Is God really in control?  Sure facts, overwhelming odds, and God

Is God really in control

Today is the first day of July and I’d like to welcome you to Wisdom Wednesday.  This is not to be confused with Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday but it’s a new phrase to represent a return to something good from the past.  In this case, it is a previous WordBytes teaching which emphasizes a “faith basic”.

I want to use Wisdom Wednesday to introduce a new series, “Is God Really in Control?—Understanding the Sovereignty of God.”   For the next few weeks we will peel back the onion of God’s nature, how God accomplishes His will on earth, and the believer’s role under God’s sovereign rule.

Why God is in control?

This study is important “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) as we face challenges that seem impossible.   Our fears can be quickly calmed by embracing the fact that God is the supreme authority over everything in heaven and on earth (Daniel 4:35; Is. 46:10).

In God we can place our confidence and our hope.  In the midst of gloom and crisis, we can trust in the supreme God who rules over everything.  And because God is sovereign, He ultimately controls all that happens in the world and in our lives (providence).   To introduce this series, I’d like to turn our attention to an earlier WordBytes entitled, “Sure Facts, Overwhelming Odds, and God” to open this study.

Sure Facts

What do sure facts, overwhelming odds, and God have in common?  These are factors which often determine a person’s chance of success in the world. While these may be actual considerations, they are not the final word. We must always factor in the sovereignty and providence of God to not only level the playing field, but also to become the obvious advantage.

Sure facts take into consideration those elements we are born with or born into.  They include our “family factors”—our race, our gender, family structure (i.e., parental influence, number of siblings, birth order) and socio-economic position.  We had little control over their selection.

In the case of Joseph, he was born into the family of Jacob as the second youngest of thirteen children.  Jacob had two wives (Leah and Rachel) and two handmaidens (Bilhah and Zilpah) who bore his children (Genesis 30) but Joseph was Jacob’s favorite (Gen. 37:3).  This created an unhealthy and toxic environment for child rearing marked with sibling rivalry and jealousy.

Overwhelming Odds

Overwhelming odds are circumstances that minimize the possibilities of success in life and relationships.  They sometimes affect one’s ability to earn a living, care adequately for one’s family, or to live safely and confidently.   Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver and was brought to Egypt.  Being a Hebrew slave, the odds of Joseph rising above his new found station in life were slim to none.  The odds became even smaller when he was thrown into prison as a result of the lies of Potiphar’s wife.  When it appeared release from prison was near, Joseph became the victim of the baker’s forgetfulness further obstructing any hope of freedom (Gen. 40:23).  But God was about to do exceedingly above all that Joseph could ask or think (Eph. 3:20).

God the Holy Equalizer

God was on the scene for Joseph as the Holy Equalizer and Change Master.  What appeared to be sure facts and overwhelming odds for Joseph soon became “biblical history.”   Genesis 50:19-20 declares the power of God’s sovereignty:  “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  God was the final authority.

God, the Holy Enabler and Way Maker, reversed the circumstances for Joseph whose journey began as a slave from Canaan but ended as a powerful ruler in Egypt.  He went from servant to savior for his people who would have perished from the famine in their land.  Joseph could have used the Psalm 16:5 as his personal testimony:  “O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot.  The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance.”

What do you believe?

Succumbing to what we believe are “sure facts and overwhelming odds” in our life can only result in despair and hopelessness.  Belief and trust in our God becomes the refreshing promise of rescue and provision regardless of the circumstances we face.  God’s plan and purpose for our life supersedes indisputable facts and devastating odds (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Our future is not dependent on our family history or our personal past, but on Who we serve.  So the next time you’re weighing your options based on “facts and odds”, remember to factor in God.  God always has the final word.   “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.” Ps. 20:7

The Revealed Things of God

 

Revealing Hidden Things

As stated last week, secret things belong to God.  Revealed things, however, belong to us and to our children so that we may follow God’s law.  They are truths which God has communicated through the Bible and His Holy Spirit. These also include those things revealed through the whole counsel of God.

This truth, found in Deuteronomy 29:29, falls in the fourth address to the children of Israel by Moses.  It is a summary of the covenant demands and an appeal for covenantal obedience (Deut. 29:2-29).

For the Israelites, the secret things of the LORD probably referred to future details that God had not revealed to the Moses.  Yet what He had revealed (e.g., future judgment for disobedience, future blessing for obedience, His requirement for holiness, etc.) was enough to encourage the Israelites to follow all the words of the Law.[1]  

Is God’s revealed truth enough to encourage 21st century believers to trust and obey the LORD?  To answer this question, let’s consider four (4) tenets of faith currently revealed by God in His Word and through His Spirit.

