I grew up in a Christian home, but I was far from God until I read the story of Jesus’ death on the cross. Then, everything changed. I tell about it here.
I had known a lot about God and the Bible, but my knowledge had not changed me. In fact, while outwardly religious, I was moving farther and farther away from God, all the time feeling better than others because of what little good I was and did.
But sin and my human nature were constantly getting the better of me, until, as I tell in the link above, the death of my sister plunged me into an existential crisis of grief and meaning. Looking for comfort and hope, I began to read the Bible for answers.
Reading one night after work, I came to the story of Jesus’ Passion in the Gospel of John. As I read, His story came alive in a way it never had before. If you had asked me before that night why Jesus died on the cross, I could have given you a factual answer.
But this night, God opened my eyes to see how much Jesus (and the Father) loved the world, and how much they loved me personally. I have often said that it was like a floodlight shining into my heart and mind.
Suddenly, the immensity of God’s love and Jesus’ willingness to suffer for our sins became crystal clear to me. Their love was so amazing, I immediately knew I needed to make a choice of whether to follow Jesus, or not. Getting down on my knees, I said, “Jesus, I don’t know how to follow you; but if you will accept me, I will.”
I know He accepted me and changed my heart because in the days and weeks that followed, many things changed in my life–my desires, my motives, what I enjoyed, how I lived. It was a change from the inside out. I did not become perfect, but my heart was changed. I began to love what I had no interest in before and dislike the sin I loved before.
The Power of the Cross
Why does the story of Jesus’ death have this power to change our lives? I didn’t know much about why Jesus died back then. All I knew was that He suffered and died because He loved us and that He died for sin. But that was enough.
The reason it was enough for God to accept me and change my heart is what I am going to explore in several blog posts over the next few weeks. But here is why God can exercise His power to save through Christ’s death:
He Earned the Right. Jesus died for all human sin (1 John 2:2), and by doing this He earned the right to forgive, accept, and change us. “He (Jesus) has died as a ransom to set (us) free from. . .sins” (Hebrews 9:15).
He Gained the Authority. Through Jesus’ suffering and death, He defeated Satan. How? He resisted the devil’s efforts to get Jesus to sin in His humanity, and He showed that Satan’s arguments that it was impossible to obey, were false. God helped Jesus be faithful. So now Jesus has authority to help us too. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil. . .Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:14, 18 NIV).
The Cross is His Power Station. So much happened at the cross that allows Jesus authority and power to change our lives when we turn and put our trust in Him. Workmen are installing towers and high voltage power lines near our neighborhood. When they are finished, they will charge the lines and power will flow for miles to meet the needs of thousands. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” on the cross (John 19:30), He meant that God’s plan to provide forgiveness and salvation was completed. At that point, the power of the Spirit was released to change people through the story of Jesus’ death. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).
Come to Jesus’ Cross
The cross is especially where God gets access to our hearts to change and empower us. That is so because He earned the right there. This is why the Bible calls us consider the cross, teach about it, and meet Jesus there, as these verses show:
“‘I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” John 12:32-33 NIV
“We preach Christ crucified: . . .the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:23, 24 NIV
“Christ (sent me) to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” 1 Corinthians 1:17 NIV
Will You Consider Jesus’ Cross with Me?
Would you like to experience more of God’s power in your life? Would you like to know and love Him more? I would like to invite you to consider Jesus’ cross with me as I blog about it over the next few weeks.
I have learned so much more about why Jesus died than I knew at first, and because of that, I love Him even more. I want to share these amazing things with you. The more we see and understand, the more we will love Him; and the less power sin and Satan will have over our lives.
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Very little, as it turns out; but an essential minimum. Even if you believe a lot of wrong things, God can still accept you and do what He does best. We see this clearly in the ministry and teachings of Jesus.
A Canaanite Woman
Matthew and Mark tell us about a trip Jesus took from Jerusalem to the mostly gentile region of Tyre and Sidon where He met a woman who knew very little, but just enough to receive Jesus’ help.
This story actually begins in Jerusalem with a debate between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees about a technical question in their law. These leaders had a LOT of religious knowledge. They knew the Hebrew Bible back and forth, and volumes of theology too.
But Jesus ended up telling them: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:7-9). Jesus’ point is that we can have a lot of religious knowledge, but be far from God.
It is at this moment Jesus leaves the center of learning and culture and travels with his disciples to Tyre and Sidon (northern Syria today, quite a journey on foot). From the center of religious knowledge in Judaism, Jesus led His followers to an area known for its superstition and false gods. From great knowledge to little knowledge. It was a cross-cultural mission trip; and I think Jesus was trying to teach His disciples a lesson.
There, a Canaanite woman came begging Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30). She cried, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly” (Matthew 15:22).
A pathetic situation, one which should have aroused the disciples’ compassion. Instead, they complained to Jesus, “Send her away because she keeps crying out after us” (v. 23).
Their reaction is hardhearted, for sure. But a little background helps us understand their reaction from their perspective. Canaanites were gentiles, with very distorted views of God (from a Jewish viewpoint). They were the corrupt people of the land when Israel arrived centuries before, which God told Israel root out. In Jesus’ time, they were still seen as pagans, and under curse of God.
Unexpectedly and out of character, as the woman begs for help, Jesus ignores her. When He finally speaks, He tells her that it wouldn’t be right for Him to take the children’s (Jews’) bread and give it to their dogs (gentiles).
I can hear His disciples muttering, “Right!” Some Jews referred to gentiles as dogs in Jesus’ day. So Jesus is treating her as some of His people might do. He is giving His followers a lesson–one we also need today.
The woman’s desperate and persistent response is, “True Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (v. 27). Jesus immediately replied, “‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment” (v. 28)
What gave her this persistence? Was it Jesus’ expression of sympathy, His tone of concern, a twinkle in His eye? Was it her own desperation? Something made her keep trying.
How much did this woman know? Not much; but enough. When she first called on Jesus, she cried, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 22).
Clearly, she had heard of Jesus. She believed He was the Jewish Messiah, descended from David. Jesus had learned about His willingness to extend mercy and love to those who did not deserve it. She had heard of His miracles, and perhaps a few rumored teachings. Where had she gotten this sparse, but important information?
Much earlier Matthew reports that news about Jesus had “spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them” (Matthew 4:24).
The woman may have talked with some who heard Jesus teach or received His healing touch. Her knowledge was limited, but it was enough. She believed Jesus had come from God and that He extended grace and mercy to those who needed it. Putting her trust in Him, her daughter was healed.
Jesus disciples were amazed. God loves everyone the same? He has no favorites? He will love and give race and blessings to even the “heathen?”
The people God entrusts with a knowledge of Him are blessed so they can bless others, not horde His gifts. Jesus died for all, bearing the sins of every human on the cross, so all who wish may receive mercy. How much knowledge is necessary for that?
At Jesus’ Birth Too
We see this illustrated at the beginning of Jesus’ life. Poor shepherds, considered unclean and low class by the Jews, and the gentile Magi, both groups slim on Jewish religious knowledge, are the ones to come to the welcome Messiah. His own people who should know the prophecies, are oblivious, or preoccupied. Even at Jesus’ birth, God was signaling that His love and mercy were for everyone.
First Sermon Nearly Ends in Death
Later, we observe it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In his first sermon at his home town of Nazareth, He reminds the worshipers that God’s heart is bigger than Israel. Elijah had been sent to provide food for a heathen widow in Zarephath. Namaan, an Aramaean (Syrian) army officer in the time of Elisha, had been healed of leprosy. God’s own people had not asked, but these “non-believers” had.
If you’ve read the story, you might have been shocked that Jesus home-town people tried to throw Him off a cliff when He said this. Why?
When we grow up in a religious community, it is easy to believe that God’s blessings are restricted to those who believe the right things, those who have the “correct” theology. It is possible to look down on others.
With that perspective, we may feel we don’t “know enough” for God to accept us. But God’s love and mercy and acceptance are as wide as the world, and He gives them freely to those who simple believe and ask.
At the Cross
We see this again at the cross.
A young man hangs from nailed wrists, mouth dry as cotton, flies buzzing, body and brain exploding with pain. He is in agony, slowly dying. He has lived a life of crime, led on by bad associates. A lapsed Jew, he may have had some religious knowledge, but he had tossed it aside like a crust of stale bread years ago. It was like a hazy memory now.
Yet strange, hopeful thoughts are going through his mind. He has heard Jesus’ followers say they had believed the crucified Man on the center cross was the one who was going to deliver Israel. He heard the religious leaders mock, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One” (Luke 23:35).
He remembered his mother telling him about the sacrifices and how they pointed forward to a Messiah deliverer who would die for others. He watched Jesus’ behavior, heard His few words, and as the Spirit spoke to his heart, slowly the realization dawned on him that this was the Messiah, dying for the world’s sins, his sins. Did Isaiah 53, the prophecy of Messiah’s suffering and death come back to him?
This life held nothing for him now; it was almost over. But what about his eternity? In a parched voice, he called out from the depths of his heart, “Lord, will you remember me when you come in your kingdom?” (Luke 23:42). And immediately, Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43).
This backslider, with faint religious memories, sees in Jesus a gracious, loving Savior, puts all his trust in Him, and is assured of eternity.
I have heard stories of addicts, incarcerated persons, and people from all walks of life who had little religious knowledge, but called out to God in their time of need; and God responded and gave them a new spiritual life. It turned their lives around. Why is this possible?
Because, simply, Jesus died for the whole world and every person in it. God’s love is not restricted to a chosen few; it is for everyone. That is wonderful news. God’s grace and love are as free and available as the air we breathe because of the cross. If you realize your need of God, you can call on Jesus today and put your faith in Him as your Savior. He will accept you because He paid for the right to do so.
