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I am writing these blogs with the purpose of encouraging others in their daily Christian walk. Blog contents reflect my personal opinion(s) which don’t necessarily represent a church or educational community in which I currently serve. I am not a licensed personal counselor or mental health professional. Consequently, my blogs are intended for common issues or struggles that individuals typically face in life. I advise individuals to seek qualified professional help for personal issues such as depression, anxiety, grief, martial issues, and etc. in order to receive proper medical and psychological care.

Also, I will be quoting and paraphrasing from various authors in this blog. I don’t necessarily agree with all elements of his/her theology or life practices of selected authors. Please understand that the purpose of this blog isn’t to debate theology or various points of view that exist within topics as they appear in this blog.

This blog is designed to supplement regular church attendance and personal Bible study. If you’re not a member of a local community of fellow believers, then I strongly recommend that you prayerfully seek a local church to actively support.

Sincerely,

Lee Stanfill

Hard Things 1: Discouragement

Set:

In this article, we will consider the struggle against discouragement, and disillusionment. Would you agree that the past few years have been difficult and trying? Have your jobs and relationships been under strain? What about the political and social “climate” of our nation? Are things going the way you had expected or hoped in your life? What things cause you to doubt that the future could ever be better?

Wise Words from the Past

Oswald Chambers ministered during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His wife faithfully transcribed his numerous sermons and lessons to his students and the soldiers before and during World War 1. Oswald died while serving in Egypt from complications from surgery. He provides valuable insights for the problems of our present age. I am including relevant quotes from select daily devotions. Emphasis is mine to highlight key concepts.

Facing Trials and Troubles That Make You Doubt God’s Character

The Clouds of Life

Do You See Jesus in Your Clouds?

“In the Bible clouds are always associated with God. Clouds are the sorrows, sufferings, or providential circumstances, within or without our personal lives, which actually seem to contradict the sovereignty of God. Yet it is through these very clouds that the Spirit of God is teaching us how to walk by faith. If there were never any clouds in our lives, we would have no faith.”

These clouds often come upon us in our daily lives. It can be a difficult work/career situation. Maybe it’s a health or financial situation that just doesn’t improve. These “clouds” are like a fog that settles upon us and tempts us to trust in ourselves or something/someone else apart from God. Yet, we need to remember that God is always present (Omnipresent). Chambers explains:

“They are a sign that God is there. What a revelation it is to know that sorrow, bereavement, and suffering are actually the clouds that come along with God! God cannot come near us without clouds— He does not come in clear-shining brightness.”

God wants us to know Him and Know Him correctly. We have ideas and notions about God that don’t align up with the reality of Him. So God mercifully works to reveal these “false” or “wrong” notions. Do you believe that God owes us a good life with no problems or difficulties? Does God answer every prayer the way we desire? What if the only way that God can draw us closer to Himself is to cause us to daily depend on Him?

“It is not true to say that God wants to teach us something in our trials. Through every cloud He brings our way, He wants us to unlearn something. His purpose in using the cloud is to simplify our beliefs until our relationship with Him is exactly like that of a child— a relationship simply between God and our own souls, and where other people are but shadows.”

God desires for us to develop a simple, trusting faith that depends on Him instead of our grand ideas about how life should or could be. Jesus reminds us that we must be like children to enter into His Kingdom.

Matthew 18:1-5 NKJV

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.

Children in this context are coming to Christ. They want to be with Him, and they trust Him. They don’t come with pretense or false motives. They just want to be near Him. It’s a great mercy when God humbles us with defeats, difficulties, and troubles that make us look up to Him for strength, courage, and relief.

A Hard Truth

“There is a connection between the strange providential circumstances allowed by God and what we know of Him, and we have to learn to interpret the mysteries of life in the light of our knowledge of God. Until we can come face to face with the deepest, darkest fact of life without damaging our view of God’s character, we do not yet know Him.”

We will observe and experience difficulties in life. Life is short and harsh. Things that happen seem to be random and cruel. Consider the numerous natural disasters that have occurred over the past months: the extreme heat, drought, wild fires, earthquakes, and floods in Kentucky.

Looking at the world around us, it’s hard to claim that God is good when there is so much suffering, loss, cruelty, and hatred. But, we can’t base our beliefs or thoughts about God from what we observe. We must base ourselves firmly upon His Living Word. God explains why life/creation is troubled in Genesis 3 and Romans 1-3. God is all-good, He is the Perfection of Goodness (Omnibenevolent).

Discouragement

Discouragement is the opposite of encouragement.

“The verb discourage has roots in the French word descouragier, which comes from des-, meaning “away,” and corage, or “courage.” So when you discourage someone, you can think of it as taking his courage — or enthusiasm — away.” google definition

John Piper addresses this issue of life briefly below:

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/dont-let-discouragement-choke-you

In summary, discouragement is dangerous and we must fight against it. The best way to fight against these lies is to remember God’s Truths by daily meditating on them. I watch sermons and read articles to help me to keep perspective. Circumstances can twist our perception of reality as we endure career failures, unemployment, relationship failures, and burn-out.

The most dangerous season of discouragement arrives when the daily struggles continue for a long period of time with no relief in sight. Ever been in a situation that just gets worse with time? Nothing you try to do makes it better? As the stress, frustration, and anxiety increases you find yourself with even less ability or desire to handle things. This progresses to a state of being overwhelmed and eventually burn-out.

Steve Gallagher of Pure Ministries has an excellent article with biblical examples:

https://www.purelifeministries.org/blog/responding-to-despair-and-discouragement

Disillusionment and Discontent

“The Teaching of Disillusionment” July 30

“Disillusionment means having no more misconceptions, false impressions, and false judgments in life; it means being free from these deceptions. However, though no longer deceived, our experience of disillusionment may actually leave us cynical and overly critical in our judgment of others. But the disillusionment that comes from God brings us to the point where we see people as they really are, yet without any cynicism or any stinging and bitter criticism.

One of the worst consequences of the fall of humanity comes when others wound us from their own past “wounds.” Hurting people tend to hurt others. As someone who holds high ideals for how people should live and treat others, I have to remind myself that I am not the judge of others. God is the Righteous Judge. Only He can perceive every motive and intention of the human heart. We all have been disappointed and misused by others.

My temptation is to separate myself from others–to stay a “safe” distance away from others to avoid the inevitable disappointment(s) and hurts. This isn’t God’s Way. He commands that we love and forgive others regardless of how difficult it maybe personally. Considering all that God has graciously forgiven us, how can we come before Him with unforgiveness and bitterness stained on our hearts/souls?

Chambers identifies the roots of the problem:

1st “Many of the things in life that inflict the greatest injury, grief, or pain, stem from the fact that we suffer from illusions. We are not true to one another as facts, seeing each other as we really are; we are only true to our misconceived ideas of one another.”

2nd “Refusing to be disillusioned is the cause of much of the suffering of human life. And this is how that suffering happens— if we love someone, but do not love God, we demand total perfection and righteousness from that person, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; yet we are demanding of a human being something which he or she cannot possibly give.”

We don’t see others as they really are and we demand from people what they can’t possibly give us! Are we seeing people as they really are? We are all lost, sinful people who desperately need God’s grace. How often are we critical of other people for doing something that we are doing too? It’s just more apparent when someone else is doing it!

Solutions
1. Only God can satisfy your heart

“There is only one Being who can completely satisfy to the absolute depth of the hurting human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Why do we look to others to do what only God can do? Do we forget that Holy Spirit is present in our lives to teach, convict, and guide us? What about God’s Living Word that He has graciously preserved throughout history to speak to His Truths to us?

