When You’re Down, Look Up-Our God Is Faithful

“…for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12)

How are we to “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when we’re going through trials, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) even when those circumstances are bad, and how are we to believe that just because we love God “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28)? I believe those are pretty good questions, but I also believe God has even better answers.

It is in the context of some sort of suffering that each of the passages above exist. Suffering is always a potential barrier to worship and to living out one’s faith. Ultimately, as Christians, we manage through these times by drawing strength from the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The reality of our lives lived in the flesh makes it easy see all that happens, whether good or bad, from only a human perspective. God’s perspective must be our goal. It’s easy to thank God for the good times just to turn around and blame Him for the bad times. Our perspective must be centered on His promises. God never promised difficult times wouldn’t come, but He absolutely promised to be with us when they do. We must trust and seek to know Him more each day.

In his devotion Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon likens the knowledge of Christ to climbing a mountain. He says at its base, because we can see only a little bit, the mountain appears to be only half as high as it really is. However, as we move up the mountain, we are able see more and more. Spurgeon concludes by talking about how at the end of his life, the Apostle Paul was able to say, “for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12) and that “each experience had been like climbing a hill, each trial had been like ascending another summit, and his death seemed like gaining the top of the mountain from which he could see the whole panorama of the faithfulness and love of Him to whom he had committed his soul”.

We live in a fallen world and our view is sometimes cloudy. This makes it easy for the circumstances of life to bring us down. But when they do, look up and keep climbing, because our God is faithful.

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Relevant All the Way Through

“For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your head” (Obadiah 15) 

One of the things I love about a study bible is that it helps me understand the context of the book I’m reading. I really needed it this morning as my daily reading took me to Obadiah. Let’s face it, some books of the Bible are easier to understand than others, and quite frankly, easier to find. Obadiah is only twenty-one verses long and if you weren’t specifically looking for it, you might pass right by it. However, whether it’s a long book or a short book, often read and studied or not, Old Testament or New, all of Scripture is God’s Word and therefore profitable to us. And as I studied Obadiah this morning, I realized how relevant a message it has for Christians today.

The primary themes of Obadiah are God’s just judgment against His enemies and His faithfulness and mercy towards His people. The exact date of Obadiah’s prophesy is difficult to determine, but it concerns imminent judgment on Edom, Israel’s longtime enemy, for their part in a military assault on Jerusalem. Obadiah’s reference to “the day of the LORD” is of the day when God will bring judgment to His enemies and blessing and salvation to His people.

Sometimes we shy away from certain parts of Scripture because of a lack of familiarity or a perception that they’re not relevant for today. This is where a study bible can be useful in helping our understanding. Through Obadiah, God pronounced judgment on Edom for the evil they perpetrated against Israel, but at the same time reassured Israel of His faithfulness in spite of their circumstances. God is always faithful to His people. In times when it may appear that evil has an upper hand and living out our faith in Christ is difficult, we must remember, God is sovereign and His justice will reign. My study bible expresses it this way, “It is the righteous purpose of God, not the evil of men that determines history”. Though our faith may sometimes be weak, our God is not. He is always at work for us and we can trust Him in all things and under all circumstances.

Do Not Be Moved

“[Let no one] be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)

In his book Desiring God, John Piper uses an analogy of a camera to help explain the idea in which God sees our suffering. He says that on one hand, God uses a narrow lens in which He looks and grieves with us as we undergo suffering. This is often the only lens you and I see through. But according to Piper, God also uses another lens, a wide-angle lens in which He sees beyond the immediate situation. This is the lens that sees what has occurred before and what will result from this moment, ultimately working for our good and God’s glory. This “good” may be realized in our lives as God works out the circumstances, or it may only be realized in death.

Paul knew about suffering. It was a topic he wrote about in almost all of his letters. He knew its purpose and the importance of teaching that purpose to others. He also demonstrated the proper response to it. Through his suffering, Paul knew his strength came from the Lord. Jesus was Paul’s reason for living. To see Him magnified was his passion. But Paul also knew that to die was gain (Philippians 1:21). As he wrote his final words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he was comforted knowing he had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. He also knew what awaited him—a crown of righteousness. That was worth everything Paul had endured in his life and it will be worth everything suffering may cost you in your life as well.

