We are continually surrounded by bad news. When we turn on the TV, we are confronted with images of angry protests, rioting, looting and destruction. We are systematically provoked to feel bitter, resentful, pessimistic, despondent and discouraged. We face possible imminent death from COVID 19 and there is no end in sight. Immersed in all this, it is a natural human reaction to develop a negative attitude that drives us to further despair.
It does not have to be that way. We can maintain positive mindsets despite highly-negative external events. We should not let them unduly burden us internally. Viktor Frankl confronted torture and odds of survival of less than 5% in Nazi death camps at Auschwitz y Dachau. He wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” His positive attitude helped him survive.
Most importantly, God does not want us to fall into devilish entrapment in negative attitude. He wants us to live a quality life whatever the happenings around us. When we put ourselves in his hands and trust fully in him, it is always possible. The Bible has examples and counseling.
Paul was in chains in a cold dungeon waiting to be executed. Yet he tells us in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” In 4:8 he says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”. He concludes with verse 9, “And the God of peace will be with you.”
David went through brutal hardships and trials. He was pursued into the mountains by a jealous Saul. He was captured by the Philistines and had to feign craziness as a ploy to get them to release him. He lived in caves in the desert and hungered and thirsted, yet he wrote beautiful psalms that give us hope and comfort. David was remarkable for the way he maintained a positive attitude and praised God in so many circumstances.
Verses may be found throughout the Bible about confronting great hardships with joy. Psalm 47: 1 tells us, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” Romans 15: 13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” James 1:2 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
Do not burden yourself with bad thoughts and bad attitudes no matter what the circumstances. Try to let your attitude be continuously positive and hopeful. Hearken to the Word of God. How much more rewarding life can be when you do. And never forget that the God of peace is always with you.
The Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan.... These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:3,7b (NIV)
It was in the middle of the Jordan River. God had stopped the flow of the water from upstream. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord could then stand firm in the middle of the river while the Israelites completed their crossing on the dry riverbed over into the promised land. When the whole nation had finished crossing, God gave instructions to bring stones from the middle of the river and make a memorial as a reminder of what he had done for them. So in the middle of this pandemic what is God revealing to each of us that we may want to make a marker/reminder of? Maybe it’s his faithfulness, maybe it’s a mighty work, or maybe, like for me, it’s something in my heart that he is revealing to me that may need a “heart check.”
During these months of having most of my face hidden behind a mask and sunglasses, I noticed how often I was rolling my eyes and smirking. Could my fault-finding thoughts be coming to the surface more frequently? Proverbs 27:19 says, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” Too quickly I was becoming what my heart was revealing, really sparing of any grace.
As I have begun to pray more for my inner and outer responses to be more gracious and forgiving, my thoughts have become more invaded by God’s thoughts. My desires to do disapproving looks are being ambushed. And a blessing (which a wise person once shared with me) of praying, “Bless them Lord, heal me” infiltrates my mind much more often. As this change in my heart is happening, I know it is the Holy Spirit backing me up and with that comes a supernatural joy and contentment and peace. As Romans 8:6 states, the mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 12:2 is another great reminder of letting God transform us by the way we think.
Will there be a word for a rock of remembrance to describe a faithful act of God’s love for you during this time? I know how easy it is to keep going on in life and forget what God has done for me or to go back to an old pattern of thinking. I want to remember this time where God exposed me to the truth about an area of my heart. His unfailing love has surrounded me once again. He has invaded some ungracious thoughts and ambushed some unbecoming actions.
I think my word may be besieged -- captured by the power of God’s transforming love. He is not leaving me alone in the middle. As He promised in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will not leave you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep you away.”
Luke 15: 3-5a Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” (NIV)
At the height of our young daughter’s pandemic loneliness, we decided to ride the wave of pandemic dog adoptions. We received a placement last Wednesday, but because, well, Guatemala, the dog got stuck in traffic and didn’t arrive home until evening. When it arrived, it was so afraid, it bolted from the Doggy Uber and RAN. Without thinking, so did I. I chased her through Vista Hermosa, and, assisted by said Doggy Uber and a really fast stranger, we caught her.