A Place for Knowing More
I am not saying here that religious knowledge and education is unnecessary. It is extremely important. The Bible encourages parents and the church to teach this as the foundation of faith for children and believers. And once we come to faith, Peter says we should “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
The more we know about God and the One He sent, the more we love them. And the more we know about God, the more we can become like Him. Truth describes God’s will and path for us. It helps us avoid spiritual deceptions and stay in the center of God’s will.
What I am asserting is that it is wonderful news that God’s love is so broad and Christ’s grace is so free that anyone in the world can call on them, no matter how much or how little they know, and God will forgive and receive them as His children.
Jesus did the really hard work of overcoming Satan in our flesh and then dying for the sins of the world–so God can accept absolutely anyone who comes to Him in need and faith. Knowledge is no barrier. Your wandering, sinful past will not stop Him.
That is really good news. And so the saying is true, “It’s not how much you know, but Who you know, that counts.” “This is life eternal that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, Whom You have sent” John 17:3.
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Everywhere we are hearing the phrase, “The New Normal.” Government and health officials, even church leaders, are saying the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic have been so impactful, they will likely transform the way we do things in the foreseeable future.
The Quarantine has certainly been hard in many ways, but some results will be beneficial.
Yesterday I was talking (properly distanced, of course) with a neighbor who is a teacher. He told me state schools have been planning to use technology more creatively, but the pandemic forced them to implement it and work the bugs out immediately. In his opinion students and schools will be much better equipped for the future by what they have gone through and learned as a result.
Utilizing social media and online platforms, churches have created many new ways for members to connect with each other for prayer, study, and fellowship–and to reach out supportively to their communities.
I joined a morning prayer group begun by our church prayer leader, to worship and pray for our members, our community, and our nation during the pandemic. We have called in at 7 am each morning for over a month so far. My wife and I are new to this church and do not know many people, but listening to these folk pray each day has drawn us closer to God and to them. We feel more a part of the church community as a result.
How is your new normal?
How have you grown during the pandemic? Have you gotten closer to people you love? The Quarantine forced us indoors, meaning we ended up spending more time with our family. Were you able to work through some things in your relationships and come through stronger? Have you identified things you can work on with God in this area? I have.
How has your relationship with God grown? I have heard many are taking stock of their connection to God and church and making changes during this time. Joining the prayer group I mentioned above was because I wanted to deepen my faith and connection with God through community.
Some really special things have happened for me as a result of this prayer time. My faith has grown stronger. I have been less worried about the news and the potential fallout from the pandemic. And even though I still don’t know most of the people by sight, I feel very close to them because of opening our hearts to God and each other.
Getting back to normal
There is a natural desire to get back to normal. We need the income from work; our children miss the structure of the classroom and their friends; we long for the end to disruption and a return to normality.
But are there ways in which you don’t want to go back to the way it was? Maybe you fell more in love with your spouse and family, and you don’t want to slip back into the humdrum again. Maybe you felt called to something deeper with God and found it; and, you don’t want to lose that.
In that sense, we want a “new normal.” We can tell God that, and determine, with His help to pursue it. God is longing for a new normal for you too. The Bible describes Him has a kind, loving Father who deeply wishes for a relationship with us. Though He certainly didn’t cause this pandemic, I imagine He has been wishing that many of his children would turn to Him and come home to His heart. He told Isaiah during a similar time:
“See, I am doing anewthing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
If we feel the desire, that is evidence that God is drawing us to His heart. We can say, “Yes, God I want you to do a new thing in my heart and life. I ask you to make a road in the wilderness of my world and refreshing streams in the wasteland of my life. Renew my relationship with you. Restore my relationships with my loved ones.”
These are prayers He loves to hear and answer.
Seeing with New Eyes
How about asking God for 20/20 spiritual eyesight in 2020? The pandemic has forced us to look at our lives and re-evaluate things. Why not ask God to open your eyes to see what you need spiritually? I have been doing this. That is a first order of magnitude prayer He will answer.
We have been hearing so many stories of trouble related to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Lockdown. Hard stories of economic hardship, health crises, and losses of loved ones. Difficult stories of the chaos caused by the disease and the impacts triggered by trying to manage it.
Trouble. People are caught in trouble of all kinds. Mentally taxing, emotionally draining, soul trying, trouble.
Psalm 91 is a prayer for God’s protection and deliverance from trouble. I wrote in detail about it here. But today, I want to focus on one phrase in it: “I will be with him in trouble” (Psalm 91:15).
When trouble comes, we pray to be delivered from it. Psalm 91 promises faithful believers will be spared in the great Time of Trouble before Jesus comes. But between now and then, we go through trouble. Jesus said we would: “In this world you will have trouble, ” He said; “but take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
So we live in the in-between reality that Jesus overcame sin in all its forms, resisted the devil, and died victoriously. He had revealed that God is good, infinitely self-sacrificing, and that Satan is a liar and a murderer. Invisibly but powerfully, Jesus is winning hearts and taking back spiritual territory in this world, but His absolute reign is yet future.
In this between-the-times, Jesus is very much with us as we go through trouble, even if He doesn’t always deliver us from it. And what I want to say today is that the presence of Jesus with us in our trouble is a great gift. It is almost as wonderful, maybe better, than being rescued.
Years ago, I experienced a difficult loss. It took place over about two years, a time that was filled with grief, tears, heart longings, and many prayers. Often, I prayed to have the loss restored.
But something else was happening at the same time. My faith in Jesus was growing and deepening. He was becoming more real, and His love and presence were often palpable. The scriptures were becoming alive to me in ways that had never happened. Jesus was clearly fulfilling His promise to be with me in trouble.
He has promised to be with us many times:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 NIV
Jesus, before His death and Ascension: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:18-20 NIV
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23 NIV
Jesus during His Great Commission: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 NIV
“The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:5 NIV
Jesus is here invisibly, through His Spirit. He is loving us, helping us, drawing us to Himself. His promise to be in our lives is especially fulfilled when we put our trust in Him. If we accept Him as our Redeemer and Friend and decide to follow His words, He takes up residence in our hearts. Here is His promise:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in. . .”
Revelation 3:12 NIV
So friend. whatever you are going through, Jesus is willing to be with you. He welcomes your prayers for deliverance and He will do what is best in the long run. I know this takes faith. Sometimes, it is only years later, that can see God knew best.
But, in any case, He will be with you. He will comfort you with His love and show you more of His heart. That is ultimately what David meant in Psalm 91.
Whatever you are going through, I pray you will experience the presence of Jesus with you. May you believe His promises and trust His heart, as this song speaks about.
There is so much during the COVID-19 Pandemic that is heart breaking. As of today, more than 82,000 people have died in the U.S. and almost 300,000 world-wide. Every person represents a grieving family and community.
Hearts are breaking every day. Family members lost too soon, businesses going under, jobs lost, futures uncertain. Does God understand all this heartbreak? Does He care?
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. . .”
Psalm 34:18 NIV
When Jesus was here in this world, He experienced many kinds of heartbreak. He was grief stricken by the rejection He experienced.
His life was one of constant sadness as the gifts He offered were refused. Isaiah wrote about His experience: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3).
Jesus’ experienced the ultimate anguish and sorrow on the cross when His heart was broken by our guilt and sin which separated Him from God. He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) just before He died.
Jesus’ disciple John noticed that water and blood flowed out of the spear wound, which was evidence of a broken heart (John 19:34).
Yes, Jesus has experienced heartbreak.
But, is He close to us in our losses and troubles? Does He care?
When He was here, Jesus said He would be very close to us. He would not leave us as orphans in this world. He would still live with us through His Spirit (John 14:18, 23).
He said we would have trouble in this world, but that He overcame it and will eventually return to more than make everything whole again (John 16:33). In the meantime, He offers to give us His peace and comfort.
Friend, Jesus understands your breaking heart. He is willing to come beside you and help you in every way possible. He knows your need and will listen to your prayers.
We live in a war zone with great trouble taking place all around us. But Jesus has come behind enemy lines to help us in every way He can. Call out to Him. Trust Him. Wait for Him to work. He feels your pain and will do all He can.
The lyrics to an old song express it well: “Tears Are a Language God Understands,” sung here by the Heritage Singers. I listened to it many times years ago when my heart was breaking with loss. God seemed very close and the words reassured me that He understood and cared about what I was going through.
Tears Are a Language God Understands
Often you wonder why tears come into your eyes And burdens seem to be much more than you can bear But God is standing near, He sees your falling tears And tears are a language God understands.
God sees the tears of a brokenhearted soul He sees your tears and hears them when they fall God weeps along with man and He takes him by the hand Tears are a language God understands.
When grief has left you low it causes tears to flow When things have not turned out the way that you had planned But God won’t forget you His promises are true And tears are a language God understands.
God sees the tears of a brokenhearted soul He sees your tears and hears them when they fall God weeps along with man and He takes him by the hand Tears are a language that my God He understands.
God weeps along with man and He takes him by the hand Tears are a language God understands.
One sad effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Quarantine is the loneliness so many are feeling. Many kinds of loneliness.
Probably the worst kind is the loneliness thousands of sick people are feeling as they are quarantined in hospitals or nursing homes, unable to received the love and support of family and friends. The the Pandemic first began, our pastors went to visit our members in their retirement homes, but for safety, visitation from outside people had been curtailed. Loneliness.
We have seen the pictures of elderly spouses waving to their loved ones through hospital windows, unable to speak to them and give the gift of loving touch. We are grateful for healthcare workers who are doing their best in such circumstances, but being very ill and dying without family around you must be so very hard.
And there are other kinds of loneliness. Not being able to gather as families. Grandparents who can’t be with their grandchildren. Being suddenly isolated from our social and work networks, the people we love to be around. Missing up-close, personal human interaction. Social media, Skype, and Zoom, help; but they are not the same.
Sometimes we are lonely even with others, if we feel unloved or unappreciated. That is a difficult kind of loneliness. The Quarantine may bring out the brokenness in our close relationships.
Then, someone pointed out the other day how dehumanizing it is to relate to people through masks. We communicate so much below the level of our eyes–affirming smiles, expressions of agreement, acknowledgment, and more. Wearing masks is important, but we lose so much of human warmth in doing so.