These are not meant to be exhaustive, but have proven to anchor one’s faith during tumultuous times (Heb. 6:19).  As we look at our current world situation, it is easy to become weary.  Hopefully, these revealed truths will encourage us not to “lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:16-17).

What has God revealed?

Our Knowledge of Him (2 Pet. 1:3-5).  Jesus came not only to acquire our salvation but to also manifest (reveal) the Father’s name (nature) to His children (John 17:6; 26).  Armed with that knowledge, we believers have access to divine power and precious promises.  God has also provided us with spiritual wisdom and insight through His Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-10).

Our Identity (Eph. 1:3-4). Identity is defined as the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognized or known.   God chose us to be adopted as sons, heirs and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  Our identity also connects us with other believers in God’s universal Church.  Because of our identity we have access to everything we need to accomplish God’s purpose for our life and His kingdom. (Eph. 2:10)

 Our Salvation (2 Cor. 5:17).  We are new creatures in Christ.  Because of Christ’s substitutional death on the Cross, we have been set free from the penalty and power of sin in our life.  This freedom will be fully experienced once in heaven where we will be delivered from the presence of sin (Rev. 21:4).

Our Hope (Rom. 4:18-21).  Hope is simply defined as the expectation of future good.   “Biblical hope is the anticipation of a favorable outcome under God’s guidance. More specifically, hope is the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future. This contrasts to the world’s definition of hope as a feeling that what is wanted will happen.”[2]

What keeps us from trusting what God has revealed?

One reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we fail to recognize it.   In the 2020 Barna study, Signs of Decline & Hope Among Key Metrics of Faith”, it is noted that there are fewer “faith engagements” occurring among both believers and non-believers.  These include Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance.  These activities are critical to gaining an understanding of what God has revealed in the past and what God is revealing in the present.

The U.S. population is undergoing major religious, social, demographic and digital change. The rise of digital life, including social media, the economic crisis, changing attitudes about social issues and the emergence of younger generations on the scene are some of the factors that are likely to form undercurrents recalibrating Americans’ connection to faith and to Christianity.

Another reason we may not trust what God is revealing is because we choose not to believe.  One’s disbelief may be tied to the feeling that religion and the Bible are no longer relevant to 21st century living.  Such beliefs are not new.  The Apostle Paul warned the young minister Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3-5).   People are choosing other forms of spirituality that “better accommodate” their chosen life style and worldview.

Finally, we may not trust what God is revealing because we choose not to obey God.  Have you ever noticed that when a person is auguring over a specific teaching from the Bible, it is often connected to a personal obedience challenge they are facing in their life?  Obedience is more than just following the letter of the law.  It is discerning what God would want and then seeking that outcome.

So where do we go from here?

As we discover things revealed (and the list is infinite), we gain access the very mind of God (Rom. 11:33-36).  Things revealed may be answers to those persistent questions concerning God’s purpose for our life.  Our receptivity to things revealed may be our entry to God’s power, presence, and provision.

Our life and the current challenges of 21st century living may seem impossible, but with God’s grace and favor, nothing is impossible.   In the midst of this health pandemic, strained human rights, and cries for human justice, we need only to seek Him in the things revealed.

[1]  The Bible Knowledge Commentary , Old Testament

[2]  Holman Bible Dictionary

The Secret Things of God 2020

 

The secret thing of God

Who doesn’t love a good secret?  Secrets by definition are unknown or unseen.  They are by design created to be kept from others.  As we move through these tumultuous times, we may question, “what is God doing?”  Is there some secret thing God is doing and not sharing with us?

As the children of Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land, they, like us, were curious as to what God had planned for their lives.  Moses addressed their curiosity with a clever statement of fact about the revelations of God that still holds true today—“the secret things belong to the LORD but the things revealed belong to us.” (Deut. 29:29 (NIV)

Does God have secret things in 2020 that are known only by Him?  And what are the things God is revealing to us?  Does this verse still hold true as we face the new challenges of 21st century living?  How do the secret things of God affect our life and purpose?

Curiosity and secrets—good or bad?

It is the nature of man to be curious about secret things.  These are things that remain hidden from our immediate view.  This curiosity has led to man’s fascination with astrology, fortune telling and other future gazing activities.  Secret things have contributed to the bizarre growth in social media followings, gossip tabloids and entertainment shows that uncover the latest exposés of the rich and the famous.

Secrets have enormous power.  They add to our nervousness about the future especially when we don’t know what “we don’t know”.

The secret things

The secret things are those things known only by God.  The prophet Isaiah best captures this truth in the difference between human and divine knowledge:  “His (God’s) thoughts are not our thoughts, nor our ways His ways.  As the heavens are higher than earth, so are His ways and thoughts higher than ours” (Isa. 55:8-9).

