I have had the honor of being a hospice volunteer for 20 years, the last 5 giving pastoral care to patients and their families at their request. Sharing this part of life with these dear people has provided some of the most rewarding moments in ministry to me.
Oswego County Hospice provides most excellent care for the families they serve. In what is usually the most trying of times for a family, the administration, care providers and volunteers of our hospice organization treat them all with the dignity and respect they deserve, providing emotional and practical help to each one.
Once a year, Oswego County Hospice holds a memorial service for all of their patients from the previous year. This touching ceremony allows us to say good bye to those who have passed as well as letting their families know that they are remembered as well.
Due to the on-going restrictions in place because of Covid-19, the memorial service was help virtually again this year. I’ve included a link to it should you care to share in this experience with us. Also included is Betsy and my presentation of “On Eagles Wings.” We sing it to honor those who have passed and as an encouragement to those left with holes in their heart.
Some time ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I had a job in a men’s clothing store. In those days, long before mega-malls and Amazon, a small local shop made its success by giving excellent customer service. In a store like that one, this meant measuring arm lengths, inseams and waistlines accurately. A fair amount of training went into learning this process. Once mastered, I could confidently suggest styles and cuts that would best fit each individual customer.
As I understand it, God’s armor is not a ‘one size fits all’ choice. Rather, experience has shown me that the Almighty tailors His armor to fit perfectly to each individual.
The Apostle Paul gives us some detail on this in his instruction about donning the armor of God. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10-11 NIV).
Before putting it on, we are to establish in our hearts and minds the awesomeness of our God. To stand against the devil, we must stand in the Almighty’s power. In this power, He offers us each the armor that is described in this passage. It is God’s power, but it is tailored made to fit us each individually. As evidence of this, I have seen many godly people who have put on the armor of God, and each of them, though fully covered, manifests different aspects of the armor. This tells me that it is God who has ‘taken our measurements’ in order to have the perfect fit available.
As in all good bible study, the truth lies in the fact that ‘Scripture proves Scripture.’ For our purpose today, consider the young boy David as he prepares to do battle with Goliath. After convincing everyone that he is God’s chosen one to fight, King Saul offers the lad his personal armor for protection.
Earlier in the narrative, when Saul is anointed King, he is described as being a head taller than the rest (1 Samuel 9:2). It becomes obvious to all that the armor of a full grown man is not going to be any help to David. David says, “I cannot go in these, because I am not used to them.” So he took them off (1 Samuel 17:39 NIV).
In other words David is saying, these were not made for me, I must go in the strength that the Lord provides. You know the rest of the story; David, carrying only a slingshot, slays the giant Goliath.
We too must go in the power God supplies. He offers us His full armor. We in turn must figuratively put it on each day as we go out into the world. This armor, as described by Paul, will protect our body and our mind. God thus provides us protection in all areas of our life and then gives us the only weapon we need in our defense, His word.
May we all, Dear Reader, recognize that God has made and provided the perfect fit for each one of us. As we put on the full armor of God each day, let us go out and proclaim His goodness in all we do, knowing that we have a tailor made suit of armor at our disposal.
No April Fool’s joke here, the Scriptures that describe the events leading to the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus give us two examples of an angry Jesus.
When last we spoke, adoring crowds welcomed Jesus as He entered Jerusalem. The building excitement of His ministry seemed destined to conclude with Him being crowned King of the Jews. The events in the narrative of the following days do little to disprove the people’s belief that their earthly king was about to take his crown.
Picking up the story in Mark’s Gospel at Chapter 11, verses 12-19, we find evidence of an angry Jesus. It is now the following morning, and Jesus and His disciples are walking back to Jerusalem. Along the way, the author tells us Jesus was hungry and walked toward a fig tree, hoping to find something to eat. As He reached it, the Lord saw that it had only leaves and no fruit. Seemingly angry, Jesus then says to the fig tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” (Mark 11:14 NIV)
We see another example of an angry Jesus later that same day as He entered the temple in Jerusalem. If you will recall, these were the days leading up to the important celebration of Passover. Many Jewish pilgrims would have been in Jerusalem for this event, fulfilling their vows in the temple. Those travelers who did not have the appropriate animals with them for the sacrificial rituals would have to buy them from opportunistic sellers in the courtyard of the temple. Also, because these people came from some great distances, the currency they used in their home village would not be usable at the temple. Therefore, money-changers were also doing a brisk business there.
