As long as we are in the flesh we struggle with sin and temptation. We can all identify with Paul’s struggle with the flesh – “For what I do is not the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do.”(Rom.7:19) And Peter says that “Satan prowls like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” (I Pt.5:8) We all have choices to make, and many times we make those choices in ways that displease God. We can’t excuse it as “not so bad,” or “everyone does it,” or “it’s not my fault.” We made the choice, and we sinned. We cry out with Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” It is then we realize the truth of the very next statement he makes, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vss.24-25) No, we can’t excuse ourselves, but we can throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ, who forgives and restores. That is the message of this Lenten Season. All of our sins have been taken to the cross of Christ. In His grace we can leave them there and move forward.
Living by faith is not easy. This is believing in an invisible dimension of life, while living in a very visible and sense oriented world. Many things around us in the visible world seem to deny the truth of anything in the invisible realm where we declare God lives. And yet we are not without visible evidence. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”(1:20) The visible creation is not by accident, or chance. It was made by an all wise Creator. But even more than this, there is a visible answer to the myriad of inhumane act of man that seem to contradict a God of love. Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.”(Col.1:15) He is God in human flesh, come to share all of our pain, and to provide the way of redemption. God did not cause sin to enter this visible world, we did. The invisible God entered this broken visible world to provide the way of redemption, hope, and peace. Living by faith is not easy, but it is the most reasonable of all the answers to the questions raised by this visible world.
It is easy to look around and see the corruption, pain, and folly surrounding us in life. It is here that we live, work, and try to raise our families in a proper way. We can quickly become discouraged, but there is another truth that we must keep in mind. This is not all there is. There is great hope ahead of us. The Old Testament prophet spoke, and the New Testament confirmed, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. ….the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. (Is.65:17-19) This is the hope upon which our hearts are established. But not only this. The Lord has not left us to flounder until the promise is fulfilled. He has come among us. He has redeemed us. He does, even now, pray for us. And He has given us His Spirit as our guide and strength in all times of life. The Lord, Himself, is our guarantee that His word will be fulfilled. We can look forward with expectancy and hope.
In the midst of difficult situations we will sometime hear the expression, “It is what it is!” Meaning, “That’s where we are. This is the situation we are in. Let deal with it.” To an extent it is true. We do have to deal with the situations we face, but this attitude can led fatalism, and depression. The better expression for Christians would be, “It is what it is, but it is not all that God will make it to be.” Paul was a man confronted by many unpleasant, painful, and life threatening situation. Yet he was the one who wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”(Romans 8:18) There are numerous examples in Scripture, and in our own lives, where God uses difficult situations for our good and for His glory. We are far from fatalists. We deal with the things that confront us with the strength that the Lord gives, and our trust that He will see us through to His good purpose.
Psalm 73 is a wonderful Psalm of hope and strength. It is clear about the trials and temptations of life that plague us all. Yet the Psalmist’ focus always goes back to his only source of hope. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (vs.25) This should be true for us in all times, whether good or bad. If God is our desire, our focus, the longing and hope of our life, then all things take on a different perspective. God takes all life’s situations, and all people we encounter, helping us to deal with them by His cleansing, strengthening, guiding touch. All parts of life look different with God’s hand upon them. “As for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.” (vs.28)
On the road leading out from our home to the main street is a large plot of ground that has been overgrown for as long as I can remember. Now that it is fall, and leaves are off the trees, it is easier to see deeper into the wooded area. Back in the woods I was surprised to see the remains of a house, and what looked to be a smoke house for curing meat. What struck me is how this piece of land tells a story of a family long gone, and what would have been a productive, and we could conjecture, happy farm life. But all earthly things change, and in time return to the earth from which they came. There is only One who is enduring. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” says the writer of Hebrews 13:8. He alone invites us to share a life that is eternally enduring. We are saddened by what is lost to decay in this life, but our hope always looks beyond this life to what will never decay.
The report has come out about Steve Jobs final words before he died. “O Wow. O wow. O wow.” They were likened to Edison’s final words when he said “It’s beautiful over there.” We have reports of many near death experiences, and supposed glimpses of what is beyond death. They can be interesting, and perhaps encouraging, but we also have to be extremely caution in what we take from them. Neither Jobs nor Eidson were noted for their Christian faith, actually quite to the contrary. Scripture does teach us that for those in the Lord, there is great beauty in life on the other side of death. Scripture also says that “There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”(Acts 4:12) That name is the Lord Jesus Christ. We have our life, our joy, our hope in the living Lord Jesus. This is where we are called to stand. It is not our place to point fingers and declare anyone in hell. That is God’s job alone. But for us, we can do nothing but say with St. Paul, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”(I Corinthians 2:2)
The Prophet Jeremiah was in a bad spot. He was confined by the royal guard in Jerusalem because of his prophecies. Babylon was about to destroy the country, the great Temple in Jerusalem, and carry the people into captivity. In the midst of all this calamity, Jeremiah’s uncle came, wanting him to buy a field in his home town of Anathoth. What possible reason would Jeremiah want to do this in such a dark time? Yet God instructed him to buy it. God said, “Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.'” (32:14-15) In the midst of the darkest hour there was hope. It would take more than 70 years for the promise to be fulfilled, but it was fulfilled. Our God is a God of hope, regardless of the darkness that presently surrounds us. He can be trusted to bring us through.
We all have times when we feel cold and distant from God. Maybe these seem too frequent. But there certainly are other times when our prayers are answered, and we do see our Lord working in us and in those we care about. All is not silence. When we are in those times of seeing the Lord’s hand we can rejoice, give thanks, and sing. When we are in between those times, we still call them to mind, knowing that God has not abandoned us, but is using our circumstances for His good purpose and for our best good. We still rejoice, give thanks and sing. Look around today. The Lord is near. He is answering your prayers. Rejoice, give thanks, and sing.
I was reading WORLD magazine yesterday. That, or any other news magazine, gives a long list of the problems we face as a nation, and in the world. There are also a variety of solutions given. Am I optimistic or pessimistic about solving many of these problems? That is probably too simplistic a question for such great issues, but when I look at the world I am very pessimistic about man, and very optimistic about the Lord. We may make a few small positive steps, but man’s sin is too deeply rooted, in too many areas, for too long, to make any real change on his own. The world will face God’s judgment. However, I am optimistic about the Lord, but that is not even a good word to use. My trust is only in the Lord, for He, alone, will bring the change that is needed. It is shown throughout Scripture, that God responds to the humble, repentant prayers of His people. Ballot boxes are important, but I long to see more effort in the prayer closet, crying out to God for mercy and deliverance. To that God will respond.