While we may feel that we have the right to be aware of all plans pertaining to our future, it is sovereign God who ultimately determines what needs to be known and what must be accepted by faith alone.  “The just shall live by faith” is an iconic expression of trust and hope.  Its intent is to encourage us to confidently proceed without all the answers (Jer. 29:11-13).

The things that belong to us

The things that belong to us are those truths which God has communicated through His Holy Spirit and through His Word.  With the coming of Pentecost, we as believers have been gifted with the Holy Spirit to live within us.  Jesus provided not only a Comforter with the Holy Spirit but also His Presence to guide us in all truth (John 16:13).

God’s Word continues to reveal His nature and His never ending love for us.  From Genesis to Revelation, God discloses Himself as the Master Creator seeking to restore His relationship with His beloved Creature.

The greatest evidence of God’s persistence and love is His plan of salvation.  Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the penalty of death and reconciled us to our Father.  In addition, we have been empowered to live victoriously with the promise of eternal life, beginning now (1 John 3:2).

Knowledge of the revealed things

Our challenge as Believers will come in our ability to walk in the truth that God has revealed to us and to obediently follow His directions. Through the things that belong to us we gain a thorough knowledge of God and what is needed to live godly lives (2 Pet. 1:3).

Shifting societal and moral norms will force us to “stand fast” in that which has been clearly revealed by God (Eph. 6:11-13; 2 Thess. 2:15).  Such shifts will lead to continual rejection of Christian beliefs and persecution by this fallen world (2 Tim. 3:12).  The current health pandemic, financial downturn and civic discord have added even more pressure on our walk of faith.

Recent studies indicate that we are one generation away from losing our belief in God. Therefore, it is critical that we also teach the revealed truth of God to our children and grandchildren (Deut. 11:19).  Our failure to do so could result the loss of our families to the world.

Go with what we know

Jesus has more than adequately prepared us for such a time as these:  “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  As believers we need not concern ourselves with the secret things we don’t know BUT to trust and obey that which we do know.

Next week we will explore the truths God has revealed to us.

Anxiety Relief: Stressed and Depressed

Anxiety Relief

We need anxiety relief

Stressed?  Depressed? One of the biggest thieves of energy, health and life is anxiety.  Anxiety is described as a feeling of worry typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.  Our current life experiences with the health pandemic, economic recession, and social unrest, have resulted in heightened anxiety within our families, our cities, and our nation.

In response to the coronavirus, pharmaceutical companies and medical researchers are rushing to develop a  cure for this deadly disease.  With the cries for justice and social reform, people across this nation and around the world, are in search of a cure to racism. But what relief can be offered for the heightened sense of anxiety we live with daily?

Who has the cure for the anxiety?

Where do we find anxiety relief?  What cures are available for the anxiety caused by the aforementioned circumstances and other life events?

Possible cures offered to date include intervention (therapy), meditation,  and physician-prescribed medication.  Unfortunately, we as a nation, have also chosen to self-medicate resulting in destructive and  addictive behaviors.

For this week’s WordBytes, I’d like to share  another source of  anxiety relief offered by one of my favorite writers.  Dr. F.B. Meyer, described as one of the world’s most gifted pastor and expositor, offers sage wisdom to believers as we make this journey of faith, one-day-at-a-time.  Dr. Meyer offers biblical relief for our anxiety.  A prescription that comes directly from the Great Physician (Exodus 15:26).

Back to Basics: God’s Discipline

God's discipline

God’s discipline at work

When was the last time you asked God to discipline you? As human beings, we are by nature “pain averse”.  We quickly ask God to remove anything we feel is uncomfortable or unpleasant. This includes times when He chooses to discipline us. This week we conclude our study in Bible Basics with the letter D:  God’s Discipline.  The writer of Hebrews shares how God uses discipline to strengthen us and to facilitate our spiritual growth and development.

God’s correction through our experiences

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I shared with you a chart of potential responses and the challenges COVID-19  presented.  Since that time we have new hills to climb.  Tension erupts as racial tension explodes into both peaceful demonstrations and destructive rioting.

People have asked me if these events are God’s way of getting our attention.  They ask, “Is God disciplining us as a nation?”  While I don’t know the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:16), I do know that there is a natural consequence for sin (Rom. 6:23).  Could that be what we are currently experiencing?

What I do know is that the biblical record shows that God will use events and circumstance to help accomplish His will.  God also allows circumstances in our life that conform us to the image of Christ.  Problems and difficulties tend to bring us closer to God and in position to hear His voice.   That’s why it is important to be intentional in prayer and reading God’s Word (Gal. 3:24) especially during difficult and challenging times (Phil. 4:6-13).

