WHERE IS YOUR SECURITY – IN MONEY OR IN GOD?

In every home there must be time set aside to handle the financial matters of the family. It might be weekly, monthly … whatever fits for the individual situation. While there are at times not many “finances” to manage, there always seems to be an unending supply of bills to pay. 

No matter what our station in life may be, we must deal with money because we use it to pay for the goods and services our lives depend upon. 

But, what is it that we really rely upon for security in our life? 

Jesus spoke about money on many occasions.  For example, in Matthew 6:24, Jesus said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Paul gave additional admonition regarding money to the young pastor Timothy when he admonished:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

1 Timothy 6:10 ESV

We must be careful not to let money become our master, to prevent money from taking the place in our heart that rightfully belongs to God.  God is deserving of our love and adoration, and He alone is the One to whom we should be devoted.

When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to testify of His words in nearby villages, He told them to take only a staff, implicitly telling them that God would provide that which they needed along this trip.  This occasion is recorded in  the book of Mark, chapter 6.

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.  He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in their belts–but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.”

Mark 6:7-9 ESV

The result of their journey is reported in verses 12 and 13 of this chapter:

So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.”

No report is made that they lacked what they needed.  Rather, God supplied their needs and they were able to do Jesus’ work throughout the land. 

Remember that Scripture says that God has unlimited resources with which to help His people.  God said:

“For every beast of the forest [is] mine, [and] the cattle upon a thousand hills.”

Psalm 50:10 KJV

Cows grazing in pasture along highway in Virginia cropped
Cows seen grazing in field along a Virginia highway.

Recall, also, that God sent manna to the Israelite people in the wilderness when there was no grocery in which to buy bread.  He sent quail for meat when nothing but desert surrounded them.  God has His ways to provide for His children.

The writer of the book of Hebrews admonishes:

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.“”

Hebrews 13:5 ESV

It is not sinful to plan and work toward a strong financial position for your family.  Money itself is not evil.  But, we must remember that God gives us everything, even the health and wisdom to work, and the talents to be used in our life work.  Indeed, He has even given us the gift of life itself.  All things are from Him. 

With this in mind, we are to be content with what God has given us.  Even when we are in desperate financial straits, God has promised that He is with us and His children would not be forsaken.   This is the definition of true security.

Father, forgive me when I have let my sense of security come from the bank account or pension plan; forgive me when money has become my security blanket.  I pray that I would rely on You alone for my security, as You alone are capable and dependable, and You alone love me with an everlasting love, through Your Son and my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

CLIMBING, HIDING AND SECURITY!

Do you ever feel like climbing the walls?  We saw a literal example of this several years ago when our grandsons would climb the wall – or rather door frame.

Climbing the walls
Climbing the wall, or the door frame, literally.

 

There certainly is no way I could do that, when I was his age or now (at a significantly older age!).   But, the fact that I cannot literally climb the wall is not an indication that I have never wanted to do so!  Tension, anxiety, questions, financial problems, health issues, decisions, worries, … you fill in the blank for your situation … all pile up and I would want to climb the wall, mentally if not physically.

 

Another response to tension or difficulty is the head in the sand attitude.  In our house, it more precisely should be called the MinPin in the blanket response because each of our canine daughters will go to the blankets on the floor, lap or chair and, literally, wrap themselves up, sometimes with a nose sticking out, but most often they will be totally covered.  [It is rather humorous when they begin walking out of the blanket, it looks like a blanket-ghost going along the floor!]

 

Snickers in blanket
Snickers wrapped in blanket with her nose sticking out, curious about what is going on outside the blanket.

 

I have felt like that too.  “Couldn’t I just stay in bed and not face the day?  It’s too hard, and there are too many problems to deal with, I just don’t want to face it … I can’t!”

 

Ralph Ransom is an American painter from Saint Joseph, Missouri who died in 1908, likely from tuberculosis, certainly struggled with problems.  He said:

“All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.”

 

I would take Mr. Ransom’s statement one step farther.  For the Christian, “the very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid may be a major building block in our conformation to the image of Jesus Christ.

