Courage in Troubled Times

imagesSome time ago, two Chinese women shared their father’s story with me. He was arrested in a roundup of house church members and given a choice—to deny Christ or go to jail. The man spent 20 years imprisoned for his faith.

I was moved to tears by this brother’s godly testimony. He understood that God was in control of his life, and that realization gave him the courage to please his Father regardless of the repercussions.

Romans 8:28 teaches that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love [Him].” But relying on that guarantee gets tough when we’re in the midst of trials. The first few words of the verse—“And we know” (emphasis added)—provide a hint about how Christians are to trust that the Lord will keep His promise. We can face adversity courageously when we make a habit of finding God’s fingerprints on prior situations in our life.

While God causes good to come from our experiences, He doesn’t necessarily initiate trials. Psalm 103:19 says, “His sovereignty rules over all”. Other forces are at work in the world, but the Father’s power reigns supreme. Satan may touch our life with pain, but only because the Lord allows him to do so. And God gives permission only when a situation fits His ultimate purpose.

Regardless of the tragedies we face, God’s commitment remains the same—He makes good out of bad, just as He has always done. Paul knew the promise was true, and so do I. Examine your life for evidence of the Lord at work, and you will be assured as well.

Welcome and Attached

search-1According to research conducted by the Barna Group, the holidays are tough for people who aren’t connected to faith communities or other civic groups. They feel isolated by experiences that bring others joy, such as giving gifts, singing carols and attending religious services and parties.

“In past decades,” writes George Barna, “there was an assumption that the holidays were a time when outsiders might explore church life. These days, however, churches and other religious institutions are not seen as safe or value-adding places by most outsiders. They see little reason to attend seasonal events, especially since those events often highlight their outsider status.”

This Christmas, how can you help someone feel welcome and “attached” at your church?

Gifts

searchGrandpa’s Christmas Story

Grandpa decided that shopping for Christmas presents had become too difficult.  All his grandchildren had everything they needed, so he decided to send them each a check.On each card he wrote:  ‘Happy Christmas, Grandpa’ ‘Buy your own present!’

Conclusion: Now, while Grandpa enjoyed the family festivities, he thought that his grandchildren were just slightly distant.  It preyed on his mind into the New Year.  Then one day he was sorting out his study and under a pile of magazines, he found a little pile of checks for his grandchildren.  He had completely forgotten to put them in with the Christmas cards.

A Warm Witty Short Christmas Story

It was the day after Christmas at St Peter and St Paul’s church in Borden, Kent, England. Father John, the vicar, was looking at the nativity scene outside when he noticed the baby Jesus was missing from the figures.

Immediately, Father John’s thoughts turned to calling in the local policeman but as he was about to do so, he saw little Nathan with a red wagon, and in the wagon was the figure of the little infant, Jesus.

Father John approached Nathan and asked him, ‘Well, Nathan, where did you get the little infant?’

Nathan looked up, smiled and replied, ‘I took him from the church.’

‘And why did you take him?’

With a sheepish grin, Nathan said, ‘Well, Father John, about a week before Christmas I prayed to Lord Jesus. I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas, I would give him a ride around the block in it.’

Tuesday With Karen

searchThe Most Perfect Gift
?The most perfect gift that’s ever been given,
Came from God’s righteous hand in Heaven;
He sent His only Son to die on Calvary’s cross,
Purchasing salvation, so no one would be lost!
?The most perfect gift that man has ever seen,
Is the Saviour who came, our soul to redeem;
He came down to us, by way of a virgin birth,
The most awesome miracle seen upon earth!
?The most perfect gift that our life can receive,
Is our Redeemer, in whom we trust & believe;
His blood erases our sin & reservation in Hell,
Providing eternal life, making all things well!
?The most perfect gift we’ll ever know at all,
Is the Christ of Christmas, who started it all;
Without Him, we’d have no holiday season,
God sent His Son to us for that very reason!
**Christmas 2016

Why Bethlehem? 

searchby John Piper

Bethlehem is scarcely worth counting among the clans of Judah, yet God chooses to bring his magnificent Messiah out of this town. Why? One answer is that the Messiah is of the lineage of David and David was a Bethlehemite. That’s true, but it misses the point of verse two. The point of verse two is that Bethlehem is small–not that it is great because David was born there. (That’s what the scribes missed in Matthew 2:6). God chooses something small, quiet, out of the way, and does something there that changes the course of history and eternity.

Why? Because when he acts this way we can’t boast in the merits or achievements of men but only in the glorious mercy of God. We can’t say, “Well, of course he set his favor on Bethlehem, look at the human glory Bethlehem has achieved!” All we can say is, “God is wonderfully free; he is not impressed by our bigness; he does nothing in order to attract attention to our accomplishments; he does everything to magnify his glorious freedom and mercy.” …

God chose a stable so no innkeeper could boast, “He chose the comfort of my inn!” God chose a manger so that no wood worker could boast, “He chose the craftsmanship of my bed!” He chose Bethlehem so no one could boast, “The greatness of our city constrained the divine choice!” And he chose you and me, freely and unconditionally, to stop the mouth of all human boasting. This is the point of Romans 11 and this is the point of Micah 5.

The deepest meaning of the littleness and insignificance of Bethlehem is that God does not bestow the blessings of the Messiah–the blessings of salvation–on the basis of our greatness or our merit or our achievement. He does not elect cities or people because of their prominence or grandeur or distinction. When he chooses he chooses freely, in order to magnify the glory of his own mercy, not the glory of our distinctions. So let us say with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest!” Not glory to us. We get the joy. He gets the glory.