Jesus comes upon this scene and angerly disperses these merchants, saying, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17 NIV) It is not difficult to close your eyes and picture the scene: mass confusion as small animals, various coins and bewildered worshipers are scattered about.
I don’t know about you, my Most Appreciated Readers, but I rarely spend much time contemplating an angry Jesus. I would much rather picture Him smiling at small children, teaching in the countryside or performing one of His many documented miracles. Yet, there is no denying that the Jesus told of here in Mark Chapter 11 is an angry one. And as I was taught early on, “if it is in the bible, it is important.”
What, then, is up with an angry Jesus? One view might be that He simply was under considerable pressure. His earthly time of ministry was coming to a close with a horrible, painful death on the horizon. I know that when I am feeling mounting expectations, I often can act more rashly by lashing out at things and people.
This is understandable with me, a foible human. But what about Jesus, the Son of God. Why not quietly point out to the temple vendors the issues He had with them and for that matter, how about miraculously make figs appear on that leafy tree?
Allow me to share an opinion or two on these occurrences. With the fig tree, I believe it would have been self-serving of the Lord to feed Himself in this way. Jesus had the power of heaven at His command, and He had used it wisely throughout His time on earth as a means to point people toward God the Father. It simply would not have been appropriate to manufacture a ‘to go’ meal with this power.
Also, as we read on, we find that Jesus and His disciples walk the same path to Jerusalem the next day. On it they see the fig tree in question, and it is withered. Jesus uses this to point out that those who were merely doing ‘religious things’ for their own profit were like this tree; lifeless in spirit and producing mothing of worth.
By clearing the temple in the manner in which He did, I believe Jesus was sending a strong and clear message about how we are to worship God. As He expelled the merchants and bankers, Jesus left no doubt as to what the priority is to be for those who claim to worship God: He alone is worth our undivided devotion. The temple was not to be a market, but rather a place where the world is set aside in order that focus could be placed solely and properly on the Father.
These emotional outbursts, if you will, serve another important point as well. Earlier I mentioned how it is I normally picture Jesus. These thoughts and images are of a loving Savior, who willingly sets aside everything in order that He reach the hearts of people. While this is a true picture of the Lord, it is not a complete one.
Along with being all-loving, the Savior is also perfect and holy. His justice is perfect always. His character cannot be impugned, nor should anyone doubt the complete honesty and consistency of His actions in dealing with creation.
I believe it to be essential in our spiritual growth to maintain this more complete picture of who and what God is, for it is in His perfection that we can completely place our trust. As we consider more of His character, we become able to better understand His love for us.
Yes, He is all-loving. But it is in the completeness of His nature that this total love can best be seen. He is holy. There is no part of Him that can abide with sin in any form. Yet, He loves us infinitely.
This is a love we cannot hope to earn, and blessedly, we do not have to. God, in His total wisdom, knows full well that you and I can never perform enough pious acts to win our way into His grace. Therefore, because His loves knows no bounds, He simply loves us because we are His creation.
This universal love was/is on display clearly upon the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion. The fullness of deity is found in Jesus (Colossian 2:9-10). He was both fully God and fully human as He walked the earth. This fullness includes everything we have considered here today, and so very much more.
Please take a few moments this week as you prepare to celebrate the Resurrection to consider more deeply the full nature of the God who saves.
Our pastor preached on John 3:14-21 this morning. Included in this passage is the familiar verse John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)
Pausing at these words, she then likened a life without Jesus to a car with a dead battery. This car, without a life-giving boost of electrical energy, will sit. It simply cannot function. Pastor Diane then went on to say that we can picture the forgiveness that Jesus offers us as jumper cables. They provide the connection between the power necessary to bring life to the lifeless vehicle. I love this analogy!
Throughout my early adult years and through my 30’s I drove a series of what we call here in Upstate New York winter rats. Generally speaking, these vehicles have seen better days. Road salt usually has eaten through a fair part of the body, while years of hard driving and neglectful maintenance have rendered them less than reliable modes of transportation. Their one positive is that they are inexpensive to purchase.
Because these cars I drove during these times were not consistently dependable, and after a few times of having to call someone to come jump my dead battery, I purchased a booster pack.