Selfishness and social injustice has existed since the beginning of mankind (Leviticus 19:15; Prov. 17:15).  These are not God’s doing.  However, God will use every opportunity to help us understand that He is still God and the Sustainer of life—even life lived disobediently.

What is biblical discipline?

In the New Testament, discipline (chastisement) is defined as training in proper conduct for the purpose of better behavior. In the Old Testament, the word carries a similar meaning with greater emphasis on correction and is viewed as a “blessing from God” (Ps. 94:12-13; Deut. 8:5).

How do we feel about discipline?

Our opinion of discipline, either positive or negative, has been greatly influenced by how we received discipline as a child.  It began with our relationship with our parents and then transitioned into our school experiences.  Even today, our early encounters with discipline can impact our receptivity to (or rejection of) feedback from our employer However, God’s discipline is very different.

In Hebrews 12:11, the author shares our general feeling about discipline:  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  However, when viewed from a spiritual perspective (with God as our Disciplinarian) we can consider a different viewpoint:  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

So why do we need God’s discipline?
    1. It is a sign of God’s love and the believer’s sonship. As believers, we need to understand that we are children and heirs of God (Rom. 8:16-17). While we quickly embrace this relationship when asking for God’s blessings and protection, we must also be respectful and accepting when God administers spiritual discipline. We protect and correct those we love—so does God! “For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Prov. 3:12).
    1. It is designed to both correct and prevent sin in the life of the believer. Just as an earthly father corrects his child, our omniscient Father sees influences or behaviors in our lives that may cause physical and/or spiritual harm. Therefore, He will exercise spiritual discipline (Jer. 24:5-7; 2 Cor. 12:7-9) to protect us. To reap the full benefit of His chastisement, we must be willing to be “exercised by it” (gymnazo)—to learn from the discipline experience. This will prepare us for future trials and temptations (James 1:2-4).
    1. It will result in repentance and submission by the believer. Spiritual discipline is not designed to harm or destroy us. It is to solicit repentance—turn away from—our sinful behavior and return us to Him (2 Cor. 7:10). During spiritual disciplining, we turn to Father God for direction and guidance who then “redirects” us in paths of righteousness (Psa. 23:3; Prov. 2:20).
What’s the spiritual benefit of discipline?

Although spiritual discipline may not be “joyous”, it is not intended as punishment for sin. Jesus Christ, as our Substitute, received on the Cross the full penalty and punishment that should have been given to each of us (Isaiah 53:5).

The aforementioned factors collectively result in “spiritual benefit” to the believer described as the “peaceable fruit of righteousness”, in other words, goodness in character.

As we move forward through COVID-19 and reconcile our differences as people, ask God to show you where He is disciplining you?  What areas in your life is He melting, molding, and reshaping?  How can you be “exercised” by the events of this disciplining experience?

Remember God’s discipline is a reflection of His love.  Then meditate on this teaching penned by King Solomon: My child, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof,  for the LORD reproves the one he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.   Proverbs 3:11-12 (NRS)

Back to Basics: Confessing our Faith with Confidence

Confessing our faith with confidence

How confident are we in our faith?  What is the basis of our confidence?  Do others see us witness to the belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior? Our answer to these questions are key as we continue our Back to Basics series with this week’s teaching using the letter C—Confessing our Faith with Confidence.

Confidence makers or confidence breakers

The changes spawned by the coronavirus pandemic have unraveled everything we once defined as normal.  In our humanity, we are now looking for something that resembles what we once knew as a daily routine or an ordinary life style.  With our failure to find the familiar, we are now desperate for something or someone to put our trust in—something that is secure.

We look to our traditional sources of confidence—government, church, business, or community-based institutions—for reassurance and hope.  Instead, what we are faced with is an enormous gap in confidence.

Demand for faithful confession

It is critical that we, as believers, anchor ourselves to The Source that has proven reliable and dependable.  In addition, we must share with the world the Best Option to successfully navigate 21st century living, especially in the wake of social upheaval, public health threats, and economic uncertainty.  We now must live out our Christian beliefs, practice discernment, and exercise moral courage to ensure that God’s kingdom comes—even in the midst of chaos.

The challenges we face are much like the early church.  As people of faith we are tempted to fall away from God—even to apostasy.  Believer’s conviction to “walk by faith and not by sight” has weakened as evidenced by the growing number of followers who are distancing themselves from the Church.

