Strength for the Journey

Strength for the Journey

By Pat Knight

 Snowflakes or samples of DNA illustrate exceptional individuality. There are no repetitions with either. God created each person with specific physical attributes, personalities, emotions, and the desire to seek Him. Our Lord endows us with free wills, allowing us to make exclusive decisions. We are not puppets on a string merely doing the Lord’s bidding. Though it must break His heart, God permits us to ignore or resist Him, bumbling through life without His guidance.

During our struggles and trials, God offers His superior strength and power, without which we must depend solely on our temporary resources. God’s strength moves mountains of trouble and maintains the universe in perfect order. Extraordinary fortitude is available to each of us when we appropriate God’s immense strength. It is not bullish or intimidating, but comprised of quiet gentleness merged with power. God always uses His strength appropriately, combined with love and compassion to help us overcome obstacles.

Teaming our uniqueness with His strength, we possess the ability to accomplish great feats in God’s name. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians12:9). The Apostle Paul witnessed God supplanting his human frailty with almighty strength. Paul had a physical problem for which he sought God’s cure. Rather than heal him, God eclipsed Paul’s weakness with the promise of His sufficient strength. Paul admitted, “‘for when I am weak, then I am strong’” (v. 10). Paul knew the secret of dealing with his infirmity was to supplement with God’s endless supply of strength.

Humans are exceedingly shortsighted. Though God is acquainted with the future plans for our individual lives, we cannot see beyond this very minute. Our Lord knows whether we will benefit more from healing our physical disorders, or by lavishing us with His abundant strength to triumph beyond our afflictions. Paul placed his priorities and his full faith in God. Then he followed His Lord into a victorious life full of spiritual accomplishments, traveling over the known world as a missionary, preaching the Gospel until the end of his life.

“Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

God is immutable—incapable of compromise or change, no less powerful or loving than when Paul lived on earth. Our physical or emotional weakness may be for the purpose of encouraging others who hurt as we do, the individual work which God has chosen for us.  “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). The Apostle Paul demonstrates that contentment is learned behavior, a choice we make to depend on God’s guidance and the riches of Christ. We are surrounded with people willing to throw cold water on enthusiastic ideas. If those whom God chooses to endure illness or hardships were to transform into encouragers with heavenly strength, God’s love would be exponentially transported throughout the world in a contagious manner.

Each unique, spirit-filled Christian is enabled by God to develop and perpetuate a distinctive style of encouragement in order to disseminate God’s love. Those empowered by God and permeated with His strength, have the capacity to distribute joy and peace to a hurting world. We are challenged to exercise our gift of free will to project encouragement, enthusiasm, and ebullience. Only by experiencing the strength He provides, are we able to reach out to others in a way that is honoring to God, who created us as in His image to represent the holy and righteous characteristics of Jesus. 

“I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13, KJV).  God and believers working together have the ability to affect change in this world, as we elevate God’s name and purpose. With such awesome, privileged life goals, our troubles pale. The more we perform God’s will for our lives, the less we concentrate on self and our temporary troubles.

Paul provides an example of how to focus less on our physical problems and gain victory by accessing God’s strength. God desires to demonstrate the fine art of victorious living. With great expectancy, request to be instilled with God’s strength and steadfastness. He will then intervene to provide “exceeding, abundantly beyond all we ask or think according to the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV). Jesus patiently awaits your trust and obedience. He delights to work in you and through you to shine the light of His splendor and supremacy into a dark world.

No Plague Near Your Tent: Reading Psalm 91 During a Global Pandemic

Today I’m sharing from Core Christianity.

No Plague Near Your Tent: Reading Psalm 91 During a Global Pandemic

By William R. Osborne 

It is not often in human history that words like plague and pestilence become household terminology, but here we are. As strange as these words feel on our tongues, they are not as uncommon in the Bible. For example, Psalm 91 speaks directly to the notion of plague or pestilence three times, boldly claiming, “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence” (v. 3), “You will not fear . . . the pestilence that stalks in darkness” (v. 6), and finally, “No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent” (v. 10). While we as Christians glory in the declarations of the psalm, we can’t help but notice the current “plague” creeping ever closer to our neighborhoods and homes. Does Psalm 91 make promises that are not being fulfilled? How do we read Psalm 91 during a global pandemic?

