W is for Weakness

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.(1 Corinthians 1:27 NIV)

Weakness is not something to which we often aspire. I’m a big guy. I’m over six feet tall and have been fairly strong throughout my life. But things change. With the discovery of cancer and subsequent treatments, I’m not as strong as I used to be. In fact, there are many things I used to be able to do that I can no longer do. As things progress, I’m sure I will become weak.

I watch a lot of movies and TV and one theme permeates just about every show. The strong overpower the weak and always demand recognition of their superiority. Strength in numbers is seen as a good thing. Doing things in our own strength is touted as the ultimate demonstration of success. When we rely on others, we are weak. But God sees things differently.

While being weak in the world is not considered a “good” thing, in the Christian walk it can be a great thing. As Paul tells us, it’s the weak things, according to this world’s standards, that put to shame the strong things. It seems counter intuitive. Human logic would think in reverse terms. It takes the strong to shame the weak, according to the world’s convoluted sense of logic.

When we look at the human body it’s often the weak organ that must be working for the body to function correctly. Just like the human body, the body of Christ also has strong and weak parts. Paul tells us, “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-23a NIV)

In our Christian walk we find ourselves often flummoxed by our situation and the demands of the world. We become so confused we are at a loss for words even in our prayers. We become weak prayers. But God has sent the Holy Spirit as our intercessor. It isn’t a priest of other human that pleads directly before God’s throne on our behalf. It’s the Holy Spirit. He knows what we need when we can’t express our need. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26 NIV) I find comfort knowing that God understands even when I can’t express myself well.

Paul was plagued by some undefined illness. He prayed and prayed for it to be removed. He prayed for healing. But God didn’t remove his illness. God didn’t heal him. Through that denial Paul learned something useful for us all. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV) I can boast, not something I’m inclined to do, about God’s perfecting my faith in my illness.

We don’t often look at life-ending illnesses as a vehicle for God to perfect us. But Paul discovered, in his discomfort, that is where God provided the most strength. He writes, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NIV) I too am finding strength as I battle for more time in my earthy life. Now I understand what Paul understood about the relationship between weakness and strength.

Even Jesus went through a time of weakness so he might fully understand our plight and provide comfort. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” (Hebrews 5:2 NIV)

According to human wisdom it doesn’t make sense. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:25 NIV)

Where are we weak today? Do we see God’s hand working in our lives in our weakness? If not, then perhaps a closer look might be in order. I pray we can rejoice in our weakness because God uses that to give us strength.

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V is for Victory

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.(1 John 5:4a-5 NIV)

I love to play games. Most of the time I’m not worried if I win or lose, I just love to play. But I still love to be victorious at the end of the game. I don’t pout when I lose but I do enjoy winning. Most of the people I know enjoy winning. Some of the people I know enjoy being victorious so much they are, how shall I say this, bad losers and it manifests itself in their behavior.

In life it’s great to achieve various victories. It’s nice to win at sports and games. It’s glorious to get past a difficult time of suffering and rejoice. But there is a victory which makes any achievement in this world pale by comparison. I’m talking about the victory we have through Jesus. This victory overcomes the whole world and all its hellbent ideologies, practices and proclamations.

I can state, without reservation, without pausing, without apology, I have overcome the world. Don’t get me wrong. I still suffer in my current disease. I still struggle to control my behavior. I still wrestle with the day to day inconsistencies of the world. I’m not claiming perfection, but I am proclaiming victory. This victory is mine because I am a child of God. This isn’t anything I have done other than take hold, with my entire life, of the grace and love of God through the ransom Jesus paid.

In the world when a general conquers another nation or emerges victorious from battle he must then be concerned with not losing that victory to another conqueror. Worldly victories are often brief and discarded as another battle presents itself. But, in Christ, our victory, our ability to be conquerors in a world steeped in sin, is assured because of God’s love for us. He will provide what we need to overcome the world because of our faith in him.

When Paul wrote to the Romans, he clarified our sure victory. He reminded us of our surety in God’s love. Who can separate us from the love of Christ is spelled out in sweeping aside what we might consider roadblocks to our success as faithful believers. (Romans 8:35-39)

Can trouble separate us? Can hardship separate us? Can persecution separate us? Can famine separate us? Can nakedness separate us? Can danger separate us? Can the sword (war) separate us? The answer to all these rhetorical questions is a resounded, table pounding, NO! We might read this list and wonder how we will react. Our reaction is not the point here. It is our faith which brings us through.