So how do we respond in times of suffering? We trust God. He is sovereign. We allow His Word and His Spirit to penetrate our shaken and shattered lives. We live each day in view of eternity knowing that no amount of suffering can compare to glory (Romans 8:18). And we trust that His grace is sufficient to see us through (2 Corinthians 12:9).

One Row Down and To My Right

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3) 

One of the blessings of being in choir is the opportunity to watch from the choir loft as people worship the Lord through song. Music has a special way of stirring hearts and engaging emotions. This is especially the case when the lyrics espouse the great truths of God’s Word. I’ve heard it said that sometimes worship is like a dance, but at other times it’s more like a fight. I suppose the point is that when things are going well, it’s easy to praise the Lord. However, in difficult and uncertain times, giving God praise may not be so easy. I think that’s true.

A few weeks ago, our choir anthem was a song entitled, I Am Not Alone. It is a beautiful song. Some of its lyrics are borrowed from Exodus 14:14, Psalm 23 and Isaiah 43 and emphasize God’s presence with His people in times of trouble. As we sang, I looked out and saw people begin to stand and raise their hands as they praised the Lord. This doesn’t happen all the time, nor does giving praise to the Lord require standing or hand raising. But when it does happen, it’s moving. Sometimes it makes me wonder what that person may be going through in that particular moment. In most cases, I have no idea. This day, however, was different. I saw several people in the congregation standing whose stories I did know. Then I noticed that one row down and to my right stood Mike Bratton. Mike was diagnosed with cancer about two years ago. He has already undergone two rounds of treatment for two cancer diagnoses and has just been diagnosed for a third time. He is again undergoing more treatment. During this song, I couldn’t help but glance over at him a couple of times, wondering what he might be thinking as he sang the words of this song. I also wondered if I could sing the truth of these words if I were in the same situation. I would hope that I could.

Recently, Mike shared his perspective on his battle with cancer by writing the following, “While doctors and clinicians have been killing cancer cells, God has been slowly growing my faith. I cannot do a quarter of what I could two years ago, but God is doing more in my life, and for that, I am unutterably grateful.” He then asked for prayer, prayer for himself and for his family, but also that we would pray for God to do more in our own lives, and that we would follow Christ more nearly. I don’t know Mike Bratton very well. Outside of choir, I can’t really say that I know him at all. But I know this, for me, he has been a wonderful testimony of God’s presence and unfailing grace and faithfulness in the midst of trials. Not for the cancer, but for that, I’m grateful. God’s grace is always sufficient. He promised to never leave us nor forsake us and He never will. He is always at work, even in the midst of great struggles, drawing us to a greater reliance on Him. I believe Mike Bratton trusts in that truth. And along the way, the Lord is using him to teach me that no matter what, I can trust it too.

Battle Ready

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13)

In the last chapter of Ephesians, Paul writes “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). He uses the image of a fully armed Roman soldier to paint the picture of what it takes to fight against the devils tactics. Paul was under no illusion as to the significance of spiritual warfare. Our battle, he said, is not against flesh and blood, but against the cosmic powers over the present darkness and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). In spite of all that, Paul knew these forces were no match for the living God, but he also knew there were many who were ill-prepared for the battle and left vulnerable to evil influences.

Paul’s description of the Roman soldier’s armor consists mainly of defensive weapons to fend off attacks. The one offensive weapon for the battle was the sword of the Spirit−the word of God. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he cited Scripture to withstand that temptation. If it proved useful for Him to withstand temptation, why would we think it wouldn’t be for us? It’s through the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit prepares us for the fight.

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. She was sharing with me her vision for a ministry to help every day Christians live out their walk with Christ in order to stand against those things that would hinder their ability to glorify God and live out the salvation God intends for His children. Our greatest source to know what these things are is God’s Word. It’s through the disciplines of encountering God in His Word and through prayer that we put on the armor of God. It’s how the Holy Spirit prepares us for the fight. There’s no doubt the battle Satan wages in this life is a serious one that we must be prepared for. So, are you prepared? Is your armor on? Are you battle ready?

I Guess the Kitchen Got a Little Too Hot

“For Demas, in love with the present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…” (2 Timothy 4:10)

We don’t hear much about Demas in Scripture except to know that he ministered with the Apostle Paul for some period of time. He must have been a close associate of the apostle’s because Paul refers to him as a “fellow worker” in his letter to Philemon, and in his letter to the Colossians, he is included as one who sends greetings (Philemon 24, Colossians 4:14). But at the end of his life, as Paul sat in prison in Rome penning what he knew would be his last letter, he mentioned Demas again.