Our impotent witness has left nonbelievers and searchers vulnerable to satanic influence and beliefs.     Instead of leading people to the light we are leaving them in the dark (Eph. 5:8; Matt. 5:14-16).   What has happened to our confident confession of faith?  It’s time to return to the basics.  The Psalms are the best primer to remind us of the basis for our confident confession.

The Psalms as confidence builders

The writers of the Psalms give us various insights into the lives of people and nations who cried out to God—the source of their confidence.  The Psalms have been described as the “mirror of the soul” for they reflect the emotions experienced by God’s people in both historic situations (the nation of Israel) and personal circumstances. They give us breathtaking insight into the character and work of God as He reveals Himself to the psalmist.

David’s confession of confidence

Psalm 16 gives us an unguarded view of how confident faith is lived out under the watchful eye of God.  It is shown to us through David’s personal testimony of trust in the Lord.

I have set the LORD always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalms 16:8 (NKJ)

David’s confidence in God

The psalm opens with David’s first statement of confidence in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He cries out, “Preserve me, O God (El) for in thee do I put my trust” (v.1). El in Hebrew translates to the one true God, Jehovah. The historical narratives of the Pentateuch gave witness to David of the mighty works of Jehovah and His love for His special people.

David continues this psalm by giving his second confession of confidence in Jehovah God: “O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup” (v. 5). Here David acknowledges his total dependency on the LORD. Regardless of his circumstance, David resolved to trust the Lord with an assurance of provision for today (my cup) and long term success (my inheritance).

Confident faith building

It is in verse 8 that David explains the final reason for his confession of confidence: “I have set the LORD always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” To set in Hebrew means “to equalize by making an adjustment”.   David is saying that he will make the necessary adjustments to insure that he is aligned with the LORD. He is confident in the LORD and determined to trust Him. David promises to consistently respond in confidence by always setting the LORD’s will before him.

David concludes:  “because He (the LORD) is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” The hand in Hebrew represents the seat of one’s power.  David’s confidence was based on God’s strength and not his own.

Confident faith confession

Too often when faced with problems, we look to our ability to resolve the situation. It is only when we “look to the hills from which comes our help” (Psalm 121:1) that we are able to spiritually persevere. David’s confession of confidence in God emanated from a humble dependence and consistent reliance on the Lord. Therefore, he wouldn’t be “shaken” by the events he faced in his life.

With COVID-19, where are we going to place our confidence?  When facing challenges in our life, do we consistently respond in confidence to the Lord? Do we run for cover or do we, like David, remain unshaken because we have already determined to trust in the Lord. Our response is an indicator of our faithful confidence in Him. The time to decide how we will handle life’s circumstances is before they occur. What or who will we set before us?

A Prayer of Confidence

Father we set You continually before us. We know that in You we have the confidence we need to face the challenges of today and the trials of tomorrow. Forgive us when we place our trust in the things of this world and in ourselves. We confess our love to you and like David confidently align our lives with You. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Back to Basics: Building your Spiritual Endurance

Back to Basics: Building Spiritual Endurance

Traveling Back to Basics

When facing a new challenge, it is common practice for us  to “return to basics.”  It is in the returning that strengths are honed and minds prompted to those things that never change.

In early March we introduced the series, Back to Basics.  Its intent was to help believers return to biblical principles that strengthen our faith and that guard our hearts—hearts facing the challenge of 21st century living (Prov. 4:23).

We are using the “ABC’s” as the framework for this series.  We began with the letter A—Accepting the Mind of Christ.  Today we will move to the letter B—Building Spiritual Endurance.

The Need for Building Spiritual Endurance

Living in this postmodern era, our faith is constantly bombarded by alternatives to the teachings of the Word of God.  The Apostle Peter warned of such assaults as he prepared young Timothy, the new elder of the church at Ephesus.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;  and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.  But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  (2 Tim. 4:3-5)

We are living in those same times today.

In addition, we are thrust into  challenges we have never faced before with the introduction of the coronavirus into our nation and into our communities .  Pandemic deaths, resource shortages, and economic upheaval are requiring us to restructure our institutions and traditions to fit this new normal.

Biblical basics for the new reality

It is also critical that we return to biblical basics in order to move through the challenges that lie ahead.  These basics will guide us as we create new realities based on the changes we are now experiencing.  For this journey, we will need spiritual endurance (Is. 40:29; Deut. 31:8; Matt. 19:26).

Noted theologian and teacher, Alistair Begg has often stated that, “Endurance is a key indicator of spiritual fitness.”  The world tempts us to take the easy way around our problems.  We are encouraged to “walk through them” so that we might be strengthened and become mature Christians (James 1:2-4).