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Even the person we love (the most) can’t perfectly love us in return. No human ever loves another perfectly. To love is to be vulnerable and that means being open to possibility that the other person won’t respond as expected or desired. The Only Perfect Love is found in Christ. Meaning and purpose are found in trusting and following Him. Relationship(s), career choice, and personal accomplishments can’t deeply satisfy the human heart. All is vain without Christ’s presence and sustaining faith. Things of this earth, even the good things are temporary at best. Eternity with Christ is the ultimate prize!

2.Follow Jesus’ Example: He Trusted God Not In Others

“Our Lord is so obviously uncompromising with regard to every human relationship because He knows that every relationship that is not based on faithfulness to Himself will end in disaster. Our Lord trusted no one, and never placed His faith in people, yet He was never suspicious or bitter.”

Be faithful to Christ! Follow His example and consider what His love means. His love meant living a perfect life, dying on the cross, and rising again to redeem His people! Jesus came as a servant to serve, not to be served. He is the King of the Universe, but was born in stable. Jesus didn’t lord His authority over others. He faithfully fulfilled His Father’s Redemptive Mission. Philippians 2 and 1 Corinthians 13 are instructive. We are called to be like Christ! The purpose of walking with Christ is so that as we grow and struggle we become more like Him and less like the fallen world around us.

3. Place your confidence in God’s Perfect Grace

“Our Lord’s confidence in God, and in what God’s grace could do for anyone, was so perfect that He never despaired, never giving up hope for any person. If our trust is placed in human beings, we will end up despairing of everyone.”

Since God doesn’t give up on us, then we shouldn’t give up on others or consider anyone beyond God’s grace. God’s grace is sufficient for all of our needs. To receive grace from God means that we are to live with grace overflowing from our lives to others. Paul speaks of this vital truth in numerous passages. Those who believe and trust in Christ never walk alone or in the darkness. He is Faithful and True, never forsaking those He has redeemed.

Despair and discouragement seek to draw our attention to our circumstances and present difficulties instead of looking above to Christ and His Kingdom. I write these words with concern and hope for everyone who is facing difficulties. You’re not alone! May God’s Word and Truth strengthen and encourage you! For His glory and honor, I write these words:

The Hard Things Series

Intro

I write this article as a fellow pilgrim on a journey of faith hoping to encourage others. As I write this article, God reminds me of the many blessings that He has graciously given me. Yet, I find myself daily fighting against disillusionment, despair, and anxiety at times. I don’t live in a monastery or in a cave apart from others, though this idea is becoming more appealing for me.

We seek joy, hope, peace, and love in Christ, but often find discouragement, disappointment, and difficulty as we walk along life’s path. This article will explore the root of the problem, explain why we must die to self to follow Christ, briefly explore God’s nature, and consider the dangers of self-righteousness and religion. I will also list several difficult questions that we face. These questions will be addressed in later posts.

The Root of the Problem

The root of our issue(s) is obvious: all of creation and every person is touched and burdened by sin. The book of Romans teaches us that all of creation “groans” under the weight of the curse of sin. We know that there is no perfect relationship, career, or life situation that will fully satisfy our hearts and deep desires. Our lives are filled with moments of joy, peace, and hope; but also seasons of grief, loss, and struggle. We long for what we can’t possibly find in ourselves or even with or through other humans. This explains much of the misery and foolishness of the perishing souls of our world of our present dark age.

Not only do we suffer because of evil done to us, but we also inflict suffering on others. No matter how diligently we strive to be better, we always fall short in our “self improvement” plans. We have to battle our own sinful nature and all the forces of evil that come against us. Sometimes it feels like life is just one unending desperate struggle. Discouragement is an unwelcome guest on this journey.

The Gospel Means Death to Self

If you are serious about walking with God, understand that you will experience trials and tribulations. God’s Word makes this clear. God sends trials to purify and sanctify us! To follow Christ means to die to self. There is no other way to follow Jesus. The Gospel is Good News, but only for those who recognize just how sinful and unworthy they are before a Perfect, Holy, Righteous God. Consider that God hates sin to the extent to separate all the unrepentant evil ones from His presence for all of eternity. Hell is a real place that Jesus mentions over seventy times!

No one deserves to be saved, nor is anyone worthy to be saved. We all deserve death and eternal separation from God (Romans). There are no “naturally” good people. Salvation comes through God’s grace (unmerited favor) not through our works or self-righteousness. The Gospel saves and it condemns. The path to God is a narrow and hard one! Have you died to self and followed Christ? Are you trusting in His grace?

Considering the True Nature of God

Often we are afraid or unwilling to be honest before God. We sometimes act as if He doesn’t know our situations, thoughts, and feelings. We forget that God is Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, and Omnibenevolent.

https://www.gotquestions.org/God-omniscient.html

https://www.gotquestions.org/God-omnipresent.html

https://www.gotquestions.org/God-omnipotent.html

https://www.gotquestions.org/God-omnibenevolent.html

Considering God’s nature helps us to focus on Him when things aren’t going well. Take a moment to check out the links above and praise Him for His Goodness!

Follies of Self-Righteousness and Religion

We are tempted to be religious or good by our own human efforts. We make up our own rules and thoughts about God while attempting to “appease” and follow God. Do you think that you can earn God’s love or grace? Are you trying to live a good life and do good things so He will love or bless you more?

Self-righteousness causes us to view ourselves as being “better” or superior to others due to our own made up self-righteous concepts. We foolishly think that we are okay if we can be”better” than others who sin or live in a particular way. Jesus’ harshest words in the Gospels were reserved for the self-righteous. Consider the “woes” of Luke 11:37-54:

Six Woes from Jesus Reveal His Perfection

Religion is all about our ideas and works instead of trusting and obeying Him. Religion is a subtle trap that leads to destruction. Remember that it was the sinners and outcasts in First century Jewish society that recognized and responded to Christ in faith. It was the religious and political leaders who demanded that the Romans crucify the Messiah.

Hard Questions

Where is God when terrible things happen? Why is it that often when we are seeking God fervently, do we feel most distant from Him? Why doesn’t God just send Jesus back and make everything right? Why is life at times a bitter struggle against ourselves and others?

Why does God not step in and save us from the evil things of this world that harm us? Have you ever wondered what it must have been like for the early Christians who were tortured, and publicly executed? What about the people of history who sought God and were persecuted for telling the truth? Is following Jesus through a life of faith really worth it?

These hard questions will arise when you dare to follow God and step out in faith. Faith is a journey of many steps. Join me as I write about various hard things that you will face in your journey. Next post will deal with the experience of disillusionment. May God increase your faith and courage as you face the hard things!

For His Glory and through His ministry to me, I write these words

Pressing Ahead #2

In my previous post,

https://wordpress.com/post/wordsofencouragementinchrist.com/1217

I encouraged you to press ahead in walking with God. This article will focus on what it means to “know”, “gain” Christ as citizens of His Kingdom. All scripture passages are from the New King James Version online at bible.hub.com

1. To Know Christ is to press ahead in your journey with Him

Knowing Christ is the most important thing we can possibly obtain in our life! Paul uses the Greek word gnosis to explain what knowing Christ means. This term relates to applied knowledge that comes about through a relationship. The same word is used to describe how a husband and wife “know” each other. This isn’t just a body of information, understanding, or theory. It’s knowledge that comes through shared experiences in an intimate relationship. This knowledge comes from close, daily contact and love!

Paul means that he is in a relationship with Christ. Everyone who accepts God’s grace and enters into a “saving” relationship has the same potential. Paul warns in the preceding verses that “false circumcision” is a human way of trying to please God. Paul wants the Philippians (and us) to understand that we are made righteous through faith in Christ. Man made rules and religions can’t save us!

2. To Know Christ is to have faith and depend on His grace

Ephesians 2:8-10

8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

We are saved by grace through faith, not by anything we do! Grace is a gift from God! He created us to do good things. We are saved, and renewed to “walk in them.” God is active and present in His people! The Redeemed are different from the worldly lost!

