Sacrifices of Praise

A sacrifice comes with a cost. It is to surrender something we desire for something better, and the cost can be undesirable as the heart breaks. 

Typically, “praise” is associated with joy, gladness, and an eager willingness. Honestly, often it is. However, have you ever been in a church service with a broken heart and fractured soul? You still loved God, although you might not have “felt” like it, because your heart ached and your mind was being bombarded with an onslaught of questions. Perhaps only you and God knew what was tormenting your heart, mind, and soul: loneliness, guilt/shame, loss/grief, anxieties, betrayal, etc. And while those around you sang with enthusiasm, it was an extraordinary accomplishment that you got out of bed and made it to church.

What does all this have to do with sacrifices of praise? During these times praise is a sacrifice, feeling heavy as lead as our feeble voice struggles beneath the strain. Chances are, for many, during these times you do not want to offer such a sacrifice. Believe me, I have been there (and still am, at times). Such an offering is not without pain, but it is a sacrifice for something better (albeit, not immediately). While seemingly small sacrifices, God accepts the sacrifices of tear-sprinkled praise arising from broken hearts: “You are faithful, God!” “I love You, Jesus!” “I trust You, Lord.”

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. ~ Hebrews 13:14-15 (ESV)

Remembering His Cross in Our Pain

Pain is a part of living in a sinful, fallen world, and no one is completely immune. No doubt, some people suffer more than others, but some forms of pain are nearly universal. Who has not felt the wounds of rejection, betrayal, loneliness, and heartache? At some point, anyone who loves will experience the emotional pain of grief. Or who has not felt the pangs of anxiety and fear?

During times of pain it can appear as though our mind and feelings conspire against us, to leave is for dead in despair, but first torturing is with doubts about God’s love, care, and empathy.

I wrote the following song sometime during a severe bout with depression. I have written about this previously, but I felt as though I was in a dark, inescapable pit. I felt like a failure in every sense of the word, and God seemed light years away from me. However, God—in the person of Jesus—experienced much of the pain we feel and questions we ask, while He was rejected, tortured, then killed. 

He Is Still Worthy of Praise

Even when storms rob us of sunshine, And our laughter turns to cries; Even when our nights are the darkest, And there are no stars in our skies…

Bridge:
We look to Christ,
The Holy One who cares;
In brokenness,
We worship Him through tears…

Chorus 1:
(For) He is still worthy of praise;
He is still worthy of honor;
He is still worthy of worship;
He is still worthy of all!

(Repeat)

Even when our minds are afflicted, And questions scream with rage;
And our hearts are so deeply wounded, Feeling forsaken in some cage…

Bridge:
We look to Christ,
And bend our knees in dust.
In spite of pain,
We sing to Him with trust…

(Chorus 1)

Through loneliness and friendlessness, Through deep darkness and through sickness;
Through failure and tears, through raging fears;
Through broken dreams, and angry screams …

Through temptations, and frustrations; Through broken-hearts, and worlds torn apart;
Through death of loved ones, when grief overcomes –
Through all the loss, we remember His Cross!

Even when we face disappointments, When dreams are smashed on rocks, And we watch them sink under waters, As our hearts are crushed on the docks.

Bridge:
We bow our souls,
And cannot even speak.
We want to run,
We want to die,
Yet to our God we cry … and we seek …

(Chorus 1)

Chorus 2:

God You are worthy of praise;
You are still worthy of honor;
You are still worthy of worship;
Jesus, You’re worthy of all!
You are still worthy of praise;
You are still worthy of honor;
You are still worthy of worship;
Jesus, You’re worthy of all!
… Through all the loss, we remember Your Cross …  [1]

Jesus, You’re worthy of praise.

(Words and music by G.P)

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)

__________

[1] Geno Pyse, To Worship Is to Obey: Songs of Worship & Devotion (Rochester: GP&P, 2020), 27-29.

BEWARE of Wolves!

Jesus warns of false prophets who will “come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Externally they will have the appearance of being persons of God, but internally they are enemies of God. Jesus goes on to say, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” That is, we can recognize them by their actions and teachings.

Jesus later warns that in the latter days “many will fall away” [from the faith], and “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matt. 24:10-11). Similarly, the apostle Paul warns, “evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Paul, Peter, Jude, and John each warn of false teachers.

Again, the people of God are not left defenseless. Jesus tells his disciples, just prior to His crucifixion, that they would receive the “Spirit of truth” and He “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:17, 26). And He “will guide you into all the truth….He will glorify me” (16:13-14). Note, Jesus declares Himself as the truth, and God’s word is truth (see John 14:6; 17:17).