Time to Strengthen Up

The author of Hebrews offers the following text to help us understand the need for spiritual endurance and our role in obtaining it.

So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!   (Hebrews 12:12-13, The Message)

Although there may be debate as to who authored this general epistle, there is little doubt it was written to people in need of spiritual endurance.  Much like us they were living in the midst of life threatening challenges and change.  They were thrust into situations which they, too, had never faced before.

In Hebrews 11, the author introduces his readers to Old Testament believers whose faith helped them to endure and persevere in spite of enormous obstacles.  He expands this teaching in Hebrews 12 by providing the ultimate model of spiritual endurance—“Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (v. 2) who endured the Cross in order to accomplish God’s plan of salvation.  It is with these examples in mind that we are able to endure and push forward in faith (Heb. 12:3).  We can be assured that if we endure, then we will be rewarded (Gal. 6:9).

Running the race with endurance

Against this backdrop the author illustrates spiritual endurance with the metaphor of a race.  The writer warns that “holey paths” and “sprained ankles” might render the runner incapable of completing the race.  We are to “strengthen” our feeble arms and weak knees and “make level the paths” for the feet (NIV).   Then we are prepared to complete the race successfully.

The process outlined in our Hebrew text is not dissimilar to what we need to build spiritual endurance in the 21st century—especially if we are to navigate successfully through the coronavirus pandemic.

How do we building spiritual endurance for today

When adverse circumstances and difficulties occur in our life, instead of complaining, we are to accept the discipline it offers and be strengthened through it.  During those times, God has provided the resources we need to “push through.”

The first is God’s Word.  We are called to act on the truth that has been revealed in Scripture concerning spiritual endurance.  It has been commanded (Matt. 10:22; 2 Tim. 2:3), exemplified (2 Tim. 2:10; Heb. 10:32-33) and rewarded (2 Tim. 3:1; James 1:12).

Our spiritual endurance is predicated on the fact that God has given us everything we need to live in this present age (2 Pet. 1:3-4).  Every promise of God is “Yes and Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20).

We can be assured that God will give us the strength to endure trying times based on His faithfulness and the veracity (truthfulness) of His Word.

The second is the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who is there to strengthen and keep us.  With His assistance we are able to do all things (Phil 4:13) and complete the work God has designated us to do (Phil. 1:6).

The third resource is the community of faith.  The Holy Spirit has gifted both the universal and local church “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ep. 4:12). It is in community that believers find encouragement and support for spiritual growth and development.

Spiritual Endurance=Staying Power

Through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit and in Christian community the believer is able to build spiritual endurance.  The writer of Hebrews gives sage advice as to how we can build spiritual endurance and in so doing increase our “staying power” for the Lord.  It is in God that we will find your “second wind” for the challenges of 21st century living.

Next week, we will continue with our Back to Basic series and explore C—Confessing our faith with confidence.

Charting the Path Forward

Charting the Path Forward

Charting the Path:  The Challenge

What’s next?  Where do we go from here as we prepare to re-enter the world of the coronavirus pandemic?  I searched the internet to see what questions people might be asking during this time and was surprised by the shortage of current information as to what’s on people’s minds. 

I know as a nation we are divided as to when and how to emerge from sheltering in place.  We can’t even agree on “to mask or to unmask”.  And shamefully, people are even violent about that!

Businesses want to know when they can re-open and how to do it safely.  Employees want to insure their workplace is safe and that they will be protected from potential infection.

And the rest of us, want to make sure we have the basics for living (at least I just want the basics)—food, water, shelter, and protection (especially from people who feel their will is more important than mine).

Questions for the Charting

Now that the nation is reopening, how do we begin to chart a path forward, especially in the midst of frayed emotions and opposing opinions?  Can we move forward in the midst of this deadly pandemic? How can we balance public health with economic well-being?  The bigger question for people of faith in this crisis is, “where is God and what is He saying to us?”

Moral Courage needed for charting the path

Last week I introduced the topic of courage in the midst of the coronavirus.  I referenced two (2) types of courage—physical and moral courage.  Physical courage is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship, even death or threat of death.  Moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss.

To date, popular opposition has been fierce on every aspect of managing this pandemic.  It will further heighten upon re-entry, especially as we begin to develop strategies to move forward in this fight.  Shame and personal loss is being experienced by those of us who must do without or ask for help as roles have been reversed because of financial losses due to COVID-19.

Moral courage is needed if America is to successfully move forward.  To forge creative new methods to do their work, businesses with need moral courage.  Moral courage will be essential as cities manage our communities with fewer resources.  Individuals and families will need moral courage just to live one day at a time until a solution is developed.