 

In the Christian life, we often find that the time we struggled and had to work hard through a situation or problem was, in fact, the time when we grew the most in our understanding of the love, mercy, and all-sufficient grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Romans 8:29 says:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”

 

We are to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and sometimes it takes difficulties to bring us into that image.  The April 6, 2016, Presidential Prayer Team devotional, Vantage Point, was entitled the “Master Sculptor” and spoke to the connection between suffering and growth in our Christian life.  In part it read:

A little boy watched a sculptor begin chiseling a large block of marble. The sculptor worked meticulously until the slab looked like the face of Abraham Lincoln. “How did you do that?” the little boy asked. The sculptor said with a smile, “All I have to do is chip away everything that doesn’t look like Lincoln.”

Pain, persecution, stress and accusations are some of the struggles that believers in Christ often endure.  At the time, it may not be known exactly why the Lord has allowed them.  However, the loving Father uses trial to chip away at flaws in character.  He uses great care and thoughtfulness so that the end result will look like His Son.

Thank God, the Master Sculptor of your soul, for His work in your life and His dedication to your future. Whatever difficulties are happening with you personally (and in the nation), practice patience and trust that He will do His work carefully and creatively. Pray also that America’s leaders who are Christians will allow their trials to draw them to a closer relationship with the Lord and conform their lives to His purposes.  [Emphasis mine]

 

When we want to climb the wall, when we want to hide under the blanket, when we just don’t want to face the difficulty any more – turn your eyes to the Father and thank Him for the problem.  Take your eyes off the condition that confronts you and see the One who is in control of that condition.  See the Father working in your life to conform you to the image of His Son.

 

As unbelievable as it sounds to the unregenerate person, thank God for the difficulty and rest in Him to carry you through it. 

 

The reason we can thank God for whatever comes our way is the security that we have in Jesus Christ.

Picture hanging in our office
Picture depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd holding His lamb in His nail-pierced hand.

 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Romans 8:35.

 

Paul himself answers these questions in the following verses:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   

Romans 8:38-39

 

Life in this world is difficult … but we can be confident that the love of Christ will carry us from this world to an eternity with Him.  This world is short-lived and temporary; eternity is forever, which by the way is a very long time!

 

During difficult times we tend to focus on ourselves and our dastardly plight!  But, pull your eyes off yourself and look to the cross … look to the Savior … look to the Father who has you in His hands … look to the Son of God who secures you in Him.

 

Christian, be confident in the knowledge that nothing can separate you from the love of God through Jesus Christ.

 

Nothing.

 

Father, help me to remember that You are sovereign and in control of my life and all that happens to me.  Help me to recall, during difficult trials, that I am secure in Your love because of my Savior Jesus Christ.  Give me strength to face difficult times as I praise Your holy name for the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior.

In Memoriam

Yesterday, we celebrated Memorial Day in the United States.  This holiday was formerly called Decoration Day because we decorated the tombs of our loved ones who had paid the ultimate price for our freedom.  The moniker Memorial Day is more likely attuned to the intent of the day.  While placing flags or flowers on tombstones is appropriate, we should take time to actually remember the fallen:  remember the sacrifice they made by giving their life for our cause, remember the families who have shared in that terrible cost at the loss of their spouse, son or daughter, mother or father, remember the life that was lost while we enjoy the freedoms that their actions provided.

 

 

Boston cemetery
A cemetery in Boston.

By setting aside a day to remember, we create a specific time when we can teach our children and grandchildren that our freedoms and rights are not cheaply obtained.  They are costly, and they are precious.

 

In the Gettysburg Address presented at a dedication ceremony for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles of the U.S. Civil War, just a few months after the war had ended, President Abraham Lincoln rendered words that have resounded through the decades:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

 

Lincoln understood that the individual and cultural memory of significant events in the personal or corporate life of citizens must be maintained or the past actions will dissolve into an ethereal cloud without form or substance — in short, it will be lost.

 

The people of Israel in the Old Testament knew this because God specifically directed that there be standing stones, pillars if you will, that were to serve as reminders of the mighty acts of God on the people’s behalf.

 

While there are many examples in the Old Testament, one is found in Joshua chapter 4, when the people of Israel had just crossed over the Jordan River on dry ground.  God told Joshua that he should take twelve stones from the middle of the river and put them on dry land as a monument for future generations to see and learn of God’s acts.