I arrived home, winded, and said to Joel, “I think my devotion this week will be about the parable of the lost sheep.” Now, in no way am I comparing myself to the shepherd in this passage. My dog hunt was motivated by fear and guilt -- I couldn’t let this dog I just met get run over or lost; whereas, the shepherd’s sheep hunt was motivated by love and a desire for all his sheep to be safe at home.
In the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15: 1-7), the shepherd willingly seeks out his one lost sheep and delights in its homecoming. Similarly, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, willingly and joyfully seeks out the lost in order to welcome them -- us -- home with a heavenly party. Regarding a different “lost” parable, the parable of the prodigal son, Henri Nouwen reminds us that the heavenly party does not negate the deep sorrow that God feels over having lost one of his children. Sorrow over separation inspires God’s mission: send my Son to find my sheep and bring them home.
At times, I find myself as part of the 99 -- wondering why we have to keep waiting for that lost sheep. It’s not hard to follow the shepherd! Keep your eyes up and keep walking! Other times, I find myself as one of the neighbors invited to the party, rejoicing that a friend or family member was found and welcomed home. Still other times, I am that one sheep. I’m lost, whether I know it or not, and Jesus willingly and joyfully seeks me, finds me, and welcomes me home.
Read Luke 15:1-7 this week, and, if time allows, the entire “lost progression” (the sheep, the coin, the son) in Luke 15. Ask yourself the following questions:
● At this point in my life, where am I in this story?
● When have I been that one lost sheep?
● What did it feel like to be willingly and joyfully found and welcomed home by Jesus?
● Do I genuinely rejoice when other lost sheep are found? Why or why not?
● How is Jesus seeking me today, this week, in the midst of a global pandemic?
Nothing like a pandemic to let you find out just how much you love “the world.” I would have said that I didn’t. One might think that a longtime Christian missionary should have mastered that by now, but as the State of Calamity has dragged on in Guatemala with its curfew and other restrictions, I have found myself wanting things to go back to the way they were. I want to be free to not wear a face mask, to meet someone for coffee in a bustling restaurant, to gather with others for worship or meetings at church and greet them in person rather than on a screen, to sing in a choir, to travel out of the country and know that I could return. (Our son just got married in Boston. We watched it on Zoom.) So, one day at the height of the lockdown, this verse in I John brought me up short: “Do not love the world, or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (I Jn. 2:15).”
The activities I mention are not what one would normally consider worldly. They don’t really fit into John’s definition of “the world” in verse 16: “…the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does…” There’s nothing inherently wrong with restaurants, church meetings, and travel, but do I think more about resuming these and other activities than I do about being with the Lord himself forever? Which do I desire most? Another scripture comes to mind, and with it a song I learned while at missionary jungle training camp in Chiapas, Mexico. It is taken from John 21:15 where Jesus asks Peter, “…lovest thou me more than these?” (KJV) There is debate about what he meant by “these,” but for the present topic it would be helpful to take the verse to mean, “Do you love me more than you love all these things and people and activities and generally, life in this world?” As the song says, “The master still asks this question, ‘Lovest thou me, lovest thou me more than these?’”
The familiar is more comfortable than the unfamiliar, at least for some of us. While we can read and sing, expectantly and fully believing, about the wonders of heaven and being face to face with the Lord, we’ve never been there, never seen him. Sometimes, during worship, fellowship, or private devotion, we may have caught a glimpse of what heaven would be like, when it actually feels like this world fades away and seems unimportant, when we truly desire that world more than this one. Perhaps we should be encouraged to seek such times more often, set aside times to think about the Lord’s love for us, and our love for him. Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Mt. 22:37,38)”. Surely the more that we love him, the more we will want to be with him, and the less we will “love the world.”
(Unless otherwise noted, all Bible references are from the NIV.)