In the middle of all this, God can help us with our loneliness. That is what I want to share with you today.
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”
Psalm 25:16 NIV
King David wrote this at a time when he was facing attacks by political enemies and people who wanted to do him harm. He felt alone. Who could he trust? Who could he turn to in such circumstances? Only to God.
The truth is, God promises to be with us in our troubles, our isolation, our loneliness. Whatever circumstances are causing us to feel alone, He is there for us.
When Jesus was preparing to go back to heaven after His resurrection, he acknowledged that His followers would feel alone; so He made a wonderful promise we can take to heart now.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . .Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
John 14:18, 23 NIV
This promise was not just for those disciples. It applies to everyone who accepts it. God offers to make His home in us.
This is not a replacement for human love and presence, but it is a deep help with the problem of loneliness. Having a God who loves us so much, a Jesus who lived, died, rose, and always lives for us be willing to be with us at all times an in all circumstances is a wonderful blessing.
Jesus experienced His Father’s presence with him in this way. He said, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32).
Friend, if you accept Jesus as you Friend and Savior, and God as your Father, you can have the comfort of their presence with you all the time. You don’t need to ever be lonely in the sense of being completely alone.
Since I accepted Jesus, I want to tell you I have never been lonely, because He has always been with me. Yes, I have missed family when I couldn’t be with them. In some situations, there was a sense of being alone. But I have never felt truly alone because God has been with me. This is a gift He offers to everyone.
What about those who are dying alone? This is so tragic. My heart goes out to families who long to be with their loved one and cannot, and the sick person who so much would like to have their family with them.
I believe that in ways known only to God, He has been there for them. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. . .” “the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down” (Psalm 34:18; 146:8).
When my wife’s late husband died of cancer, they were alone at home together. My wife had prayed that her trust in God would not fail when the moment came.
After her husband took his last breath, and she realized he had died, she prayed, thanking God for His help and faithfulness during their difficult journey. She thanked God she still trusted Him. Suddenly she felt a physical touch like someone pressing on her back, hugging her. She knew instantly that God was truly with her and would be with her always. This reminds me of Jesus’ promise when He left:
“Surely I will be with you always, to the very endof the age.”
You can take hold of these promises from Jesus that I have shared today. We may not feel we deserve this, but He loves us more than we can imagine. In His eyes, we were worth enough to give His life for. He wants to be with us, to be a Friend and Companion. You can invite Him if you choose.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has presented many challenges at all levels of society. Government, business, healthcare, education, and finance have had to make huge adjustments in how to operate, often on a daily basis.
Teachers have had to re-tool how they educate. Hospital administrators have had to completely re-configure their hospitals. Businesses have had to build protection barriers and establish distancing requirements and customer flow. And the list goes on and on.
To complicate things, conflicting mandates come from different levels of government making decisions difficult. Resources are scarce. Income is drying up. Employees are being furloughed, or let go. This affects all of us, on a very personal level. Parents who work and home school. Healthcare givers who have to quarantine from family, and more.
In the middle of all this, God offers to give wisdom for all the situations and decisions we face. He makes this promise in James 1:5. It is a promise you can “take to the bank.” You can rely on it because a caring and grace-filled God stands behind it.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
James 1:5 NIV
Without finding fault. I appreciate so much that this says, “God gives generously to all without finding fault.“
This promise comes to us from a gracious God. A God who is full of sympathy and grace. (Biblically, grace is an act of favor or kindness toward someone who may not deserve it. But it is given because the heart of the Giver is full of compassion and understanding.) James is saying that God gives wisdom in that spirit when we ask.
We have a lot of faults, right? We have probably made a lot of mistakes. In the pressure of this situation, we might have lost our temper (more than once), hurt those under our leadership, failed in many possible ways. But God is saying here that He doesn’t scold us for past failures, when we come sincerely, with our needs. He doesn’t hold back because we have ignored Him. He gives it without finding fault. Because He is a God of inexplicable love and grace. That is the way He is.
He also “gives it generously.” He is a large-hearted God who pours out his blessings on everyone. According to Jesus, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45 NIV). How do you see God? As judging, condemning, or selective in who He helps. He invites us to know Him as loving, gracious, and generous.
A Promise for Troubled Times
This promise of generous help is given in the context of trouble, which is what we are certainly dealing with now. Here is what James says before verse 5.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1:2-4 NIV
We are facing trials of many kinds now. God’s promise of wisdom is for such times. He invites us to ask for it when we are faced with tough or complicated decisions. Decisions that affect our business, our employees, our families. Corporate decisions and personal ones.
James also reminds us of a benefit that comes to us in our trials. The testing of our faith in trouble develops perseverance which leads to spiritual maturity.
This perseverance is not human grit, but rather the perseverance of faith. Faith stretching out to grab hold of God’s help and wisdom in times of trouble. Faith growing stronger as we claim His promises and experience His faithfulness in giving us the help we need.
Yesterday, I was digging around a young citrus tree in my back yard. It hasn’t fared so well in the high winds of our area, losing most of its leaves. Most of Spring, it has looked dead. But as I dug, I found a long, thin root that had stretched out looking for moisture. New leaves are sprouting now, and it will be fine.
James is describing this kind of perseverance and faith that, weak as it is sometimes, stretches out to ask God’s help, perhaps find more of God Himself. Confessing one’s lack of faith and need of wisdom, and asking God for His faithfulness, is what he means.
That Kind of Help
So, when James invites us to ask God for wisdom, He will give us that kind of help. He will give it generously, with grace, without finding fault. We will experience His love and help in practical ways as we see our prayers answered. And our faith will grow as we persevere.
On One Condition
When we ask God for help, we must come in faith, trusting He is able to help us, and believing that He will give us the answers we need when it is best. James says it this way:
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
James 1:6, 7 NIV
Is God switching from kind to demanding? From generous to stingy? No, faith is the condition which allows God to help us.
In the beginning, humanity turned from God by through doubting His word and distrusting His heart. This led to disobedience of a clear command. And this allowed Satan to claim us and this world as his. We chose his way.
Trusting God allows Him to do what He could otherwise not do.
A man came to Jesus asking for help. His son was possessed by a demon who had often thrown him into the fire or water to kill him. The family was tormented by the constant suspense and danger. The father said to Jesus, “if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“’If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’
“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief’!”
Mark 9:22-24 NIV
Immediately, Jesus commanded the evil spirit to come out of the boy, and he was freed.
Jesus invited people to put their trust in Him; to have faith, to believe. And when they did, He was able to help them. But as Jane pointed out in a comment below (and I agree), the point of this story is that God knows we often have weak faith, or no faith at all. But when we admit our need, God can help us. Admitting our need is the key that allows Him to work. There have been so many times in life when I came to God weak, in need of faith, asking for help and wisdom; and He was always there to help me.
So you see, James is right. Faith is a condition of receiving God’s help. Even struggling, weak faith. Not that God is trying to withhold His blessings. It is a ground rule for His action in the face of the cosmic war going on now.
Now that you understand, whatever role and responsibilities you have in your life, I pray you will take God up on His offer and experience His kindness and help. The answer to your prayer may not come immediately. But it will come when you need it most. God somethings allows our faith to stretch and grow stronger as we wait. It is a growth process, and it clarifies our motives and purifies our desires. So pray and trust. God is faithful.
The last few years of my pastoral career were extremely busy. I learned more than ever before in my life to depend on God for wisdom. Projects, counseling, sermons, leadership–things came at a fast pace. I learned to lean on God constantly. I was praying many times a day for wisdom, sometimes just breathing a prayer as I worked. God’s promise in Isaiah became a reality: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
This can happen for us because God loves us so much. He really cares and wants to walk beside us as we do life. He proved this by sending Jesus to walk with us. And when Jesus left to go back to heaven, He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. My Father and I will make our home with you” (John 14:18, 23 NIV).
So, if you need wisdom, guidance, or support, ask. He loves to help.
This morning, a lady reported to our online prayer group, that she had received the dreaded letter. The hospital she works for had furloughed her. Another woman told how a friend, a sole provider with children in college, has also been furloughed. Of course, this is happening to thousands, probably millions, of people across our country and around the world.
I want to encourage you with a story from the first book of the Bible. Hagar, an Egyptian servant to Sarah, Abraham’s wife, has been mistreated by her mistress. It’s a complicated story, which you can read in Genesis 16; but we pick it up where Hagar has had enough abuse and has run away.
She’s out in the desert, alone, wondering how she is going to survive. Support gone. Resources dried up. Fearful for the future. Tears in her eyes.
That’s where an angel from Heaven finds her and gives her some guidance and a very encouraging message.
What is interesting is that Hagar probably didn’t follow Abraham’s God. Being from Egypt, she likely had her own national gods. Also, if you read the story, she had not been behaving especially well. But God didn’t hesitate. Because He has a heart for those in need. For the weak, the oppressed, the fired or furloughed.
When the angel finished, Hagar did and said something which speaks to my heart. I hope it will encourage you.
“She (Hagar) gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.”That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi (well of the Living One who seese me); it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
“You are the God who sees me.” I didn’t know you, but You knew what I was going through. You saw me here beside the spring. In my home. On my knees. Collapsed on the couch. At a bar. Far from town. Tears in my eyes and fear in my heart.
If you are reading this, I want you to know that God sees what you are going through. He knows your circumstances and your need. If you cry out to Him, He will hear your prayer and help you in ways only a powerful, loving God knows how to do.
There are many promises He makes about this in the Bible, the record of His interactions with us humans. I want to share a few to encourage you. You can take them to Him and ask Him for help, because He is faithful. He is loving. And He sees.
“He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.” Psalm 102:17
“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys.” Isaiah 41:17-18
“The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9
“Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high,who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people.” Psalm 113:5-8
“I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” Psalm 140:12
“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” Psalm 37:25
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10.
