Mug of steaming coffee in hand, I turned on the TV news this morning to see what may have happened in the world overnight. There were reports of floods in Texas, a brewing tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico, fires in Canada, the latest in Ukraine and Russia, rail strikes in the UK, failed missile launch in North Korea, speculation over future China relations with US and Russia, the list goes on and on. In short — not a lot of good, but a whole lot of worrying situations.
In the midst of it all we read in Psalm 121:5-8, “The Lord Himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.” We read, and a question mark appears in our thinking as we counter with — “but I know plenty of people suffering pain and illness, economically in despair, relationships breaking, careers being less that fulfilling, weather disasters causing personal havoc. Where is the protection?” we may understandably ask.
This is where we must remind ourselves to go beyond the physical to the spiritual. Physically, we all experience some of the above disasters of life, but spiritually, because of the sealing of the Holy Sprit, no lasting harm can come to us. We are protected, spiritually, from any attack of Satan. We may be physically and emotionally beaten up at various moments in our lives, but spiritually, we are saved for eternity after life on earth. We are but pilgrims passing through. When our spiritual eyesight is focused on the life beyond, where no disease, tears, sorrow, or death exists, then we are able, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to endure troubles today in our earthly bodies, as we wait with joy for the promise of our transformed bodies that will never know pain again.
It is because of this spiritual eyesight, that the Apostle Paul who suffered great physical torture through persecution, could say with the greatest joy and encouragement to us, “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all His glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4 NLT) Isn’t that an amazing promise? How do we endure physical hardships? By developing our spiritual eyesight. One of my favorite songs, reminding us of this very thing, is, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” I sing it to myself often.
“O soul, are you wearied and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, and life more abundant and free. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
When I am troubled, but sing the above, my focus stays trained on the One who gives hope, strength, and inner peace. It’s Jesus. Always Jesus. He is our tower of strength to bring us safely through any storm.
This past week I watched a television news brief about a new 3-D image of the Titanic. Several cameras were sent around this once magnificent ship. As a result, an accurate image is now transposed for us to see it as it is now, laying in pieces on the bottom of the Atlantic.
It was famously boasted by its builders, with the greatest of joy, “this magnificent ship is unsinkable!” We all know the tragic story of its demise on its first voyage. Striking an iceberg it sank in just 2 1/2 hours. The joyful boasting was stopped in its tracks. Its ruins are a sad reminder.
Is this not happening in our world today? Are nations that once stood valiantly for the things of God, now boasting that their ways are better? They don’t need to pay attention to His guidance. Everything is acceptable now. No need to heed the warnings of God. Our ways are inclusive of the good and bad, of holy and unholy. Do what you want to do. Be who you want to be. Live as you desire, regardless of God’s warnings, regardless of listening to His guidance, regardless of considering that He knows better than we do, regardless of even acknowledging His unfailing love for us.
Without God, nations shout, we are unsinkable! Will this joyful boasting stop nations in its tracks? Will its ruins be a sad reminder of man’s prideful declaration? Are we really unsinkable without God? Crime rates rise. Economies struggle. Is the world really getting better?
“The path of the virtuous leads away from evil; whoever follows that path is safe. Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” Proverbs 16:17-18
There is time this moment to reach out, accept God’s gift of eternal life, accept the truth that His Son died for you to make you clean and whole, accept His love. “For God so loved the world, He gave His Son, that whoever believes in Him, will not perish, but will have eternal life.” John 3:16
Oh, what a gift! It truly is unsinkable!
Earlier this week, our dog, Jack, and I were taking a walk beneath an avenue of trees near the sea front. It was a lovely, just right, sort of day with a blue sky, warm sunshine, squirrels jumping from limb to limb and birds chirping. The lovely day was about to become even sweeter. It was when Jack met Bree.
As Jack ran out into an open field, about to dash around a corner that led to another wooded path, he stopped short. Another dog had come around the corner from the opposite direction. Jack bounded over, I knew, hoping for a game of chase, but the white and brown speckled bird dog stood still. Her owner then came into view and said to me in regard to her dog, “she’s blind.” I learned that Bree is 13, has arthritic hips, and is blind, but she still enjoys her walks. I gazed at her face, noticing the pure white of her unseeing eyes. “She would have loved to play,” said the owner. Just then, something began to take place that brought smiles to both of us.