"O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth." (Psalm 54:2, ESV)
There is a back story to the psalmist’s plea of Psalm 54:2, alluded to in the psalm’s introduction. The inhabitants of Ziph told King Saul where David could be found. This was the time when David had been fleeing from Saul because Saul was actively trying to kill David. Why would the Ziphites of the tribe of Judah support Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, but not support David, from the tribe of Judah? The Ziphites may have simply made a political calculation to side with the more powerful army of King Saul, perhaps leaving David feeling betrayed.
While David had a small army of 600 men, it was a large number considering the logistics of feeding and hiding them all. Reading the account, I sense that God was providing “just in time” help. A little earlier David had received some prophetic guidance saying that he and his men were unsafe in their current location, so they left and kept moving around. Then Jonathan showed up with some encouragement for David. But a short time later, Saul was chasing David on one side of the mountain and David was fleeing on the other. Abruptly, Saul received a message that the Philistines were attacking the land, so he left off chasing David and went to face the Philistines. Whew! Answered prayer.
We could compare our current situation to David’s plight in this account. Today, we live in an age when our world has shrunk. Something like Covid-19 (our King Saul equivalent) comes along and hops over oceans and infects our people. It is invisible, powerful, kills the compromised and may be damaging those who recover. Covid is no respecter of persons. We have a real crisis. What do we do?
Let’s follow the example of David: he prayed. In verse 1 of our Psalm, David related salvation to God’s “name.” It was like saying, “O Yahweh, save me.” God save me. Today, we say, “Jesus, save me.” It is to Him we turn in our time of trouble. We might thoughtfully read, “O Jesus, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth.” I find it interesting that David called on God to “hear” his prayer and in subsequent verses speaks with the assumption that God was listening and God would help. When we call on the Lord, we can assume the same, that he is listening, and he will help.
Another Covid-era lesson we could learn from David’s attitude in Psalm 54 has to do with something our Lord taught the disciples about forgiveness in Matthew 6:5-15. David offered a sacrifice in God’s name for his deliverance in 54:6-7. Today we might consider taking action against our “enemy” in God’s name by sacrificially forgiving those who sin against us, like when people are hoarding, defying health laws, and taking advantage of others. I was offended, for example, when I was told I was “gringo” so I must be spreading Covid! I find this to be one of the most challenging spiritual warfare weapons to master. I’m still working on forgiving my enemies. How about you? We can ask God to hear our plea for help in the area of forgiveness. He will give ear to that as well.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (NIV)
This pandemic has been quite an interesting time for all of us. During this season, we have struggled. We have cried, and we have mourned the loss of what we considered normal. This has created tension within society, and has made us all struggle with who we are. For me, however, it has been a time to find renewed community among people from our church. This community is centered around encouraging each other, praying, and reading the Bible together via Zoom. This little group is the Tuesday night Bible Study.
Recently, dealing with life in this time of uncertainty, I have found a lot of peace in the text of Matthew 16:13-20. Jesus takes his disciples outside of Jerusalem, and when they are very far away, he asks them a deep question. This question throws them off balance. He asks first: "Who do people say that I am?" With this question, Jesus is inviting his closest disciples into an interesting situation by asking them to interpret what others believe about him. Jesus knows that they have heard things, and that they have also been caught in the midst of some of these conversations.
The second time he asks them, he changes the question a little bit. He asks: "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus now engages them at a deeper level, and they begin a conversation about who Jesus is that will change their lives. Peter is the one who nails the answer: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." With this declaration, Peter asserts Jesus' divinity and recognizes him as the true God.
However, what I want to draw our attention to is the process that it took for Peter to speak this truth. Jesus took the disciples outside of Jerusalem, outside of their sacred center. That means that they needed to be away from what they knew and away from what was familiar about God and Jesus. Jesus took them to a place that might seem a bit weird for that kind of conversation.
In the same way, during this pandemic, we are away from what we know. We are away from our conventional ways of worshiping. We are physically distant from each other. We are in uncharted waters, which makes me think that this is the perfect place for that same question. Who do we say that Jesus is? Who do you say Jesus is?