“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:8
So, friend; tell God your problems. Pour out your heart to Him. He will listen, and in His own time and way, He will act.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 16:33; 14:27 NIV
Can we have peace in the middle of our troubles? Can our minds and hearts be at peace in the center of a storm, whatever kind of storm it is? Peace in stress? Peace in problems? Peace amid fear and worry?
I believe the answer is Yes. Because someone named Jesus can give us that peace. Because it is a supernatural peace. Because God has power to give it.
In both verses above; in each instance, Jesus was speaking about fear, separation, and trouble. And He was offering peace in the middle of it.
In the first verse, John 16:33, He has just told His followers that the time is coming shortly when they will be scattered to their own homes, like frightened sheep chased by a wolf. And they will leave Jesus alone. He is predicting His arrest and crucifixion, and the disciples’ failure to keep faith in that traumatic moment.
In the face of that reality, as frightening and discomforting as it will be, He is promising to give them peace.
Jesus is saying that experience is symbolic of what life will be like for them going forward, as His followers. “In this world you will have trouble; but I have told you ahead of time, so that in me you may have peace.”
Jesus pulls no punches. It is going to be hard. There will be trouble. But “in Me you may have peace.”
Jesus is the Peace Giver. He stilled the storm on Galilee by saying, “Peace, be still.” He stilled the demon possessed men by speaking the word of deliverance.
He can still our hearts and give us His peace. Because He has overcome the world.
His mission was to reveal the Father’s character and to do what humans failed to do. To trust, to obey His Father whatever the personal cost. To reveal self-sacrificing love. He did it perfectly by surrendering to and depending on God. Even to the cross.
So, He has the right to forgive us, the right to help us, the right to sustain us in our storms.
In the other verse, John 14:27, Jesus is telling His closest followers that He is going to leave them and go back to heaven (verse 28).
This was not at all what they were expecting. Not in their plans at all. In Jewish theology of the day, the Messiah would come as a super-human being, defeat all foes, and take the throne of David to reign forever. This left out the suffering servant teachings of the Old Testament, the dying for sin and resurrection of Isaiah 53.
So, a dying and leaving Messiah was not in their cards. No way!
Anxiety producing without question! But this was the reality, the truth of what they would experience.
So Jesus promises two things in John 14. He is going to send them a Helper, a Person very much like them–the Holy Spirit who will be with them forever. He will comfort them, teach them, bring Jesus’ words back to their minds when they need them, and more.
And He is going to give them His peace, a calmness, an assurance that is beyond anything the world can give. Look at His promise again. It is for you.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 NIV
It is from Him. To summarize, Jesus offers us to give us peace in a world filled with trouble, whether personal or in our world. It will be a peace HE gives us. Not something we concoct or think up ourselves. A peace from Him.
It is supernatural. It will be a supernatural peace, a peace that only He as God can give us. He IS the Peacespeaker, the Calm Maker, as this old song beautifully says.
It will calm your mind. And it will be a peace of mind because the Spirit will bring back Jesus’ teachings and promises.
It will be peace in your Storm. All this doesn’t mean your storm will go away, always. But it means He will give you peace in the middle of your storm.
Tell the Peace Giver
Do you need peace, friend? Do you need it especially now? I want to encourage you to tell Jesus directly. He died for the right to help us, and He is faithful to His promises. He has helped me so many times in this. He is the Peace Giver.
I am writing this morning out of great sadness. . .and yet hope. I want to offer you a gift–the knowing that God loves you and is with you in what you are going through.
This week a leading emergency room doctor, Dr. Lorna Breen, took her own life in the face of this Epidemic. I don’t know the whole story, but one report said health care workers in New York are feeling very defeated by this disease.
They have trained and given their lives to help people get well, but so many there are dying, despite their heroic efforts. The best medicine can provide is has often not been enough. Bone tired fatigue, lack of resources, failure despite best efforts, frustration of family members, the pressure and stress of overwhelming odds, and more, can lead to a loss of hope.
Even if you are not a front line worker, you may be feeling some of this too.
Where is God?
Many ask at a time like this, “Where is God? If He is a God of love, why does He allow things like this?” It is an ancient question I would like to give an answer to–one that has satisfied me and given me hope.
I have had more than one devastating loss in my life, but what I am sharing with you held me up and filled me with hope in the middle of despair. God’s love sustained me and carried me through.
Here is the summary. Read on if it interests you.
God is love. He is all powerful; Creator, Savior, Friend.
But His hands are somewhat tied.What He can do is limited. But He is not stopped. And in His love and power He never gives up–being present, helping, comforting, fighting back evil, sometimes working miracles.
Perfection and love was what what He created. But the old story, retold and confirmed, is that the first humans were seduced and deceived; an angel created perfect by God, but with free will. Love cannot thrive absent freedom.
Lucifer, leader of angels, began his rebellion in heaven. It started with pride, then self worship, followed by criticism and questioning everything about God, His love, His ways. Many angels were deceived.
Finally, open revolution. War. And they were sent away from heaven (Revelation 12:7-9). War in heaven? Yes, but probably not like ours.
Lucifer (Light Bearer) who became Satan (The Accuser), came to this world in an infuriated, jealousy-driven attempt to take over a world God had just created. To make it is own kingdom, a place where He could rule and reign like he wanted.
The first humans were created “in God’s image,” with free will. They were intelligent. They had been warned, but the devil deceived them. Led them to question God’s love, doubt His words, and disobey His instructions for happiness.
It is called “The Fall.” It happened. It opened Pandora’s box. Disease, death, human trouble of every kind.
You might be thinking, this story is a myth. It is too old to be believed. In the class of every other ancient religious legend. Let me offer an answer.
Jesus. He was born, lived, died, and rose from the dead. Over 500 people saw him after His resurrection and traveled the world to tell about it.
Saul of Tarsus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (ruling council), thought Jesus was a Jewish false messiah. He went everywhere imprisoning, torturing, and killing Christians. Until the risen Jesus appeared to him as he neared Damascus on a mission of death.
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, Lord?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9)
In an instant everything changed. Clarified. Scriptures understood. Life mission altered. From martyr maker to missionary, to authoring much of the New Testament.
Here was Saul’s and the others’ message: God came to earth as one of us. He entered our darkness, our suffering. He invaded Satan’s kingdom as a Baby. Weak, vulnerable, out of love for a lost and suffering planet. He learned to depend on God, was filled with power; went everywhere teaching and healing. But He was killed. No, He gave His life as a remedy for our sin. To give us options: the option to believe, trust, follow again. The most sinful can be forgiven; the most questioning receives patience; the weakest can get all the help needed–to be a child of God again. To believe, to love, to serve.
The Jesus who died and rose again had confirmed the story. There was a devil, a fall, a history of God’s beach head of love in an occupied world. The story of a God who has never given up. All through history. Pursuing, helping, loving. God wouldn’t resurrect a liar, would He? What Jesus said can be believed. If there are things we don’t understand; well, we can trust.
God could have taken it all back by force. But force is not His way. His way is love, reason. “Come let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are as scarlet, they can be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they can be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18).
In France and other countries, during World War 2, resistance movements formed–to spread the truth, to empower, to free where possible. Resistance in the face of tyranny. Love for truth and freedom and human dignity in the face of evil.
Since humans turned away, God has been mounting a resistance of love and truth. He invades quietly. Jesus came as a helpless Babe. He sends His Spirit, angels, changed people. He does everything in His power to change hearts and minds through love and reason.
When a mind opens, He has the right to work a miracle. Change a heart, replace fear and doubt with love and certainty.
So yes, God is love. God is powerful. But He is limited in only this world until Jesus comes again.
In Tragedy, Love
Jeremiah lived through the destruction of his nation. He saw death in the streets. He witnessed cruelty and evil on a massive scale. But he didn’t give up His faith in a God of love. Here is his witness.
“So, I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.’ I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: It is because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.’”
So friend, I have an invitation.
Believe God is real. Believe He loves you. Believe He loves this world and is doing all He can. Believe in the middle of this devastation and loss.
Trust Him. Become part of the resistance. Fight for a higher purpose. We may lose some in this life, but there is a kingdom of love to restore. Serve in love, in His strength. If you choose this, He will help you. Everything inside will change. You will have hope, peace, purpose, strength to keep going. Believe the story. There is love. There is hope. There is a Kingdom. It is here, and it’s coming.
How does prayer bring peace in the middle of a crisis like the COVID-19 Pandemic? How does prayer work? How can we pray to find relief and help?
Sometimes we are so worried, we find it hard to pray. I’ve had more than one concern like that recently. The what ifs and worries buzz around in our heads like infuriating flies. We find it hard to pray without anxious thoughts interrupting.
As I write, scientists say the COVID infection curve is flattening in many states, but many uncertainties remain, both nationally and personally. So, we worry.
Will my job or business survive? Am I safe? What about my vulnerable loved ones? Will there be a second wave of the virus? When will school open again? How will my children do with dropped months of learning? Will the economy bounce back, along with my retirement account? Are our leaders handling this correctly to keep us protected and save businesses and jobs?
We worry especially when things seem beyond our control, or our resources are limited.
So, how can we find peace in a crisis? Philippians 4 gives us the answer. Seriously, it is the solution. It is God’s spiritual guide for peace through prayer. It tells us how to pray when we are anxious and why prayer works to calm us.
“The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:5b-7 NIV
You may have heard this before. You could repeat it by memory, flying through the words without thinking. Or its wisdom may be new to you. Either way, I want to invite you to work slowly through it with me, so we can unpack its treasure and find the peace it promises.
The Lord Is Near
First, Paul reminds us that Jesus is very close to us. As we start to pray, we should remember His promises: “I will be with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20); “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . .My Father will love you, and we will come and make our home with you.” (John 14:18, 23)
Those are amazing promises when you stop to think about it. God is with us; Jesus is with us. They are not far away, unaware of what we are going through. They are close. This has always been true, but is even more true now that Jesus came as one of us, to share our lives.