Overcoming Despair

thChristmas can be a difficult time for people who are hurting or grieving. In the 1860s, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had reason to despair: America was at war with itself, his son was severely wounded in battle and his wife died in a fire. The first Christmas after his wife’s death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly

sad are all holidays.”

Three years later, on Christmas Day 1864, Longfellow penned a poem that later became the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The lyrics move from despair to hope — and, thanks to Jesus, so can we.

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play

And mild and sweet their songs repeat

Of peace on earth good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head

There is no peace on earth I said

For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to men!

Where’s Your Security?

th-1

When A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted in 1965, religious references were unheard of on television. Yet the show’s climax features the Christmas story verbatim. As Linus begins reciting Luke 2, he’s clutching his ever-present blue blanket. Yet, as pastor Jason Soroski points out, Linus drops it right as he utters the words “fear not” (Luke 2:10).

Soroski believes the timing is intentional and that “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schulz sends a simple, brilliant message. “The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears,” Soroski writes. It “frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves. The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to him instead.”

His Name is Wonderful

imgresAnd His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Certain verses of Scripture leap to our minds as we draw close to Christmas. In the majestic titles of Jesus found in the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6, we find Him to be everything we need. We find Him not only the “reason for the season” but the name that should be on our lips every day as God puts us in touch with others over the Christmas holidays.

Who doesn’t need to know the Wonderful Counselor? Who doesn’t need to know this One who can offer advice when they are facing a difficult situation? This One who has the answers for their marriage and family dilemmas?

Who doesn’t need to know the Mighty God? You certainly know people who are dealing with a rebellious teenager or an aging parent or a sick child or an impossible job situation. When was the last time you told them how strong the arms of your God are? Perhaps you need to be reminded of how mighty God is by reading Isaiah 40.

Who doesn’t need to know the Eternal Father? Who doesn’t need the sense of hope that comes from knowing that—although we may suffer for a while—we have a God who dwells in eternity, which means that there is more to life than what we see around us?

Who doesn’t need to know the Prince of Peace? In a culture of road rage and long lines and short fuses, with strained relationships and simmering discontentment, who isn’t starving for deeper, more-lasting peace? Who doesn’t need to know why even the most desirable possessions and experiences leave them feeling unsatisfied? Who doesn’t need a peace that passes understanding? Who doesn’t need more of the Prince of Peace and His peace in their home?

This Christmas, be watching for people who need to know Jesus for who He is.

Troubles roll in

fires in Gatlinburgimagesby Charles Swindoll

You know why I love the Bible? Because it’s so real. There’s a lot of fog rolling into Job’s life, just as in our lives. On this earth nobody “lives happily ever after.” That line is a huge fairy tale. You’re living in a dream world if you’re waiting for things to be “happy ever after.” That’s why we need grace. Marriage doesn’t get easier, it gets harder. So we need grace to keep it together. Work doesn’t get easier, it gets more complicated, so we need grace to stay on the job. Childrearing doesn’t get easier. You who have babies one, two, three years old—you think you’ve got it tough. Wait until they’re fourteen. Or eighteen. Talk about needing grace!

I’ll be painfully honest here. If I called the shots, I would have relieved Job five minutes after he lost everything. I’d have brought all his kids back to life the very next day. I would have immediately re-created everything he lost, and I would really deal with those sorry comforters! I’d have cut the lips off of Eliphaz after about three sentences. And if that didn’t stop him, I’d take the neck. I mean, who needs that clod? But you know what? You would never mature under my kind of treatment. You’d just enjoy the comfort. We’d all go to picnics then on a motorcycle ride and have tons of fun. That’s my style. Which explains why Cynthia says to me, “Honey, if everybody handled things like you wanted, all we’d bring to the party is balloons. Nobody would think to bring the food.” As usual, she’s right.

So, the fog’s rolled in. As all hell breaks loose, grace takes a hike. Welcome to the human race, Job. But the wonderful old song says,

Thru many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.1

That’s the ticket. Even in the fog, grace will lead us home.

Slow Down

imgresPart of the solution is to pursue the benefits of solitude and silence found in times of obscurity. For the first time in seven years, I took six weeks off one summer. No preaching, no writing, no counseling, no speaking engagements . . . no nothing. I focused on slowing down and refilling my soul with the deep things of the Lord. I prayed, I sang, I studied, I walked, I fished, I stayed quiet, and I sat thinking about and reevaluating my life. It was magnificent!

You may not have that much time available. You may have only three days, or perhaps two weeks. If you’re not careful, you’ll quickly fill those days with things to do, places to go, and people to see. Resist that temptation to crowd out the Lord. What a perfect opportunity to carve out time to be alone, just you, the family, and the Lord. Computer off. Fax unplugged. Cell phone tossed in the ocean.

Instead of speeding up, slow down and rethink. I don’t want you to miss any of these words. I’ve thought about them for years. Instead of speeding up, let’s find ways to slow down and rethink. Taking time to discover what really matters is essential if we’re going to lift the curse of superficiality that shadows our lives. Don’t wait for the doctor to tell you that you have six months to live. Long before anything that tragic becomes a reality, you should be growing roots deep into the soil of those things that truly matter.

Once Paul left Damascus and slipped into Arabia, he began taking inventory. There were no “To Do Before Sundown” lists. No “Six Fast Steps to Success” or other self-help scrolls clumped under his arms. He was alone. He walked slower. He watched sand swirl over the stones. He thought deeply about his past. He relived what he had done. He returned to what he had experienced on the road to Damascus. He considered each new dawn a gift from the Lord, the perfect opportunity to rework his priorities and rethink his motives. It takes time, of course . . . lots of time. But time spent in solitude prepares us for the inevitable challenges that come at us from the splintered age in which we live.

Slow down. Sit still. Be quiet. Rethink.