Images of Comfort

While the original setting that gave rise to this psalm eludes us, the first-person statement in v. 2 reveals that the author speaks these words of hope and comfort as one who has personally experienced refuge and security by trusting in God in the midst of fearful circumstances. Indeed, Psalm 91 opens with a beautiful picture of God’s people dwelling in the shelter and shadow of the Lord. We are thrust into a metaphorical world where God is a refuge, God is a fortress, God’s faithfulness is a shield, and God even has wings that provide security.

The important thing to remember here is that the psalmist is creating figurative relationships between God and the created world that forge a new reality for the fearful. These creative images draw us out of our fear-entrenched perceptions into a new world that redefines our source of protection and peace. Verse 3 plays into this figurative imagery by likening us to a bird that will escape the net of the “fowler,” a term used to describe a bird-catcher in ancient times. In a parallel line, we are told “he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence.” Just as the first line of this verse should be understood as figurative language communicating a general picture of deliverance, so should the second.

The mention of pestilence in v. 6 is also imbedded in a poetic structure that leads us away from forcing the language into a straightforward reading. Verses 5 and 6 are in a parallel structure that looks like this:

A – You will not fear the terror of the night,

B – nor the arrow that flies by day

A’ – nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,

B’ – nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

The intentional parallel between night and day in v. 5 is picked up and developed in v. 6 with the ideas of darkness and noonday. Poetically, phrases like “night and day” or “dark and light” are called merisms. A merism is when an author poetically uses opposite terms to figuratively communicate a total or complete concept. Consequently, like the reference in v. 3, the language of v. 6 should not be stripped of its poetic and figurative quality.

Read the rest here.

Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

Sharing today from Penetrating the Darkness.

Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

What factors deepen and expand our ministry to hurting people?

Valid answers include a sound grasp of Bible knowledge, identification and exercise of our spiritual gift(s), and a willingness to sacrifice our convenience and time precisely when others most need help. But there’s one answer I’d put first: our own suffering.

Whether our affliction comes in the form of physical maladies, adverse circumstances outside of our control, or emotional anguish (such as major depression), our pain brims with the potential to serve others more effectively. The late pastor and author Ron Dunn went so far as to say, “Your greatest area of usefulness may stem from your greatest area of pain.”

Why is that the case?  Suffering that does not make us bitter makes us better. It breaks our hearts, increasing our empathy with others who hurt. We’re more likely to show compassion when we’ve “been there, done that.”

Allow me to illustrate.

Examples of Pain’s Potential to Expand Our Ministry

While strolling alone on a beach near his home, the forlorn pastor considered suicide. He thought to himself, “I can’t take any more hard knocks. I can’t imagine how things will get any better.”

A worried friend of the pastor showed up at the beach, knowing that’s where the pastor went when he needed to sort things out. The friend didn’t condemn his depressed companion for lack of faith, or dish out superficial solutions. Instead, he walked alongside him for a long time, listened as the pastor vented, told him he loved him and prayed for him.

The friend’s presence incarnated God’s love and instilled hope within the distraught pastor. Here’s how the pastor described the effect: “Within minutes, my life started coming together again. I started thinking clearly for a change. A ray of hope burst through the dark clouds that had been hovering over me. I began seeing solutions to some of the things harassing me, and believed again that God would help me.”

What prompted the compassionate response of the pastor’s friend?

His own past experience with pain.

The comforter had gone through a rough patch in his life a couple of years before. He knew firsthand how downcast a person of faith could feel, and had experienced the sustaining power of God’s Spirit. He remembered how God had mobilized people in the body of Christ to reach out to him when his own future seemed hopeless. The comforter’s own brokenness had kept him from a self-righteous, judgmental attitude toward his hurting friend. Instead of offering glib, snap-out-of-it advice, his listening posture and heartfelt prayer lifted the rocks off his friend’s chest.