And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.  And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’  For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”

Joshua 4:20-24

 

Using markers to spark our memory is also found in the New Testament where we are reminded to remember our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by a very different monument, the words of our Lord at the Passover Meal just before His arrest and subsequent crucifixion.   We call it the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion.  Paul described it as follows:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-25.

 

At this season of remembrance, remember the sacrifice that provides freedom from sin and that gives life for all eternity, this eternal liberty comes from faith and belief in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross of Calvary.

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Acts 16:30-31.

 

Security in Christ and Cross
Security in Christ – College float from years past.

There is no other way to achieve salvation and eternal life — not our works and not the works or prayers of others.  Christ alone offers eternal life.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

 

If you have trusted in Christ, praise His glorious name and thank Him for all that He has done for you, in this world and in the next.  If you do not know Christ, read the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate your mind and heart so that you realize your sin and you can claim the forgiveness and glorious freedom from sin’s bondage that is available to you through Christ Jesus.

 

Take the opportunity this week to set aside a time to remember family members who served in the military, or those whose company we no longer have due to death from whatever cause.  Thank them for their service if they are still with us, and if not, thank the Lord for the benefits we have through the sacrifices that these individuals made. It is fitting and appropriate that we should do so, as individual citizens and, collectively, as a country.

 

But also remember the acts of God that have shaped your life.  In memory of … have you set up your “pillar of stones” so that you are reminded of all the times God has preserved you and led you through days of sorrow and trouble, into the peaceful valley of His presence?

 

In memory of …  you fill in the blank and then praise the Lord for His goodness and mercy.

 

Father, thank You for the land of America, for the forefathers who struggled and fought to live in a land where we have the right to worship without interference from the government, a land based on Your Word and Your Commandments.  Thank You, too, for those who have fought to keep our freedom sacred.  Guide this land and its citizens as we move forward in these times of stress, uncertainty and hatred.  Father, thank You for  Jesus Christ, Who is our Savior and Lord.  Help us to honor Him and rejoice in His work on our behalf.  Enlighten those who read this missive and have not accepted Jesus as Lord of their life … I pray that your Spirit would guide them into the knowledge of our Lord and His salvation.

JAN AND JILL AND THE FUTURE!

We cleaned out a storage unit recently and, in so doing, we came across a number of boxes that contained – who knows what!  We couldn’t tell from the outside of the boxes and we had no recollection of what we had stowed in them.  So we had a type of retro-vintage-Christmas when we opened the boxes to see what they had sheltered for so long.

After going through several boxes, I re-discovered Jan and Jill.

Jan and Jill, vintage friends for a young girl
Jan and Jill, vintage friends for a young girl

These two dolls are, today, lovingly called “vintage” rather than simply “old”.  They came into my possession in the late 1950s and I recall playing with them often.  As an only child, they could be my friends on rainy days and I could tell them my thoughts without fear that they would blab!  The box also contained their four-poster bed and closet, complete with drawers and hangers.

Doll bed
Doll bed

A separate box contained quite an assortment of clothes for the duo.  Of course the box also contained the accoutrements of the dolls’ haute couture such as earrings, shoes, leggings, a swimsuit, etc.

Doll wardrobe and clothes
Doll wardrobe and clothes

These dolls reminded me of a different time and place – when I was young and living with my parents.  The future was ahead of me and I could tell the dolls all the things that might happen, of course in my anticipation there was only good and no pain or sorrow.   Neither the dolls nor I had any ability to affect the course of history, I was just dreaming about what would happen down the road.

The dolls didn’t know they would wind up in boxes that were enclosed in other cartons which moved from house to house, city to city, and ultimately to an off-site storage unit, along with old magazines, records, tax returns, and junk.

I didn’t know that I would move several times before and after college; that my mother would die when I was 21 years of age; that I would go to graduate school long after college; that I would have children and grandchildren; or that I would retire after a 30-year long career in one place.  I didn’t know that I would have numerous health issues, many related to the effects of the polio I had as an infant, or that there would be times in my life that I believed I would not be able to handle another day.