Paul had it made as a trained Pharisee. He had prestige, power, and respect from the important religious leaders of his day. Yet, when Jesus came to him on the road to Damascus; Paul was forever changed! Later in Acts we see that Paul experiences great trials and sufferings as he works fervently to advance the Gospel.

God comforts Paul with His presence (Acts 27 is a great example). Paul endures the difficulties of serving God because He values “knowing” and “gaining” Christ more than an easy, prosperous life as a pharisee. Are you seeking to know Christ? What holds you back in knowing and obeying Him?

3. To Gain Christ is to forsake all lesser pursuits

8Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Paul uses the word kerdaino which means properly to “profit, exchanging, trading one good thing for another.” According to Strong’s Greek dictionary, this is an ancient mercantile term used to describe when a person trades in something (mediocre/good) for a more valuable object. We would say in modern English that “we are trading up.” Paul gives up his self-righteousness, dependence on his Hebrew heritage to be made right with God through faith.

What are you depending on in your life? What are you seeking in life? It’s the power of Christ’s resurrection and our future transformation in Him that makes the journey of faith worthwhile. All else is vain. The earth and all the things around us will pass away, but God and His Kingdom will endure forever.

4. Remember your true citizenship

In the Roman world, being a Roman citizen was highly prized. Being a citizen gave many benefits. People would pay large amounts of money to become Roman citizens. Paul reminds us that we are citizens of heaven. We have a Risen Savior who will return in glory “21who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”

We will be made like Christ in our resurrected, perfected glorious bodies. This is the hope that can sustain us in our difficult moments. We can rest in God’s Truths knowing that what we face today is just temporary in nature and that we have all eternity to enjoy God’s presence!

Just as athletes train their bodies for competition, so we should train ourselves for this race of faith. Paul encourages us to keep pressing ahead, not focusing on what’s behind. Runners are looking forward as they race ahead. Looking back is a great way to trip yourself up.

May God strengthen and encourage you as you seek to live for His glory and through His grace!

The Faithful Servant: Gospel Living

What does it mean to be faithful in Gospel living? What are some of the difficulties that we must recognize and overcome? In this article, I want to encourage you as you seek to faithfully follow Christ in your daily life. All scriptures are from the New American Standard Bible. Quotes are from Oswald Chambers’ Devotional Fellowship in the Gospel cited as FG (Nov. 10) and My Life’s Spiritual Honor and Duty SHD (July 15). These devotionals are online at https://utmost.org/. Emphasis is my way of highlighting the key phrases.

Difficulty 1: Complaining and grumbling in our daily lives

This is an issue that I battle everyday. We all face difficulties, trials, and irritations at work and in our personal relationships. Human nature leads us to complain, grip, grumble, and doubt when faced with overwhelming stress and difficulties. This is a national and world wide problem. The constant strain of high prices, ongoing pandemic, and supply chain issues makes life more difficult. We live in an uncertain world during difficult times.

Many are burned out, frustrated, anxious, and exhausted. The natural tendency is to complain and lash out at others. When the days are long, hot, and frustrating it’s hard to stay focused on the positive. This is a vicious cycle that drains us and destroys our witness.

We wrongly assume that past generations had it easier or that things were simpler. We will read a passage of scripture and think that it’s impossible to do it so we just ignore or skip over it.

The Way forward through complaining and grumbling is surrender to God’s Plans

Chambers gives us some valuable insights:

“As long as you maintain your own personal interests and ambitions, you cannot be completely aligned or identified with God’s interests. This can only be accomplished by giving up all of your personal plans once and for all, and by allowing God to take you directly into His purpose for the world. Your understanding of your ways must also be surrendered, because they are now the ways of the Lord.”

“I must learn that the purpose of my life belongs to God, not me. God is using me from His great personal perspective, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him. . .When I stop telling God what I want, He can freely work His will in me without any hindrance. He can crush me, exalt me, or do anything else He chooses. He simply asks me to have absolute faith in Him and His goodness. FG

The way forward is to surrender self to Christ. We align ourselves to His plans instead of our ways/plans. This is easier said and written than practiced. This is a daily choice and battle that requires self-denial, sacrifice, and perseverance. We demonstrate faith in the difficulties of life. Paul commands us in Philippians 2:14-16:

14Do all things without complaining or arguments; 15so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16holding firmly the word of life, so that on the day of Christ I can take pride because I did not run in vain nor labor in vain.

Got questions explains this in detail:

https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-complaining.html

In summary, we demonstrate our faith to the lost world by not complaining and proving ourselves faithful in “holding firmly to the word of life.” We chose to obey God and submit to His ways instead of trying to arrange for our own comfort in difficult situations. I know that this is difficult! But it’s what God commands. Paul writes that he is being poured out as a drink offering. He is writing this letter (Philippians) from a prison. He has many reasons to complain and grumble, but he doesn’t! He recognizes God’s gracious activity in his impossibly difficult situations.

Psalm 103 is a great prayer resource to recenter yourself on God’s goodness. Giving thanks and worshiping God is appropriate and necessary during difficult times. God is good all the time even when things are going badly around us! Focusing on Him takes the focus off of self and others! Recall God’s Goodness, Faithfulness, Exceeding Mercy, and deep love for you! Trade Satan’s lies for God’s Powerful Living Words of Truth!

Be the Salt and Light for the world–This is our Purpose

Jesus teaches at the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:13-16

13“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by people.

14“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16Your light must shine before people in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus clearly states the purpose of our lives. We are to be both salt and light. Salt is a preservative and anti-septic. It keeps things from rotting and becoming infected with bacteria. Light is referring to the oil lamps that were used to light homes after dark. How we live matters! Our neighbors, coworkers, and others are watching us. Are we being a “force” of good and light? Often our actions speak louder than our words.

Avoid Self-Pity, and Encourage others

Chambers reminds us

Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world. Doing this creates for me my own cozy “world within the world,” and God will not be allowed to move me from it because of my fear of being “frost-bitten.”” FG

Focusing on self and complaining/grumbling leads to rebellion against God. We see this in Exodus and Numbers. Even though God is physically present (cloud and pillar of fire) with all the many miracles, the people rebelled and complained. When God’s will or command(s) is clear, we are tempted to rebel instead of obey. We must be ready to obey and trust when asking God for discernment or clarity.

We need to recognize that we have the same sinful nature as the Hebrews. We are all sinners who daily battle our sinful nature. The author of Hebrews warns us in Chapters 3 and 4 that we need to take care that we don’t have “an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God 3:10” We must walk by faith and not by sight lest we walk away from God.

Encourage others

Hebrews 3:13 reminds us to encourage each other. Encouragement helps us to recognize God’s presence and truths when facing difficulties. As God works in our lives, we need to share with others. This can be a written note, a time of prayer with someone, and/or fellowship. God puts us into a community for a reason! He intends that we serve and encourage each other along this journey of faith during the joys and difficulties of life. How can you encourage those God has placed in your life? That’s why I write these articles.

Difficulty 2: Our Selfish Nature

James points out the root of our difficulties with others: James 4:1-4

1What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is the source not your pleasures that wage war in your body’s parts? 2You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, so that you may spend what you request on your pleasures. 4You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Our sinful nature is a strong force in our lives that must be recognized and dealt with appropriately. Our tendency is see ourselves as better than we are and to see others as “worse” than we are. We are all selfish in nature. This is because of the original sin. We are caught in a war against ourselves and others. The world wants our friendship and promises a false way of life.

The concept of world refers to the systems that opposes God. This is human sinful nature, satanic, demonic forces, and all that is against God. The “world” falsely promises peace, stability, prosperity, and ease of living. Yet, the cost is high. To be of the world is to be against God.