We might find ourselves being broken physically or emotionally as we struggle with a life-threatening disease or situation. But no matter how far down we feel we’ve gone, it is in the hands of God we can find our rest. It is the love of God in Jesus Christ which assures we will emerge victorious as conquerors over our situation. Don’t be led astray. The final result of a disease or situation might be permanent physical limitations or death. God doesn’t assure, according to human understanding, everything will be hunky dory this side of heaven. But, the greatest battle, the battle for our souls, is already won.

We are more than conquerors. We have reached the end of our battles. We need not worry ourselves over another general rising up to battle for our eternal soul. Even death has lost the battle because of God’s love for us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, no any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)

I find this list a great comfort. Jesus called me to pick up his yoke and follow him. When I’m weary, I can turn to Christ and find rest. When I’m burdened, I can turn to Christ and find rest. He will teach me. He is gentle. He is humble. And in him I can find rest. A rest the world cannot provide. A rest the world works to undo. The battle is over. God has won. We are already conquerors. Jesus’ yoke, unlike the burdens placed on us by the world, is easy to handle and the burden he has us carry is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

If you’re not victorious turn to Christ. Only in Christ can we find ourselves as conquerors now and for eternity. I like to win. Unlike games I play with friends where winning is fun but not essential, when it comes to eternity and redemption, I want to be sure I’m victorious. I’ve given my life to God through Jesus Christ and I can firmly say I am victorious. What about you?

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U is for Unfailing

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:5-6 NIV)

When I read the words, “he has been good to me,” I have to stop and smile. God has been good to me. I went through a time, once, when I wondered what God was doing. I wasn’t seeing things clearly. I resolved that by writing a series of short blogs, to myself, recounting the many ways God had provided, in various ways, to be good to me. He never failed me, and I can truly rest in his unfailing love for me.

There are few things we can experience which don’t fail. In this corrupt world people fail us, technology fails us, philosophies fail us, systems of government fail us, churches fail us, everything fails except the love of God. We may trust in institutions, but they will eventually fail us. We may trust in religion, but it will eventually fail us. It’s is only in relationship with God we find something stable, unchanging and worthy of our full unashamed, all-in, undeniable, all-encompassing trust, faith and reciprocal love.

The Psalmist proclaims what we, as redeemed children of God, should keep at the forefront of our lives. We will trust in the unfailing love of God. I’m thrilled and rejoice that God’s unfailing love provided a means for my salvation. I’m a musician. Songs of praise roll around in my thoughts all day long. God has been good to me and demonstrated his unfailing love over and over and over again.

When the Israelites departed Egypt, their trust was predicated on God’s unfailing love. “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.” (Exodus 15:13 NIV) They were exiting an oppressive land into a future designed and promised because of God’s unfailing love. We too can trust in God’s leading when we focus on him and his unfailing love.

David experiencing another dark day of opposition turned and cried out to God. “Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.” (Psalm 6:4 NIV) He recognized and rested in God’s unfailing love just as we should daily. There is nothing outside the purview and power of God. We can be reassured God’s love is unfailing and he cares for his children in good times and bad times.

Like everyone I know I have good and bad days. I find my bad days are when my focus strays from God to the world around me. I live in this world, with all its inconsistencies, atrocities, and pitfalls. And I, like those around me, desire to know and experience unfailing love. It conquers all. It looks beyond the present difficulties to a new heaven and earth no longer in bondage to sin and broken relationships. It’s a glorious future and I need to, at times, remind myself of that eternity.

Proverbs expresses one of the stark realities of this world. “Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6 NIV) We spend a lot of energy seeking something or someone we can rely on where we can place our trust. That one unfailing source of love, that one unfailing expression of grace can only be found in God.

Where are we placing our love today? In whom or what do we place out trust? Let us rejoice in God’s salvation, let us praise him because he is good to us, let us rest in his unfailing love.

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T is for Trust

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.(Proverbs 3:5 ESV)

Trust has always been a big issue in my life. I’m not sure about you but I like to trust people. I’ve found there are two approaches we can take to people we meet in life. We can start with trust or start with distrust. I’ve met many people on both sides.

One way to approach people, the one I prefer, is to trust them from the start. This keeps me from building walls of separation. In most cases, when I meet someone new, I’m inclined to accept them for who they say they are and extend my trust. There are a few times, I must admit, when I meet someone something is just not right. It’s a gut feeling I think is inspired when God provides me the gift of discernment at just the right time. But usually, I trust people. At least until they give me a reason to not trust them.