No, I had no idea of any of that – but I do know Who did!

My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, came to me when I was a young girl, speaking of His love and sacrifice for me.  I did as Paul described in Romans 10:9-11:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Salvation is through faith in Christ alone.  Nothing that I could do would merit my adoption by God and none of my “good works” will accomplish, affect or influence my salvation; because I am a sinner, and the Holy God cannot look upon sin.  Isaiah 6.  Rather, because of the righteousness that Christ has provided for me, I have forgiveness and I can now call God my Father.  Galatians 4:6.  I still sin, but I have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and I can confess my sin, repent from it and turn to Jesus.  Ephesians 2:8.

Jesus said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

John 8:33-36.

While I am still a sinner, I am no longer controlled by sin.  God’s Son has set me free from the control of sin.  Praise the Lord.

So, I don’t need to know the future.  God has it in His hands and He loves me because of His Son’s sacrifice for me.  In Jeremiah 29:11, God says:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

The Lord God Who said these words regarding His people in the Old Testament is the same God Who cares for His New Testament/New Covenant people.  That would be you and me, Beloved, if you are a believer in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.   Indeed, Jesus said:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

John 10:27-29.  [The emphasis is mine.]

Jan and Jill
Jan and Jill

I know that the Jan and Jill dolls cannot remember what I confided in them when I was a young girl.  And, if they had the ability to do so, they would likely wonder what their next phase in life will be.  That, of course, is in my hands.  Unless I find some young girl who would like to have them, they may find themselves on a shelf as a reminder of days long gone.

For me, now that I have retired, I know that my future is not in my hands.  It is in the Hands of my Savior.  My job now is to pray for guidance from the Lord Jesus Christ, and then to reconfigure my days to follow the course that He has laid out for me.

While I don’t know the future, I do know Who holds my hand.  And, I have absolute trust that He will continue to hold my hand through whatever else this life has in store for me and on into the next, where I will join my Savior and the great cloud of witnesses who have gone on before me.  Hebrews 12:1.

Praise His Holy Name.

Father, thank You for the gift of Jesus Christ Who paid the debt created by my sin.  Thank You that the righteousness You require is not my own but that my Savior has covered me in His righteousness.  Thank You that, because of Jesus, I can come before You, not only in Heaven after death but also now in prayer and in worship, and I can call You Father.  I praise Your Glorious Name, through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior.

REST – GET IT WHERE YOU CAN!

We were out to eat last weekend when a family passed us on their way to the restaurant table … a young child was asleep on his Daddy’s shoulder. What caught my attention was this sleeping child’s hand that was hanging over the man’s arm – the child was so sound asleep, his hand was absolutely limp so that it waved and wobbled with each step the man took.

Think about the last time you have really watched a child sleep. They seem to be able to sleep almost anywhere, with no trouble. Asleep at the porch table … I guess the food was not brought fast enough!

Child fell asleep waiting for lunch!
Child fell asleep waiting for lunch!

 

Then again, swinging and bouncing can sometimes lead to a tired child; touching the carpet with your tip‐toes can be hard for a little guy!

Swinging and bouncing can be exhausting!
Swinging and bouncing can be exhausting!

Think about being asleep with all sorts of commotion going on around you.

Asleep sitting up!
Asleep sitting up!

We have all seen little ones who are asleep in the car seat or carrier. A common sight often as infants are being carried through the store, swinging on Mom’s arm.

When we see these little ones we want to pray for their future, that they would know the Lord and for all the dreams, hopes and aspirations that come with new life.

 

Sleeping newborn.
Sleeping newborn.

 

Then there is the sleep of a child in the arms of one who loves him/her.  We love the times that our children and grandchildren have climbed up into waiting arms and cuddled, secure in the embrace of a parent/grandparent who loves them, who will defend them, and care for them even when they are asleep and dreaming their wonderful infant dreams.

Grandfather and infant grandson resting together!
Grandfather and infant grandson resting together!

 

 

Grandmother holding sleeping grandson.
Grandmother holding sleeping grandson.