“For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'”
Isaiah 57:15 NIV
Yes, Jesus is in heaven, but through his Spirit, He is also very much with us. Jesus is near. He is close enough to know our circumstances and our thoughts. He is close enough to care for and comfort us in trouble or tragedy. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 NIV)
Did you notice, Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything.” It is almost like a command, but probably more like a strong statement of permission. We don’t have to worry. We can stop worrying because Jesus is near. Remember those stories from the New Testament? He is the storm-stiller, the disease-defeater, our protector and provider. He did all those things when here on earth, and He still does.
So don’t worry. Pray.
Have you heard the phrase, “turn your worries into prayers.” That’s what Paul is inviting us to do. Don’t worry; instead pray. Then, he tells us how.
“In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (v. 6)
In Every Situation
We face lots of situations in life, right? Relationship situations, financial situations, life circumstance situations, situations beyond our influence and control.
What do we do with those situations? I’ll admit what I do, all too often. I turn it over and over in my mind, like a slow-cooking pancake. I try to figure it out on my own. I toss and turn over it in bed. Then I remember. “Pray.” In any “situation,” pray. If I can worry, I can pray.
By Prayer and Petition
Interesting Paul would divide prayer into two aspects. Sometimes we think prayer is all about asking.
Perhaps we have an incomplete picture of prayer. Prayer is remembering who God is to us, what He is like. Prayer is a relationship. It is talking things over with God as we would with a friend of close relative. Not because He doesn’t know, but to open up to Him. He wants to know us. He welcomes our heartfelt conversation about everything important or trivial in our lives.
I love this; a little long, but really good:
“Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears, before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. . . . Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. ‘He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds’ (Psalm 147:3). The relationship between God and each person are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon earth to share His watch care, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son.”
Amazing Grace, p. 116
Petitions are another kind of prayer. Petition means asking. Lodging a request. “Ask,” Jesus said in Luke 11:9-11. Ask for what you need. If you can get anxious, you can ask.
Asking involves trust. God is a loving and good Father, and He will do what is best. He knows everything about us and what would be the finest for us in the long run. He invites us to keep our wants and needs before Him. Whenever we are anxious, or have a need, we can ask. . .and trust.
My sister, who has faced her share of trials, but has a great attitude of gratitude, reminded me of an old song last night as we were texting. The words to “Trust His Heart,” say beautifully that we can trust Him, even if we can’t understand what is happening to us. You can listen by clicking the underlined song title.
With Gratitude, Say Thank You
Have you ever left out an ingredient while cooking or baking something, only to have it turn out flat or taste wrong? The next ingredient in prayer that brings peace is crucially important. You can’t leave it out and have a good result.
When we pray, Paul says, we should always remember to be grateful and thank God for what He has already done for us. Blessings received, guidance given, requests responded to.
A story from Jesus’ life has always impressed me about gratitude. Ten lepers came asking Jesus for healing one day. Dr. Luke tells us, “They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!'” (Luke 17:12)
Lepers were banned from society, and had to live alone or in groups. The fear of contagion led society to set up fear-based restrictions. Ill-informed medical and religious ideology taught that all leprosy was a curse from God and the result of sin.
Lepers who traveled around had to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” as they got near people. From all this, lepers had a deep sense of isolation and shame. People who live in Hawaii and know the dark history of Kalaupapa, an old leper colony on the Island of Molokai, understand this experience.
Jesus told the ten lepers to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed by God’s power.
“One of them,” Luke says, “when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.”
“Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'”
When I first heard this as a child, it impressed me deeply about the importance of gratitude, especially to God.
If you know God, or have heard the stories of those who know Him, you know He does a lot for us. Many times we don’t even realize what He is doing. But as we remember, it strengthens our faith and hope. “We don’t have anything to fear for the future unless we forget how God has led us in the past,” an old saint once wrote. I have found this is true.
When when you pray, thank God for His past help and blessings. For all the times He has been with you and the things He has done.
Supernatural Peace Will Come
Prayer is a conversation with God. We are not just launching our requests into the “vaposphere.” God is listening. Remember, “the Lord is near.”
So, when we pray like this, in trust, thanking Him for His love and care in the past, and leaving our requests at His heart, He promises to give us His peace. Here is the promise in Paul’s words:
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7 NIV
“Transcends all understanding.” It is a supernatural peace that God gives. “Peace will guard your heart.”
Peace will guard your heart, because He will guard your heart. He is with you, helping you.
This is the core of what God is saying about how to find peace through prayer in Philippians 4. However, I left the bread off this tasty sandwich filling.
Sandwich filling is great, but it’s not complete without the bread. A while back my wife came home with some delicious herb bread. It made wonderful sandwiches. So now I want to show you how Paul begins and ends his teaching on prayer and peace.
The Top Slice – “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all.” (Phil. 4:4-5a)
We can rejoice, which means to overflow with joy, because God is near; He hears our prayers; He will give us peace. Having a personal God who hears and helps us brings deep joy. Someone once said, happiness is based on circumstances. Joy comes from something much deeper–knowing a God who cares and is there for us in our lives.
Bottom Slice – “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or worthy of praise–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9).
Peace comes through prayer, but it remains with us because of a well-managed mental environment. There is a lot we can watch, read, or think about that really doesn’t promote peace. If we fill our minds with good, uplifting, ennobling things, peace will flourish there too.
So, Paul encourages his readers to remember all the things he taught them and fill their hearts and minds with it. Those things are found in Scripture. Reading, understanding, and taking in the words of Scripture will promote and grow peace.
God’s recipe for peace is: Be joyful, be aware of Jesus’ presence, don’t be anxious; rather, pray and ask for what you need; be thankful; and fill your heart with good.
Are you hungry for peace? That is a recipe that will always work.
So many are carrying extra responsibilities now, during this Quarantine. Heavy burdens, roles and duties added to what we were already doing; parents who now home school their children in addition to trying to keep up with more-demanding work; health care workers who have longer hours with a heavier case load, sometimes quarantined from their own families; business owners who are having to seriously retool operations to stay afloat; government leaders trying to figure out the best path forward. . .and so many more.
Then there are the millions who have lost jobs and wonder who will support them–and millions more who worry about it all.
Wouldn’t it be helpful to know there is a Higher Power who stands ready to support us, even carry us through this time? God has done this in the past and is willing to do it now, if we ask.
“In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”
In this scripture, God is describing how He helped His people in ancient times. It says He was distressed by what they were experiencing. Sometimes it is helpful just to know that someone feels what we are going through and is there for us. God feels our distress, and He is distressed with us.
It says here that it was in His love and mercy that He redeemed them. They were trapped in a life of slavery, and God came in love and mercy to delivered them. Can you relate to that? Does life sometimes feel like slavery now? Maybe you don’t feel worthy of God’s help; can’t see why He should even pay attention to you. But the truth about Him is that He is very compassionate, merciful, and kind.
Then it says, “He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” The picture is of a tired lamb being carried by a shepherd, or a child lifted up by a parent.
What does it mean God “carries us?” I think it implies that He supports us, gives us strength, wisdom, patience, whatever we need in our circumstances.
It does not mean He does our work for us, or makes our decisions. He has given us a mind, skills, abilities. But He loves to have us collaborate with Him. We grow by using what we have been given. Life and work are even better when we work interdependently with a powerful God. He will give us wisdom and strength. It is not all up to us.
We may not even be aware He is doing it, but He is, if we have asked Him to; maybe even if we have not. He was carrying His people in ancient times, even when they were not consciously trusting Him.
But, here is the point: We can be aware. We can choose to accept the help. We can be grateful. We can sense His lifting. This will bring us reassurance and peace.
“Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.” Psalm 28:9
I have often had a huge sense of relief when I remembered God was carrying me in this way. Maybe it was just me, but in the busyness of parenting and work, I often forgot that God was lifting my burdens, and worked like it was all up to me.
When a scripture text or words from a family member or friends, reminded me, I was able to release the sense of pressure into God’s hands, and trust again that He was there.
Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carryyou; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
I am really thankful for this promise, because I have quite a few gray hairs these days, and many years of life down the path behind me.
Here God is saying, “I won’t give up; I won’t slack off; I won’t let you down as you get older. I will be there for you just as much as when you were young. Your concerns and challenges may be different in your old age, but I’ll be right there with you, even in your later years, as mind and body grow older.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73:26 NIV
I want to share a beautiful song wit you, by Lynda Randle: “He Will Carry You.” As you listen, may you be filled with hope and reassurance.
Here are some of the words:
There is no problem too big God cannot solve it There is no mountain too tall God cannot move it. There is no storm too dark God cannot calm it There is no sorrow too deep He cannot soothe it.
Oh, if He carried the weight of the world upon His shoulders I know my brother that He will carry you Oh, if He carried the weight of the world upon His shoulders I know my sister that He will carry you. He said, “Come on to me all who are weary And I will give you rest. . .”
Jesus mentioned pandemics (pestilences) when he described what would happen between His first and second Advents (Matthew 24).
However, as I wrote in Part 2, we need more information to answer the question, “Is the Carona Virus Pandemic a sign of the end of the world and Jesus’ Second Coming?”
Jesus gave us those answers in the book of Revelation. About sixty years after He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, Jesus returned to visit with his aged disciple, John, who was now a prisoner for his faith on the Greek Island of Patmos.
In amazing color and detail Jesus filled in more elements about what would happen in the centuries going forward until He finally returned. He had told His disciples six decades previously, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” (John 16:12). Now He comes to reveal it.
Put yourself in John’s shoes. Most of the first followers of Jesus have died, many by a martyr’s death. Jesus had promised, when He left, He would come back, but time has dragged on, with much persecution and trouble.
Jesus had left some clues about when He might return, but the hints were sparse. His emphasis had been more about what to do while they waited and His promise to be with them always through His Spirit. He never gave a date and time, only signs.