What’s the big deal? Jesus says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” ~ Matthew 7:21-23 

It is vital that we understand mere outward appearances and professions of being a “Christian” can be dangerously misleading. Jesus says false prophets/teachers are ravenous wolves disguised as sheep of His pasture. Do not miss the serious implications of Jesus’ warning. He is emphasizing the real nature of false prophets—vicious, strategic, and deadly!

We are living in dangerous times in which many assume a person must be a Christian if they say they are or if something is labeled as “Christian.” Many feel they are “judging” if they question if someone is a Christian; however, there is a vast difference between judging and discerning. In fact, John (one of Jesus’ closest disciples) writes,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. ~ 1 John 4:1

How are we to “test” others? What “fruits” do we watch or listen for to detect false teachers? Well this list is not exhaustive, most false teachings stem from one or more of the following:

  • Empty religion (works and activities void of God’s grace and inner workings)
  • Rejecting the authority and trustworthiness of the Scriptures
  • The condoning of behaviors God condemns (antinomianism)
  • Adding works to grace (legalism)
  • “Prostituting” the Gospel
  • Denying the Person and/or atoning work of Jesus Christ
  • Messages void of the necessity of the Cross
  • Salvation by any means other than Christ alone [1]

In our Western church culture people tend to focus on Jesus’ message of love and grace, but may we not dismiss His and the apostles’ warnings of the ever immenent danger of false prophets and their literally damnable teachings.

__________

[1]  Geno Pyse, BEWARE of False Prophets: Taking Seriously the Warnings of Jesus, the Prophets, & the Apostles (Rochester: GP&P, 2020), 71.

Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles each warn of false prophets and false teachers. In fact, Jesus and the apostles warn that these will go “from bad to worse” prior to Jesus’ return. Furthermore, the apostle Paul says there will be a great falling away (apostasy) from the faith. This book discusses some of the common teachings and/or practices of false teachers, and seeks to help persons to become better equipped to discern between truth and error. Study questions for group or personal study included. (184 pages)

America’s Perilous Situation and How We Got Here

The political climate has become extremely divided, hostile, and in some cases violent. The hypocrisy in the accusations thrown around is unbearable. “He is such a liar!” As opposed to whom? “He is so corrupt!” As if the other candidate is not? “He is so evil!” Ah, but it is here we need to ask ourselves, how did we get here?

As Americans, we should be disgusted with both political parties. Both parties have lied to us, both parties have accepted money from lobbyists, both parties have had scandals, and both parties have individuals walking free, yet guilty of crimes the average person would be imprisoned for. We can complain all we want to, but do we, the American people, not bear much of the blame?

I hear people on both sides accusing the other of being liars, all the while ignoring the lies spoken by the candidates they support. I hear people accuse candidates and officials of being “Hitler” or “Nazis,” all the while fully endorsing abortion on demand. I was sickened a few years ago when one particular candidate’s platform was nothing less than a celebration of death. Yet, as a society we want to label candidates as “evil” when our own hearts are void of compassion for the most helpless and innocent?

Oh, let me not ignore the great hypocrisy of Hollywood, those who like to “instruct” us in morality and decency, although many of whom practice neither. Ricky Gervais is correct when he stated that those at the Oscar Awards ceremony are in no position to lecture on such things.

Again, the question must be asked, how did we get here? Consider the following passage:

Thus says the Lord: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless? They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through, where no man dwells?’ And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit….Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God; the fear of me is not in you, declares the Lord God of hosts. ~ Jeremiah 2:5-8, 19 (ESV)

We, as a society, always want to point fingers and shift the blame, but do we not bear much of the blame? Consider the last election, for example. How did our main choices come down to Hillary and Trump? We can state our negative opinions of either of these individuals; however, society rejected candidates who have more integrity than either of these individuals. Why? What hypocrisy we must own whenever we accuse others as being “evil,” “immoral,” and “liars” when we reject those who are righteous and persons of integrity. What hypocrisy when we condemn persons as being “immoral,” yet idolize actors and musicians who glorify the raunchiest acts of immorality. What hypocrisy when we accuse others of being “evil” when our own lives are godless and self-indulgent.

Let us not think that the church is guiltless. Consider another passage:

The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken. ~ Ezekiel 22:25-28

Many who profess the name of Jesus Christ, too, are guilty of condoning, applauding, and promoting behaviors and practices that God condemns. Furthermore, pride, greed, and various forms of immorality are known to be condoned and/or “whitewashed” among both Catholics and Evangelicals. There are many churches who make no distinction between what is holy and what is profane, and instead of seeking to be true to the Scriptures, many want to simply “agree to disagree,” lest they appear as “judgmental” or “divisive.”

