You’re Not As Alone as You Think

This is part 4 of the series “God’s love is the Greatest Love.” For the previous post, click here.

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“But who knows what she spoke to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all her life seemed shrinking, and the walls of her bower closing in about her, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in?”

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Loneliness has a way of seeping into the soul uninvited, slowly sapping our stores of joy until a gaping emptiness remains. Loneliness assaults us in the dead of night or kicks us in the gut as we jostle our way through the madding crowd. It metastasizes through our hearts and minds, increasing our susceptibility to temptation.

“I just wish someone understood…”

“Not a single person has walked in my shoes.”

“I don’t have anyone to talk to…”

“Even my wife doesn’t get it…”

“Everyone I see on Facebook is out having a good time, but I don’t have any close friends.”

“Since my husband betrayed me, I can’t trust anyone ever again.”

“I don’t think God hears my prayers anymore…”

Do any of these phrases sound familiar? Have you ever felt misunderstood or forsaken? Continue reading

The Love of our Heavenly Father

This is part 2 of the series “God’s love is the Greatest Love.” For the previous post, click here.

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One of the greatest tragedies for a young child is to grow up without a good father. For one thing, fathers provide protection, establish balance, and are often essential to a child’s understanding of how men and women should behave toward one another.

Fathers are a vital part of the family unit.

In ages past, fathers often treated their children as though they ought to be seen and not heard, rarely showing affection and often remaining aloof. This explains why many of the old preachers and pastors framed God as wrathful and distant. In our current culture, many hear “God is our Father” and do not believe He actually exists or cares because their own fathers are likewise absent or uncaring.

How we view earthly fathers directly affects how we relate to our Heavenly Father. Continue reading

Recounting God’s gifts

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The Thanksgiving holiday fast approaches here in the United States. Thanksgiving recipes abound, turkeys are running for cover, and plans are being made in earnest for that fourth Thursday of November. I love the trend of the past few years of posting one thing to be thankful for each day in November, as it puts our hearts in tune with the blessings God has given us.

Can you think of 30 things to be thankful for?
Continue reading

Day 28: Hope

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

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From The Return of the King, New Line Cinema.

An innumerable horde of creatures besieged the city of Minas Tirith. Dark clouds fill the sky. Ominous pounding reverberates through the courtyard as the orcs and Uruk-hai attempt to penetrate the large doors. The situation is desperate. The men quake with fear but stand ready to fight. The stench of death surrounds them. Despair is palpable.

Pippin, the hobbit, turns to Gandalf the wizard and says, “I didn’t think it would end this way.”

Gandalf looks kindly at the hobbit and remarks, “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”

Pippin’s face reflects his confusion. “What? Gandalf? See what?”

“White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

“Well that isn’t so bad,” Pippin says.

Gandalf smiles. “No. No it isn’t.”

In that dark and desperate moment, Gandalf gave Pippin a glimmer of hope—an expectation of better things.

In another scene, the Rohirrim (the cavalry) appear on the hillside. As the horses begin to move forward into the fray, rays of sunshine break through the gloom as though hope for victory has finally come.

That particular series of books and movies overflows with scenes contrasting light vs darkness, and despair vs hope. On some level, we can all relate to these moments. How often have you been at the brink of utter ruin, only to be saved from destruction? Has life ever seemed purposeless? meaningless?

For the Christian, we remember that life for us was aimless before Christ. Without Him, we faced death (and life) without hope. In our cushy country, most of us have never faced starvation or persecution—at least not since the end of World War II. There is this sense that all will be well. There is confidence that the government will protect and provide. Either that or we’ll pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That’s misplaced confidence.

What would happen if all those “supports” were suddenly destroyed? In what or in whom would people place their hope?

We have an unshakeable hope. A confident expectation for better things. And it isn’t here in this decaying world!

What is the Christian’s hope?

A hope that defies circumstance.

One of the things that perplexed the Romans during the rise of Christianity was the peace with which the Christians faced death. No matter how much they persecuted, threatened, tortured and imprisoned them, the Christians would not renounce their faith nor beg for mercy. They had confidence that God would deliver their soul if not their body.

The Romans hoped that persistent persecution would destroy the church, but it didn’t. It flourished! The people saw hope reflected in the lives of those Christians and they were hungry to have that same confidence.

Hope that anchors our soul.

When a ship lowers its anchor, it’s very hard for that ship to go wandering off with the tide. It may move around a little in its place, but the anchor keeps it from being carried off by the wind and waves.

Our hope is like that anchor. When circumstance and the deceitfulness of the world push us about, our hope holds us in place so we do not wander away from God.