Now, Jesus comes to reassure the Christian community and to fill in more information. What He gives makes up the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
The first time I tried to read Revelation was after my seventeen year-old sister died in a car accident. I was grieving, looking for comfort and hope. I had heard Revelation talked about Jesus’ return, so I opened my slightly used Bible to the last book and started reading hungrily.
As I wrestled with the symbols, here and there were words of encouragement I needed. My faith grew stronger that I would see my sister again. Also, I came to know God and His Son Jesus in a more personal way.
Now, many years later, I understand some keys that unlock this mysterious book and pour out its treasure. My purpose in writing today is to share ten of those keys. You will understand Revelation better as you use them.
Please don’t be intimidated by this. Each key will be helpful in its own way and time. At the last church I pastored, I was given many keys. Each one opened a space I would need access to–the office, library, classrooms, AV room, etc. Though I always carried all the keys, I used them only when necessary. Read these over, and use them as needed. They will open wonderful treasures to you.
Keys That Unlock Revelation’s Meaning
1. It’s Name Means “Revealed”
The book of Revelation was not meant to be a closed book, too mysterious and complicated to understand. The title means “open, or revealed.” God wants you to understand it. He even pronounces a blessing when you read and take it to heart: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it. . .” (Revelation 1:3). As you read and study, remember it is God’s will to open it to you.
2. A Revelation of Jesus
The first five words tell us it is a revelation (revealing) of and by Jesus: “The revelation of Jesus Christ. . .” (Revelation 1:1). Jesus came to show us what God is really like, His amazing character and love. He showed it by how He lived and what He taught about His Father. If we only read the book like a guide to signs and events, we will miss its central message. Revelation is about Jesus and how He interacts with people and powers through history.
The Bible teaches that when we open our hearts to God, He unlocks our mind to understand His message. Jesus is truly the main “key” in Revelation. When we believe the good news of salvation He taught and put our trust in Him as Savior, He unlocks the door of our understanding and shines His light in.
3. Hidden Keys
Recently we visited my wife’s son in another state. As we left the house one day, I forgot to turn the door knob lock to the unlocked position, locking us out. Everyone else had left for the day. A bit embarrassed, I hoped our son was carrying or had hidden an extra key somewhere. But when he got home that night, we learned he did not, and there was no way in. Keys open spaces important to us. Without a key, we are locked out. Finally, I called a locksmith who produced his tools and got us in quickly.
God gave Revelation at a time when Christianity was under vicious attack. So, like secret battle code, He placed much of its meaning in symbols, effectively locking unsympathetic enemies out.
Revelation’s images are created from over 400 names, places, and allusions drawn from the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. Names such as Jezebel, Babylon, and Balaam. Nouns like dragon, sanctuary, lamp stand, and lamb. Concepts such as seal, plagues, and white clothes. When you understand a symbol’s meaning in the “First Scripture,” the Bible Jesus used, it helps unlock its meaning in Revelation.
4. A Cosmic War
Revelation pictures an epic Star Wars-like battle between Heavenly powers and the powers of evil led by a fallen angel and his army of rebel angels (Revelation 12:9-11). The fighting ranges between heaven and earth and on the planet over many centuries. Humans, leaders, and governments choose sides and join the fray. The side we choose determines our involvement and destiny.
“The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. . .When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.”
Revelation 12:9, 13-14 NIV
5. Understand the Literary Style
Understanding what style a book or movie uses helps us get its message. Revelation is a particular kind of literary style which God used in Bible times–apocalyptic writing. It was made up of visions, symbols, and predictions about the future, with a focus on the cosmic battle and ultimate the end of the world.
As in a book or movie, sometimes the action moves back in time, then forward, then back again, as it builds its message. In Revelation, visions move back and forth between heaven (where God leads and guides) and earth (where the battle rages). Often there is repetition of the same message using different symbols.
For example, one symbol in revelation is “sanctuary” imagery. The Old Testament sanctuary, or worship center, was a symbol of God’s plan to bring salvation to humanity. Its yearly cycle happened in phases utilizing different spaces in the sanctuary, from the sacrifice of a lamb to bring salvation to, ultimately, Divine judgment and restoration of this earth to a renewed state.
God uses the sanctuary symbols and services to introduce each new section of Revelation. (Rev. 1:10-18; 4:1-2; 11:19)
6. The Holy Spirit’s Help
Before Jesus’ death, He promised His followers He would send the Holy Spirit to help them remember everything He had taught, and, lead them into deeper understanding. We need the Spirit of God and as we try to understand God’s heart and message in the Bible. We can ask God for this Gift as we read and study His word.
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”
John 16:12-14 NIV
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:9-13 NIV
7. Revelation Moves Through History
As you read Revelation, you will generally be moving through history from the time of Christ to the Second Coming (and beyond). As I said earlier, the scene sometimes moves backward or forward in time, as in a movie or book. There are several series of seven in Revelation. Often, these seven-fold series begin with early Christianity and move through time to the End. As you read, you will notice this.
8. Lost in Unfamiliar Territory?
Imagine that are lost on a walk or drive. What would be the first thing you’d do? Of course, you might check Google maps, but play along. Let’s say you don’t have your phone. What would you do? I would look something familiar: a landmark, a street name, something in the skyline. As soon as you identified something, it might help you pinpoint your location and how to find your way home.
Think of this as a helpful tip when you read Revelation. You find yourself in a maze of strange metaphors, unfamiliar symbols, and mysterious narrative, look for something familiar. Remember you are moving through history, sometimes in cycles. Look for references to significant events, or familiar names and places. These will help you pinpoint your location and find your way.
9. Apocalyptic Cross References
I said earlier that there are more than 400 references in Revelation to the Old Testament: names, places, allusions. Many of these are found in other Apocalyptic books, primarily the Old Testament book of Daniel.
Daniel has many characteristics in common with Revelation. It moves from its time (600 B.C.), through the centuries to the Second Coming of Christ. It is composed of several visions and makes use of many symbols. Many of these symbols are used by God in Revelation. The material covered by Daniel is also taught in Revelation.
So, if you understand Daniel, it will help you sort out Revelation. The book of Daniel is a big key for understanding Revelation.
10. The Main Purpose
The last key is one of the most important, closely related to keys 2 and 6. God gave us Revelation to know Him personally and to experience a relationship with Him. He gave it so we could experience His gift of salvation, receive Jesus as our Savior, be ready for His Coming and prepared to enjoy eternity with Him.
We must not study Revelation primarily to understand End Time Events, or how to survive them, but to come close to a loving, good God Who is full of mercy and willing to accept and help us. If you read Revelation in that way, you will be truly blessed.
These ten points are some of the crucial keys that unlock the wonderful treasure found in Revelation. Now, I would suggest you just begin to read it prayerfully, using these keys as they come to your mind. God’s Spirit will open your understanding as you do.
Tomorrow, God willing, I will highlight some of the events, movements, and signs in Revelation which shows Jesus’ Coming is Near.
Yesterday I wrote that Jesus included pandemics (called pestilences in some translations of the Bible) in His list of troubles that would happen before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. He warned His followers at that time not to see these things as signs of His immediate return, as that would occur much later.
However, He went on to say that these troubles would be like “birth pains,” intensifying over many centuries until He came back to get His followers.
Jesus divided his teaching about “signs” and being ready for His coming into three time frames: signs before the destruction of Jerusalem, events during the intervening centuries, and signs pointing directly to His Second Coming. The three chapters that deal with this are divided this way:
Before Jerusalem’s DestructionIntervening Years Signs Before Jesus’ Coming
Matthew 24:1-21 Verses 21-27 Verses 29-35
Mark 13:1-19 Verses 20-23 Verses 24-37
Luke 21:5-23 Verse 24 Verses 25-38
Why did Jesus give His followers this teaching about what would happen in the world in the years ahead?
Out of love and concern. He wanted them to have a realistic faith. They should not look for immediate deliverance because many things had to happen in this world before He could come back. Primarily, the good news about His love and saving power would need to be taken to the whole world. (Matthew 24:14 NIV)
To strengthen faith. He wanted to strengthen their faith in His teachings and His power to know all things. “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He” (John 13:19 NIV). It deepens our trust when we see that Jesus was right. What He predicted happened just the way He said it would.
To strengthen End-Time believers. Looking down through time, Jesus especially wanted to help us who live before His Second Coming. He knew it would be a time of trouble and skepticism and questioning. He said, “When the Son of Man comes to the earth, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8 NIV). He wanted to encourage our faith so He told us many things ahead of time. We call this “prophecy” in the Bible.
Signs before Jesus’ Return
Here is a partial list of predictions and signs Jesus and His followers left us.
“Immediately after the distress of those days (the Middle Ages), the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
Matthew 24:29 NIV (Jesus was describing some celestial sign-events that would usher the world into a period known as “the Time of the End” before Jesus returns. See Daniel 12:4, 9). For more info click here.
Natural Disasters, Famines, Pandemics, Wars, False Messiahs and Prophets
“On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world. . .”
Luke 21:24-26 NIV
“Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ, and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. . . .Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. . . .False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect. See I have told you ahead of time.”
Matthew 24:4-7, 24 NIV (Even though these are listed in the prophecies leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 A.D., I include them because Jesus said such things would increase in power and scope until His return, like a pregnant woman’s labor pains grow increasingly strong.
Preoccupation with This Life; Putting Off Attention to Spiritual Things
“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
Matthew 24:37-39 NIV
Moral Collapse in Society
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 NIV (New Testament writers saw themselves as living in the “last days,” the days at the end of the age when Messiah would appear. They believed Jesus was that Messiah. However, their words often also apply prophetically to the End Time last days we live in. It is not hard to see how their words apply today.)
Loss of Faith in the Bible as God’s Reliable Word
“The time will come when men will not put up with sound teaching. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
2 Timothy 4:3, 4 NIV
“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation. But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water. . .”
2 Peter 3:3-5 NIV
Large Scale Apostasy in Christianity; the Rise of Antichrist
“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. . .The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 9-10 NIV
Many of the things listed above have been fulfilled historically. Only a few remain.