While we know that sleep is mandatory, that it is something that we must have for us to be healthy, often we adults simply do not get enough of it. Unfortunately, the pace of our world with jobs, housework, family, church, social obligations and who knows what else [you fill in the blank], creates such a frenetic atmosphere that we as adults simply cannot rest, relax … or sleep.

But sleep does not elude us just because of our calendars. Sometimes we have physical issues such as pain from an injury or surgery. Then too there are the psychological, emotional and spiritual issues that claim our night hours. It might be that we have worries about finances or health of ourselves, family or friends. There could be concern about employment security, about financing retirement, or about obtaining that first job in a market where jobs are truly scarce.   Perhaps it is concern about words spoken that should not have been; deeds that we knew should be done but which were not; attitudes that colored our views of people and conversations which were unkind, at best.  And aging, for some reason, seems to rob us of sleep so that it is harder to fall and stay asleep than it was years earlier.

Just as we cuddle our grandchildren, Scripture teaches that God longs for us to come to Him with outstretched arms.

God says in Isaiah 49:15 [NIV]:

 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

 

Again, in Isaiah 66:13 [NIV], the Prophet records God as saying:

 “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort  you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

 

 

David knew of this longing. Psalm 139 is an incredibly beautiful song talking of God’s love and His care for His children. I urge you to read the entire Psalm, but verses 8 through 10 [ESV] describe the omnipresence of God’s love and care:

If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

 

 

Hundreds of years after Psalm 139 was written, Jesus said:

 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 [ESV]

 

 

As Christians, the closeness that we have with God is described by Paul in Romans 8:15:

 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [ESV]

 

 

Where can you get rest? Ultimately, true rest is only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who has, through His death and resurrection, secured our ability to call out to God, “Abba Father”.

Believe in Him, then rest in Him, Beloved. He will hold you through all your difficulties, and He will never let you go!

So, where do you find your rest?

WHO IS HOLDING YOUR HAND?

Church in Cades Cove, Tennessee
Church in Cades Cove, Tennessee

There was a song that we sang in my home church when I was a child and the words went something like this:

I don’t know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don’t borrow from its sunshine
For its skies may turn to grey.
I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said.
And today I’ll walk beside Him,
For He knows what is ahead.

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know Who holds tomorrow
And I know Who holds my hand.

I believe the title of the song is “I know who holds my hand”. I have tried to find out who authored the lyrics to give credit where credit is due and all I have come up with is “unknown” as the author. I don’t remember the words to the rest of the song, but I know that the part I have quoted has been part of my being for many decades and has provided peace and comfort through its text.

My parents and me
My parents and me

So – Who holds my hand? My parents held my hands and took me to church, telling me of God, of Jesus and His love. But, both of them are now gone. Now, my loving husband holds my hand, but he, like I, cannot know what tomorrow may bring.

In our fallen, sin-sick world, there are times when situations come upon you that stun you into complete silence. Circumstances arise that you could not have imagined, and, if you had been told of them before they actually happened, you would have vehemently denied that such an event would even be possible!
But then it happens, and what was formerly unthinkable becomes not only possible but fact, and you are left with shambles in your hands, a hole in your heart, and confusion reigning in your mind.

U.S. Marines at the Barracks, Washington D. C.
U.S. Marines at the Barracks, Washington D. C.

One such situation arose in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Thursday, July 16, when a gunman drove to a recruiting office and started shooting through the windows; he then drove to a Marine Reserve Center and started shooting, ruthlessly taking the lives of four members of the United States Marine Corps, one member of the U. S. Navy, and injuring a number of others before he was stopped by the Chattanooga Police. Men who defended our country in war overseas were gunned down in their own country.

U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, Washington, D.C.
U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, Washington, D.C.

They didn’t know when they left home for work that morning that it would be their last day on earth. Their families didn’t know that they were about to lose a beloved member of the family. Chattanooga didn’t know that the city would be rocked by the act of a shooter who killed indiscriminately that morning.

As we watched the news about Chattanooga, the similarity to the news from Charleston, South Carolina came to mind as we remembered the carnage at the Mother Emanuel Church just a few weeks ago.  Nothing can prepare you for such an event.   It was unthinkable until we had to face the fact that it was, indeed, a reality.