Lord, help us rethink what our faith community can look like. Help us enter the uncomfortable to discover who Jesus truly is. Use this time of not being able to worship in a building to lead us to find true worship. Give us community even though we cannot be physically close to one another.
Before writing Psalm 18, David had been in terrible distress and danger, but God had preserved his life and rescued him. Because of God’s help, David hadn’t just survived; he had emerged victorious! So, he sings this psalm of praise and thanksgiving for all God has done and for who He is to David.
Key verses from Psalm 18
1 I love you, Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.
6 In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.
30 As for God, his way is perfect; the Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.
31 For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?
46 The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! (NIV)
This is a great song of worship and praise for the Lord’s divine intervention, delivering David against all odds from his enemy Saul, and also for bringing David through his difficulties to a safe place. When we seek God and hold on to his word, then we find peace and hope, because no one else is God, no one else is Lord; only He is the Rock.
God is our rock -- stable, strong, firm and safe. He is our shield, the one who guards us and keeps us safe. God is the strength of our salvation, so whenever we are weak, we will surely find strength in Him. God is our stronghold, the place where we go for protection.
God's way is perfect and His word is flawless. In the middle of all the current uncertainty, disease, death, suffering and everything that may darken this temporary place we live in, we must remember that this, too, is part of God's perfect plan. We can always read God’s flawless word and trust that ALL IS WELL!
The one place where we can find refuge is in Him. Today we need to come before the Lord, our Rock and our Savior to praise and worship Him. God still is, and always will be, in control.
Since God is ever-present, almighty, loving and unchangeable, we too can sing this song today and every day of our lives. God has always and will always intervene and deliver us from our enemies, from dangers, from trouble.
We need to call on God: Lord, be the strength of my salvation when I call on you, be my rock, my shield, my stronghold. Lord, I will ever praise you because you are worthy, because your ways are perfect and your word is flawless.
We are involved in a war—not with a national, political enemy, but a spiritual war between the God of the universe and the god of this world. This battle has eternal consequences. We know how it turns out in the end: God wins! However, while we wait for that last chapter, single battles may be lost in our culture. Ultimately, we know that our Lord will triumph and those who are faithful will triumph with Him. Everyone will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).
While we look forward to that day and pray that our Lord would return soon, we must still take cultural conflicts seriously. God’s people are under attack in many parts of the world. Christians are persecuted for their faith. Our values are challenged. We are ridiculed and sometimes forced to pay a price for taking a stand for righteousness and practical holiness. Our enemy is often brazen, while we sometimes appear to be asleep at the wheel.
A former White House correspondent declared in an interview that she would gladly offer sexual favors to President Clinton because of his support for abortion rights. What is striking about her comment is not that she would make such an offer to the president. It is her brazenness in making such a comment, her contempt for morality, and her confidence that our times have degenerated to the point that she could make such an offer openly -- with little expectation of public outcry from today’s “politically correct” media!
Few people are as “brazen for Jesus” as she was for her cause! The day may be approaching when our advocacy of righteousness may have to be more boldly asserted if our message is to be heard in today’s marketplace of ideas.
The intensity of the spiritual battle going on around us was apparent to a friend who spent a couple of days in Indio, California. It was so hot outside that he decided to stay indoors to study and finish some writing projects. When he went out for a bite to eat, the temperature was well over 110 degrees. While driving to a restaurant, he spotted a couple of young men in white shirts, ties, and dark pants, on bicycles. They had stopped at a street corner, in the hot noon sun, to share their faith with a pedestrian.
Some might suggest that it is more stupid than strategic for those young men to be out in such brutal heat. Still, how many Christians do you know that plan their life, and count it a privilege, to donate one or two years in an adverse climate in order to share Christ with other people? The cultural war we’re part of will doubtless require us to make the tough choice between being uncomfortable on the front lines or remaining behind closed doors in comfort.