James 4:5-10 Solutions

5Or do you think that the Scripture says to no purpose, “He jealously desires the Spirit whom He has made to dwell in us”? 6But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7Submit therefore to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come close to God and He will come close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Be miserable, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into gloom. 10Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

God graciously sends His Holy Spirit into the lives of His people. Holy Spirit convicts, guides, and empowers us to live with/for God. James advises us to:

  1. Submit to God-trusting in His grace
  2. Resist the devil–this means to counter his lies with God’s truths–apply God’s Word to your life and seek Christ first
  3. Come close to God–turn away from the world and sin to Christ
  4. Cleanse and purify your heart–this means to repent of the evil and seek God– Psalms 51 is an excellent prayer
  5. Humble yourself before God–admit your need for God to sustain and cleanse

The concept of “double-minded” is a word picture. This term refers to a person who is conflicted between two natures or “souls”. This person can’t or won’t decide on who or what to follow. Got questions describes this:

“A double-minded person is restless and confused in his thoughts, his actions, and his behavior. Such a person is always in conflict with himself. One torn by such inner conflict can never lean with confidence on God and His gracious promises. Correspondingly, the term unstable is analogous to a drunken man unable to walk a straight line, swaying one way, then another. He has no defined direction and as a result doesn’t get anywhere. Such a person is “unstable in all he does.””

https://www.gotquestions.org/double-minded.html

Consider God’s Grace and Mercy

When we study God’s Word and experience conviction, it hurts us in a productive way. First, we realize that we need God’s grace and mercy. God is Perfectly Righteous and Just. He can’t overlook our sins and evil nature. God graciously sent Jesus to Perfectly and Completely Atone for our sins. Jesus renews our hearts and saves us through His life, death, and resurrection.

To value grace properly we must recognize and acknowledge our desperate need for Christ’s Redemption. Every single person deserves to be eternally separated from God. God is Merciful and Forgiving! Let us consider each day how we can be more like our Heavenly Father and Jesus instead of being like this world!

Chambers describes our purpose in relation to what Christ as done for us in the following two quotations:

“Paul was overwhelmed with the sense of his indebtedness to Jesus Christ, and he spent his life to express it. The greatest inspiration in Paul’s life was his view of Jesus Christ as his spiritual creditor. Do I feel that same sense of indebtedness to Christ regarding every unsaved soul? As a saint, my life’s spiritual honor and duty is to fulfill my debt to Christ in relation to these lost souls. Every tiny bit of my life that has value I owe to the redemption of Jesus Christ. Am I doing anything to enable Him to bring His redemption into evident reality in the lives of others?”

“Paul sold himself to Jesus Christ and he said, in effect, “I am a debtor to everyone on the face of the earth because of the gospel of Jesus; I am free only that I may be an absolute bondservant of His.” That is the characteristic of a Christian’s life once this level of spiritual honor and duty becomes real. Quit praying about yourself and spend your life for the sake of others as the bondservant of Jesus. That is the true meaning of being broken bread and poured-out wine in real life.” SHD

If God has changed you then you need to share your testimony with others! If God hasn’t transformed or renewed you then you need to carefully consider if you have ever encountered Him! Walking an aisle at church, praying a “repeat after me” prayer doesn’t save anyone–God’s grace is what saves us. Salvation occurs when a person trusts upon God’s grace and mercy in total dependence on God for His Redemption. Salvation is a miraculous work of God. Good works and religion don’t save anyone!

First and foremost, a person has to be convicted of his/her sins and cry out to Jesus for salvation. This is more than just an emotional decision we make to “choose” God. God radically changes all those He saves! No change, no redemption has taken place. What are the fruits of your life? The redeemed don’t live for sin and self-pleasure, but for God’s glory and honor. Which road are you walking on? The narrow road of Christ is the only one that leads to heaven. Who are you living for?

https://www.gotquestions.org/way-of-salvation.html

May God encourage you as you face trials and difficulties!

Be Like Christ

What is the purpose of our lives and journeys? Paul lays it out for us in Philippians chapter two, verses one through thirteen. All scripture is from the New American Standard Bible from biblehub.com. I include several links from the gotquestions.com page for you to explore in greater detail.

Point 1: Be Like Christ, be humble and unified in love

1Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves; 4do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Experiencing God’s unmerited favor (grace) changes our hearts! As His grace works in our lives and we grow in a community of faith (the gathering/assembly, the church), Holy Spirit gifts and leads us. The purpose of the fruit and spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 4) is to further the mission of the church which is to proclaim the Gospel to the world. Paul identifies the fruit of Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-26

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit as well. 26Let’s not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

If we walk with God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit this is how our lives will look to those observing us. For extended explanation of the fruits: each fruit is examined in bottom links of this page

https://www.gotquestions.org/fruit-of-the-Holy-Spirit.html

For an overview of the various spiritual gifts:

https://www.gotquestions.org/spiritual-gifts-survey.html

We live for Christ and others, not for ourselves. This is easier said and written than applied in daily life! Yet, it’s crucial that our lives reflect our beliefs. If we claim to be Christians, but walk in darkness and hatred then we are fooling ourselves (see 1 John). Jesus warns that one can recognize a tree by it’s fruits. What are the fruits of your life? Is your love and humility apparent to others? What gifts have Christ given you? How are you applying your gifts to your local church?

Paul warns us about envy and selfish ambitions. The remedy for our selfishness is to consider Christ and how that He served His Heavenly Father. As long as we focus on self, we are missing many opportunities to love and serve others. We must fight against our fleshly nature. God sends us trials and difficulties to purify and humble us. Our role is to respond in repentance and growth!

Point 2: Have the Same Attitude of Christ Jesus: The Servant

5Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross.

The theological term for Jesus emptying Himself is kenosis. For an explanation:

https://www.gotquestions.org/kenosis.html

In summary, Jesus took upon the role of a faithful servant as His Heavenly Father led Him. As gotquestions points out, we need to be careful to not read into scripture more than what it plainly teaches us. Jesus is fully God and fully human. He came to fulfill His Father’s purpose. Our call as Christians is to be like Christ! We are to follow His example.

We have to die to ourselves (take up our crosses) and follow God. Taking up a cross was a difficult concept for the first century Jews to understand. They correctly understood that death on a cross (being hung from a tree) was a sign of be accursed by God. This is exactly what Jesus endured to save us. He was accursed by God to make the redemption possible.

Obviously we don’t save other people, this is the role of Jesus. But we are to live like Christ forsaking our natural, fallen desires and ways to follow God. This involves sacrifice and difficulties in our lives. Yet, we can take heart and be courageous because we know that Jesus has overcome the world (the evil systems opposed to God).

Point 3: Jesus is Supreme King. He is victorious!

9For this reason also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Because of Jesus’ obedience to His Heavenly Father, He is exalted above all others. We serve a victorious Savior! Every human will recognize His victory. For some this will be a day of great rejoicing and peace. For others it will be a terrible day of regret and judgment!

Point 4: Work out your faith!

12So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, both to desire and to work for His good pleasure.

We are to obey our Victorious Savior! The phrase “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” means more than the English words convey. The concept of “fear” in the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) is not our English fear. The terms properly translated communicates a “deep reverence” and “respect.” Basically, we desire to serve God and recognize His Greatness, Holiness, and Majesty. Knowing His Perfect Good Character motivates us to live in a manner that pleases Him. “Trembling” is a concept of being moved by His Greatness. When contemplating God, we are aware of our sinfulness and unworthiness before Him. We are finite, He is Infinite. His the Creator, we are the creature.