I believe America is in dire straights. Although many will mock, I believe God has already begun judging America (read Romans 1). How did we get into the situation we presently find ourselves in? We have turned from God (and I mean, specifically, the one true God of the Bible) and have rejected His Son Jesus Christ whom He sent to redeem us. More and more society vehemently denounces and opposes God in nearly every sector. Increasingly our society condones what God condemns and scorns what God commends. Even in many churches preachers are casting doubt on the Scriptures and adapting to the world’s philosophies and code of “ethics” instead of what God reveals. Thus, we as a society are guilty of great evil.

I hear people crying, “Trump is ruining our country” or “Biden will destroy America!” But let me be clear, neither man is America’s savior, nor is either man to blame for her path to destruction. Only God can heal our nation, and this can only happen if we, as a nation, repent of our wickedness. Otherwise, not the best of our cunning and strategizing will prevent God’s judgement.

Will God choose to grant further mercies for America? I do not know. However, Nehemiah’s prayer is quite instructive for us, as he humbled himself, confessing the sins of his nation, as well as his own sins and those of his father’s house:

O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded. ~ Nehemiah 1:5-7

We can choose to try to erase history rather than learn from it. We can choose to mock God’s judgment, but it has already begun. Woe to us if we choose to “take our chances” and refuse to repent. We are already walking a thin line, and it is getting ever closer to snapping. What do we have to lose? Far more than we realize.

Pain Accompanies Spiritual Growth

“Lord, use me for Your glory!” Have you ever prayed this? If so, this is an invitation for pruning, and pruning hurts. Furthermore, if you are sincere about such a prayer, the Lord will answer your prayer. Strangely, the way we tend to envision the answer is not at all the way it comes.

A. W. Tozer once penned, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” Whenever God uses a man or woman for his kingdom purposes, He will cut away pride, selfishness, hatred, and self-sufficiency.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~ John 15:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus states several crucial elements concerning our spiritual health, growth, and fruitfulness. First, the Father is the One who brings about growth and fruit. Neither of these are by our own doing.

Second, part of our growth comes through pain. The Father “cuts away” what is either dead or “diseased” (i.e., injurious).

Third, if we truly desire to grow, bear fruit, and be useful to God in His kingdom, then we must abide (dwell in, remain) in Christ and His teachings. This does require a measure of self-discipline on our part.

And finally, Jesus says that apart from Him we can do nothing, which explains why much of the church is impotent. This is not a criticism but simply a statement. Too often we set our plans into motion, lift a small prayer for blessing, then watch the results fade away like smoke. Hence the reason for pruning—dependence solely on Him.

As mentioned, pruning hurts; yet, this is necessary for spiritual health and bearing fruit. Sometimes when pruning (various trials) comes, persons often think it is because they have done something wrong, as though God is upset with them. But notice what Jesus says: “Every tree that does not bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

“Lord, use me for Your glory!” If you truly desire this, then there will be times of pruning, but do not be disheartened. Just as the Father disciplines those that He loves (see Heb. 12:5-8), so He also prunes the fruit bearing ones who glorify Him. Indeed, pruning hurts, but it is necessary for healthy growth.

Are You Following Ahab’s Bad Example?

Truth is not always pleasant, it does not always seem kind. However, truth is good and beneficial—like medicine—if we will not resist or reject it. Sadly there are many people who would rather perish feeling good than feel the sting of truth and actually become good and healthy.

In the Old Testament, we are told of the account of Ahab, one of the wicked kings of Israel. Preparing to go into battle, he requested that Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to be his ally. Jehoshaphat agreed and came to help Ahab. Ahab called for false prophets to ask if he would have victory. They replied that the Lord would give him success. 

Jehoshaphat, a godly king, must have sensed something wrong, because he asked, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” (1 Kings 22:7). Ahab’s response is astounding:

And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” ~ 1 Kings 22:8

Micaiah, a true prophet of God, was summoned. When he arrived, Ahab  asked if he should go into battle. Micaiah must have had a mockingly tone as he answered, “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king” (vs. 15). We are then told,

But the king said to him, “How many times shall I make you swear that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” ~ vs. 16

Did you catch that? “Nothing but the truth,” Ahab demanded. So, Micaiah prophesied that Ahab’s army would be scattered in defeat. Ahab then looks over at Jehoshaphat and asks, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” (vs. 18).