The Hebrew writer refers to hope as an anchor in the following passage:

“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

‭‭~ Hebrews‬ ‭6:17-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Hope in God’s Faithfulness and steadfast love.

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations‬ ‭3:19-24‬ ‭ESV

The above passage is one of my favorites. It eloquently expresses why we can trust in the Lord: he is faithful, his love is steadfast, his mercy never ends. Do you know anybody like that on earth? Have your friends ever let you down? What about family? The church?

Humans will always fall short. We aren’t perfect. Our minds get overwhelmed, our bodies ache and break, our emotions take over. God isn’t frail like us. He is sure, strong and steady. He will never leave us or forsake us.

Placing your confidence in God is a secure choice. We can trust Him. We can have hope because of his trustworthiness.

Hope for eternal peace.

This world is essentially a foreign country for us. It’s a place where we are forged. God wants to know if we really love Him. He wants us all to be with Him in heaven, but many don’t want anything to do with him. They want their way. They want to satisfy themselves.

I was “they” until I decided to put my hope in something better. It’s easy to fall into the rhythm of the world and make a home here—especially when circumstances are wonderful. But with each new day I have to remind myself that this too shall pass—the good and the bad. Every day. 

My hope is in a place where my spouse and my children won’t be threatened by thugs. My hope is in a place where those who’ve gone before me are waiting. My hope is in a place where I will finally be face to face with my creator, surrounded by his perfect glory. I’ll get to see Jesus, the one who saved me from eternal death.

I have hope. And I am so thankful to God for giving me a confident expectation for better things.

Do you have this hope?

 

Day 27: Love

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

hands heartsAs I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my remaining posts will focus on some of the greatest lights of all. These lights illuminate our world in ways that make it possible to thrive.

In the English language, there is a four-letter word bandied about so casually it has lost its value. I’m not talking about a profane four-letter word; I’m referring to the word “love.”

The Ancient Greeks got it right. They had four different words for love (though I recently read that there are actually six!) The most commonly translated Greek words for love are eros, storge, philia, and agape.

If you are unfamiliar with these terms, I will summarize them briefly in this post. If you want a bit more detail, you can read a brief summary on Wikipedia. C.S. Lewis also wrote a book called The Four Loves, but I have not read it. (It’s on my book list).

Greek Words for love:

eros: “love, mostly of the sexual passion”

storge: “love, affection… especially of parents and children”

philia: “love, affectionate regard, friendship, usually between equals”

agape: “brotherly love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God.”

All these loves have their place, do they not? I love (philia) my friends, but not in the same way I love (storge) my children.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Where would I be without love?”

Love in all it’s forms can be taken for granted. Let’s take a moment to consider the different forms of love in our lives.

Parent-child love

God established the family for many purposes. Familial relationships teach us how to love (at least they should!). I remember thinking it odd that there was a passage in Titus that commanded older women to “encourage younger women to love their husbands, to love their children…” On the face of it, there were a lot of arranged marriages in that time and a woman would have to “learn” love for her husband (and he his wife). But loving their children? Shouldn’t that be instinctive?

If you are a parent, you may be chuckling a bit, because that may not be a surprise.

There are two things to consider. First, women have been aborting, neglecting and abandoning their children for centuries. It’s a bit inconceivable to the majority, but many people love themselves more than their children. Their children are burdensome, inconvenient. Second, parents don’t always use the best judgement in training children. Discipline and training is (or, at least it should be) an act of love. It isn’t fun or pleasurable to punish a child, but it is for their own good. The exhortation in Titus is teach the younger women how to show love. Mothers and Fathers must learn to love their children in the right way. As we raise our children, we gain insight into how God loves us. We, as parents, ought to be shaped by the experience to become more selfless.

In turn, children learn to love their parents. At first it may be a selfish love, but hopefully, over time it grows into an abiding affection. I have seen many people who were once children turn around and care for their aging parents with great love and sacrifice.

I am thankful for this kind of love. Where would I be without the love of my parents or my children? What an ugly place the world would be without familial love!

Friends, siblings

As we grow older, we learn to make friends. Being a friend takes work, but how lonely would we be without our friends? The Bible says a lot about friendship, particularly in the book of Proverbs.

“a friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.”

The world seems to think that friends stick by each other even when they are in the wrong, but friends don’t let friends do life-threatening or soul-threatening things. I do not like telling a friend they are in the wrong. When I have done it in the past, I’ve lost sleep, gotten stomachaches and even cried.  But a good friend looks out for the best interest of their friend. That is genuine friendship love.