Scripture is clear that we aren’t worthy of His love, grace, mercy, or loving-kindness. It’s His grace and mercy that reaches out to us in our sin and depravity. For more on this topic:

https://www.gotquestions.org/fear-and-trembling.html

Verse 13 contains a wonderful truth! God is at work in us! He is shaping and leading us for His good pleasure. God isn’t finished with you. He is at work to make you into the person He intends for you to become! Even when we fail and fall short, we can rest assured that God will work for His glory and purpose. We can live victorious lives of faith because of Jesus’ victory! We can lean on Him and cry out for help when we need guidance and courage to press ahead.

May God’s love and Holy Spirit work in your life for His glory! I write these words as a fellow stranger on this world hoping for a better home with Christ,

The Gospel Spreads

Introduction

The most recent articles published here explore the storms of life, stepping out in faith, and trusting in God to walk by faith not by sight. Scripture quotes are from New American Standard (NASV) from biblehub. Adrian Rogers reminds us in How to Handle Stress

“sometimes you cannot tell what is happening by outward appearance,and so the storms of life that come to you may be the things that God is bring to you to deliver you, and to help you, and to cause you to rise higher.”

Source of quote: https://www.lwf.org/pdfs/2205-How-to-Handle-Stress-PTR.pdf

Consequently, I would like you to consider that perhaps the storms and difficulties that we face are not just for our own good. What if God sends you difficulties and trials in order to strengthen your faith so that you can more effectively proclaim the Good News? Often it’s the humble, broken, and contrite souls that most diligently share the Good News! Can we really share news if it isn’t Good News to us personally?

Philippians 1:12-14 NASB

1. Paul’s Attitude-No Matter What Proclaim the Good News

12Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14and that most of the brothers and sisters, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.

God “engineers our circumstances” to suit His purposes for our lives. Oswald Chambers speaks: April 23 Devotional

“We have no right to judge where we should be put, or to have preconceived notions as to what God is fitting us for. God engineers everything; wherever He puts us, our one great aim is to pour out a whole-hearted devotion to Him in that particular work. ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.'”

Even imprisonment was no hindrance to Paul’s message! While he was in chains, chained to a Roman guard awaiting trial, he had a “captive” audience. God works even in our most difficult circumstances to provide witness of His Goodness and Grace!

2. Romans 5:1-5

The Certainty of Hope and Proven Character

1Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we also have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate in hope of the glory of God. 3And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Because of Christ’s Atonement and God’s love poured into us through Holy Spirit, we can glory even in our trials! Tribulations are those fiery trials and temptations that come against you. The idea of being”pressed or crushed” comes to mind. Paul reminds us that we can celebrate in those hard moments. He then explains how we benefit from tribulations. The logic flow is below:

perseverance– cheerful, hopeful endurance

perseverance brings character–proven character

character brings hope–expectation, trust, confidence

The term poured out here means to “gush out, or spill.” Holy Spirit literally gushes out God’s love into our hearts! He fills us up to overflow!

3. Romans 5:6-8 The Extent of God’s love

6For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will hardly die for a righteous person; though perhaps for the good person someone would even dare to die. 8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God saves us when we are powerless to change ourselves. It’s God’s love, mercy, and grace that saves us! We can endure trials because He has saved us when we were helpless and powerless. God’s Redemption is our firm foundation to stand when the storms of life rage against us.

4. Philippians 2:21-30: Exalt Christ with Your Life!

Verses 15-20 Paul explains how he finds joy in the Gospel being proclaimed even if by people with wrong motives. His source of joy is the knowledge that v.20 “according to my eager expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

Paul’s one ambition is that Christ be exalted in his life regardless of his life or death. This leads to his statement: “21For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul mentions his desire to be with Christ in heaven, yet wants to continue living to serve and encourage others. Paul’s life is about more than just Paul’s human desires! What is your life all about? Are you living for Christ and making a difference in serving others?

Got questions explains the concept of living for Christ and what it means that to die is gain:

https://www.gotquestions.org/to-live-is-Christ.html

https://www.gotquestions.org/to-die-is-gain.html

Paul concludes chapter 1 with several profound truths to encourage the believers at Philippi. First, there is joy in seeing progress and joy in others being faithful to God. We need to celebrate other’s progress in the faith. Second, we need to live worth of the Gospel, united with other believers, and striving together for the faith. God established and sustains the church to nourish believers. The church isn’t a building or institution, but a community of like-minded individuals who come together to worship, fellowship, and serve God together.

The last truth seems to be contradictory. Paul writes:

29For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer on His behalf, 30experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

God shows us favor and kindness in having us to not only believe, but to suffer for Him as well. The word “grant” here literally means to show kindness, favor. This seems to make no sense that God would be acting in our favor by appointing us to suffer for Him. It’s suffering that causes us to hunger for Him! Prosperity, comfort, and easy times causes us to lose focus and seek to maintain the “good moments” of life.

Paul’s sufferings as recorded in his letters and the book of Acts press him forward into being a bolder witness for Christ! The conflict he is talking about is his desire to be with Christ but wanting to stay behind to love and serve his fellow believers.

It is through our weaknesses that God truly shines His glory! While that’s a subject for another article, let’s focus our eyes upward. Suffering makes this necessary as we realize that we don’t have what it takes to press ahead in ourselves! God sends difficult storms to ground us in Him! It’s a great act of love and mercy that leads us away from ourselves and the things of this world to seek something far greater in Christ!

May God’s love and hope overflow into your heart to overflow onto those in need around you! I write these words to encourage you to press ahead in your difficult moments and trials knowing that God will get the glory as you persevere!

Walk by Faith: Stepping Out

Focus Passage: 2 Corinthians 5:6-8

6Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 7for we walk by faith, not by sight— 8but we are of good courage and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

This article is from a sermon I preached to encourage fellow believers. Let’s start with the above passage. All scripture passages are quoted from https://biblehub.com New American Standard. Paul reminds us that we should have “good courage.” We are not at home as believers in this world–read the previous 5 verses of this passage. We walk by faith–not by sight. This is important to consider as we consider Peter as he steps out to meet Jesus. Paul also adds that our preferred place of being is with Jesus not in our temporary life. For more on this subject:

https://www.gotquestions.org/walk-by-faith-not-by-sight.html

Point 1: Life is temporary and fleeting, we desire a better home Hebrews 11-12/2 Corinthians 5:1-5

Desiring a better home and longing for God purifies us. This concept is all throughout the New Testament. God will purify and draw us closer to Him. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is to bring us into storms and troubles that force us to look up to Him. As long as we can manage or arrange our lives for our own comfort, we aren’t really living for or seeking Christ! Our desire for comfort and ease becomes our idol when we seek it above all else.

There is no one in scripture who encounters God who isn’t radically changed. Has God changed or renewed you? God sends Holy Spirit as our pledge (2 Corinthians 5:5). The concept of pledge used here is that of a massive payment made to ensure a debt is paid. Holy Spirit also “seals” us. God doesn’t leave us alone to wander. Holy Spirit convicts, guides, and teaches us (John 16:7-11).

The walk of faith recognizes that our time is short on this earth. We live for Someone far Greater! There is a purpose much greater than our selfish and temporary desires! What are you living for? Who are you living for? Are you content and joyful in your earthly existence? Sometimes it takes a crisis to move us forward in our walk with Christ.

Point 2: God calls us out of the “boat” to walk with Him. Matthew 14:28-31

28Peter responded and said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and when he began to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” 31Immediately Jesus reached out with His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

When Peter recognizes Jesus his first instinct is to come to Him. Jesus calls Peter to “come.” Peter steps out of the boat and walks on the water! Peter demonstrates faith, but this faith is imperfect as he becomes frightened and looses focus. Jesus doesn’t mock him or let him drown. Instead, when Peter cries out for Jesus to save him, Jesus immediately reaches out and takes hold of him. Do you cry out to Jesus when you start to sink into despair or doubt?