Empty platitudes are insufficient to offer a balm or salve for hearts that are ripped open by grief.   As we try to recover from the shock and enormity of the carnage, we must remember all the promises that we have in Scripture through the grace and mercy of our God and Father.

Who holds my hand? Who can give solace and peace when things fall apart? Who is Strength, Comfort and Everlasting Love?

It is my God, my Savior and my Comforter.

  • God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
    • Old Testament: God is not limited in time, as are we. Indeed, He is the perpetual I AM. See Exodus 3:13 where God tells Moses that I AM is directing Moses to lead the people out of Egypt.
    • New Testament: This thought is reiterated in Hebrews 13:8 where we read: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”
  • God is the lover of my soul.
    • Old Testament: Isaiah 38:17 reads: “Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.”
    • New Testament: Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
  • God is also my Redeemer and my Savior.
    • Old Testament:
      • Job 19:25 says: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth….”
      • Isaiah 48:17 says: “Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.’”
    • New Testament:
      • Paul says in Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
      • John 3:14-16: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
      • John 6:35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”

So, where do you draw your strength and comfort in difficult times? We who are Christians are called to be strength and comfort to those who are grieving, hurt and distressed.  We are to be the hands and feet of Christ as we live out our faith to others, especially during difficult times like these.  We can pray for them, comfort them, and provide assistance because even the routine things will be difficult for the families who have had their lives disrupted in such a brutal way. This is not to minimize the tragedy at all, but ultimately, the best thing we can do is to point them to Jesus Christ who is the Source of real comfort and peace here and forever more..

So, Who is holding your hand?

WHERE IS THE PEACE?

Our world is so frenetic, we often feel that we are penned in by so many obligations that there is no way out. We have the calendar calling our name when the alarm rings in the morning. We have the cell phone buzzing to tell us people need our viewpoints immediately, whether we are ready or not. We have the children calling for our attention even as we are trying to work or fix breakfast. We have our spouse who seeks our attention even as we are preparing the evening meal. We have the iPod clanging that we have new emails that have not yet been read, and when we break into our activity to attend to the emails we find that they are advertisements for products we don’t need. The telephone distracts our attention with a recorded message for the politician or for the survey that some marketing company wants. Then there are the charities that call, the handicapped, the symphony, the church, the various ministries that we support … EVERYONE wants our attention on a daily, hourly, minutely basis! Peace is a desired characteristic of our daily, personal life but it often seems to be an illusion of the highest order in the reality of daily duties.

But then the news wreaks havoc on any semblance of peace that may otherwise have survived the daily distractions. Something extraordinary is subject of “Breaking News” and our mundane disturbances are brought into sharp focus as being what they are, relatively minor inconveniences.

Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC
Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC

Indeed, we have become aware of such “Breaking News” this past week when hatred interrupted a prayer service by barging into the walls of a beautiful, historic church in Charleston, South Carolina when a gunman opened fire and killed nine innocent people.   (Picture of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, taken from the church website.)

Because of the cell phone videos and the media coverage swarming the area, we who are miles away from the scene participate in the shock and sickening disgust at the carnage the actions of a lone gunman can cause. The actions were particularly malevolent given the place in which they occurred; the sanctuary of a church where people go to pray and seek solace from God and their brothers and sisters in the Faith. Such evil is almost impossible for us to contemplate.

Clearly chaos was released into that building that day. But, the gunman’s actions did not kill Christ’s peace notwithstanding the havoc wreaked on the victims’ physical bodies. The Spirit of peace, of love and of forgiveness was brought into dramatic contrast to the spirit of evil when the victims’ families told the gunman that, despite their profound grief, they forgave him and were praying for his soul.

Such love and peace is impossible on our own. Jesus commanded that love was to be the primary characteristic of His people. John 13:35. The Apostle John said:

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

I John 4:16.

Jesus further instructed that He would give peace, even in times of extreme distress. One such time recorded in Scripture was when Jesus told His disciples of His imminent betrayal, trial and crucifixion. Needless to say, His disciples were confused and afraid.

After telling them that He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to them, He said:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:17.

Then just before His crucifixion, Jesus told them:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.

