Bad news?

And all my life, You have been faithful
All my life, You have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God
*

We’ve all been on the receiving end of bad news at some point or another, right?

“You’ve been a great employee, but we have to cut costs. Sorry.”

“Just calling to let you know about your lab tests.”

“There’s been an accident.”

So how do we react? At first, panic, desperation. Then sadness or depression. But, over the long haul, we pull ourselves up and begin to think clearly. Paul shows us by example that there’s something we can focus on to get us through the bad news times:

When he was on trial before King Agrippa, he recounted his earlier life, his conversion, his missionary efforts, and finally his arrest in Jerusalem, and he sums it all up by saying, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God” (Acts 26:22).

He’s in trouble – again. This time he’s about to be sent to Rome to stand trial before Caesar, an emperor known to throw Christians into dungeons or to the lions. And, what is Paul thinking about? The past. God’s faithfulness. God’s help in every situation.

If we are in distress today, we can do what Paul did: think about the times God has helped us in the past. Times when we’ve had bad news, and he came through. Times when we prayed and were flooded with peace. Then we ask him to do it again. He is faithful to his children and hears their cries for help.

“. . . you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. – Psalm 63:7

“The Goodness of God”, written by Ed Cash, Ben Fielding, Jason Ingram, Brian Johnson and Jenn Johnson, and published by Bethel Music

What was he thinking about?

“Calvary is the one objective, absolute, irrefutable proof of God’s love for us.” – Jerry Bridges

Jesus hung on the cross for a long time. In horrible agony, with time slowly passing as the minutes and hours wore on. What he was thinking as he chose to persist, even though he could have called the whole thing off? He was thinking about joy!

Hebrews tells us he endured because of the “joy set before him” – the joy of saving broken humans.

“I’m doing this for Peter though he argued that this wasn’t going to happen. He denied me multiple times last night, but I love him and want him to be with me forever.”

“I’m doing this for Thomas, too, even though he won’t understand right away. What amazing things he will do for my kingdom.”

“Oh, I’m doing this for Mary, whose heart is breaking right now. I can’t wait to let her know the rest of the story.”

It brought him joy to think about those he loved and about those who would come to know him in the centuries after his death and resurrection. Maybe my name came to his mind. Or yours.

We’ll never fully understand what Jesus did for us or why he was willing to do it. But it seems he had such great love for those who would believe that he wouldn’t quit. That’s who he is. He still doesn’t give up. He supports us in our struggle, encourages our faith, responds to our prayers, and stays with us no matter what. And that gives him joy.

“. . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2

Something new?

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C. S. Lewis

Are you facing something new in your life? A new relationship? Job? Baby? Class? Diagnosis? Neighborhood?

After Moses’ death, the Israelites were facing something new, too. They had been in the desert for 40 years and now were were camped on the eastern side of the Jordan River just waiting to cross and begin to claim the land God had promised. Joshua recognizes how scary this might be when he said, “you have not passed this way before.” (Joshua 3:4b)

There was a new leader to follow, a new river to cross, new land to take over, and new cultures to understand. So, God tells them, through Joshua, that he will show them the way. They just have to follow the priests who are carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

When we face something new in our lives, don’t we feel like that? We have left behind something familiar and comfortable. We haven’t done this thing before. How can we do it right? How can we succeed? Joshua’s message brings us comfort knowing that God realizes our fears. He knows we haven’t passed this way before, but he knows the way and tells us just to follow him.

And following God always brings the unexpected. The next thing the Israelites saw was the priests stepping into the Jordan River which was overflowing its banks. The rushing water stopped and the people were given a path through to the other side.

If we want a full life, we sometimes have to let go of the old path and turn to the new. God will lead us and may have a few surprises along the way. Just ask Joshua!

“You have made known to me the path of life.” – Psalm16:11a

Does it matter today?

“Every Christian should have a passion to please God. We are to delight in honoring Him. It should be our greatest desire to please our Redeemer.” – R. C. Sproul

Sometimes it’s hard to read Old Testament passages without tuning out. I had that challenge in my reading this morning. I was in Deuteronomy and Moses explained that when the Israelites got settled in their new land, they were to take the first portion of their crops (“firstfruits”) and give it to God. It was a way of acknowledging his provision of their new homeland.