When we are walking toward Jesus, we are exercising faith. Just like Peter, our faith isn’t perfect. We have doubts, fears, insecurities, failures, hurts, and weaknesses. Yet, God calls us to step out and walk to Him. Our problem is that as humans we tend to seek comfort and safety. We don’t trust God or dream big. It’s so easy to make excuses and shrink back instead of stepping out! For an in-depth discussion on what we can learn from Peter:

https://www.gotquestions.org/Peter-walking-on-water.html

Not trusting God has severe consequences. Consider Numbers 13-14. The Hebrew people chose to rebel instead of trusting God. God punishes them with forty-years of wandering and death in the desert. Hebrews warns us to be sure that we enter into God’s rest. I wrote about this in a previous blog

https://wordpress.com/post/wordsofencouragementinchrist.com/737

Every day we can chose to live for God, trusting in His grace to provide for us or we foolish shrink back from what God is leading us to do. The people’s fear was that they would suffer defeat and death. This happened because they weren’t walking in faith, but by sight. They considered the obstacles instead of God’s Presence and Promise.

Point 3: Our “sight” is short and limited.

God never promises us an easy road. Following Jesus requires courage, sacrifice, and dying to self. God doesn’t promise to make things easier or less stressful. Our world is a fallen, tragic place to dwell. We will suffer loss, face ridicule, and struggle against our own sinful desires. I want you to clearly understand that walking by faith isn’t easy! At times in your life it will be a daily battle to press ahead in faith.

God desires that we become more like Him and less like this fallen world. His promise to us is that He will make us anew! God will renew and transforms us! However, this process takes time, requires spiritual growth, faith, and trust. God often increases faith by sending trials and tests that causes us to depend on Him more or in different ways. This process can be discouraging and frightening. Yet, God is faithful, Perfectly Good, Just, and Righteous!

We can trust in our limited and flawed sense of sight or trust the Holy God who spoke all things into being. God sees the beginning, the middle, and end. Unlike us, He knows how and why everything happens. He is the Master Creator who is arranging and moving things along to His Perfect Plan. We (at best) can only perceive just a little of what is actually transpiring! Nor should we excessively “worry” about all the things of this world. We know from the Gospels and Revelations that God is going to return triumphantly in glory to set things right.

Point 4: God isn’t done with us. Philippians 1:6

6For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work among you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus.

Paul is encouraging the believers in Philippi that what God starts He will finish. Simply explained, God begins working in us when He redeems us and works through our life to prepare us for His purposes. The proper term for this is sanctification. Got questions explains this:

https://www.gotquestions.org/He-who-began-a-good-work-in-you.html

God isn’t done with you! No matter how weak, feeble, and fleeting you may feel! It’s God’s Strong Arms that lift us up from the stormy waves of life! Know that God loves and disciplines those who follow Him! The road is long, perilous, and weary, but we will never walk alone. I write these words to encourage you. I daily remind myself of these truths. Sometimes all we can do manage to do is cry out for God to save us. God is delighted to hear our cries!

I write these words as a fellow pilgrim walking a tough path where I too stumble and forget the goodness of God, my prayer for you

9And this I pray, that your love may overflow still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, 10so that you may discover the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ; 11having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, for the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11

Jesus: With Us in the Storm

As I write these words to encourage you, you may be walking through a difficult time in your life. I purposely write about the “hard” things of the journey of faith because I have been there myself. These truths have encouraged me! You may be fighting against the crashing waves of grief, disappointment, or difficulty in your life. This article is based on a sermon preached Sunday, June 19, 2022. This sermon/article idea came from 2 sermons from Adrian Rogers. You can watch these sermons for yourself here:

Setting: Passage 1 Matthew 14:22-33

Prior to this episode, we need to consider the following from verse 1-21

  1. Jesus hears that His cousin John the Baptist has been unjustly executed v1-12
  2. Jesus withdraws to pray by Himself.
  3. A crowd of people finds Him and Jesus has compassion and heals.
  4. Jesus feeds thousands of hungry with the five loaves and two fish.

The disciples and people have just experienced a miracle. Remember that every miracle in the Gospels is recorded for a reason–to reveal Jesus’ identity and power. Jesus reveals Himself to be the Bread of Life (John 6:26-51).

Matthew and Mark indicate that Jesus “compelled” the disciples to get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus sends the crowd away and goes up to the mountain to pray by Himself. An important question is why He had to pressure them to get into the boat? It’s possible that the disciples having being fishermen were aware of the contrary winds and possibility of a storm forming/coming. Why didn’t Jesus accompany them? Why did He send them into a storm and difficulty?

Why Does God allow or send storms into our lives?

God will send storms in our lives. Christians face terminal illnesses, lose jobs, have family problems, and ultimately die just like the lost people of the world. Have you ever considered the missionaries and believers who followed God to a place where they ultimately died from illness or murder? Why did God send them where He knew that they would experience difficulty and death? Why does God allow horrible things to happen in churches or lives of His people?

This doesn’t seem like a Loving, Kind, Forgiving God. But this is the reality. How many church and school shootings have happened over this past year? How do we reconcile the terrible things of our lives and this world with the truth that God is Perfectly Good and Wise?

https://www.gotquestions.org/bad-things-good-people.html

We face an important choice in what we believe about God. First, we can believe that things just happen due to “fate” or some accident. This heresy teaches that bad things just happen. We are victims to bad circumstances or “luck.” This belief has it roots in paganism. Consider the Greek “fates”. Similar is that people suffer because they have done bad things. In John 9, the disciples ask why the man was born blind–who sinned? It’s a false notion that we suffer because of sins we have done. This is partly, but not fully true. Our sins do lead to suffering in our lives and others, but this man was born blind. 3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. KJV

This man’s situation-blindness and begging–happened so that God’s might reveal Jesus as the “Light of the World.” God had a purpose for his blindness. God has a purpose for us too!

We can wrongly believe that God isn’t active or involved in our world (Deism). Some wrongly believe that God is aware, but learning (Open Theism) or unable to control people due to “free will” of humans. This is a popular, but serious heresy that distorts God’s Revealed Nature according to God’s Word.

It’s difficult to fully understand that God is All Powerful and All Loving. We want God to stop all the evil, protect us, and prevent the horrors of life. Why do we struggle with this? Because we know that things should be better. God has put a desire in our hearts for eternity. This world isn’t our home! We can’t be truly comfortable or safe here!

https://www.gotquestions.org/eternity-in-our-hearts.html

What if God sends us into storm(s) so that we experience His presence? For the believer to grow/mature

What if God sends difficulties to teach us more about Him that we wouldn’t learn any other way? In verses 24-25, the disciples are fighting against contrary winds and waves. Jesus has sent them into a trial. They’re fighting hard and struggling in the early hours of the morning. It’s dark and stormy. Jesus is still on the mountain praying. Ever feel abandoned? I wonder what was going through the disciples’ mind as they are straining against the wind and waves for hours in the dark night.

Our tendency as sinful humans is to attempt life on our own. We desire to be “self-made” and self-reliant. We will invest all kinds of time, energy into improving ourselves or making ourselves “feel” more comfortable. We want to do life on our terms. We want things to go our way in our own time. Like the Burger King slogan we demand to “have it our way” This is the nature of the human rebellion against God. This started in Genesis 3 and continues today.

What if God’s Mercy sends the storm?

What if God sends storms to save us from self-reliance and eternal separation from Him? What if the storm is God’s way of getting us to look to Him to save us? As long as we live for and through ourselves, we are missing Christ! Life is only found in Christ.