*******

Joni Eareckson Tada has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident in her teens. God chose not to heal her body. Yet over the decades, she has written best selling books offering a sound theology of suffering, interspersed with stories from her life of God’s sustenance. She has shared the gospel of Christ in speaking engagements all over the globe. She founded Joni and Friends, an organization that provides support and resources for disabled persons and their caregivers. Her organization also trains local church leaders on ways to care for the disabled within their own community. Her ministry to needy people isn’t huge in spite of her disability, but because of it. In her case, God has received more glory by redeeming her pain, rather than by eradicating it.

Read the rest here.

When God Calls You to Stay

Today I’m sharing from Set Apart.

When God Calls You to Stay

By Linda Green [Guest Contributor]

God’s Word is full of commands for His people to go. These divine calls, while varied in nature, require both trust and obedience that are not only costly, but utterly impossible apart from God.

God called Abraham to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you; and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” Genesis 12:1-3.

Going for Abraham meant leaving his very comfortable life to go to an unknown place and face countless trials and tests. “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…”

God called Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand he let His people go.

Moses had settled into a comfortable and secure life in the wilderness where he had fled for his life 40 years earlier, but that is not what caused him to push back at God’s call to return to Egypt. Moses simply felt unqualified and unable to do the seemingly impossible job God was asking of him. Yet Scripture records: “Moses took his wife and his sons…and wentback to the land of Egypt,” Exodus 3-4.

God called Jonah to “go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before Me.”

The Ninevites were Israel’s fierce and cruel enemies and Jonah had zero interest in sacrificing his own life for the sake of utterly undeserving people! And so he ran away from God, (or at least tried to). But God caused Jonah, along with all of his fears and rebellion, to be swallowed by a giant fish before being spit out on the ground.  Three long days later, this God ordained trial resulted in a significantly humbled man who was ready to obey Almighty God. “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD” Jonah 3:1-2.

Jesus called his disciples (and us) to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). There are countless examples of those who have obeyed this call to make disciples of all nations. Though it cost many their lives or the lives of those they loved, they went out of love and obedience to Christ.

  • Abraham walked by faith and came to know God Almighty who keeps His promises.  God made him the father of many nations, teaching him (and us) that we can take God at His Word. 
  • Moses returned to Pharaoh in Egypt by faith and came to know God as LORD, being witness to His powerful display of authority, power, provision, and deliveranceGod taught his servant Moses (and us) to trust that nothing is impossible with God, even when everything looks completely hopeless.
  • Jonah went in obedience and faith and witnessed a revival in Ninevah! God’s lessons to Jonah (and us) reveal a God who is patient, merciful, and slow to anger, but also disciplines those He loves.
  • Throughout the centuries, God’s people have gone to dark places to proclaim the gospel; from cities to jungles, from college campuses to dark countries oppressed by communism. As grateful recipients of redemption, they have gone out in obedience and faith to proclaim God’s saving power through the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. God taught them (and us) that apart from Him we can do nothing.

Like those who have gone before us, God’s call to go is costly, requiring utter dependence on Christ’s power, presence, and provision. Going always requires laying down selfish ambitions, plans, and worldly expectations in order to receive the higher call of Christ. But they also go expectantly, as participants in God’s story for their eternal joy and His glory.

But sometimes God calls us to stay.

As a women’s ministry director in a large church, I have met more than a few women who, in their darkest moments, dream of a call to go, because the call to stay feels impossibly hard and costly. Consider these women who have obeyed the call to stay in the midst of painful and often, unfathomable, circumstances. For example;

I think of a wife, married to an unloving, self-absorbed man who spends his time and money in grievous ungodly pursuits. She imagines her life would be happier if she left him, but knows God has called her to stay that she might display the power of the gospel through the persevering love of Christ. 

I think of a woman in the workplace who is a victim of hurtful and damaging gossip, unjustly treated because of her faith. She yearns to tell her boss she quits, but for now she believes God has called her to stay so that she might display the gospel’s power through grace-filled humility. 

I think of a woman who lives next door to an angry and revengeful neighbor. She and her husband have considered moving, but remember how God led them to this neighborhood. For now, they know they are to stay, that they might display the gospel’s power through forgiveness.