Jesus and the Revelation (Apocalypse)
Some sixty years after Jesus ascended to heaven, He appeared to His disciple John in a vision on the Greek Island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. John had been one of the youngest disciples of Jesus, probably in his teens or twenties. Now, he is an old man, banished to a government slave quarry because of his Christian faith. Most of the disciples had been martyred by this time, and the church was living under persecution, wondering how long until Jesus would return, as He had promised.
The Revelation, or Apocalypse, was given by Jesus to reassure His Church that He was still with them, watching over them, and to describe what would happen in the centuries ahead until His Second Coming.
Tomorrow, I will write about this amazing prophecy, which is mysterious to so many, and so often misunderstood by others. Revelation adds to our understanding of the events and signs before Christ’s coming. It strengthens our faith and helps us prepare.
Many people are asking if the COVID-19 Pandemic is a sign of the End. Seeing how it has affected the whole world, bringing rapid infection and death, shutting down economies, affecting much of the planet, prompting government intervention, raising concerns about civil liberties–all these and more, has stirred up the recurring question, “It this a sign?”
Christians believe Jesus predicted signs that would alert us to His Second Coming. But I am guessing people of other faiths, or no particular faith, are wondering too. No religion or philosophy has a corner on this question.
Since I am writing as a Christian, I am going to answer from that perspective.
Jesus did describe many signs and events in His teaching about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. His explanation is found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, repeated in different ways by three New Testament writers. One of these signs was “pestilences,” or pandemics.
“There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”
The COVID-19 certainly qualifies as a great pandemic when we think of how many have died and the disruption caused to our world and global economy. Was Jesus referring to this, specifically?
Jesus’ teaching about signs was given in response to a question asked by His twelve close disciples. Their question and Jesus’ answer gives us an crucial clue to understanding “signs.” So, let’s join their dialogue:
“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'” (Matthew 24:1-2 NIV)
Jesus had just finished His strongest warning ever to the religious leadership in Jerusalem. It is sometimes called “The Seven Woes.” He excoriated them for their hypocrisy and double standards. But He ended with an impassioned, loving appeal”
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. . .”
What an appeal! It was only days now until Jesus would be arrested, tried, and crucified. Israel’s opportunity to accept her Messiah was rapidly coming to a crisis.
The disciples heard Jesus words about the Temple being left desolate, and it created an uneasy fear. Was Jesus’ pronouncing judgment against their beloved Temple? Would it really be destroyed. That’s when they asked their question.
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives (they had hiked up from the temple to the Mount), the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?'”
Jesus had just said something shocking–that all the buildings on the Temple Mount were going to be destroyed. Not one stone left on top of another. The Romans had spent years building this beautiful religious complex for the Jews. It was their pride and joy, and to them, evidence of God’s blessing. The stones of the temple mount were massive, some as large as a school bus. It was unimaginable it would be destroyed.
However, Jesus was predicting this would definitely happen, and the prophet Daniel had also prophesied it hundreds of years earlier (Daniel 9:26). Jesus cited this prediction by Daniel in Matthew 24:15.
Two Questions in One
Jesus’ followers had asked, “When will this happen, AND what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
People in Jesus’ day expected the “End of the age” to take place in their time. They did not understand that the Messiah would come, die, rise from the dead, and return to heaven, followed by His Second Coming many centuries later.
Because Jesus understood this two-part coming of Messiah: 1st Advent and 2nd Advent, He answered His disciples’ question in two parts: things that would happen before the destruction of Jerusalem and events and signs that would happen before his Second Coming. You will see this as you read the three chapters mentioned above.
Jesus told them that before the destruction of Jerusalem (by Titus in 70 A.D.), many things would take place: false Christ’s would appear, wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences in various places. (Dr. Luke is the only one to mention pestilences, in Luke 21:11. His trained ear picked up Jesus’ mention of disease pandemics.) All these things happened just like Jesus predicted.
However, Jesus’ point to them was that when they saw these things, they were not to interpret them as signs of His near Second Advent. Here are His words: “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. . .All these things are the beginning of birth pains.” Matthew 24:6, 8.
“The end is still far away,” Jesus was telling them. “These troubles will be like the beginning of a long birthing process, taking place over many centuries, until I finally come back. The earth will be writhing in labor pains, so to speak, until I come.”
Many years later, Paul wrote, “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22)
To summarize so far, Jesus divided His teaching about “signs” into two parts: events before the destruction of Jerusalem: and, signs that would show His Second Coming was getting closer.
Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., precisely as Daniel and Jesus predicted. It was a terrible time for the Jewish people. Thousands upon thousands lost their lives. But Jesus had prepared His followers to understand that not even this terrible event, as earth-shaking as it was for Christ’s followers, was the End. There was more history to come, and more signposts.
Taken by itself the COVID-19 pandemic is not necessarily a sign of Jesus’ immediate (or close) return. Jesus told His followers that these things would happen, but the end was not yet (Matthew 24:6). There have been many pandemics down through history. For a fascinating list, read here.
By using the metaphor of the birthing process Jesus was teaching there would be an intensification of sign events that this world needs the deliverance only God can give: false Messiahs, wars, natural disasters etc. When we think of the wars in the 20th and 21st Centuries, the invention of nuclear bombs, the increasing power of storms, the weird messianic movements, we have certainly seen that.
In that sense, a world-wide pandemic of this magnitude could be a sign of Jesus’ soon coming, but there are many more things to consider.
Jesus’ teaching about the End of Time and His Second Advent is much bigger than one event, as serious as it might be. His teaching about this is like an artist’s painting. It takes many colors, many details to make a portrait complete.
When He predicted events leading to His Coming, Jesus pointed to sign events in the natural world, the geopolitical area, the economy, the religious world, and more. It is a coming together of many forces and occurrences.
Something like the COVID-19 Pandemic could trigger other things leading to final signs and events, but we won’t know for sure until it happens. It might only be another pandemic like many we have had, or it could morph into something more.
Jesus did present clear teaching about some specific things that would happen before He returns. But even more importantly, He explained what our focus should be and how we can be ready for that and live as we wait for His return. I will write about these in future blogs.
In the meantime, I invite you to read the three chapters mentioned above, Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, and reflect on what we have seen there. Next time, I will discuss what all these things mean for us, living closer to Jesus’ return.
In this time of the COVID-19 Pandemic and quarantine, I have heard so many describe the stress and concern they are feeling. For some, it has been almost overwhelming: worry about their health, family, finances, a job or business, employees or students under their care; worry about the nation, the economy. So many concerns.
In Psalm 62, David invites us to pour this all out to God. Everything that burdens our heart or worries our mind–to just pour it out to God.
“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
There are two reasons why the psalmist knew he could safely open his heart and release all his worries and concerns to God.
First, God can be trusted. He has proved Himself to be faithful in history and in the lives and experiences of so many people. He has always been faithful. In the middle of war, famine, trouble, He has cared for His children. Evidence and stories of this abound. Prayers answered, miracles done, hearts sustained. I know, not always the way we ask, but enough to trust Him.
He can be trusted because He loves us. His love is as strong as His sacrifice on a cross, as enduring as a Savior, Who never stops serving us, helping us, down to the present.
So we can always trust Him with our “stuff.” Everything that annoys us, perplexes us, or makes us afraid. Every problem we can’t solve, every burden that seems to heavy to carry.
Second, God is our refuge. People who have known God have said that He was a refuge to them. He was a safe place for their hearts and minds. He protected them, comforted them, welcomed their weary souls, their worn out selves.
An old hymn says, “The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide, a Shelter in the time of storm; secure whatever ill betide, a Shelter in the time of storm.”
God has been a refuge to me in times of loss, fear, and worry. And I am so grateful. I could tell you so many stories.
Why do we bottle it up, hold it all inside, try to figure it out on our own? We don’t have to. We can pour it all out to God.
We can do this. And when we pour our hearts out to Him, we will find such release, such support, such a sense of comfort and being heard and loved. Open the floodgates and pour it all out. He invites us to do it.
Would you like to know how to rise above what is getting you down during this crazy time caused by COVID-19 and the quarentine? Whatever it is: fear, stress, worry, boredom, malaise, not knowing. . .There are some wonderful, encouraging promises from God in Isaiah 40.
A little background:
Judah (part of ancient Israel) has just experienced devastation. Because of their moral and spiritual decline, God allowed Sennacherib, King of Assyria (today’s northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey), to attack and capture Judah’s fortified cities. . .His depredations continued almost to the capital.
Then King Hezekiah came down with a deadly disease. A prophet said to get his house in order.
But then Hezekiah turned to God; and God spared the city. . .and Hezekiah’s life.
It is at this time the prophet Isaiah penned his beautiful words of comfort and hope to the devastated and discouraged people of Judah.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone, and her sins are pardoned.” Isaiah 40:1-2
What follows in Isaiah 40 is advice about how to get back on track; how to receive inner strength; how to rise above weakness, depression and the disordering of life caused by the recent troubles. We can take these promises to heart for ourselves now, too.
Verse 11: God Himself will, “feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arm, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” Jesus has the heart of a shepherd. We can choose to come under His tender care and guidance.
Verse 28:“Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding.” God is strong. He never gets tired. He sees and knows everything. He can give you wisdom.
Verse 29:“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.” Do you feel overwhelmed, disorganized, weak in face of the challenges? God can give you strength and inner fortitude.
Verses 30, 31: “Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
I have been encouraged many times by these last two verses. When I thought I didn’t have strength for the tasks at hand, or didn’t know what to do, I prayed these verses to God and asked His help. He never failed.
In fact, the longer I live, the more I am aware how He constantly does what He promised. He lifts us up and helps us soar on eagles wings.
Take a minutes to listen to this beautiful old song and put your trust in the eternal God to do what He has promised, for you.
When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark. I imagined all kinds of creatures and dangers that lived there. When I went outside at night, I just knew some kind of monster would grab me. Of course, they all lived in my imagination; they were not real.