Last week my husband and I moved into a new neighborhood in our old home state of Michigan. We believe God has brought us here. How do we acknowledge that in a way that would be parallel to the Israelites offering the first portion of their crops after arriving at their new home?

I don’t imagine I’ll ever offer literal firstfruits to God. We don’t have a garden, and our lawn is not even doing very well at this point! So, how can I show the same attitude God expected of Israel, but in a different way? I asked God about that. Here are two ideas that came to mind:

Donate to an organization helping those who have no homes.

Make our home a place of hospitality – sharing food and friendship with others.

The Bible is applicable to our lives every day. Sometimes we have to ask God to enlighten us to see how we can accomplish the goal of his original command. Let’s think more about that next time we find a text that seems out of touch with today’s world. It probably has a connection we haven’t seen yet!

“And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. . . “ – Deuteronomy 26:11a

It’s not about religion.

“People must have righteous principals in the first, and then they will not fail to perform virtuous actions.” – Martin Luther

What do you think of when you hear the word righteous? Positive or negative? We cringe when we think of those who wear their “righteousness” like a badge of honor. Wanting to make sure we all know how good they are. They’re not usually fun to be around. And, yet, we know we’re supposed to be “righteous”.

According to the Bible, true righteousness is living ethically and morally, but , , ,

. . . does not call attention to itself

. . . is not about keeping a list of rules

. . . is not competitive

. . . is humble

. . . is attractive to others

. . . serves

. . . shows compassion

. . . points to attention to God

Jesus used the Pharisees of his day as bad examples of right living. They kept a lot of rules – 613 commands, in fact, and they tried to make sure everyone else kept them, too. They prayed long prayers for show. They made sure everyone knew when they were fasting. They gave to the poor only when they knew others were watching. That’s hypocrisy – not righteousness.

That’s why Jesus told his followers, who admired the Pharisees’ religious fervor, that their righteousness had to exceed the righteousness of these leaders. The disciples realized Jesus’ demand was an impossible goal until they began to understand that the righteousness Jesus talked about couldn’t be earned. It would be a gift – from him.

True righteousness never seems so. If we’re humble, righteousness fits like a beautiful garment and attracts people to us. We don’t show off our goodness, instead, we show them Jesus, the only source of true righteousness.


He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8

It takes practice.

“To learn strong faith is to endure great trials. I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.” – George Mueller

Have you ever learned to play a musical instrument? If so, you know you don’t sit down and play a Mozart concerto on the first day. You start with a few notes and repeat them until the notes on the page flow through you into melody. Making music begins with easy pieces. But if you want to go to the next level, it takes work, stamina, making mistakes, letting the music get into your bones, and, at long last, the more complex composition translates into beautiful sounds. Making music takes practice.

Trusting God is like that: We learn to trust by trusting. The hard part is that the only way to practice this skill is to encounter a problem we can’t solve on our own. Not our favorite thing. And it becomes harder the longer the problem persists. If we don’t give up, our trust grows as we go through the struggle stage-by-stage.

When it’s over, and we’re on an even keel again, we realize our confidence in God is much stronger than it was before the problem began. Then, when God is ready to move us to the next level of trusting, we do it all over again with a new problem life brings, but this time we’re stronger and better able to be joyful, peaceful, and hopeful even in the struggle.

So, let’s not complain when we’re faced with a challenge. Maybe God is taking us to the next level of trust, of knowing him. At each new level, the music is more beautiful, the joy more complete. Keep practicing!

“This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” – Isaiah 25:9b

Secret Believers

 “Oh, how great peace and quietness would he possess who should cut off all vain anxiety and place all his confidence in God.” – Thomas a’ Kempis

In some countries, Christians must be careful about sharing their faith with people they don’t know, and they often bond with other Christians and meet together secretly. Their lives may depend on staying under cover.

For most of us, though, we’re not in danger if we talk about God or claim to be a follower of Jesus. But still, many of us tend to keep our faith under wraps.