The second approach is to distrust everyone from the start until they prove they are trustworthy. Personally, I find this approach lends itself to building unnecessary barriers which are seldom overcome. It you don’t trust me initially I doubt we will be able to develop any meaningful relationship. It’s hard to build up trust. If you’ve had someone you trust betray your trust you know how difficult it is for them to regain that same level of trust.

I have to admit I’ve been burned in my approach to trusting people. But I think it is better, even with the occasional ding to my trust meter. Relationships are built on trust and I like to get to know people for who they are, not who they try to present they are. In today’s terminology it would be allowing someone to speak into my life while being allowed to speak into their lives.

When it comes to the Lord, I understand many people fear disappointment so they’re reticent to place their trust in him. The same often applies to human, horizontal, relationships. Just like people when we get to know God, as we get to know each other, we learn to put our trust in him.

The Psalmist tells us, “And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”(Psalm 9:10 ESV) If we know God’s name, aka if we understand who he is, we will trust in him because he will not forsake us. We do the same with others. When we know their name, their reputation, their history, etc., we use that information to determine our trust in them.

We put our trust in many things throughout life. We trust our car will run. We trust gravity will keep us down to earth. We trust our bank not to steal our money. We trust our teachers to tell the truth. We trust our family to love us. So many things we trust without even thinking about how that trust is built. Sometimes it’s warranted and sometimes not.

Above all, our trust needs to be in the Lord. He’s the one who created us. He is the one who provided a way of salvation from the inherent sin of the fallen world. He is the one who shows us love that we may love him and others. He is the one who demonstrates grace that we may extend it to others. He does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 NIV)

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S is for Sheep

Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:3 ESV)

Sheep are cool. At least they can be fun to watch when they’re energetically playing in a field. Personally, what I know about sheep is gleaned from reading or listening to other’s tales. I’ve read a number of theologically themed books on sheep. They’re mentioned a lot in scripture. Apparently in God’s eyes, we’re all sheep.

The nice thing about being God’s sheep is that he is our shepherd. We’re not left alone to wander and search endlessly for the things we need to survive. From what I’ve learned sheep, furry and cute as they may appear, are not the brightest creatures in the world. They are reliant on their shepherd for day to day survival.

The shepherd is really the focus of many sheep references in scripture. As one of the sheep of this world, it’s nice to take comfort from God’s word. Jesus declares his care for us. John shares Jesus’ words, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11 ESV) Our shepherd, Jesus, is such a good shepherd he’ll lay down his life to keep us from harm. In fact, that is just what he did at the cross.

I love the in-depth demonstration of God’s love in Jesus’ story of the lost sheep. In this story a man who has a hundred sheep discovers only one of them is gone. Economically that’s only a one percent loss of stock, not a large portion. Personally, that is a single life. How much is a single life worth? In Jesus’ story it’s worth leaving behind the other ninety-nine, who are safely together, and treading through dangerous country to find the one. It’s not just a cursory look around for the wayward sheep but a dogged search until the missing is found. And then there is rejoicing.

Jesus carefully sums up the point of the story by saying, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7 ESV) We are loved. We are wanted. Searching through the countryside of humanity is the purpose for Jesus’ incarnation. He wants to find us and return us to the fold.

As God’s sheep it is comforting to know we are loved so much and with such abandon. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25 ESV) Salvation is our return to the loving, caring at all cost, fold of God.

And, as God’s sheep, we respond to his love, care and grace poured out on our lives. Jesus tells us, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30 ESV) We can rest assured, in the powerful hands of a loving Father, of his care now and for eternity.

I like that. I count on that. I’m at peace in my life resting on God’s promises. I’m comforted in his unbreakable grip. Like the Psalmist declares I want to give thanks to God and praise him. “But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.” (Psalm 7:13 ESV)

Where do you find comfort today? Is it in the world and its mechanizations? Is it in the philosophy of man? Is it with family and friends? I prefer to find true, lasting comfort in the hands of the heavenly father. Then, I can enjoy family, friends, and the good things in the world around me. Then I’ll be fully equipped to walk with God through life. Let me leave you with these words:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21 ESV)

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R is for Ransom

Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.(Matthew 20:26b-28 NIV)

My father was an engineer working in radio and television. Growing up I enjoyed a life filled with radio and watching lots of TV. I still love to watch westerns, old sci-fi movies, police procedurals, and a lot of murder mysteries. Regardless of the theme of a particular show almost all have at least one episode involving ransom.

Someone inappropriately appropriates some item, person, or software control and demands the rightful owner to pay a ransom for its return. There is negotiation, lots of running, always at least one missed drop and then, if it has a happy ending, the purloined person, thing or software access is returned to its rightful owner. The ransom is paid. The precious item returned. Everyone, except the thief, is happy and moves on with life.