I know a single woman who feels isolated and lonely in her seemingly family-oriented church, but believes God has called her to stay and reach out to others, that she might display the unity of Christ.

Finally, I think of my own daughter who battles chronic Lyme’s disease along with her four young children who suffer with it as well. This insidious disease has wreaked havoc in their family through chronic pain, explosive behaviors, excessive crying and whining, night terrors, and skewed emotions. Her husband’s job loss has only exacerbated financial pressures, delayed medical treatment, and the normal stresses of marriage and parenting young children. This young mom, who never feels well herself, imagines a quieter less stressful life. Yet, God has called her to stay to display the power of God through the sufficiency of Christ.

Read the rest here.

10 Key Bible Verses on God’s Sovereignty

Today I’m sharing from Crossway.org.

10 Key Bible Verses on God’s Sovereignty

God Over All

When life feels out of control, it can be comforting to remember that we’re never out of the sight of our Creator—and he never loses control. Be encouraged by the following Scriptures about God’s sovereignty with commentary from the ESV Study Bible and rest knowing he rules over all.

Ephesians 1:11

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will . . .

Making those who believe in him heirs with Christ was not an ad hoc event; God had planned it from all eternity. By definition God is sovereign, directing all things freely according to his royal counsel. This is in sharp contrast with the pagan gods of the time, who were understood to be often fickle or bound by an inscrutable and arbitrary fate. God’s predestination gives his people tremendous comfort, for they know that all who come to Christ do so through God’s enabling grace and appointment (Eph. 2:8–10). Who works all things according to the counsel of his will is best understood to mean that every single event that occurs is in some sense predestined by God. At the same time, Paul emphasizes the importance of human responsibility, as is evident in all of the moral commands later in Ephesians 4–6 and in all of Paul’s letters. As Paul demonstrated in all of his remarkable efforts in spreading the gospel (Acts 13–28; cf. 2 Cor. 11:23–28), he believed that doing personal evangelism and making conscious choices to obey God are also absolutely essential in fulfilling God’s plan. God uses human means to fulfill what he has ordained. With regard to tragedies and evil, Paul and the other biblical writers never blame God for them (cf. Rom. 5:122 Tim. 4:14; also Job 1:21–22). Rather, they see the doctrine of God’s sovereignty as a means of comfort and assurance (cf. Rom. 8:28–30), confident that evil will not triumph, and that God’s good plans for his people will be fulfilled. How God’s sovereignty and human responsibility work together in the world is a mystery no one can fully understand.

Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

God weaves everything together for good for his children. The “good” in this context does not refer to earthly comfort but conformity to Christ (Rom. 8:29), closer fellowship with God, bearing good fruit for the kingdom, and final glorification (Rom. 8:30). Christians can be assured that all things work together for good: God has always been doing good for them, starting before creation (the distant past), continuing in their conversion (the recent past), and then on to the day of Christ’s return (the future).

Matthew 10:29–31

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Sparrows were customarily thought of as the smallest of creatures, and the penny was one of the least valuable Roman coins (cf. 5:26). apart from your Father. God is sovereign over even the most insignificant events. Fear not, therefore. Since the heavenly Father gives constant sovereign supervision even to seemingly insignificant creatures, surely he will also care for his disciples in their mission to proclaim the good news of the kingdom. more value.

Colossians 1:16–17

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Christ is Lord of creation. Jesus is the Lord, the maker and upholder of all things in the universe. Jesus did not come into existence when he was born of the virgin Mary. He was the agent of creation through whom God made heaven and earth (John 1:3 and note; 1 Cor. 8:6). Jesus cannot be the first thing created (as the ancient Arian heresy claimed) since “all things” without exception were created by him. Paul is using the current Jewish terms for various rankings of angels (although he doesn’t explain their relative ranks). His emphasis here may be on the evil angels, since they play a significant part in this letter (Col. 2:8, 10, 15, 20). This would not mean, however, that Jesus created evil angels; all spiritual powers were created by Jesus, but some later chose to rebel against God and so to become evil. Jesus is not only the agent of creation but is also the goal of creation, for everything was created by him and for him, that is, for his honor and praise. Since Jesus is in this sense the goal of creation, he must be fully God. Christ continually sustains his creation, preventing it from falling into chaos or disintegrating (cf. Heb. 1:3).