Fear is often like that. Bigger than reality.
But try telling that to someone who is caught in the jaws of fear. Try telling yourself. It is hard to talk ourselves down from the ledge of fear–unless we see a greater power. When dad or mom joined me in the dark, fear evaporated.
Of course, some of our fears are based on reality. It is unreasonable fear I am speaking about–the kind that engulfs our minds, steals our sleep, triggers bad decisions, breaks relationships. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, there are many fears.
It is a well known story, but it speaks to both kinds of fear, real or imagined.
Jesus and His disciples had just finished a long day of ministry. They got into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee, and an extremely tired Jesus soon fell asleep.
Suddenly, a “furious storm” came up, the kind that makes even experienced sailors afraid. Waves were crashing over the boat. Winds pummeled it. Giant swells threatened to capsize it. Jesus’ followers literally thought they were going to die.
Suddenly, a flash of lightning revealed their sleeping Teacher. In their efforts to save themselves, they had forgotten He was with them. Desperately, the disciples shook him awake with, “Lord, save us! We are going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25).
“He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’”
Matthew 8:26, 27
When I read this, I am tempted to answer Jesus’ question. “Why was I so afraid? Uh, Jesus did you see how big those waves were? How strong the wind was? Didn’t you feel the fear of death we felt? Didn’t you see the sea monsters who were trying to swallow us up?”
Then I remember. He just stood up calmly and commanded the wind and waves to stop, and it became completely still. “What kind of man is this, indeed!”
In the middle of our fears, we are invited by this story to remember a few things:
First, God is with us in our storms and fears. He might appear to be unaware of what we are going through, but reality is, nothing escapes His attention. In His human weakness, Jesus was sleeping; but His Father wasn’t. And Jesus rested in His Father’s love and care. Now, He teaches His followers, they can too. If He allows us to go through a storm, He will be with us.
“He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
Second, our God is big, and He is strong. He is more powerful than any storm we find ourselves in. He can stop the wind and waves at the time of His choosing–or He can sustain us through the storm with His loving presence.
Third, God loves us. He is not going to let anything happen to us that He doesn’t permit. In His love, He has a bigger purpose: to teach us faith, to help us know Him, to save us for a forever life with Him. Whatever doesn’t fit into that plan, He stops. Our lives are in His hands. We can trust Him. He loves us, and He is a big God.
Fear lies to us. It blows things out of proportion. It creates monsters in the dark. It makes us forget that Jesus is on board, that He loves us, and that His plans for us are perfect.
Please listen to this great song by Zach Williams, “Fear Is a Liar” by Zach Williams. Click on the title. You can skip YouTube ad after a few seconds by clicking on “skip ads.” Be blessed.
When we were small children, our parents carried us. It was natural. Small legs couldn’t keep up. As we became toddlers, we were still carried when we were tired, stressed, or just needed a little love.
As we grew, we became increasingly independent, then autonomous. As adults, we walk on our own, solve our own problems, and now care for others.
But there are times when we sure feel the need of being carried–at least to know that someone cares.
God cares for us and is willing to help us carry our burdens. Sometimes, even carryus.
Here are some wonderful scriptures about this:
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”
God is willing to help us carry our burdens every day. We may not see Him lifting the load, but He is there giving us wisdom and strength. We can ask Him for this.
In the Old Testament, the high priest wore an ornate breastplate set with twelve precious stones. Each gem was engraved with the name of one of Israel’s tribes. In this symbol, God was picturing that His people were always on his heart.
“Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.”
In ancient times is was common to see a shepherd carrying a young or weak lamb. God often likens Himself to a shepherd who carries us. In this scripture He promises to shepherd and carry us forever when we agree to come under His care.
“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:3
Here God promises to be with us all our life, even into our old age and to tenderly help and care for us. He wants to do this because He gave us life. He has been with us since birth, and He loves us. He knows all about us. He knows the burdens we carry and is willing to help. Nothing escapes His notice. You can trust that about Him.
Even if we have wandered or strayed, He still loves us and longs to bring us under His love and care. Why not thank Him for that now and ask for the help He is so willing to give.
Uncertainty is really hard, especially when so much is at stake.
As I write this, the COVID-19 Pandemic seems to be peaking in some areas, but still climbing in others. Eastern and Western state governors are collaborating to figure out a way forward to open their economies.
But many things are still uncertain. How long will it be? How much can open? What stays closed? How will it impact the overall economy? When will tests and vaccines be ready? HOW WILL IT ALL AFFECT MY LIFE? When will my kids be able to go back to school? When I will be able to go back to work, start up my business? Visit my sick loved ones in the hospital or nursing home?
As reality sets in that this is complicated and may take time, uncertainty and fear can grab at our hearts.
Jesus left us a promise for times like this. He had been telling His disciples He was going to die and leave them. This was not in their plans. They didn’t sign up to follow a dead leader. They were looking for a King; advancement, thrones, forever-security and happiness.
But now, this: death, separation.
Uncertainty gnawed. And uncertainty spawned collective fear.
But Jesus wasn’t afraid. He saw the big picture and gave two anchoring promises: “The future is certain, and I will be with you.”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
In this familiar promise, Jesus was using a Middle Eastern wedding metaphor. A groom would build an apartment on the family home, perhaps one of many, built by other siblings; then go get his beloved to be with him.
Jesus is saying, “I love you more than you know. When I leave, it is to go get our home ready so we can live together forever. You see, there is a greater purpose in my leaving–a purpose of intention and love. The future is very certain, not uncertain. There are some things you didn’t see; but I saw them, and they haven’t caught me by surprise. I love you. Trust my love. Trust my Father’s love. We have a plan–and it is to bring you home to our house.”
Love reassures. There is a plan, created in love.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
What Jesus says here is connected to what He said earlier. But it gets less attention, unfortunately. Because it is greatnews.
He is not only the Ascended Christ who went to heaven to get our home ready. He lives with us and in us through His Spirit.
I love His words: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” We do not have to feel lost, abandoned, alone. Jesus is with us. He really is. He promised. Invisibly, yes; but truly with us through His Spirit.
God is One, and where His Spirit is, there He is too.
In this time of uncertainty, we can place our trust in the living Jesus who is planning for us and dwelling with us. We can believe it, trust Him, welcome Him, rely on Him.
“I will be with you always, even to the end of the world.”
What I am offering is not platitudes. That would be inappropriate in a Pandemic. They would be cheap comfort now.
What I am telling you today is something true and tested. It works for me. It has worked for every person who trusted the words. What words?
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. . .You will find rest for your souls.”
Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30
Could you use a little support? A little help with your burdens? How about rest for your soul?
I am hearing countless stories about front line workers in healthcare, first-response, nursing homes, education, janitorial services, grocery stores, trucking, parents working while homeschooling, and many more. All burdened, stressed, overwhelmed.
Does what Jesus offer apply? If you understand His point, you will find a strength beyond what you could imagine.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus was using an illustration from ancient farming. Two oxen or cows were joined together with a wooden appliance called a yoke.
To find rest, lift a yoke? To get relief, take another burden? Just the opposite!
You see, Jesus was saying, “Take MY yoke on you. Get in the yoke with Me. You are weak? I am strong; I will help pull your load. You are tired; rest in Me, I will strengthen you. You are fearful and worried; I’ve got this.
A farmer would often yoke a younger ox with an experienced one, a weaker animal with a strong one.
Can you hear the older ox saying to the younger one, “Let me give you some tips; I’ve been at this a while.” Can you hear another saying, “I am afraid. I don’t know what will happen. I am not sure I can handle this.” The strong one says, “When you are stumbling, I will hold you up. When you grow weak, I will pull harder. Trust me.”
Jesus is strong. He stilled at storm, healed the sick, raised the dead. Can you picture Jesus next to you in His yoke? Smiling, helpful, friendly? Yes, friendly. He will not scold you. He’s just glad you came.
I love it that Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” (v. 29). He is not arrogant, demanding, a slave driver. We do that to ourselves. He is gentle and humble; easy to be with; a gentleman–and so willing to help.
What did He mean, “My yoke is easy.” The original word is “well-fitting.” Jesus was a carpenter. He made yokes. He knew how to shave the wood to fit each creature just right. He knows your situation exactly. He can smooth your yoke.
So, what do we do?
Come. He is inviting you. Come weary, come tired, come overburdened, come fearful. But come. He will give rest–because He can. He was human, and knows what it is like “to be us.” But now He is God, with “All power in heaven and earth.” (Matthew 28:18 KJV).
Believe. I know, it is hard to believe sometimes. Just admit it to Him. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24). That is a prayer He will always answer. He’ll strengthen your faith and will. Then consciously realize He is beside you, helping you. You are partnering with the once-human, but now risen, all-powerful Christ.
Take His Yoke. Jesus’ yoke is the way He is. He came to serve and help us. Serving others in love is the core principle of God’s character and His kingdom. Jesus’ teachings show the ways of His kingdom. It is not complicated. It is a matter of the heart. Are we willing to get in His yoke and serve with Him, to learn from Him?
You care for patients. Do it with Jesus. You clean nursing homes. Trust Jesus to be beside you. You truck essentials. Jesus is a great team partner. You are trying to save your business and your employees jobs. Jesus is willing to help. You are new to home-schooling your children AND trying to hold down your job. Jesus is available.
He is inviting you now to accept His invitation. It does not hurt to admit we are weak. Of course we are. That we have a need. Of course we do. We’re human. He gets that. That’s why He came.
It’s hard to admit. I get it. All our lives, we felt it was up to us. We have studied hard, worked hard, depended on ourselves (who else was there sometimes?). To admit our need and fear and overwhelmed feelings is hard.
But it is just what we need to do. He loves us and doesn’t mind. Not at all.
Try it. Try Him. He is gentle and humble in heart. . .you will find rest for your soul. And your work will be lighter too, because He is a heavy lifter. He lifted a heavy wooden beam and died for the privilege of helping us.