This neat invention allows a person to jump start their own car without the help of another vehicle. The booster pack has its own set of pos/neg cables, so as long as you keep it charged up, it is available at a moments notice to transfer the life giving power within it to the dead battery.
As often happens with me when I get to thinking on these things, I carry the picture of jump-starting a car to my own life. It becomes easy to see that my life before Jesus was as dead as they come. Oh, I had all the working parts, but they existed without purpose or meaning. My spirit was without life. I was, without question, destined for the scrap heap as yet another vehicle that would no longer run.
God, by His wondrous grace, did for me what I could not: He attached His ‘cables’ of life to my dead terminals. He used the precious blood of the Savior Jesus Christ to bring life, true life, to me. Now I know that despite the various dents and faded paint on my ‘car,’ it is going to run forever because God has poured His eternal life into it.
As if that were not enough, I can picture God’s jumper-cables as more than a one and done connection. His power is absolute. It is unending and always available. All I need to do is recognize when my ‘battery’ starts to run low on power. I can then simply ask the Lord to plug that energy into me again. He has provided several options as to how I can do this.
I can get re-charged by reading the bible. The word of God has come from His very essence, therefore it contains all the power of the Almighty. I can also make this connection with God through prayer. He is available 24/7. All I need do is to come humbly to Him, speaking what is on my heart and listening for He has to reveal to me. Spending time in worship is another way I get a fresh influx of God’s power into my life. Praising Him simply for who He is and what He has done/is doing helps to align my spirit with His.
How about you? Do you have ways that help you connect to God’s infinite power. I would love to hear about them!
I put my armor on first thing today. No, I’m not re-enacting a joust or trying to blend in at a Renaissance Faire, I’m referring to the full armor of God that the Apostle Paul wrote about in Ephesians 6:10-18
It might seem peculiar to some that the God of peace, love and forgiveness would also make a soldier’s armor necessary. However, if you have been a follower of Jesus Christ for any length of time, you know all too well the battle that rages on around you. Thankfully, nothing about this struggle is a surprise to the Almighty. Therefore, He gives us access to all we need to carry on each day.
Paul knew full well the spiritual battle that was happening in his time. He used the familiar picture of a Roman, dressed in full battle regalia, to describe what and how God was providing for our spiritual protection. The Apostle then describes why we need it:
Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:11-12) NIV
Paul establishes that there is an unseen battle going on around us and that we do have a common enemy, the devil. Not to give the old liar too much credit, but he is a powerful and nasty adversary who wants nothing more than to cause strife and division, especially among those who profess faith in Christ.
I am eternally grateful that our God is more powerful than Satan. (Spoiler alert: if you read the Bible all the way to the end, you’ll see it proved forever!) Having said that, the Bible also teaches that the devil is still active in this world. Peter describes him as a roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Knowing this, putting on the full protection of God’s armor seems like a no-brainer.
Let’s go through the various pieces of this God-given armor to see how they work to protect us.
The belt of truth is the first piece. Whereas if may sound weird to us to put a belt on first, in this case it makes sense. A Roman soldier put this piece of his armor on first because all the rest of his gear would be attached to it. This holds true for our spiritual protection as well. We must be able to ‘wear’ the truth of who God is if we are going to be able to stand at all in the battles we encounter.
With apologies to those who hold that truth is a relative thing, the truth of God is all encompassing and unchanging. God is who He says He is and does what He promises to do.
The truth is that Jesus is the Savior of the world; there is no other way to heaven accept through His death and resurrection. This has to be firmly buckled into our being if we are to put on the rest of the armor of God.
The breastplate of righteousness then attaches to the belt of truth. A soldier’s breastplate protected his vital organs from harm. This piece of godly armor does the same for us. Righteousness, a term that sometimes gets thrown around in Christendom, simply means to be in right standing with God. The position of being righteous in God’s eyes is necessary because He is perfect and without sin. I, for one, am not. The bible says He imputes righteousness to believers and I could never hope to be in His presence if He didn’t. Because of this breastplate He provides, I am protected from His wrath. God hates sin; the breastplate of righteousness keeps me shielded from the eternal consequences of it because He provides it to those who have put their faith in Him.
Verse 15 of Ephesians Chapter 6 then tells us that our feet are fitted with readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. I love the fact that this is fitted to each of us personally. God’s peace, which we cannot fully grasp, is tailor made in such a way by the Master that even though we don’t understand it, we can live and move about with the assurance of the peace that salvation brings.
