Hope comes in the pit of despair. 

“For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;” (Lamentations 3:31-32)

The words that we read from this week’s Old Testament lesson from Lamentations 3 have given many people, both believers and unbelievers alike great comfort in the mist of pain and suffering. These words are rooted in the experiences of the prophet Jeremiah who, earlier in this chapter, used extremely graphic language to describe his spiritual and emotional horror in response to the fall of Jerusalem as well as his own suffering. He sounds just like us when we experience trauma and endure tribulations and suffering. Although it is beneficial for us to vent such feelings of grief rather than keep them bottled up, it seems a bit unnerving as Jeremiah takes us into the very pit of despair and depression.

For those who do not know the Lord or seek His face in their trials, such despair often leads them to suicide or cynical agnosticism. Jeremiah shows us, however, that for those who do seek the Lord, who speak their minds to Him with such bold intensity, their despair will lead them to hope. The hope of which Jeremiah speaks is portrayed with vivid intensity that comforts those in any kind of suffering, pain or tribulation. It may not change the immediate situation or conditions, but it can be a tremendous boost to faith. That hope is the guarantee that the Lord will have mercy, will supply the strength we need to endure and will restore blessings. That hope is not mere wishful thinking or bravado to keep our spirits up. That hope is firm assurance based on the absolute trustworthiness of God who always keeps His word.


Trusting God: He Knows What He is Doing. Part III

“’Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’” (Mark 4:40)

In the storm at sea we see a graphic image of Jesus’ power over the forces of nature. This storm that hit the small fishing vessel must have been an extremely intense gale for it caused great fear to fall on the disciples who were experienced sailors. It must have been as fierce as the hurricane force winds we endured during Super Storm Sandy. So we cannot really fault those fearful men because we know some of what they went through. And yet, they had seen Jesus recently perform some spectacular miracles and should have had at least an inkling of what He was capable of doing.

The Lord’s power over the natural forces in the world is certainly a great encouragement and an enormous relief to us. If Jesus can control the weather then we really should realize that He certainly has the power to help us. But we doubt, we often fail to have faith in Jesus when we are in the midst of life’s storms. We call out to the Lord to save us, yet we are afraid of the dangers and the pain. The Lord understands what we feel but He wants us to know that nothing will overtake us that He cannot enable us handle. And He will forgive our doubts and will always encourage us to carry on. He will never condemn our weakness the way our family, friends and the world may do, but help us always to persevere. He is right there in the middle of the storm with us.

Do Not Be Unequally Yoked.

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV)

Paul here is commanding believers not to be yoked together, that is, not to be allied with unbelievers. However, we must realize that when Paul warns the saints not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, he refers primarily to professing Christians, specifically his opponents at Corinth who taught that he was not a true apostle. He used rather strong and harsh words to label them as ravenous wolves who preached in the name of Jesus a gospel that belied the saving power of His sacrifice on the cross. The unclean and impure are the unbelievers who wrongfully identify themselves as believers and their supporters. These threatened the integrity of church from within. Allowing them to remain unchallenged and even honored in the fellowship of the saints defiled the church, its ministry and worship for it insulted the glory of the Lord. We would be wise to heed this and carefully avoid relationships or fellowship with believers who though they preach from God’s word demonstrate by their lifestyles, deeds and attitudes that they are out only for themselves.

Today, in addition to the above warning, we would define unbelievers as pagans, people of all other religions, and all non-Christians in general. We can then apply this command to the context of mixed marriages and mixed business partnerships. If we love God we will live and work to honor Him above all else, a principle that is hard to follow if we are involved in intimate fellowship with people who do share our faith. First, the principle Paul lays down is that a believer should never under any circumstances, marry a nonbeliever. We are not to enter into an important and intimate relationship such as marriage with an unbeliever for that would dishonor God as well as interfere with our own Christian walk.