Micaiah proceeded to tell Ahab that he would die in battle. Zedakiah, a false prophet, struck Micaiah, asking scornfully, “How did the Spirit of the LORD go from me to speak to you?” (vs. 24).

What was Micaiah’s reward for speaking the truth? Imprisonment. Yet, what he spoke would prove to be true: the army was scattered and Ahab was killed.

How do you respond to truth? How do you react when you are confronted with your faults and sins? How do you respond when a person of God shares from the Bible of something being wrong, but society says it is okay? Do not follow Ahab’s example. Truth is not always pleasant, but it can rescue you from many perils if you will yield to it. 

How Have We Become So Mean and Nasty?

The political climate and polarization of our country have become extremely toxic, releasing the poisons of hypocrisy and hatred. Strangely, while different sides are spewing out derogatory and accusative terms (racists, Hitler/Nazis, fascists, snowflakes, cry babies, —phobics, etc.), and labeling others as evil, each reveal—from both the Left and the Right—the murder in their own hearts. Social media has only confounded the issue more, as people remove nearly all filters, including common decency and respect. No one is safe or immune from the abusive language. 

Are we on the brink of becoming a nation of savages? Aside from the obvious violence and riots in various cities, just consider the things people say on Facebook, Twitter, etc. We often see the quotes on Twitter coming from celebrities, journalists, and politicians exploding with nastiness and profanities directed at another. On Facebook average Joes belittle one another relentlessly and viciously because of differing views. There is rarely actual conversing, but accusations laced with profanities.

Of our own president some have portrayed him being beheaded, and some have posted they hope he dies from Covid. Similar things are said about other politicians. Many make fun of another political that appears to be facing early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. From where does such nastiness come, and what does it reveal? While hatred and derision are vomited out of our mouths or pounded on our buttons, Jesus reveals to us the ugly truth from where our words come—and worse, what they reveal.

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. ~ Luke 6:45 (ESV)

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. ~ Matthew 12:34

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. ~ Matthew 5:21-22

Did you catch these? Our words come from our hearts, which are either like refreshing fountains or repulsive cesspools. Furthermore, our nasty, malicious words reveal the evil of murder in our hearts.

The apostle Paul, referencing Old Testament passages, writes,

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” ~ Romans 3:12-18

Just as lust-filled glances reveal the immorality in a man’s heart, Jesus says our mean-spirited words reveal the malice and murder in our own hearts. This stinging truth is just as true for the Right as it is for the left; for liberals and conservatives; for Republicans and Democrats; and irregardless of color or nationality.

While degrading others and trying to take the specks out of others’ eyes, Jesus blasts us by confronting us with our own hypocrisy:

How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. ~ Matthew 7:4-5

How have we become so mean and nasty? How can we expect others to be decent while we ourselves are not behaving decently? According to Jesus, we are to look to Him in faith, and for forgiveness, and He will help clean us up from the inside out. From there, we are to be kind, loving, and just regardless how others behave. How can our cities and nation be rid of the violence if we refuse to confess and repent of the violence raging in our own hearts? Our hypocrisies serve only as fuel on the fires.

When God Is Silent

There, perhaps, is no other indescribable anguish of the heart and spirit than the silence of God—especially for those who have experienced His love, witnessed His power, and can recount times of closeness and answered prayer.

Extended periods of God’s silence and inactivity can truly test one’s faith. Emotions can seem like a turbulent sea, with questions tormenting the mind like seemingly endless waves pounding on the shore. Dark storm clouds block out the light of the sun—and nights are ever darker still.

Such experiences are not uncommon for the people of God. The psalmist writes, 

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? ~ Psalm 13:1 (ESV)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. ~ 22:1-2

The prophet Habakkuk cries out,

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? ~ Habakkuk 1:2

The prophet Jeremiah pleads to the Lord,

Be not a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster. ~ Jeremiah 17:17

In the New Testament, although it was clearly confirmed to John the Baptist that Jesus is the Messiah, after being imprisoned he sent disciples to ask Jesus,

Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? ~ Matthew 11:3

Times of divine silence, especially extended periods, causes common questions to arise:

  • What has happened?
  • What did I do?
  • Is God angry with me?
  • Will God speak again?
  • Has God abandoned me?
  • Is God trustworthy?
  • Why?

The reasons for God’s silence varies. Sometimes it is to humble us, and to remind us of our dependence on Him. If we are not careful, we can become conceited and think we are quite “spiritual”. Such pride usually lacks love.

Sometimes God’s silence is due to willful and persistent sin.