The one thing we all must deal with is how to reconcile the loss of life and its further escalation as we no longer shelter in place.    In charting a path forward, that reality and the ability to act rightly will be among the biggest challenges we will face.

Moral courage and fear

While the definitions of courage tend to infer that bravery is “without fear”, I’d like to offer the view that fear, in some instances, can provide the motivation for courageous acts. For example, we might fear the negative consequence that might occur if we choose to do nothing.  In that case, fear of the negative consequence becomes the stimulus for action.  Some have said that the re-opening of America is only the end of the first chapter in this crisis.   Can fear of life with the coronavirus move us to exercise moral courage rather than choosing to do nothing?

Daniel Putman, professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, in an article entitled, The Emotions of Courage, offers a similar opinion that courage can involve deliberate choice in the face of painful or fearful circumstances, especially if something of value is at risk.  Can the risks associated with the coronavirus move us to moral courage?

Choose moral courage

To close this teaching, I’d like to share five (5) commitments you can choose to make each day to begin exercising moral courage in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.  I have added biblical texts to each for your reading and meditation.

Choose to…

Be faithful to God.  Let the world see Jesus in you,

Colossians 2:6-7

Be discerning.  Examine everything carefully. 

Proverbs 4:5-7

Be brave.  Speak up.  Show up.  Stand up.  

Psalm 118:5-7

Persevere.  Keep on even when it’s hard and messy.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Be generous.  Return to others what God has gifted you with.

2 Corinthians 9:8-11

This list is by no means meant to be exhaustive.  I invite you to add to them and share with us in the comments below or on the WordBytes Community Page.

Finally here is the answer to the question, “where is God and what is He saying to us?”

And the LORD, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.  Deuteronomy 31:8 (KJV)

Courage under COVID-19

Courage under COVID-19

What does courage under COVID-19 look like?  We’ve all heard the term “courage under fire”.  It is generally used to describe one’s behavior under duress or when one is facing extreme danger.  It describes the heroic efforts of a person who defers their own personal safety for the betterment or life of another.  COVID-19 is definitely a fire that is consuming not only our nation, but also the world.  So what’s the connection between courage and the coronavirus?

A time for courage

Our nation is at a precipice (a very steep rock face or cliff, especially a tall one). Our public health systems are strained and our financial prowess has been weakened. The death count from the pandemic is growing exponentially.  This “cliff” is the coronavirus.

As we prepare to reopen our country, we need to position ourselves to make the hard decisions required to move our nation through this very dangerous period. When will businesses open?  Will I still have a job? When will our schools resume normal operations?  How do we reopen America safely?

To answer these tough questions, we will need courage; courage to create innovative and diverse options to navigate safely into a new world.  This new world will be very different than when we first began.  It will be a world that will also require God’s wisdom to succeed.

Critical decisions will be made by public officials both locally and nationally that will undoubtedly impact how we will operate for months—perhaps even years to come.   The question is this.  Do we have the courage to make the right decisions—decisions that are best for all the people?

Courage defined

The word courage is defined as the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, or pain, without fear.  Brené Brown, professor, lecturer, and author adds additional fodder for us to consider concerning courage.

Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.”  

Courage has also been described as the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Physical courage is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship, even death or threat of death.  Moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss.[1]

The question for America is, “are we willing to exercise moral courage in order to move us through this next phase of COVID-19?”

Moral courage in action

Jesus knew the Disciples would need both physical and moral courage.  In Matthew 10 he prepares his disciples for their missionary trip to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.  While Jesus equipped then spiritually to perform their duties, he also gave them specific instructions as to how they were to respond to the attacks they would invariably encounter.

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.   You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.  And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. (Verses 16-18, 21-22)  

Jesus knew that the Disciples He chose to build the Kingdom of God would be faced with establishing a new normal. As a result of Christ’s death and resurrection, life as mankind knew it, would never be the same.  Relationships within families would change for those who would follow Christ (Luke 18:28-29).  Business practices would change (Luke 19:8).  Even worship would look very different (Acts 4:32-35).  It would not be possible to return to business as usual.   After COVID-19, we will not be able to return to business as usual.

The Disciples would not only need physical courage in implementing the Great Commission but also moral courage as they faced popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, and personal loss.

Jesus knew the Disciples might be tempted to return to the old way of living life, but He cautiously warned them to show their courage by doing the morally right thing (Matt. 10:28):  And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Just as Jesus prepared his Disciples for the new normal that would change the world, we too must be prepared for the radical changes that will be needed as we emerge from our shelter in place.  And how will we emerge?  Will we operate out of fear because of the potential scarcity of food, lack of jobs, and loss of income? Or will we be more aware, more compassionate, and willing to help others in need?    Will we have the courage to participate in the creation of something better than we had before?