Jack, who had bounded over in enthusiasm, now walked slowly toward Bree. I could tell she sensed his presence as her nose twitched in the air. Jack went right up to her and sniffed her face. Bree did the same to him. They sniffed each other all over in proper doggie etiquette. Then, in unison, they began to walk together. Bree would sniff at something on the ground or in a bush and Jack would follow, sharing in sniffing pursuits. Every now and again they would put their heads together, smelling each other’s ears and faces. Then neck nuzzles took place. “Your dog is so sweet and gentle,” said Bree’s owner. “Oh look!” she exclaimed in joy, “Bree’s smiling!” Sure enough her mouth was open in a definite smile as Jack poked his nose in her ear. For nearly a mile the two new friends walked slowly, sniffing, nuzzling, and smiling, enjoying each other’s company.
“Jack seems to sense just what she needs,” said Bree’s owner, “accepting her as she is.” Bree’s mother was so happy her dog had a friend, when most dogs just passed her by. I was happy, too. In fact, proud tears sprang to my eyes as I watched my sweet boy giving up his running, choosing instead to spend quality time with this elderly blind dog. That’s when it hit me — our Heavenly Father does the same with us. Compared to God who is perfect in holiness, nothing impossible to Him, we are blind to so many things. We are ever learning, with need to know and understand more each day. Like Bree with her arthritic hips, you and I stumble in life’s walk, making mistakes, unwise choices, going in directions we need not go, but there is our Heavenly Father. He walks with us, leading the way, nuzzling in His love, accepting us as we are in our weakness, offering His strength to guide us along paths that we cannot clearly see.
Like Bree, we can smile in His presence, knowing He is enjoying our company. We may be slow, not as skilled as others, seemingly stumbling over every twig of difficulty, but all is well, our Father is with us, never leaving, always loving, always nudging us in the right direction as He gently reminds us, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
I’m so pleased Jack met Bree. I’m so thankful there was a time in my life I met Jesus, because I was blind, but now I see.
Last night as I turned out the light and lay in bed, I began talking with the Lord about numerous things. It’s a habit of many years to have a talk with Him before I drift off into the land of slumber. I pray for friends, family, myself. In the midst of this conversation my mind turned to times of my greatest joys. I’m thankful to say there have been many such times; those moments when, though difficulties are being faced, quiet joy also fills heart and mind.
As I continued to reflect on those situations, it reminded me, that’s the reason we are allowed trials! Have you ever wondered the deeper meaning of James 1:2, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” The New King James Version says it even more succinctly, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” What?! We may understandably wonder why anyone should be happy over some trial. Trials are not comfortable. Trials bring pain. What is there to be happy about — except to be gladly relieved when it’s over?
The “counting it all joy” is all to do with the outcome. A trial, like a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel, molds us into something beautiful. If there were no trials in our lives, we would never know how strong God is to bring us through. We would never understand His wisdom, the courage He gives, or His own peace that beams like a bright light in any darkness. Trials give faith opportunity to grow. Like the words from Andre Crouch’s song, Through It All — “If I never had a problem, I wouldn’t know God could solve them. I’d never know what faith in God could do.”
The next time you face a trial, look up! God wants to do something amazing in you and for you, and through you. When a lump of clay is spinning on a wheel, being designed with sharp instruments, and placed in a fire, the outcome perhaps is unimaginable, but when the door of the kiln is opened, something beautiful appears.
The desert is a physical place, but it is also a spiritual place. It is a place where we can feel great loneliness. We discover our hunger and our thirst in the desert. We see vast expanses of barrenness that for many holds no beauty. Those who understand the desert feel quite the opposite. They know how to survive, looking for water in rocky crevices. They know how to eat a cactus! Yes, cacti can be a source of water and food.
When we read the account of Jesus in the desert in John 4, we see He also understood how to survive. I’m speaking here of the spiritual desert. A spiritual desert comes to us all. It’s a place that can be desolate, emphasizing our aloneness. It’s a place where we hunger and thirst for strength, but weariness so easily overcomes. What can we do? Let’s look at what Jesus did in this situation.