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. ~ Isaiah 59:2

Still, sometimes God is silent to stretch and grow our faith. We live in an age in which feelings are exalted. Too often we lean, depend, and even put trust in our ever-changing feelings. However, our faith is to be anchored on God, His character, and His promises.

When experiencing God’s silence, what are we to do? First, we should examine ourselves. Are we refusing to confess and repent of sin (e.g., immorality, unkind words, unforgiveness, idolatry, prayerlessness, etc.)? Second, we need to remember God’s faithfulness in the past. God is unchanging. He remains faithful. Third, and this is the most difficult, we are to continue to trust in spite of our feelings and doubts.

The prophet Micah shared in such experiences, too. He writes,

My enemies, don’t be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light. I have sinned against the Lord. And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defense. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. ~ Micah 7:8-9 (CEV)

Love of Dogs and Lessons from the Spirit

Those who know me know that I love dogs. I have a Peanuts t-shirt with Charlie Brown and Snoopy. The caption reads: “Life is better with a dog.” I have a couple of shirts my wife had made for me that read, “I just want to pet all the dogs.” And our son’s girlfriend had gotten me a hoodie that reads, “Easily distracted by dogs.” Each of these are true of me. I am the person who, if there is a dog in a room filled with people, wants to make a bee line to the doggy.

I shared with my small group leader recently that people think I am joking when I say that I tend to love dogs more than I do people, but I really do. To me, dogs are one of the most noble creatures God has made. Yes, they have some peculiar qualities; however, I know of no other creature that displays such profound and unconditional love, loyalty, and acceptance. People, on the other hand, can be so ugly and mean-spirited. I am perplexed by cities with ordinances which prohibit pit bulls, because each of the pitties I have ever met are sweet little “cuddle bugs”. I have not been bitten by one. However, I have been “bitten” by people many times—even from some whom I had ministered to and thought to be friends.

During a recent small group gathering, the leader had mentioned that God calls followers of Christ to love with agape love; that is, a love that is unconditional and is genuinely benevolent toward others—regardless how we are treated. He reminded us what the Scriptures say:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1 (ESV)

I later told him that it was as if God was saying to me, “Child, it brings joy to Me that you love dogs so much. So do I, because I created them. I am glad they are a blessing to you and that you have no desire to mistreat them. However, they do not bear My imprint. People are the creatures who bear My image. It is people who are redeemable, it is people for whom I died .” People—the only creation fashioned in God’s likeness and the only creation for whom He died. People are redeemable.

Will we see our beloved pets in heaven? I do not know. I sure hope so. What I do know is the Bible says people will be in only one of two places: heaven or hell, and the former is only by people placing their hope and trust in Jesus Christ because of His redemptive work on the cross. The rest will enter the misery and torment of the latter. Nevertheless, God pleads with humanity.

As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil w in ays, for why will you die…? ~ Ezekiel 33:11 

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:8-9

Do you realize just how much you are loved by your Creator?

Though I Walk Through the Valley

Fear. Each of us have experienced it at some point, and many are experiencing it now. We are living in times of upheaval, unrest, uncertainty, and chaos. The ripples of terrorism, threats of economic collapse, rioting, natural disasters, etc. are being felt around the world. Many are fearful, not knowing what to make of Covid.

It is silliness to simply tell people, “You shouldn’t be afraid,” or worse, “Fear is a sin.” The fact of the matter is, many of the great saints of old experienced fear: Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, and the disciples. If you are experiencing fear today, you are in good company. The challenge before you, then, is how to manage your fear?

The psalmist writes,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. ~ Psalm 23:4-5 (ESV)

Traveling through a dark valley, seemingly alone—even in death’s shadow, not knowing what might lurk beyond one’s vision—this sounds like a pretty scary place to be (imagine the complete vulnerability of a sheep or lamb). The psalmist is not trivializing the dread. However, he acknowledges the presence of the Shepherd. The first thing the child of God must remember is God is always present with His own (even if His presence is not “felt” or “sensed.” Our feelings can be very deceiving.

Next, he mentions the Shepherd’s “rod and staff.” This is a metaphor referring to God’s Word—His instructions and promises. For example, God’s Word can shed light on the fact that our difficult situations often serve a purpose. Furthermore, God’s promises remind us that we will get through the difficulties as we lean on the Lord.

Contrary to popular belief, Jesus says we will have difficulties. He tells His disciples to not be afraid, not as a stern commandment, but because He knows there will be times they will be afraid. There are times we are afraid; however, in Him, we do not have to be overcome by fear. Perhaps you are experiencing fear today. God knows. I hope you will look to Christ, the Great Shepherd, and experience peace in His presence and Word today.

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