A Christian also would be wise not to enter into or run a business in partnership with someone who is not, although admittedly these days this is rather difficult. We are not to work for people or businesses whose stated goals and operating principles are contrary to or hostile toward the kingdom of God. If we do we are working at odds with the Lord and He is not really first in our lives

Trusting God: He Knows What He Is Doing, Part II

“. . . but as servant of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; . . .” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5)

One of the themes common in this week’s lectionary readings is trusting in God’s providential care over us in the midst of and despite adverse circumstances. These words from Paul form a litany of many unpleasant events. In the midst of such things he did not compromise the word of God or forsake his calling. In fact, Paul enumerated them joyfully as marks or credentials that legitimized His ministry and love for his brethren. He knew that the Lord sustained him in the midst of these experience and allowed them to befall him for His glory and for the sake of the gospel.

Paul’s experiences may make us tremble with fear. Indeed we would be foolish to think that suffering of any type is easy. But suffering in Christ for the cause of the gospel is far better than suffering because we have sinned. We may think we are not capable of enduring what Paul did and manage to keep the faith in the midst of such suffering, pain and persecution. Yet the Lord will set limits on all we endure and will not let us suffer beyond what His strength imparts to us. He will come alongside us to help us and enable our faithful endurance to carry the light of His love and grace to all who see it.

Live to Please the Lord.

“Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:8-9)
Paul’s desire is to please Jesus, because he knows he knows that one day he will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Paul knows that the Lord is a severe judge and will judge every deed and dispense rewards and punishment in accord with His holy nature. Yet this is not a worry for Paul or for the believer, though it is for the unbeliever, the immoral person, the idolater, the pagan and the atheist. We are sure of salvation because we are clothed in Christ, but at that judgment seat we want the Lord to be pleased with what we have done for Him. We are like children who seek to do their best so they can make their parents and teachers happy or, as we say, proud of them. We want to give pleasure and glory to God by standing in His presence and showing that we have been good and faithful servants.

The fact that we believers will stand before the judgment seat reminds us that we have been saved not for a life of aimlessness or indifference or to satisfy our selfish ego or to achieve inner harmony. We have been saved to serve the Lord. We are not saved by good works, but for good works. We have been justified by faith, a faith expressed by love and obedience.

Clothed in Christ

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 

(2 Corinthians 5:10)

Paul speaks with certainty about what lies beyond the grave, a certainty which those in the media, in the world cannot match with their fanciful religions, whimsical philosophies, romantic notions and self-centered ideals. Life may be filled with suffering and pain, gloom and persecution but this is temporary and is already passing away. Paul has told us we do not judge our standing with God by such things. Our guarantee is in the promise of God and the reality of what He has promised, not what we own or experience now. Thus we live in the light of that assurance and do not have to be afraid about what is beyond death. Our hope is as Paul says: to be away from the body is to be present with the Lord. When we who are believers die, when our life here ends, we will lose this body but we do not remain unclothed. We go immediately into the presence of the Lord and we will know sorrow and pain no more. Since we dwell now in time and God dwells in eternity, this transition is instantaneous. There is no queue or waiting line at the gates of heaven. We are immediately let in to enjoy the glories of God face to face.

This certainty about the future enables us to be confident, to be courageous, obedient and loving in the face of conflict and pain. This confidence helps us live for Christ.

Fear of the last judgment should motivate every human being to do something to prevent standing before that judgment seat with no covering. Every human being who is alive today or has ever lived will one day stand before that throne. All who lived in idolatry, immorality and selfishness, without Christ, will stand before that throne clothed not in His righteousness but in their own. They will be naked. Not clothed in Christ, they will not be accepted in heaven. The thought of that should lead the immoral, the unbelievers to repent and turn to the Lord. The greatest pleasures of this life are nothing but misty shadows compared with the concrete and lasting joys of an eternal heaven. No pleasure in this life is worth losing the joys of an eternity with God.

Sadly, most people they think they will make it into heaven with no worries. They don’t need to repent, they don’t have to admit they are sinners. God, whatever form he takes, is not a harsh judge. He is all bark and no bite. He will let them into heaven with no problem. So they reject what God says in His word. They reject the covering of the Lord. They prefer to be clothed with their own righteousness. And so they will find themselves naked, ashamed and without any hope before the judgment seat of Christ.   

The hope of the believer is that in Christ we will endure that day of judgment forgiven and clothed in Christ, clothed with the good works born out of faith and produced in and through us by the power of God. Is that your hope?