Remember, just as Jesus was 100% God, He was also 100% human. He desired to feel everything that we feel. In the place of His desert, His arch enemy came. Satan presented himself to Jesus and began to toss temptations at Him. Satan began by taunting Jesus. “If you’re really the Son of God, then prove it! Turn these stones into bread.” Jesus withstood the goading. Next, Satan appealed to Jesus’ sense of aloneness. It’s believed here that Satan was tempting Jesus to suicide. “Just jump!” Satan shouts, “Surely the angels will catch you.” Again, Jesus withstood the provocation. Finally, Satan appeals to material desire. “Follow me,” Satan urges. “Worship me, and all the kingdoms of the world will be yours.” A third time Jesus withstands even temptation to material wealth and power.
How did Jesus accomplish this? After all, Jesus was 100% human as well as being God. Why didn’t His human self succumb to these temptations? It’s because Satan was operating in the physical, tempting to provide physical pleasures. Jesus was operating in the spiritual. It is only the power of the spiritual that is strong enough to withstand the temptations of the physical. Why did Jesus not weaken in His human spirit? Because He was moving in the Holy Spirit. What was the door to moving in the power of the Holy Spirit? The Word of God.
Three times Satan tempts in the physical. Three times Jesus answers in the spiritual; He quoted the Word of God. Jesus was recalling Scripture found in Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:16, and 6:13. Jesus fully understood the unconquerable power of The Word of God. You and I so easily miss it. Out first focus is often on the physical rather than the spiritual. Our natural selves desire pleasures of the here and now. We want answers today; waiting for tomorrow becomes tedious to our impatience.
It is imperative to our spiritual strength that we focus everyday on the Word of God. We know from reading Hebrews 4:12 that, “The Word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword…” As a soldier gains skill to withstand the enemy by practicing with his or her weapons, so the spiritual warrior withstands demonic attacks through practicing using the Word of God, our mighty sword. To use God’s Word daily is sure success and strength building; to ignore it is sure failure and a sinking into weakness.
So many of God’s children sadly ignore God’s Word. It’s a book that collects dust. “I can pray,” may come the explanation, but can one pray the most efficiently without knowledge of God’s own Word?
In standing strong against the enemy, I love the verse in Psalm 149:6, “Let the praises of God be in their mouths, and a sharp sword in their hands.” These are the weapons that Satan cannot shatter. Today, tomorrow, and the next, may we all praise and pray with our minds saturated in the Word of God. All earthly temptations then melt into nothingness.
Yesterday I had a lovely visit with dear friends who are currently going through some serious health issues. As we talked together, our conversation turned to Psalm 46:1-3, “God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will nor fear even though the earth be removed. Even though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. Even though its waters roar and be troubled; even though the mountains shake with its swelling.” I left them with my own heart gladdened at the reminders of the “even thoughs” that we all face in life.
In our sharing together we imagined being in a boat in the storm, perilously tossed about, in danger of capsizing. But wait! We are never alone in our boat! Jesus is there! He’s even asleep! He is at peace. How can that be? Because He is in charge of the winds and sea. He can bring us to shore — but even though the waters overcome us — He escorts us into His presence where joy is so great it far outweighs any fear felt in any storm.
It is because of Jesus in the boat that we may sing in ecstasy the words of that amazing song — It Is Well With My Soul.
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll:
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me say, It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.
There is probably not a person alive who doesn’t want to have more faith: faith in their relationships, faith in their work skills, faith in sharing talent, faith in travel, faith in God’s will for their lives, faith in facing a fear, the list goes on and on. Moving forward by faith can be a scary thing, because faith is so often stepping into something of which we have limited knowledge, or even stepping into the complete unknown.
Last year my mother and I spent two months in America. It was a wonderful time speaking in numerous churches, visiting with many dear friends. We traveled by car through several states along the east coast. When we crossed the state line into Pennsylvania, getting closer to Philadelphia, I had no idea the level of fear that was about to enter my personal world, smothering all peace within me. I was about to drive over, not one, but several very high bridges. I confess — I am terror-struck when it comes to skyscraper bridges.