Marriage

The marriage law is one of the oldest laws in existence. God intended marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. Unfortunately, people aren’t content to have things God’s way. There is almost a longing to twist what God wants because it is inconvenient or challenging. Marriage is another relationship that shapes us. Marriage is supposed to be a covenant of committed love. It tests each partner to hold fast through good times and bad. It requires self-sacrifice. It teaches us how to love sacrificially. There is a reason that Paul uses marriage as a comparison between Christ and His church. Jesus laid down his life for the Church and in so doing he demonstrated His great love for us.

My life would be completely different had I not met my other half eleven years ago. It’s been a blessing to enjoy our lives together and raise children together. My spouse has taught me so much and I give thanks everyday for our marriage.

Where would we be without the love that comes through marriage?

God’s Love

The Bible says everything far better than I can, so let’s start with these two passages:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man;
though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

~ Romans 5.6-8, NASB

and

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

~ 1 John 4.8-11, ESV

Let me ask you, parents: If your best friend was dying of an incurable disease and only the blood of your child would save them, would you give up your child? I can guess the answer would be no. You may love your friend, but you don’t want to sacrifice your child… especially if they are your only child.

What if your enemy was dying? Would you give up your life or the life of your child? Again, I’m confident that the answer would be another resounding no.

The problem is, we all choose at some point in our life that we don’t want to walk with God. The only way we can come to Him is through sacrifice. This is a difficult concept for us to understand today because animal sacrifice/blood sacrifice is so archaic. Yet, when there is a war and there is some wrong that needs righting, how is it solved? Oh sure, on occasion countries can talk things out, but history has shown us that it typically leads to war. Someone (usually thousands of someones) make a sacrifice to protect the innocent and the weak. They shed their blood and put their lives on the line. Redemption from evil never comes without a price. It’s a constant pattern.

So, how much does God love us?

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.

~ John 15.12-14, NASB

Where would we be without the love of Christ?

What does He ask in return? He asks us to love Him and to love each other. It all seems to come back to love.

Are you thankful for love? The love of family, the love of friends, the love of a spouse… the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ? What greater gift can we receive than to be loved? What greater gift can we give than to love in turn?

Love is one of the greatest lights in a world that is ripped asunder by hate.

I am thankful for agape, storge and philia.

I am thankful for love.

Day 7: The opportunity to worship

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

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One of the things we take for granted is our opportunity to worship in peace. While there have been incidents with lunatics walking into church buildings and opening fire, that is a relatively rare occurrence. We do not have to worship in catacombs as the early Christians did. We needn’t fear being dragged into an arena to be consumed by lions. We are free to worship every week. If you’ve read about Corrie Ten Boom or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you know that during World War II, they were locked in concentration camps and prisons. It’s hard to go worship with other Christians when you are imprisoned. They still found ways to encourage and worship, but they were still isolated.

Saying we are thankful is one thing; showing we are thankful is quite another. If we regularly put off going to worship, are we thankful for the opportunity or do we take it for granted? Let’s make it our aim to be there as often as we are able.

Today, as we go before the Lord in worship, let’s do the following:

Give thanks for the opportunity to be surrounded by others who love God.

Give thanks for Jesus’ sacrifice that brings us salvation and freedom as we take the Lord’s Supper.

Give thanks for your brothers and sisters in Christ who fellowship with you.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!

Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

~ Psalm‬ ‭100:4-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Day 3: I am thankful for God’s steadfast love.

This post is part of “30 days of Giving Thanks” To read more within this series, click here.

his steadfast love endures

For the past two days, I have been listing reasons why I am thankful for a particular thing, but today I’d like to do something a little different. I am thankful for God’s unfailing love, but there are such a vast array of scriptures on this attribute of God. It would take me a long time to discuss all the aspects of God’s great love. Even then, I’d surely miss something. So for this post, we are going to focus on one particular passage: Psalm 107.

What does it mean to be steadfast? It is defined as “resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.”  Does that describe God’s love? Yes! His love is unwavering, unfailing, and dutifully firm.

He is faithful even when we are faithless. He is merciful when we deserve only justice.

Who knows how many millions of words we shall speak and write in our short lifetimes. What percentage of those words will be spent praising and speaking of our Lord? How often do we give thanks for His great love? It should be in my daily prayers, but often forget to thank Him for his love. I thank Him for his grace, my salvation, and the blessings of this life, but I need to remember to give thanks specifically for His unfailing, steadfast love.

Psalm 107:

Verses 1-3

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
    from the east and from the west,
    from the north and from the south.

Has the Lord redeemed you through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ? Give thanks!

Have people come to serve the Lord from all over the world? Give thanks!