What does courage look like under COVID-19?

As COVID-19 continues to move across this nation and shelter in place orders are lifted, we hear the cries of a fractured and divided nation.  Mask or unmask?  Life or livelihood?   Essential versus unessential workers.  Worker safety or food on the grocery shelves.  We need courage and God’s guidance to help us decide what is best for our communities, our country and our world.

Courage was once thought to originate from the heart. Courage under COVID-19 begins with the realization that the “greater good” supersedes any personal rights we may currently possess.  It describes a new moral model for understanding that we are inexplicably connected to each other not only by our desire to eradicate COVID-19 but also by our humanity. Join us next week as we continue our discussion on courage under COVID-19.

[1]  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courage

The Other Side of COVID-19

Other Side of COVID-19My view of the other side of COVID-19

Let me begin this WordBytes by thanking each of you for your feedback on the topics we have discussed during these weeks of sheltering in place (SIP).  It has truly been a new experience for each of us as we try to adjust to the awkwardness of staying connected while far apart.  Hopefully, we are learning more about who we are, our personal resiliency and about the tenderness God has for us as we “walk through the valley of death” (Ps. 23:4).  While some may not share my view, I believe with God, we will successfully make it to the other side of COVID-19.  The real question is, “what will be our testimony and our contribution on the other side?”

Pandemic and me

I have never personally experienced a pandemic of this magnitude—especially one that is claiming the extraordinary number of lives and decimating our world economy.  I was four (4) years old when I became a victim of the polio epidemic of the 1950s.  My mother often told me how many parents in our neighborhood would walk on the other side of the street from our house for fear that their children would also contract the disease.

But God protected my family.  None of my siblings became infected by the disease and I’m here today to share my story.  We too, will live to tell our individual stories about COVID-19 because I agree with the psalmist who wrote, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD. (Ps. 118:17, NKJ).  Instead of declare, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) phasing is “and recount the deeds of the Lord.”  What will we recount on the other side of COVID-19?

Recounting God

There is a reason to recount our experiences especially during times of pain and struggle.  As the children of Israel journeyed to the Promise Land, they often left memorials along the way.  They did this to remember the mercies of God and to express their gratitude for God’s provision.  Whether it was an altar (Ex. 17:15) or a stack of stones on the other side of the Jordan (Deut. 27:4-7), it was important that those who had experienced God’s provision and intervention declare those deeds to future generations.  What memorials will we create on the other side of COVID-19 to declare the works of the Lord to future generations?

Throughout the biblical text, God has shown Himself to be a strong Deliverer.  He rescued His people from all types and various forms of dangers; whether it was “the snare of the fowler or the noisome (deadly) pestilence.” (Ps. 91:3) God honored His covenants and kept all His promises.

Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to their ancestors that he would give them; and having taken possession of it, they settled there.   And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their ancestors; not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands.  Not one of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.                                                                                                 (Joshua 21:43-45)

God expects right relations

Even in the administration of life in the Promise Land, God expected Israel to live in right relationship with others—even those who were subjugated through conquest by Israel.  Consequently, systems were put in place to care for the needs of all people (Deut. 33).  These systems were to emulate the same oversight God had extended to Israel.  God’s love, grace, and mercy was evident from the day of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt to their final conquest of Canaan.  How will we express God’s oversight for all people on the other side of COVID-19?

God will contend for us

God will bring us through this pandemic. HE will contend for us.  It is His nature as our heavenly Father to provide for and to protect His children (Ps. 103:13; Matt. 6:26).  As God made provisions to care for all the people in Canaan, on the other side of Egypt, He will do the same for our country.  And who will be the conduit of God’s provision?  It must be each of us.  “As good stewards of the manifold blessings of Christ” (1 Pet. 4:10) let us prepare to serve on the other side of COVID-19.

As I read my paper and listen to the various news broadcasts, there is much being said about the current state of COVID-19 in our nation and in our cities. Living in these times feels surreal yet I know these times are very real—requiring “serious and watchful prayers” (1 Pet. 4:7).

Praying for the Other Side

Let us begin to pray TODAY over many areas that will need God’s love, grace, and mercy on the other side of COVID-19.  Here is my short-list.  Feel free to develop and share your list.

  • Our children, our teachers, and our schools—they need a future.
  • Our healthcare systems, our social systems, our justice systems—they need an advocate.
  • Our communities, our families, and our parents—they need connection.
  • The aged and the young—they need to be valued.
  • The poor, the homeless and the disenfranchised—they need a voice.

Let us begin praying today for a better life for all, on the other side of COVID-19.