The Gospel of John tells us many Jews believed in Jesus after witnessing the raising of Lazarus. But they believed secretly because they were afraid they would be ostracized by the religious establishment. John saw through their motivation for secrecy. He said, “They loved human praise more than praise from God.” (John 12:43)

John’s implication is we can either please other humans or we can please God, and very often we can’t do both. Sometimes we have to be willing to be criticized or ridiculed if we’re going to be bold in living out our Christian faith.

Maybe we need to be more honest about who we are, more comfortable with letting our faith in Christ show, and more willing to speak the truth. Sometimes that may bring a negative response, but, if we share of ourselves with quiet confidence and grace, God will be pleased. Who do we want to please the most?

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” – 1 Peter 3:15b-16

Getting to Know Him

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.” – J. I. Packer

What does God feel when he looks at you? Approval? Frustration? Does thinking about that help you grow spiritually? Probably not. I propose that our personal and spiritual growth is not so much about what God sees when he looks at us as it is about what we see when we look at him.

If we focus on earning God’s approval, we try self-improvement schemes: looking good, behaving well, getting over bad habits, and trying to love everyone! That’s a lot of work and we’ll never be better people just by trying harder.

The first step, of course, is accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him. After that, it’s about learning to know God – as he reveals himself in the Bible, in times of prayer, and through wise and mature Christian teachers and writers. When we see his heart, we realize he’s pleased with us already. He knows we will fail and, when we turn to him, he forgives every time. And when he does, he begins to change us. It’s his work, not ours.

So instead of anxiously trying to earn God’s approval, let’s just get to know him. Most of us have some incorrect perceptions of him that need to be fixed. So let’s put our energy into learning who he is and responding to his heart. When we know him, we will love him, and our efforts to please him will be out of love, not fear.

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .” – Exodus 34:4

It will make sense – eventually.

God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.” – Peter Marshall

Why? is a question we find ourselves asking a lot. Why doesn’t God heal me? Why can’t I find a good job? Why aren’t my prayers being answered? Why, God?

Sometimes there are identifiable answers to those why’s. Maybe we’ve made bad decisions and need to correct them. Maybe we’ve wandered from God and need to reconnect. But, at other times, we sense there’s more to the story than what we see.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey at the beginning of the week of his crucifixion, the disciples watched, and John says they “. . . did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16). They didn’t understand because they didn’t have the whole story – yet.

Later, just before the disciples and Jesus had their last Passover meal together, Peter objected to his Lord washing his feet. Jesus responded, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7). In other words, just wait until you see how this ends. Then it will all make sense!

Sometimes we can understand the here and now only in light of what happens later. This requires trust that God is good and loving and powerful and will not allow our suffering to go unaddressed. Our cries are heard and our why’s will be answered – when we see how the story ends.

 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18a

He kept walking.

“When Jesus set his face to walk the Calvary road, he was not merely taking our place; he was setting our pattern.” – John Piper

Jesus knew what was coming. He told his disciples he was going to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tried, and crucified. After three days he would rise from the dead. Jesus knew what had to take place if he was going to be the Savior of the world. So, “. . . he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

The walk from Capernaum was nearly 80 miles long. Lots of time to think about what was about to happen. But he didn’t waver. He pointed himself toward Jerusalem and kept walking. He stopped to heal people along the way – then kept walking. He stopped to eat and sleep, and then kept walking. Resolute. Pointing toward his own death. Never turning back.

What was he thinking about? We get a clue from this passage: “. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

He kept walking because, at the other end of agony, there would be joy. Joy at doing the Father’s will. Joy in bringing salvation to the people of the earth. He did it for joy.

Are you facing health issues? Family problems? Emotional trauma? Financial setbacks? Work stress? Do what Jesus did. Keep walking, knowing he has a plan for you, knowing the end result is in his hands, resting in his promises of presence, power, and joy. Don’t give up. Keep walking. That’s what Jesus did!

” . . . for the joy that was set before him. . .” – from Hebrews 12:2

NOTE: Original walking concept from Emilie Griffin in Small Surrenders