The first one came upon me suddenly; it was just there in front of me! It wasn’t even thirty seconds before I was aware of what loomed before me, a tangle of steel structure beckoning me forward into it’s evil grip. Up, up, up! I felt my body lean forward in ridiculous attempt to keep the car from flipping over backwards. Quickly, one at a time, I wiped my sweating palms on my pant legs. I could feel my throat tighten, breaths coming in shallow puffs. Somewhere, sounding far off like in a tunnel, my mother’s voice was speaking, trying to soothe me, encouraging me onwards, but panic pounding in my head like a hammer on an anvil drowned out all the words. My eyes were fixed, unblinking on the top of the bridge. That was all I could see as I ascended. If I could just get to the top, I reasoned, then welcome descent from this death trap, ready to plunge me into the depths of angry water below, would take me back down to earth where safety awaited me.
Even as I just wrote the above paragraph, I felt my breaths growing shallow, just in the frightful memory. Remember, there was not just one, but several bridges in Philadelphia! Obviously I have lived to tell the tale, but I will admit, that very night in our hotel room, I awoke in the early hours with a jolt, a nightmare dropping me into a watery grave from atop that same terrorizing bridge of evil intent. In those short moments of horror I could not think of praying, but someone was indeed wrapping me in prayer. My mother seated next to me, knowing of my terrible fear of high bridges, she was praying for me. She was right there with me. I was not alone.
Two things come to mind in recalling this frightful episode: 1) someone was praying 2) I was not alone. However, if no other person had been in that car, someone else was still praying and someone else was still with me. Romans 8:34 tells us, “For Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and He is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.“ Then in Colossians 3:3 we read, “…your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” I find it amazing that Jesus Himself prays for us, pleading for what we need, and He is always with us; our very lives are in Him and He is in God. What better protection can there be!
I suppose we all have a fear we grapple with; something so terrible it seems unsurmountable. A surprise bridge of terror could suddenly appear without warning. Thoughts of having faith fly out the window! My advice from personal experience? Keep your eyes focused on the top, knowing a descent will follow. Stay focused upwards, Jesus is always there no matter what. Our lives are safely kept in Him and He is in the Father. The Holy Spirit is ever teaching, so never stop learning. Comfort and great instruction for living is tucked away in the pages of God’s living Word, so dive in daily and bring to the surface of understanding treasure needed to get through any fear. He will never leave us nor will He ever forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
Recently I was reading an article about an illusionist. The journalist interviewing him tried to ply him for the secret of a certain illusion. Of course, the entertainer was not going to reveal his methods. Such a revelation would ruin his act. Many years ago my parents and I went to see the famous illusionist, David Copperfield. It was an amazing night of entertainment. I remember a moment when David Copperfield was standing on stage speaking to us. All of a sudden a black drape dropped to the floor in front on him and immediately lifted again. He was gone. It was only a second or two but he was gone. Where was he? We all gasped as we heard him calling out to us from behind, walking down the aisle and back to the stage. How did he do it? It seemed impossible, like he was in two places at once. It was all the fun of the illusion.
Satan tries hard to make us think he is an illusionist — someone seemingly not there but present at all times. Of course, this is not so. Satan is not omnipresent. He must go when we command him to do so in the name of Jesus. When we recognize his instilling of fear or temptation, we may, in the authority of Jesus, command him and his demons to go! They must! Will they come back at a later time with more attempts to plague us and tempt us? Yes, but that is why we must stay daily focused on the Word and on Jesus. When we keep our minds steadfast on Jesus, calling upon the Holy Spirit within us to keep us aware, then no demonic influence will gain a hold on us. Satan is thwarted every single time and made to go away when we stand up to him in the name of Jesus.
God is the only One omnipresent. He is ever present to help us. As it tells us in Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in times of trouble.” Our satanic enemy lies, trying to make us believe that God leaves us in times of trouble, that He is not there when we need Him most. Remember, Satan always attempts to kick down the saints when we are already hurting and wounded. Never look at him and listen; always look up, eyes steadfast on the One “who never fails you or abandons you,” as we are told in Hebrews 13:5.
Satan is an evil trickster, but he is not always there. God is a holy provider for all we need to get through anything at all. Eyes up! He is with you! Help is on the ready. Comfort is always available.