Once our shoes are on, we are to take up the shield of faith because by carrying it we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. The Roman soldier’s shield was curved in such a way that things would bounce off it. As we carry our shield of faith, the lies and deceptions our enemy throws at us will also be deflected, bringing us no harm.
With our bodies now protected, we are instructed to put on the helmet of salvation. Helmets, of course, are designed to protect the head. The helmet of salvation does the same in a spiritual sense. By donning it, we are to keep in the forefront of our mind the salvation God has given us. By staying mindful of the of the grace of God that has been poured out on us, we are better able to stay focused on Him. As we go through our days in this way, we are far less likely to fall victim to wrong thinking of the deceitfulness of the world around us.
As we are now fully clothed in the armor of God, we are then to pick up the only weapon we need, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). Much as a sword was the common weapon of the foot soldier in Paul’s day, the word of God is for us. However, this sword has no equal. In fact, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews describes it thus: The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), God’s infallible Word is unmatched by any other weapon or tool. It contains the very essence of God, making it supreme to all things. What weapon would we possibly want to carry in its place?
Paul concludes this teaching of the full armor of God by reminding us all that once clothed in it, we must never forget to pray. The list of what we could pray about is endless, but in this context, I would recommend praying to have awareness of the battles going on around us, and the wisdom to now when to engage the enemy and when to wait for re-enforcements. It is then a very good idea to be praying for others that are on the battlefront, that they too are fully protected and moving within the will of God.
There you have it, my friends. The full armor of God. As was recommended to me years ago, I pass on to you. Get into the practice of thinking about putting on this armor every day. As you do, consider what each piece represents and how God has supplied it for you and the specific battles and struggles you are up against. Remember, He who has made this armor is perfect. What He makes is also perfect and perfectly molded to fit your needs. All that is left is for us to put it on.
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
Many of us are familiar with Footprints. It hangs in many offices and fellowship halls. It serves as a reminder that God keeps His promise to never leave nor forsake us, no matter how tough the going gets.
Like many things I get familiar with, however, the purpose of this poem gets put into the back of my mind. I may see it on a wall, but won’t stop to read it because I already know what it says.
I caught myself walking by Footprints the other day as I hurried to my next appointment. Allow me to tell you what happened next. I recognized (and more unusually) listened to the still, small voice of God telling me to stop and look at it. I did. The words were the same as always, yet something appeared to me that never had before.
The premise of this beautiful piece is that God carries us Himself when we can no longer carry on. I have known this truth in my life and have witnessed it many times in the lives of others.
Here’s what grabbed my attention like I had never seen this before: The depth of the Lord’s footprint never changes. Regardless of how much of our burdens He collectively carries, He is not slowed in any way. Also, His gait never changes. The stride remains consistent. He carries our burdens, never having to stop and re-adjust the load.
The Lord can, does and will carries us along. The question becomes, why don’t we let Him?
Did you make some New Year Resolutions as 2018 turned into 2019? As I write this on January 7th, 2019, I hope you are still going strong if you did. Unfortunately, statistics on long-term completion of these types of plans aren’t cause for much hope. My own experience with ‘New Me’ in the New Year resolutions have helped compile the negative numbers. Diets, exercise regimens and pronouncements to get and stay in touch with family members have all faded, usually before January becomes February. I can readily relate to any of you who have experienced these same types of short-comings.
As I mulled over my dismal record of changing negative behaviors in my life, I recalled something the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans. If you have read any of my stuff in the past, you may have recognized I use the New International Version in my studies. This is my go-to translation, but that doesn’t keep me from reading others (something I highly recommend to all my Bible reading friends).
By doing this, I found what I needed to read this time in The Message, an easy to read, paraphrased version of the Bible. The verses I read from the letter to the Romans are rendered like this in it: I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. (The Message; Romans 7:18-19)
This description fits me to a T! I feel a need to change something in me, whatever it is, as a new year looms. I then start, usually with great enthusiasm and not a little hoopla, that This Time I am going to do this! I have neither learned from, or have simply forgotten my past mistakes, making success with this year’s resolutions a certainty.
As noted above, my decision to make a change for the better turns out to be flimsy. Whatever storm of upset or disappointment comes my way knocks all the wind out of my gung-ho start. Before long, it’s only a month (or weeks) into the new year and the old ways don’t seem so bad anymore as I slip comfortably back into them.