The Apostle Paul’s last letter was written to Timothy. Timothy was most likely Paul’s closest partner in ministry. He wrote to Timothy for several reasons. First, Paul wanted Timothy to bring him some of his personal items. Secondly, he wanted to encourage Timothy to carry on faithfully in his ministry ahead. Lastly, but in fact the primary attention of Paul’s letter was the gospel. Paul’s greatest concern was the glory of Christ and the preservation of the gospel as Jesus had revealed to him. In this letter, Paul also took the opportunity to update Timothy about those in which they had ministered together. One of those he spoke of was Demas.

At the time of this letter, everyone with the exception of Luke had pretty much deserted Paul. Specifically, Paul said Demas had deserted him because he was “in love with the present world.” The “present world” that Paul spoke about was the world apart from Christ, the world dominated by Satan. In Paul’s mind, Demas had proven, at least for the time being that he was unwilling to count the cost of a genuine commitment to Christ. Persecution of Christians had intensified. Ministry was tough, and evidently, Demas had had enough. Scripture doesn’t tell us how Demas’ story ends and we shouldn’t suppose his denial of Christ was permanent, only that in this particular moment, his own safety, convenience and love for the world overtook his commitment, not only to Paul, but also to Christ.

It’s easy for us to be so in love with the world that we become ashamed of the gospel of Christ, particularly when there’s a risk we might suffer for it. The truth is, comfort, convenience and acceptance appeals to us all. If we are to minister in difficult times to an unbelieving and often hostile world, we must be willing to count the cost. The kitchen can get pretty hot. Therefore, we need to pray for the Lord’s presence and power each day, always remembering the promise of His Word as we go, confident in that promise because we know that God keeps all His promises. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Shelter from the Storm

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1)

Outside of checking the local forecast, I don’t normally watch the Weather Channel. The one exception is if I happen to come across an episode of Storm Stories while channel surfing. I find some the episodes having to do with hurricanes and tornadoes particularly fascinating. The intensity of these storms is amazing. Hurricanes are those slow-moving storms so deliberate in their approach that unless you have personally experienced one before, you may not believe it could be so powerful. That is, until it arrives with all its fury. On the other hand, tornadoes are often right on top of you before you even realize it. Though radar detects their risk, there can be little time to prepare. And what about the devastation they can cause in just a matter of minutes? Images from these episodes on the Weather Channel make it clear the destruction these storms cause. Which one presents the greater risk depends on the area of the country in which you live. Part of how people prepare for these storms is by knowing the best places in their homes to take shelter in hopes of remaining safe and secure until the storm passes.

Safety and security in the midst of adversity is the central theme of Psalm 91, but it’s security that comes from the Lord. The Hebrew word for “dwell” means to be settled. In verse 1, God is referred to as both the “Most High” and “Almighty”. “Most High” emphasizes God’s strength and sovereignty. We are to be settled in the shelter that He alone provides. When God is referred to as “Almighty,” the emphasis is on His self-existence, His activity in the world, and His guardianship over our lives. To “abide” means to remain; a faithful person abides in His “shadow,” shadow being a metaphor for being under the care and protection of the Almighty.

Storms appear in life as well. Maybe they’ve appeared in yours. Life storms don’t discriminate. They don’t care about geography, social status, income, race, gender, or anything else. What kind of storm have you encountered? Was it like a hurricane, that slow-moving and progressive storm, maybe a drawn-out illness you or someone you love is battling? Perhaps it was trouble in your marriage that you and your spouse just can’t seem to get through. Or was your storm like a tornado—the sudden death or disability of a spouse, child, parent, or friend? Maybe it was the job loss you never saw coming. In all these storms, have you ever considered that just maybe you’ve been seeking the wrong shelter? God is powerful and sovereign over any storm. And He loves us greatly. When you and I settle in the shelter that He alone provides, He is pleased to keep us in His shadow and see us through any storm. Believe that! If you’ve been fortunate to thus far be “storm” free, thank God for it, but don’t wait until the storm hits to seek His shelter. Seek it now. There is an amazing rest to be found in God. Seek the only shelter that is truly secure.