I can imagine the smile on God’s face when one of his lost children is restored through the ransom only Jesus could pay. Just think about it. We were all taken by the sin of Adam and Eve and separated from God, our loving father. Unlike many television “ransom shows,” we have a part to play in getting our ransom paid. We must believe and accept the payment of our ransom payment. And that payment was not cheap.

Our ransom from sin and death was costly. It cost the life of Jesus on the cross. It was a painful payment. It was a bloody payment. It was a necessary payment for our redemption (another good “R” word). Jesus offers a ransom to redeem us. We only need to take hold and bring it before the Father. The contract for redemption has already been negotiated.

The writer to the Hebrews talks a lot about Jesus and his sacrifice. He writes about Jesus intervention as a high priest making the perfect offering. He writes “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance —now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”(Hebrews 9:15 NIV) Jesus has done the heavy lifting.

I’m not sure about you but I find solace and comfort knowing God, in his love and grace, orchestrated the gathering together of a ransom payment. He loves he! He loves you! He has a ransom ready and available to redeem us and bring us back into the loving arms of the family of God.

Timothy discovered this desire of God to bring his children home. He discovered the one who worked hard, giving his life, as the one true ransom for our sin. The payment which satisfies sin’s grip and allows us to come home. He writes, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”(1 Timothy 2:5-6a NIV)

Now when I watch the police, FBI, or whoever negotiate with a kidnapper or thief for the payment of a ransom I’m reminded of God’s negotiation with death to redeem me for eternity. We were redeemed with a price. That price was the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross. It’s there for us to claim. All it takes is belief.

That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10 NIV)

Who will you turn to, to have your ransom paid today?

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Q is for Quiet

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV)

The older I get, the more I enjoy times when the world around me is quiet. I love my children and grandchildren but sometimes putting ten young endless energy machines in close proximity to my ears creates a massive cacophony of noise. It’s a good delighted children noise, only occasionally interrupted by a disagreement, but it is still loud and ear piercing.

I’m often reminded of the Psalmist’s admonition to be still and thus draw closer to knowing God. I often want to be still, or be quiet, just to relax and calm my aging nerves. Fortunately, I can experience both of these in my time of quiet.

Let me distinguish a time of quiet from a quiet time. In Christian circles the term quiet time has been hijacked to reference our spiritual time of reflection and communion with God. It’s too often proclaimed as the solution to our difficult Christian walk in a fallen world. It’s also proclaimed, to the family of God, as if it’s a requirement for true spirituality. Thus, to me, the term, at least the Christian community version, has lost its luster and appeal.

I’m more inclined to describe a quiet time as the Psalmist does, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3 NIV) I can picture myself sitting in a comfortable chair beside a beautiful, quiet lake with only the sound of the forest occasionally interrupted by some wild animal noise. There I can calm my heart and back off from the hustle and bustle of the world.

I don’t have that great push to be loud and impress the world with my spirituality in the hopes of their turning to Christ because of my noisy speech. I find it much easier to take a quiet approach, let God speak through his presence in my life, and wait to see the Holy Spirit bubbling to the surface in the form of a question. I want people to ask me, “Why am you so different from others we know?”

In the church we are often implored to get out and get going. That has its place. I should know after thirty-eight plus years as a missionary. I’m also impressed with Paul’s encouragement to Timothy when he writes, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV)

To live a quiet and peaceful life sounds really good to me. The hustle and bustle of today’s work to move up the ladder, make a name for yourself and become a leader sounds noisy and aggressive, not peaceful. Instead I think I’ll work on cultivating fruit in my life. Jesus talks a lot about the vine and producing fruit. I find it interesting that the branches (us) grow and produce fruit based on their relationship with the vine (Jesus) which give them sustenance and keeps them strong.

The Thessalonians were reminded of their place in today’s world. “But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:10b-11 NKJV) Do your job, keep out of other people’s business and lead a quiet life. That sounds great to me and relieves me of the stress created by those who feel we must be out there working for the church which as more important than working for our livelihood.

I love times when I can sit and be quiet. It allows me to think more clearly. It relieves stress. It allows me to clear my head and hear God speaking to me. It’s so much more productive than filling my life with work and grasping after what I cannot obtain. The preacher tells us, “Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:6 NKJV)

What’s in our hands today? Is their quietness, a chance to recharge and clear your thoughts? Or, is our life filled with never ending lists, business and the noise of the world? I think I’ll work on the quiet side of life. I’m glad even God calls us to be still and realize . . . He is God!

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