occasion and may even offer God excuses why we couldn’t possibly be the one to take on the project. But the Lord doesn’t always use strong, influential, or accomplished people to do His work.

In fact, God often chooses to have His work done through those whom the world regards as foolish, weak, unimpressive, or ordinary. He has two main purposes for doing this. First of all, by accomplishing great things through unexceptional people, He proves that the world’s wisdom is foolishness. And second, God’s people don’t have any reason to boast: They have no power to save themselves and no ability to serve Him apart from His strength and wisdom.

God isn’t interested in impressive human talent and natural ability. He’s looking for humble people who are totally dependent upon Him and willing to make themselves available for whatever He calls them to do. Moses didn’t feel the Lord could use him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt because he wasn’t eloquent, but he became one of the greatest leaders in Jewish history. David was young and had no experience as a warrior, but the Spirit of God empowered him to kill a giant with one small stone.

If you’re a believer, it doesn’t matter how young or old you are or how qualified you feel. If you’ll simply depend on Christ, make yourself available, and obey Him, He’ll use you for His glory.

Seeing With Eyes Wide Shut

Seeing With Eyes Wide Shut

“And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—
secret riches.
I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD,
the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.”

— Isaiah 45:3 (NLT)

It is a natural human reflex to squint or shut one’s eyes when in pain. Similarly, we wince when we are hit with unbearable experiences and we tend to close out the world around us. The sages taught that this reflex has a powerful message for us.

Our eyes are the vehicle through which we bring objects outside of us into our brain. We call this process “seeing.” But sometimes, we can’t see. If something passes by us very quickly, we won’t be able to see it. The eyes don’t have enough time to process and send the image to the brain.

Another time we have difficulty seeing is when an object is very far away. When this happens, our vision is diffused over a lot of space and it doesn’t have the power to bring the image into the brain. To solve this problem, we squint. By closing our eyes to things on the periphery, we are able to concentrate all our visual capacity on the object we want to see and our vision extends farther.

The sages taught that this same principle applies when we are going through emotional or spiritual pain. When we are going through challenges or difficulties, we need to see the whole picture, the end of the story. We have to see that everything God does is for our best. We have to be able to see that all the pain we are experiencing is for a good purpose.

But how do we attain such a perspective when we are in the midst of deep pain?

We close our eyes.

Sometimes we only need to “squint.” We need to shut out the things that don’t really matter in life in order to see what really does. Often this partial blinding is enough for us to see that all is good. However, other times, we must completely close our eyes to the physical world so that we can focus on non-physical matters. In this space, we can see the beauty and light in our situation that we couldn’t see with our eyes open wide.

In the book of Isaiah we read: “And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness — secret riches.” There are some treasures that we can only attain in the darkness; some riches we can only find in hidden places. When we go through challenging times – or even in good times – if we are able to close our eyes to the material world and gain an invaluable perspective on the truly important aspects of life, then we will be truly blessed. Having that clarity through life is one of the greatest treasures we can ever receive.

djs

The Power Of Forgiveness

The Power Of Forgiveness

Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD — Psalm 130:1

There is a story from Spain about a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away from home, and his father set out to find him. The father searched for months, but to no avail. As a last-ditch effort, the father took out a full-page ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.” The next Saturday, 800 men named Paco showed up, all looking for love and forgiveness from their fathers!

How many people in life are walking around looking for love and forgiveness from their Father in heaven?

If you’re like the rest of us, you have probably messed up once or twice in your life. We all make mistakes! As it says in Ecclesiastes 7:20, “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (NLT). However, there is also a danger in thinking that you are only a sinner. Every time we fall, there is the risk that we will be too discouraged to get back up again. The next step after sin is repentance; yet sometimes, we find it hard to move on.

In Psalm 130 King David exclaimed, “Out of the depths I call out to you . . .” The  sages explain that the “depths” David was referring to was the depths of sin. Sometimes when we sin, we feel so low and so far from God. We feel like we are deep in the gutters of life. How can we possibly climb out? How can we face our God again? We feel distant, unlovable, and unworthy.

The sages caution us, “Do not consider yourself wicked in your self-estimation!” If we give in to those feelings of unworthiness, we will never be restored to our true selves. In Psalm 130 David also reminded us that God is forgiving. He implored us to put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption” (v.7).

God is waiting for us, loving us, and anticipating our return so that He can forgive us. We just need to return to Him.

Imagine that you open the newspaper today and you see an ad with your name on it: “Dear _____. Meet me in church on Sunday at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.” Believe it — God is sending us this message every day! We just need to turn to God in repentance, and He will do the rest.

djs

The Dark Side Of Self Defeating Jealousy

 The Dark Side Of Self Defeating Jealousy

A heart at peace gives life to the body,
but envy rots the bones.
— Proverbs 14:30

It could be your neighbor’s new car or maybe it was your fifth-grade teacher praising your best friend, but not you. There are so many scenarios that can catch us off-guard and bring out one of the ugliest traits that we are all susceptible to — the experience of jealousy. Whoever came up with the expression “eat your heart out” in reference to producing jealousy in another person was speaking a truth. In Proverbs we learn “envy rots the bones.” Jealousy destroys us from the inside out.

But there is a flipside to self-defeating jealousy. The very same verse begins, “A heart at peace gives life to the body.” Literally translated from the original Greek, “a heart at peace” is called “a healing heart.” The sages explain that a healing heart is a soft heart, one that accepts and forgives and is kind and generous.

A healing heart is the exact opposite of a jealous heart. A jealous heart wants what others have. A healing heart is happy for others when they succeed. A jealous heart is never satisfied. A healing heart is always content. A jealous heart is focused on its own personal gain. A healing heart looks out for the well-being of others.

Yet, for all jealous people do to better their own lives, they only bring ruin upon themselves. In contrast, kind, content, and generous people will bring peace and healing to themselves and to others. People with such a positive and peaceful attitude allow the body to function properly while spreading peace and health to those with whom they interact.

Of course we’d all prefer to have a healing heart over a jealous one. But how can we avoid jealousy?

The following story can help us. Once there were two eagles who would fly together. One eagle was able to fly higher and faster than the other, making the less adept eagle very jealous. One day, the jealous eagle spotted a hunter and asked him to shoot the other eagle. The hunter said that he could, but needed a feather for his arrow. The jealous eagle was happy to oblige, plucking one of his own feathers.  The hunter missed and needed another feather, and then another and another. The jealous eagle supplied so many feathers that soon he didn’t have enough feathers to fly. The huntsman turned around and shot the eagle who could no longer fly or escape.

This story shows us how to avoid jealousy — by knowing deeply that it harms us most of all. When we feel jealousy beginning to grow and fester inside us, we must allow our hearts to be healing hearts, bringing life and joy to ourselves and those around us.

djs