A comfortable, safe “spiritual” journey leads straight to destruction and eternal separation from God. Those who foolishly live life apart from Christ will perish eternally! Which road are you walking on? Why does God say that the road to Him is narrow?

https://www.gotquestions.org/narrow-path.html

Jesus Appears

Then in the fourth watch of the night (3am to sunrise), the disciples perceive someone walking on the water. During this time period, storms were thought to be caused by evil spirits or demons. People don’t walk on water so with the chaos of the water they assumed it was a “ghost” or evil spirit coming to them. They naturally cry out in fear.

Jesus identifies Himself and calms them.

One of the challenges of walking in faith is recognizing Christ’s presence in the dark, stormy times of our lives. When the fear is highest and the storm waves are crashing down on us, do we recognize God’s presence? Jesus has left the mountain and is walking to them. What if Jesus is walking close to you (Holy Spirit’s Presence), but you can’t see Him? Obviously, Jesus is physically present in heaven with God (Hebrews 1:3, 12:2) . But He has sent Holy Spirit to us (John 16). We never walk alone! Never do we face any storm where He isn’t present! But do we recognize Him?

Peter’s Brave but Imperfect Faith

Peter is one of my favorite Gospel heroes because he shows both the best and worst of human followers. He loves and trusts Jesus, but imperfectly. Like us, his faith falters! Peter wants to be with Jesus and walks on the water toward Him! He walks on the water until he takes his eyes off Christ and focuses on the waves!

https://www.gotquestions.org/Peter-walking-on-water.html

His motives and intentions are good. He is “stepping out in faith” then becomes overwhelmed with the situation. Like us, his faith needs to grow. Yet, he gets close to Christ before he sinks. He does the right thing when he starts to sink! He cries out to Jesus and notice how Jesus responds:

30But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? Matthew 14:30-31 KJV

Jesus immediately reaches out to him and rescues Him. All Peter had to do was cry out! Got questions “Peter Walking on the Water” sums this up: emphasis mine

Quote passage 1 “For believers, the lesson here is unmistakable. If we take our eyes off Jesus and focus on our circumstances, we will fall under the weight of our problems. If we call to Jesus in faith, he will catch us and lift us above our seemingly impossible situation. Peter let doubt displace his faith. In all the time he had been with Jesus, even Peter, one of Christ’s closest friends, was still learning to trust the Lord completely.”

Quote passage 2 “A crucial lesson remains to be explored. When Peter jumps out of the boat, his heart is full of good intentions. Sometimes we take a leap of faith with similarly good intentions, but, like Peter’s, our faith soon falters. Peter’s exercise of faith does not end in failure. Although he is sinking in fear, he calls out to the Lord, “Save me!” God loves to hear our cry for help. It means we know we can’t save ourselves. Peter helplessly cries out to the only one who can help him. The disciple’s experience reminds us that a lapse of faith is merely a stumble. The Lord is near to raise us back safely to our feet when we call to Him for help.”

Faith is a journey and learning process for us all.

Final Thought: The Storm Ends John 6:21

21 Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went. KJV

The following article explains this concept in detail:

https://www.bibleref.com/John/6/John-6-21.html

Once the disciples welcome Jesus into the boat, the storm and journey are immediately over. The storm and difficulty lasts until God ends it! Jesus delivered them to their destination. While we will struggle in life, we have the assurance that Jesus will see us to our destination (eternity with Him)! Have you welcomed Christ into your life? Have you trusted in His grace and mercy to save you?

May God grant you wisdom and courage to recognize His presence in your storms of life! May God’s Living Word encourage and strengthen your faith! I write these words to encourage you!

The Refining Fire of Trials

God is at work in our lives! We shall trust that He is actively working in/through our difficulties. Jesus clearly promises that we will have troubles “tribulations” in this life. The word tribulation creates a “word” image of being crushed, specifically by heavy weight. Imagine a large stone or heavy stones being placed on your chest. As each stone is added it becomes more difficult to breath. Isn’t life like this at times? One difficulty then another comes upon us. Join me as I consider six truths about God’s use of trials. All scripture passages are from the New King James Version online:

https://biblehub.com/nkjv/1_peter/1.htm

I also include several links to Got Questions, Crosswalk.com, and other articles for you to explore terms and significance in greater detail.

A fog of difficulties descends upon us that obscures our walk with God

Truth 1: Jesus promises us that we will be face tribulations- John 16:33

Christianity.com defines and summarizes the key terms and relevant passages

https://www.christianity.com/wiki/christian-terms/what-are-trials-and-tribulations.html

God’s Word teaches that we are pilgrims, and strangers in this world (Hebrews 11). A false gospel promises prosperity or ease in this life. The physical “present” world and it’s fallen, corrupted world order isn’t our home nor eternal destination! John warns us in 1 John about the foolishness of loving the world while claiming to love Christ. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan explores the journey of faith.

Truth 2: God Chooses and Sanctifies Us Through Jesus’ Atonement and Holy Spirit’s work

1 Peter 1:1-2

Greeting to the Elect Pilgrims

1Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace be multiplied.”

Election (simply defined) refers to God effectively bringing about His plan of redemption to save those He redeems. This concept appears in numerous passages in scriptures. Got questions summarizes this term (for those desiring more information) and the concept of “predestination.” Both articles defines the terms accurately and concisely.

https://www.gotquestions.org/doctrine-of-election.html

https://www.gotquestions.org/predestination.html

Let’s focus on what God mercifully does for His people. First, we see Holy Spirit working to sanctify us so that we will obey Jesus. This obey refers to trusting in Christ’s atonement instead of our self-righteousness. Second, we recognize the term “be sprinkled” (NASB) and “sprinkling” (NKJV) blood of Jesus Christ. Peter is referring to the Jewish practice of blood being sprinkled on the altar and the people to atone for sins. Here’s a great explanation of the significance:

https://www.gotquestions.org/sprinkling-of-blood.html

Truth 3: God’s Mercy bring us to a new birth and living hope
1 Peter 1:3-5 A Heavenly Inheritance

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

In God’s mercy, we find new life literally “to beget again.” This new life includes

  • a living hope, which we find in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead,
  • permanent, pure, non-fading inheritance in Christ,
  • kept by God’s power, (He holds on to us) and
  • salvation ready to be revealed through faith in the last time.

God’s redeemed are trophies of His Grace that will be displayed when Christ returns at His Second Coming. This concept appears in the other writings of Peter, Paul, John, and the Book of Hebrews. Our hope rests on Jesus’ Return and Renewal of all Things. Likewise our hope is alive because He lives!

https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/seniors/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-trophy-of-grace.html

Truth 4: Trials have a purpose–it’s not meaningless when we’re distressed!

6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

This seems absolutely crazy that we would rejoice in our trials much less rejoice with “joy inexpressible”! How is this even possible? That’s my question when I read this passage. God’s Living Word is always true even when it “seems” to be strange or impossible! So what does this mean?

We can rejoice even in our trials because:

  • genuine faith is valuable and desirable (more than gold),
  • our faith faith pleases and honors God so that,
  • we will glorify Jesus when He returns as,
  • we love and believe in Jesus without “seeing” Him, and ultimately
  • this faith leads to salvation–effective, tested outcome of faith due to trials.

Simply explained, trials refine our faith making us into persons who glorify and please our Heavenly Father. We can rejoice with “joy inexpressible and full of glory” because our trials and suffering have a purpose greater than worldly comfort, wealth, or happiness. James also instructs us to find joy in trials in James 1:2-4. God provides us with joy that is incomparable to mere situational happiness that fades. For more,

https://www.gotquestions.org/joy-trials.html

Gold and other precious metals are refined by intense heat and/or chemical processes. The heat process causes the impurities or dross to “float” to the top where it can be removed. This “slag” is the other minerals that keep the gold or silver from being pure. Note the designation 999.9 pure on the bar below. Gold is mostly mined from rocks in the form of various ores. Heat or chemicals are used depending on the mining operation to refine the precious metal out from other minerals. Helpful source: https://www.geologypage.com/2019/04/what-is-gold-mining-how-is-gold-mined.html

Our lives (as fallen humans) are contaminated with pride, selfishness, vanity, and numerous other impurities that lessen our spiritual “shine” and purity. Just as silver tarnishes and has to be polished, God uses trials to mold and purify us. Like gold nuggets precious to the miner, our souls need refining by God’s process.