I know I am not alone in failing to keep New Year Resolutions. I’m confident that as you read this, you can relate to my struggles. It leaves the question: What to do with this information? The first two ideas that came to me are negative ones that I don’t advise anyone to take, like maybe I just won’t try to change anything will be my new plan. At least that way I only have to deal with the consequences of what my poor choices bring me as opposed to acknowledging another failure on top of going back to the original activity.
Second, and worse still, my warped mind has fantasized about making resolutions that will be easy to keep. For example, this year I will gain weight. That’s easy for me, and I have a long track record of success. Pass the cookies and ice cream please! Or perhaps I will resolve to continue to avoid exercise; another area of strength, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Thankfully, God’s Word is having a greater influence on my decision-making process these days than my ‘poor me, I just can’t do it’ whining is. The verses we are considering today are truly helpful. First, they identify our struggle; we want to do better, but we are largely unable to create these changes on our own. They go on to explain why this is: Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
With the understanding that something is broken inside of me that is causing my struggle(s), I’m then left with two distinct courses of action: Do nothing or do something about it.
I don’t recommend the first option. Having tried it, nothing positive comes from it. Lamenting that I can’t change (and adding, ‘No matter how hard I try,’ for sympathy), is really just giving up. With this mind-set, I can rationalize to my heart’s content and wallow in self-pity until December comes again and enough guilt kicks in telling me to try, try again. It is the perfect storm of a cycle I cannot break on my own.
Which leads to the highly recommended other option: making the change (yes singular, change) necessary to break the pattern. It’s a simple solution, but necessarily an easy one; especially if pride prevents us from admitting our helplessness.
The answer is this: Have some humble pie; it has no calories and it will open the door of your heart and mind to receiving the perfect help that is always available. I speak of course of our Loving God, who wants us to enjoy our relationship with Him to the fullest. It starts by realizing He has to be the priority in this. When you do that, many other things that have been out of alignment in your life will begin to straighten out.
As always, Jesus says it best. In Chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains to a crowd of people that God the Father knows of all their concerns and is more than able to meet all their needs. The Lord sums this all up by saying, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV)
God will indeed give you the desires of your heart, so long as your priorities are in proper order: God first, everything else after that! This is how many before us have learned to overcome the difficulties in their lives. Trusting Jesus for salvation, as awesome as that is, only starts the life God has for us. When we can humble ourselves to let Him have control over all the aspects of our lives, the need for a New Year Resolution becomes obsolete. May we all experience this wonderful change that only God can orchestrate. Then we won’t have to swear off destructive, non-healthy behaviors, but instead ask only for more of Him in our life. That is truly being done with the old to be filled with the new!
Before we dive into Part 2, allow me to thank everyone who takes the time to read/comment on the thoughts I share. It warms my heart that you would choose to spend some of your precious time with me. As always, your thoughts and constructive criticism are welcome. I only want to honor God in this venue; any suggestions you might have to help me do so will be greatly appreciated.
In Part 1 of this series we looked at the first three verses of the 23rd Psalm. In them we discovered God describing His caring relationship toward us as a shepherd tending to his flock. This truly is awe inspiring when we consider it is the Creator of everything who extends to each of us individually His care, guidance and protection.
This time let’s consider verse 4 (if you have a bible nearby it may be helpful to re-read all six verses of the psalm first). There is a big change when we reach verse 4. David, the author, is no longer talking about the Great Shepherd, he is talking to Him!
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4 NIV)
Verse 4 begins with the recognition of the darkness that often engulfs us in this life. The shadow can refer to physical death and the sadness it brings, or any other challenge in our life that wants to turn our attention away from God. Grief can certainly be a culprit, just as disappointment and discouragement can be as well.
One of the important things to remember, especially when sadness and loss want to overwhelm you is that Lord, as your personal Good Shepherd, never leaves you. The times in my life when I couldn’t/wouldn’t sense His presence was because I allowed circumstances to interfere with my awareness of Him. One of the many awesome characteristics of our Shepherd is His omnipresence, He is always everywhere all the time. I can’t explain it, I just know it to be true through faith.