Isaiah 45:7–9

I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it. Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?

The Lord’s creative will and wise purposes stand behind everything. Therefore, his people should not be discouraged when the appearances of history seem contrary to his promises. Far from a problem to cope with, God’s sovereignty over all things is the only hope for the flowering of salvation and righteousness in this world. Isaiah warns against challenging God’s right to do his will in his own way. Putting God under suspicious scrutiny is a serious offense. Created beings may not demand explanations from him (cf. Rom. 9:19–21).

Read the rest here.

The Wonderful #Cross

Have you ever wondered why the day Jesus Christ died such a horrible death is called GOOD Friday? Doesn’t it seem as if it should be the blackest day in history? What can possibly be GOOD about it?

Beloved, Jesus willingly allowed Himself to undergo the horrendous, torturous beatings and then be put to death so that we might live with Him for eternity! This is why it is commemorated as a GOOD day. We are all born as sinners and there is no way we can get to heaven apart from the saving grace and mercy of Jesus Christ’s death on that cross at Calvary. That one death paid the price for us to have the opportunity to be in heaven with Him when we die. 

Yes, we should mourn the death of Jesus Christ because He endured so much on our behalf. But even more, we should celebrate this day as the beginning of mankind’s chance to share in the intimate fellowship with Jesus forever! 

This is our HOPE!

Please enjoy “The Wonderful Cross” by  Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman. Remember and be JOYFUL that Jesus paid it all!

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
—Isaiah 53:5

If for whatever reason you cannot view this video, you can read the complete lyrics here.

3 Keys to A Christian Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

Today I’m sharing from Core Christianity

3 Keys to A Christian Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Ryan Thomas

“There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). That was easier to believe a couple of weeks ago. Although this certainly isn’t the first time a crisis has captured the world’s attention, few to none have had the sort of global impact as the advent of Covid-19. Maybe you have noticed a change in your mood. Going to the store makes you anxious. Troubling questions have begun to surface with greater regularity and intensity. Why has God allowed these events to happen? Where is this all headed? How do I find him in the midst of this madness?

In times like these, it is easy to become so glued to our televisions that we effectively mute God. Coronavirus and its deadly impact have flooded mainstream media coverage. Social media is awash with humorous memes about social distancing. And living somewhere between the humor and the horror, perhaps you are wondering, what am I to do?

Unless we are careful to peel our eyes from our screens and open our Bibles, inclining our ears to hear the Lord’s voice speaking to us from his Word, other voices will dominate the conversation. That doesn’t mean that the Bible should be our only source of guidance. It won’t answer every question about the Coronavirus—or any virus, for that matter—because even if the Bible does encourage handwashing (upon penalty of death, no less; Exodus 30:21), its purpose lies elsewhere. We still need experts to weigh in on the various medical, social, political, and economic factors. In other words, Christians should be diligent hand washers, not because of Exodus 30:21, but because infectious disease specialists say it is one of the best ways to prevent viral spread.

What we will find in Scripture to help us through this unique time is everything we need to know in order to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We’ll find guidance that applies whether our best-laid plans go awry or the world turns upside down. In fact, as Christians, you and I face the same difficult choice today that we faced yesterday, and will face again tomorrow. That is, will we trust in and follow Jesus?

So what does that look like in the face of rapidly changing response plans, ominous projections, and much uncertainty about the future? What, in short, should characterize your response?

1. Faith, not Fear

The point isn’t that we never feel afraid, but that we act in faith rather than react in fear. Fear is consumed by circumstances. It sets its gaze upon the horizon in a tireless search for trouble. “I hear the whispering of many—terror on every side!—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life” (Psalm 31:13). Fear always looks out, but never up.

That doesn’t mean that faith is ignorant. No, it knows the trouble that surrounds it, but nevertheless chooses to look up to God in faith. “I had said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from your sight.’ But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help” (Psalm 31:22).

Read the rest here.