(I want you to notice something as we look at Psalm 107. There are two repetitive themes or phrases: “they cried to the Lord—He delivered” and “thank the Lord for his steadfast love.”)

The Lord shows His love in the Wilderness.

Verses 4-9

Some wandered in desert wastes,
    finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
    their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
    and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

Have you ever been in a “wilderness period” in your life? It could be a time when you are in a holding pattern or a time when there was no one to worship with. It’s a lonely time, but one in which we become more dependent on the Lord. We understand more fully the breadth and width and height of his great love. Give thanks for those times!

When you sought the Lord and longed for Him, did He leave you hanging? No. He satisfies us with his unfailing love (Psalm 90:14).

The Lord showed His love while we were still sinners.

Verses 10-16

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    prisoners in affliction and in irons,
for they had rebelled against the words of God,
    and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
    they fell down, with none to help.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
    and burst their bonds apart.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he shatters the doors of bronze
    and cuts in two the bars of iron.

So many pictures come to mind in the above verses, but I will focus on this: We were prisoners of sin and darkness. Through Christ, the bonds of sin were broken. Thank God for His Son and freedom from sin!

It also brings to my mind this song:

“My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.
My God, my Savior has ransomed me.
And like a flood, his mercy rains.
Unending love.
Amazing Grace.”

~ Chris Tomlin

Give thanks! We are set free. We have been given mercy instead of justice!

The Lord shows love through healing.

Verses 17-22

Some were fools through their sinful ways,
    and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
    and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
    and delivered them from their destruction.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
    and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!

This section brings to mind the Israelites in the wilderness. They complained to God about their plight in the wilderness and he sent fiery snakes. Many died and were near death. They asked Moses to pray to God to remove the fiery serpents, and the Lord did. How often does our greed or our complaint bring greater trouble? More often than we care to admit! And yet, God is patient with us because, like a good Father, he loves his children and remembers that we are but dust.

I also like this section: “offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” How much time do we spend speaking and singing of all the wonderful things God has done for us in this life compared to how often we complain about all the things going wrong? I am going to try something and I hope you will join me. (If you are around me regularly, please remind me of this if I start to grumble about some inconvenience). When you get ready to complain about something, find something to be thankful for instead. Instead of grumbling complaints, let’s shout our blessings.

The Lord shows His love in the storms of life.

Verses 23-32

Some went down to the sea in ships,
    doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the Lord,
    his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
    which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
    their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
    and were at their wits’ end.[b]
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
    and he brought them to their desired haven.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
    and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

What New Testament account does this remind you of? Read Luke 8.22-25, Mark 4.35-41 or Matthew 8.23-27. I will put Luke’s account here:

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he [Jesus] fell asleep.

And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!”

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

Luke 8.22-25, ESV

Is Jesus in the boat with you? Is He dwelling in your life? When the storms of life are raging about you, does He bring tranquility to your heart? Give thanks for the peace that passes understanding! I am so thankful for these accounts and these Psalms because life so much like an ocean—unpredictable and ever-changing. Sometimes there is calm and peace; other times the waves threaten to crush us. Only God has power over our lives. I can have peace knowing He is in control. I am thankful that He loves me so much and brings such reassurance.

The shows us love by providing for us.

Verses 33-43

He turns rivers into a desert,
    springs of water into thirsty ground,
a fruitful land into a salty waste,
    because of the evil of its inhabitants.
He turns a desert into pools of water,
    a parched land into springs of water.
And there he lets the hungry dwell,
    and they establish a city to live in;
they sow fields and plant vineyards
    and get a fruitful yield.
By his blessing they multiply greatly,
    and he does not let their livestock diminish.

When they are diminished and brought low
    through oppression, evil, and sorrow,
he pours contempt on princes
    and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
but he raises up the needy out of affliction
    and makes their families like flocks.
The upright see it and are glad,
    and all wickedness shuts its mouth.

Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
    let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

Be wise with me and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

Where would we be if God did not love us? What would life be like without God? So many people think that bad things happen because God doesn’t care. They are looking at things backwards. The terrible things of this life happen for a reason. The first reason—there is evil all around us in the world. Countries full of poverty are usually destitute because of the greed of other men. Women are raped because of the lust of men. Men are killed because of the violence of humanity. What about “natural disasters?” Let me ask you this: is this world meant to be our eternal home? Natural disasters remind us of God’s great power and our powerlessness. When has a scientist ever stopped a storm? The destruction, the brokenness, the heartache remind us that this is temporary. They draw us closer to a far better country with a ruler who is always fair and just. A King, a father who loves us with an unfailing love.

Give thanks to the Lord. His steadfast love endures forever.