Much as the psalmist now recognizes the personal presence of the Lord, we must too. Acknowledging His presence doesn’t mean we simply bury our heads in the sand with regard to our pain. To the contrary, being aware of the loving guidance of our Shepherd ought to encourage us to open our hearts to Him. Verse 4 states that I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Here is another key point for us: We are to walk through this valley. In other words, keep moving! Don’t get stagnant and wallow in a pool of self-pity. Yes, the loss and pain you feel hurts. Let it hurt, but don’t allow yourself to get comfortable in your pain.
We need to then find the way that works best for us to deal with our hurt or loss. The best example of how to do this can be found in what David wrote next; I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Fearing no evil tells us to have complete trust in God, that His very presence as our Shepherd is the balm we need for our wounds. His rod and His staff comfort us as well. These are the tools the shepherd used to protect his flock from danger. The rod was a club used to beat back predators. The staff was used to guide the sheep along the right path and was also used at days end to count each sheep as it passed into the pen.
For us to know this level of godly care, we must allow the imagery of the shepherd protecting and caring for his flock to bring us comfort. Our Great Shepherd knows exactly how to guide us so that we can live in His peace. He can care for every wound we might receive as we occasionally veer off the path He makes for us. It is this level of personal care that only God could extend to each of us.
If you are aware of your personal Shepherd’s presence today, I rejoice with you! If, however, you are not in that place, I gently remind you of how the Lord feels about the sheep that have wondered: He leaves the ninety-nine in safety to go retrieve the one missing. Why? Because it’s personal; to Him as well as us.
Why? Those who have spent any time around a three-year old have heard this many times. It seems to be a nearly unending cycle as each explanation is greeted with yet another ‘why?’ No matter how thorough or correct your previous answer, it never quite satisfies the inquisitive toddler.
In some ways and to some extent, we can all be like this youngster, especially when we are faced with the reality of bad things happening to good people. Why did this or that happen? They didn’t deserve that. Why is it, that good folks are being subjected to random acts of nastiness? Similarly, we ask why did the non-smoker develop lung cancer or the health conscious person have a heart attack?
I’m not saying any of us are wrong in asking these types of questions, especially if the wrong in question is something that needs to be brought into the light of justice. I am also aware that by merely asking these questions, some people can begin to find an amount of healing from whatever has brought the question of why about. However, I am also aware of the opposite. If a person is in a place where all they do is ask the why question, seeking some definitive answer, the suffering involved remains an unbroken loop.
I am not putting myself above any of this. I certainly have asked this question often in the various seasons of my life when faced with difficult situations. If you’ve read of my struggle with God pertaining to my Dad’s long decline of health, you know how I felt. If ever there was a good guy who didn’t deserve his lot, it was him.
Blessedly, God ministered to me then in such a way at the end of my Dad’s life that I can not only empathize with people who are hurting, I can share the strength that God gave me so that they too can find the peace that He offers us all.
There are many places in the Bible where God makes His strength available to us. For today, let’s consider the Prophet Habakkuk. You will find this short book nestled between the writings of Nahum and Zephaniah toward the end of the Old Testament. Please take the time to read the three chapters of Habakkuk to familiarize/reacquaint with what he has to say.
This book is different from all the other prophetic books in that Habakkuk records just a discussion he has with God. He didn’t have a word given to him to speak to the people of that time nor did he proclaim some judgment of God on them, as so many of the other recorded prophets did. He simply lays out his case before God, asking why things are happening the way they are, and then he writes down what God says in answer to him. Habakkuk asked God the same type of ‘why’ questions that we still ask today.
See if some of what he said to God isn’t applicable today:
How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. (Habakkuk 1:2-3. Emphasis added)
As we are faced with the real question of why bad things are happening to good people in our day, let’s look at this conversation Habakkuk had with God. As we do, it is my hope we can all come to a better place of understanding of the answer to the many ‘whys’ in our lives.
The Expositor’s Commentary helps to explain what Habakkuk is saying: “Violence” denotes flagrant violation of moral law by which a person injures primarily one’s fellow human beings. Its underlying meaning is one of ethical wrong, of which physical brutality is only one possible expression.
These same types of things were happening in Habakkuk’s world that are in ours. The Prophet was looking for answers and went to the ultimate ‘source’ in hopes of finding them.