We’ve all experienced blah days when we lack motivation. We’ve also experienced days when fear of something to face makes us want to stay in bed all day, hoping it will all go away. Even so, most of the time we throw the bed covers back, get up, dress, and get ourselves to work. We make ourselves face whatever the dreaded moment may be. We just do it. If not, there are consequences. We could lose our job, or ruin a relationship. There are consequences when we don’t face up to what we know we need to do.
As we contemplate this day, Passover Friday or Good Friday, the day we remember when Jesus was betrayed by a friend, arrested, and led away to be flogged and sentenced to death by crucifixion, we must also remember His choice that day. It was a choice that had eternal consequences for us all. We read in Matthew 26 something astonishing. Jesus was with His disciples on the Mount of Olives just outside the city of Jerusalem. They were all tired. Jesus was praying in earnest to His Father because He was greatly troubled; He was sorely distressed. He had pleaded with the others to pray with Him, but they were so tired they couldn’t stay awake. Matthew 26:39 tells us about Jesus, “He went on a little farther and bowed with His face to the ground, praying, ‘My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not Mine.'”
Imagine that! Jesus knew what was coming. He knew what He was about to face. Remember, He was 100% human and 100% God. The Bible tells us He has felt everything we have ever felt, and He has been tempted with everything in which we have been tempted. Jesus knows what it is like to have fear stirring within. He knows what it is like to wish there was another way out. What motivated Him to make the right, necessary choice? Choosing His Father’s will. He chose to act in His Father’s love — for you and for me.
Can you and I do the same? Can we choose to act in our Father’s love when we are asked to show love to the unlovely? Can we show mercy to the undeserving? Can we be kind to the thoughtless? Can we speak tenderly to the crude? Can we forgive what we feel is unforgivable? Do we want to shout, “Father, show me another way!” Do we listen and follow when He says, “Choose not your will, but let Mine be done.”
Jesus chose His Father’s way. Jesus suffered greatly for it. He died an excruciating death. However, in the light of eternity, His suffering was but a moment; a dreadful moment, but a moment on the timeline of eternity. Now He sits in glory at His Father’s right hand. Now He waits in the greatest of joy for His Father’s command that will say, “The time has come. Go and get your bride.” In that glorious moment, all who personally know Jesus will hear that exciting trumpet sound and will meet Him in the air, to be with Him forever where perfect peace and jubilation will never cease.
Jesus’ suffering was great. Our sufferings at times are great, too. Jesus chose His Father’s way and now lives in ecstasy. When we choose our Father’s way we are destined for ecstasy, too. Do you already know Jesus? Then persevere. It will be worth it. Do you not know Him yet? Please choose Him. He will be your strength for today and your eternal joy for all your tomorrows.
I recently read something very interesting about the famous Michelangelo. He had been given a large chunk of marble with the challenge to make something beautiful. This particular piece of marble had flaws in it. Other sculptors had attempted to make something but had given up because the marble was inferior. Didn’t Michelangelo realize it was substandard? Of course he did, but he believed he could do something with it. He did. He created the statue ‘David’ which has been seen and adored by millions of people over the centuries.
A smile came to me as I thought, that’s exactly what our Heavenly Father does with each of us. We present ourselves inferior to Him. We are substandard in our own efforts. We make mistake after mistake. We sometimes flounder in relationships. We can easily make bad financial decisions. We often put not one, but two feet in our mouths, speaking out of turn time and time again. We are fickle in our loyalty to God Himself; one day bowing in adoration before Him, the next choosing our own ways over His, falling off our self-made pedestal, with an almighty crash, as a result. We couldn’t blame God if, like so many sculptors in the days of Michelangelo, He discarded us because of our deficiencies, but He never does.
I often find great comfort in the the verses recorded in Job 23:10-12, “He knows where I am going. And when He tests me, I will come out as pure as gold. For I have stayed on God’s paths; I have followed His ways and not turned aside. I have not departed from His commands, but have treasured His Words more than daily food.” Mankind looks at the outside appearance. (I Samuel 16:7) What is seen isn’t always very pretty, but God looks at the heart. Our Father sees our potential. He sees our desires. He knows our willingness to be made into the image of His Son. We are each one always a work in progress. We must never forget that our loving, Heavenly Father does not give up on us. Therefore, we must never give up on ourselves. Instead, with humble hearts, we come before Him each day with the the secure knowledge that we will hear Him say, “This is the way, now walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)