Easter Empty Tomb Depicted at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England
Easter Empty Tomb Depicted at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

The empty tomb is evidence that death has been overcome; Satan and evil have lost the cosmic war. Although in the short-term it may seem that evil is winning the contest, Jesus is the final victor. In other words, no matter what happens, we can have peace because, as He promised in John 16:33, He has overcome the world, including the evil therein!

Without a doubt, hatred won the headline for the day – but, those believers who were praying at the time of the shooting won the war.  Through Christ, they were victorious over evil on that dark day in Charleston.  They are with their Savior and are beyond any pain, tears or grief.

Because Jesus has overcome evil and death, His believers can have peace …

  • a peace that is resident within them through His Holy Spirit;
  • a peace that overcomes the evil in the world;
  • a peace that enables the victims’ families to forgive in the midst of their grief;
  • a peace that is truly beyond understanding. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7.

This peace was on display when the victims’ families expressed love and forgiveness for the one who had inflicted this unutterable loss on them.  No one was hiding their grief — this peace was transcendent over their grief.  This is the peace that is available to all who believe on Jesus’ Name and repent from their sins, accepting Him as their Savior.

Do you have this peace?

OCEANS – WHETHER FEARFUL OR PEACEFUL, ALWAYS UNDER GOD’S CONTROL

What exactly is the ocean? Merriam Webster defines it as “the whole body of salt water that covers nearly three fourths of the surface of the earth, or any of the large bodies of water (as the Atlantic Ocean) into which the great ocean is divided.” [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ocean]  But, somehow this definition does not even come close to capturing the essence of the ocean, does it.  It does not account for the pounding waves that keep coming ashore with their relentless hammering of the coastline, dissolving the rocks into grains of sand, and destroying even the most well-intentioned child’s sand castle!

Standing in waves on Oregon coast
Standing in waves on Oregon coast

We drove along the Oregon coastline and saw the waves pounding against the side of the mountains, receding back into the ocean body as if it had accomplished nothing. But then we would look at the sand along the beach and we could see the result of the wave’s incessant pounding.

Oregon 2009 251 Coos Bay beach

The sand dunes at Coos Bay, Oregon are mind-numbing in magnitude and sheer volume.   The dunes are literally mountains of sand.

Oregon Sand Dunes - mountains of sand
Oregon Sand Dunes – mountains of sand

The Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area website notes that there are “40 miles of wind-sculpted, shifting sand dunes!” Some of these mountains of sand tower 500 feet above sea level. They are like no other dunes in the world and comprise the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in North America. “The strong elemental forces of tides, waves and winds have been constantly moving the sand for centuries – up to two and a half miles inland in places!” [See http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/siuslaw/recarea/?recid=42465 ]

Coos Bay Sand Dune
Coos Bay Sand Dune

Webster’s antiseptic definition doesn’t account for the majesty of the ocean, the pure scope of it; the power of the water as it becomes a hurricane, or the tranquility of the water’s surface at sundown with clouds showing vibrant colors as the sun descends from view.   Here we were watching the sun set from a ship off the New England coastline.

Ocean sunset from ship with distant lighthouse
Ocean sunset from ship with distant lighthouse

Scripture tells us that God created the heavens and the earth, including the ocean or sea.

“And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so.   God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:9-10 [ESV]

In Psalms 24:1-2, David says:

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths.[NLT]

When I look at the ocean, I am reminded that my Savior is Lord over all. The ocean and seas of this world, with their incredible expanse and surpassing power, came into being at the power of His voice and they obey His voice, even today. If the oceans of my life are turbulent, and fear engulfs my heart and mind, I must remember that all of creation came into existence at the power of His voice.

That same Creator God is with us in every circumstance. God is in control and we can be confident that whatever flood overwhelms us, whether it be water, problems, illness, finances, relationships, employment, or some other circumstance, our Lord is in control.

Rainbow across the ocean
Rainbow across the ocean

Trust Him, even when you feel that the ocean of despair has flooded your heart. Pray, ask Him for help. His voice is still powerful! The power that created the seas of the world can create peace within you.

Look to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Sovereign of this world and the Prince of Peace who also happens to be the Lover of your Soul. Let Him calm the storm of doubt and fear when He provides His rainbow of love, peace, assurance and security.