Also, trials come upon us because we live in a world tainted by sin. Suffering, injustice, frustration, anxiety, and death come to us all. Other people will sin against us and cause us harm just as we sin against others ourselves. Hard times leads us to desire a better, perfect world that only exists with Christ. A comfortable, easy life is dangerous because it leads one to focus and desire present comfort instead of the future and eternity with God.

Truth 5: Our salvation and God’s grace through Christ is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.

1 Peter 1:10-12

10Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.”

God’s plan to redeem fallen humanity and creation starts immediately after the fall in Genesis 3. This plan appears in God’s choosing of a man (Abraham), later a people (the Hebrews), and ultimately sending Jesus as Messiah the Christ. The Old Testament Prophets and faithful followers were aware of various aspects and the promise of a coming Messiah. Apparently, even the angels wanted to know more! The Gospel is Good News that many longed to see come to fruition in Jesus’ birth, ministry, and resurrection.

Truth 6: Application of This Passage: Be Alert and Holy

1 Peter 1:13-16

Living Before God Our Father

13Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”’

Since God has given His Good News and redeemed us into a living hope in Him; we are to

  1. gird up–also translated NASB “prepare your minds for action”–be ready,
  2. be sober–means to be “aware” or on “guard”,
  3. place hope “completely” NASB or “fully” on God’s grace as revealed in Christ,
  4. obey as children of God,
  5. turn away from “former lusts”–wrong desires, and
  6. be Holy as God is Holy.–quoted from Leviticus 19:2

For more about what it means to be “holy as God is holy” check out this resource:

https://www.gotquestions.org/be-holy-for-I-am-holy.html

As God’s redeemed we live by faith and hope! God is at work in our trials and difficulties to make us more like Him. Upon His return may He find us walking faithfully and with courage before Him! Our lives specifically how we respond to trials and grief is our witness to the lost around us. God wants us to be a testimony of His Grace and Presence in our lives. Every great testimony starts with a soul lost or crushed in darkness!

I write these words as one who fights to remain faithful. This is a daily battle that leaves one bruised and weary. Trials are not easy. Discouragement and hopelessness stalk like a hungry lion waiting to pounce on us during our dark times in life. Grief, loss, disappointment, and other numerous bad experiences are opportunities to grow closer to Christ! Knowing that He’s still at work and has a far, better place prepared for those who love Him. If you’re in a difficult time, make some time to read the following chapters Romans 8, Hebrews 11, John 16-17, and Psalm 103.

Invite God’s Word and Holy Spirit comfort you with His truths! Remember that God loves us perfectly. He loves us enough to discipline and purify us when we would rather be comfortable and weak. Through His grace, strength, and hope you shall overcome!

May God grant you courage, hope, wisdom, and discernment to perceive His presence in your life during times of trial! I write this article as one who finds hope and courage in Christ,

Walking with God: Grace in moments

How can we believers face the difficulties and uncertainties of our lives? Join me as I reflect on Oswald Chamber’s devotional “The Never-Forsaking God”. All quotes are from this devotional or the King James Version. The first passage is Hebrews 13:5-6 KJV:

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?”

The author of Hebrews is concluding his letter with final instructions on moral Christian living. The recipients of this letter were facing trials and tribulations for their faith. Some had lost property because they confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (Hebrews 10:35-39). We are encouraged to be content not seeking wealth and possessions. What a wonderful promise! God will never forsake you! We can focus on our Heavenly Helper instead of those who persecute us or the difficulties that come upon us in life!

In our times of stress and difficulty to whom do we turn?

Chambers asks us this vital question about our thoughts:

“What line of thinking do my thoughts take? Do I turn to what God says or to my own fears? Am I simply repeating what God says, or am I learning to truly hear Him and then to respond after I have heard what He says? “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ ”

Are we letting our thoughts focus on our fears instead of listening to God’s Truths? Anyone who lives with anxiety understands this vicious cycle of thinking and feeling. God never promises us an easy or safe journey in this life. Evil, violent people harm and destroy innocent others. After watching or reading the news who wants to ever leave home?

What do we focus on? It’s easy to focus on all the bad and tragic happenings instead of remembering and considering God and His Truths as found in His Living Word. Recalling God’s Promises and praying in the moments of our lives provides peace in the storms. God gives us grace for the present moment. The past is over and the future uncertain, but praise God for He is with us in the now!

Truth 1: God’s going to make things right in His Time

God’s Truth tells us that He will always be with us and is coming back to make all things anew. Even in our deepest grief, God walks with us. God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who have a contrite heart. Paraphrased from Psalm 34:18; for exposition read:

https://biblehub.com/commentaries/expositors/psalms/34.htm

Ultimately, He will wipe away every tear and make all things anew. Here’s a scriptural passage that tells us what awaits us! Revelations 21:1-5 KJV: emphasis mine

  1. Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

The great promise of these verses is that God is going to dwell with us. No more death or separation due to sin and rebellion. No more sorrow, no death. Also there will be no need for the sun because God’s presence will radiate light for all to see (Revelations 21:23).

We can comfort ourselves and others with this promise. Life on this earth isn’t the end. Evil and death aren’t the end. God has the final, ultimate victory!

Truth 2: God Doesn’t Give up on us!

Chambers (emphasis mine):

“I will never leave you…”— not for any reason; not my sin, selfishness, stubbornness, nor waywardness. Have I really let God say to me that He will never leave me? If I have not truly heard this assurance of God, then let me listen again. ‘I will never…forsake you.'”

God’s love is perfect. He doesn’t love us because we are worthy of His love. He loves us because He is love. This article explains this wonderful truth:

https://www.gotquestions.org/God-love.html

We are His children and His grace is sufficient. This isn’t a license to sin, but an invitation to desire Him more! To know and experience God’s love is to become more loving as He is. Jesus sets the example for us and calls us to follow Him in loving others (1 John).

Truth 3: The drudgery of life can distract us from God

Are we getting stagnate in our journey? Sometimes the quiet times can be disquieting too! God doesn’t always make His presence felt. Remember Daniel who persevered in prayer and received visions. God sent the angel Gabriel to explain and encourage him. Things were going on all around him (spiritual warfare) that he wasn’t even aware! See Daniel 10:20-21

“When there is no major difficulty to overcome, no vision from God, nothing wonderful or beautiful— just the everyday activities of life— do I hear God’s assurance even in these?”

Remember that God is present with us at all times. Every moment of each day is an opportunity to walk with God! Jesus is our Good Shepherd!

Truth 4: The journey of faith requires that we live with an awareness of God’s work in the present moment

“We have the idea that God is going to do some exceptional thing— that He is preparing and equipping us for some extraordinary work in the future.” We focus too much on the future and not the present! We overlook the good that we can do in the moment chasing something we might do in the future.

God works in us to glorify Himself. He graciously gives us moments of inspiration and discernment to apply His Word to our lives and encourage others.

Every day we grow in His grace and find strength in Him. God shines through us via the ordinary things of life. Often we are so focused on the extraordinary things that we forget about the simple, daily things of life. Here’s some examples:

a kind word to a stranger while shopping,

asking someone how they are doing and making time to listen and engage,

noticing the needs of those around you and praying with the person, or

helping someone that you see in need.

May God’s truths and presence deepen your desire for Christ and to love others as Christ loves you!

I write these words for His glory and to encourage God’s people, In Christ Alone I stand,

Helpful sermon commentary from Ruth 1