We are engaged in a war. We already know how it will end. But what are we going to do about the local battles God has called us to fight. Daniel attempted to prepare God’s people for the coming battle. He warned them that the enemy would deceive God’s people and lead them astray. In the midst of the conflict, he assured them that the people who know their God would resist him and that the wise would instruct many, though some would die for their faith (Dan. 11:32-35). Nevertheless, those who remain faithful and take a stand for godliness will ultimately triumph. Are we willing to take a stand for God and for godliness in our society?
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalm 46:1-3 (NIV)
Because I have lived in a country where very strong earthquakes are too common, experiencing the power of God in nature is something that is not foreign to me whatsoever. I remember a particularly strong earthquake that hit us when I was growing up; it shook the ground so hard it sloshed out half the water stored in our pila, and the pila was full! The walls crimped, the power lines and the poles on the street shook violently, and drivers found it difficult to keep driving straight.
My Honduran relatives, who were visiting us, were even more amazed than I was to see the power of God displayed this way. It was then that I realized that as humans, we do not have control of anything; it is our great and most Holy God. He is the one that is in total control of everything, always!
Psalm 46 has been expressed in the popular hymn by Martin Luther, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”. Verses 1 through 3 talk about the presence of God in cataclysms, and the psalmist comforts God’s people by saying that the Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress. I think we should experience the Lord Almighty in this quarantine as our fortress, as our very accessible help in dire times as these! Even when “the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,” or “the plague that destroys at midday” assaults us (NIV), we should not fear: God is with us, He is Immanuel!
During the events that assail us, and even when we reel from different unexpected things that are thrown at us (no matter where you are in life), God is capable of assuaging our biggest fears when we choose to make Him our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. If God is our fortress, an isolated, elevated place where people built a stronghold against the enemy, there is no reason for us to fear.
“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our Helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing”: let us not fear! God is with us, in us, and for us!
Enjoy this beautiful rendition of Martin Luther’s “A mighty fortress is our God (Ein' feste Burg)”, and rely on our beautiful Yahweh, even to the point of not fearing!
When I have confronted difficult circumstances over the years, one of the Bible passages that has given me greatest solace and peace is in Luke 12. To summarize, in verses 22 and 23 Jesus tells us: "…do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.” In verses 25 and 26 he tells us: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” He concludes in verse 31 saying: “But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (NIV)
The passage is especially relevant and comforting in current times. We are confronting the consequences of COVID 19 that cause deep worry to abound. We are practically imprisoned in our homes. We may suddenly undergo self-quarantine having constant doubt about whether we have been lethally infected. Many of us face job loss, economic collapse, sickness of ourselves and family members, hospitalization and even imminent death.
How can we find peace in these circumstances? How can we possibly not worry when these threats are constantly knocking at the front door or have already entered the household seeking to drag us into the depths of despair?
In these troubling conditions, we must face the truth. Do we really believe Jesus or not? Jesus tells us not to worry and to seek God’s kingdom. Worrying does us absolutely no good whatsoever. It only increases our suffering. Most importantly, He tells us that when we seek God’s kingdom, God will attend to our real needs.
Of course, we must be properly cautious and responsible, pray continuously as God commands and not put God to the test by flouting good guidelines. But when we do, it is a true test of our faith -- whether or not we can stop worrying and find peace in the midst of turbulent times.
Do we really believe or don’t we? The truth is that God always knows exactly what is happening. He loves us boundlessly. He wants the very best for us and knows exactly what that is. He has absolute power to achieve the very best for us. There is eternal life with Jesus awaiting us. The truth is that when we put ourselves in God’s hands with faith, God WILL ALWAYS provide what is absolutely best for us in an eternal scope (although it may not be what we want). We can cast doubts aside, trust totally in Him, completely stop worrying and be at peace.
God’s promise does not mean maybe or sometimes. There is no need for Plan B. It is His promise always. When we firmly believe and pass this test of faith, we can truly stop worrying and find incredible peace, even in the most trying circumstances with no end in sight, such as those we are currently facing.
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