Praise His holy name!

THE ELONGATED TRIP

It is no secret that I have a bad sense of direction. When I got lost in Lowe’s after asking directions to the restroom, I was reminded of a trip I took over 30 years ago when I [again] went in the wrong direction.

At the time, I was a single parent of two early elementary school children. I had graduated from law school in May and had taken the two-day bar examination the day before this trip. In fact, the purpose of this trip was to let me unwind before rejoining the children who had stayed out-of-state while I prepared for and took the test. The problem was that after the test, I felt as though I had experienced a “mental enema”. And, I was sure that I had failed.

I left the rental house in Knoxville to visit friends in Bristol, Tennessee about 120 miles away. I was supposed to arrive in time for lunch, so I left about 9:00 in the morning for an arrival time well ahead of the lunch hour.

The directions said to travel on I75/I40 to I81. My friend’s directions were accurate and I would have been there well before noon if I had followed them – but I didn’t pay attention and found myself at the Tennessee/Kentucky state line.     ? ! ?

The kind lady at the welcome center said that to get to Bristol, I should “go to Knoxville and then take I81.” I was embarrassed to say that I lived in Knoxville, so I said I had just come from there.   Her response was that I could take I75 to Corbin and then take Route 25 and 23 over to Gate City, which runs into Bristol. She said it with the implicit inference that either way would be fine. No real difference between them – you pick!

Not wanting to backtrack, I began the trek to Corbin, after using a pay phone (no cell phones back then) to call my friends to say that I was in Kentucky and would be a little late for lunch. It was at that time about 12:30 p.m.

As I drove, it became apparent that this was no Interstate – it was a highway through the mountains, with steep drop offs on the side and, more importantly, no civilization in sight. Just road and mountains.

TN KY Vista

With all the tension and emotion that I had experienced in the prior 48 hours, I broke down, crying and talking to the Lord as I drove. It went something like this:

“Lord, I tried my hardest but I failed You because now I flunked the bar exam. I’m overqualified for jobs I held before law school but I can’t be a lawyer with the law firm because I won’t have a law license but the firm’s law clerk pay is not sufficient.. I have the two children to feed and take care of … I don’t know what to do next.”

At this point, I looked at my gas gauge and at the temperature dial and was horrified to see that I had no gas and the temperature needle was completely in the red zone.  Then I saw something coming out from under the hood. I had no idea where I was, other than in the middle of nowhere! Pulling to the side of the road, I sobbed into the steering wheel for what seemed like hours.

In John 14:16, Jesus promised to send a Comforter — and the Comforter was with me even on a remote road in the mountains. The Comforter spoke through the Word and told me to look out the window. The vista was beautiful. As if the Lord was present in the car, I heard in my heart and soul:

“I made the mountains and hold them in my hand. [Psalm 95:4] I made you – and you are in my hand. [Psalm 139] I will take care of you. I will not answer your questions now …you just have to trust me.” [Proverbs 3:5; Isaiah 26:4]

I looked at the dashboard – still no gas but the temperature was normal and nothing was spewing from under the hood. I timidly turned the ignition switch, the car came to life, and the trip continued. The Lord even provided sufficient gas to reach Gate City and a service station several hours later.

Linda Knox to Bristol v2

After driving a total of 240 miles through the mountains, I got my friend’s house at 7:30 p.m., not only after lunch, but also after dinner!  (The 120 mile direct route is obvious; the green line is the 240 mile route I took instead.)

The terrified feelings that had earlier dominated my spirit were gone. I was calm; I was in Jesus’ hands and He was in control. God put me in a position where I could hear Him and take comfort in His presence. Jeremiah 29:16 says: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

I remember the incident like it occurred yesterday. But sometimes I forget that He is and has been with me throughout all my life: when that happens, I need to quiet my heart to hear His loving Spirit speak to me.

Beloved, He knows where you are, and where you are going, even when you don’t. Trust Him through the faith we have in our Lord Jesus Christ.

You are in secure hands.

[By the way, I did pass the bar examination and I continued working at the law firm for 30 years until retirement.  God is gracious even when we doubt!]