In response to the first set of why questions, God simply tells Habakkuk they He is going to do something amazing. It will be so wondrous that Habakkuk won’t be able to believe it. However, this ‘big picture’ answer doesn’t satisfy the prophet. He asks God again:
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Habakkuk 1:13 emphasis added)
In Chapter 2 God once again answers Habakkuk. This time God is speaks more plainly, telling the prophet he can be assured that those who do evil will meet their just reward at a future time.
Though this might not be the specific answer Habakkuk, or we, might want in our own personal circumstance, it is one that we can trust in. Habakkuk then shows us how we can do this in a way that can provide comfort in the face of delayed answers to our why questions. The key is to shift our primary focus from us and place it on God. Here’s how he did it:
LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)
By doing so, he takes strength in the greatness of God, whose fame reaches to heaven and whose mighty works are awe-inspiring. The Prophet recognizes that God is greater than any circumstance, and that keeping the focus on Him will allow Habakkuk to navigate the difficult times of life.
The same applies to us: We must transfer our primary focus from us and put it on God. This won’t magically make our problems go away, but it will give us a healthier perspective with which to see them. If we can acknowledge that God has always been in control, we can better accept that He still is, even when the stakes are personally high for us. This can allow us to gain trust in God’s providence.
This is the comfort God has made known to me. Though my specific requests may not have been answered in the way I thought were best, God has continued to show His faithfulness by the way He has chosen to do so. He is in control, whether I choose to see it or not. This includes my accepting that not all of my why questions will get answered. His past record is perfect, I can trust that His current and future handling of things will be as well!
I’ve been asked if I have a favorite Bible character. The answer is no, simply because during the various seasons and times of my life, different characteristics (both good and bad) of the folks mentioned in it have had deeper meaning to me. Jonah’s running from God, David’s sinning and Peter speaking without always thinking first have, like so many others, given me insight into my own faults and shortcomings. Likewise, the miracle of Bartimaeus receiving his sight and the transformation of Saul from being deadly opposed to Christ to Paul who goes all-in for Him have been powerful encouragements to me.
When asked if I have one particular account in the Bible that I cherish above all else, the answer is a resounding yes! It is the telling of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment and miraculous release found in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles: 16:16-34.
I encourage you to read it for yourself in its entirety, but for now here’s a brief description of the events. Paul and Silas were in Philippi spreading the news of Jesus Christ as Savior. They were thrown into prison after Paul upset some men as he cast a demon out of a slave girl these fellows were making money using.
Without trial, Paul and Silas were severely beaten and then put into the inner cell of a prison, their feet locked in stocks. Around midnight, and in spite of their pain and uncertainty of what was going to happen to them, they were singing songs of praise to God. The Bible then says that as they were, a powerful earthquake hit the area, so strong that the chains that bound them fell away.
It is what happens next that makes this account so deeply meaningful to me: Paul and Silas not only talk the jailor out of taking his life, but they present the salvation message to him! We are then told that this man and his whole family came to faith in Christ that night.
This all brings me to the point of the title of this entry: My Chains are Gone, now what? Many of you who regularly read these jottings know of my life of alcoholism. That chain held me completely in the dark and hopeless of any way out. The ‘earthquake’ in my experience was realizing the saving power of Jesus as I sat in a detox center. The chains of addiction fell away that day as I admitted my sins before Him and asked His forgiveness. I give Him all thanks and praise for it.
The journey I began those 27 years ago has led me to being an ordained minister. No one, myself at the top of the list, saw that one coming way back then! Though I was not instantly cast into a position of bearing the Good News like Paul and Silas were, I can still see the similarities in how God works. He removed my chains for me so that I would in turn work for Him. Because He chose to do this for me, I live with a peace that can only come from Him.
If He has removed the chains that bound you, won’t you join me in spreading His love that is so desperately needed in our hurting world. Share your story, take the time to invest in the lives of others so that relationships can be built. No matter what blessings you have received from the freedom granted you by God, there are greater ones still awaiting if you will only acknowledge the wonderful work God has done in/for you. These blessings probably won’t come in some material form. More likely it will be you realizing more deeply than ever how much God loves you.
The chains He removed from us make us uniquely qualified to help others find the freedom that only God can give. I would never for a second go back to the life, it you could call it that, that I was chained to. But today I remember how it was so that I can always remember the depths from which God saved me. My chains are gone. Today I willingly submit the life God transformed to Him, that He use me in ways that promote His freeing power to all who would accept it.