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

Peace in the Coming Night

Uncertainty is a mark of the time we are living in: What is going on? Who can we trust? Where are we headed? When is the storm going to hit? Why is this happening? Our world is giving ample reasons to fret and fear. I want to encourage you to  place your faith in Jesus Christ.

Oh, I know the “experts” say to jettison the faith. Many university professors, celebrities, and politicians scorn such faith. This is fine, but I ask you to ponder this: The more the world pushes out Jesus, do things get better or worse? Does the world become more peaceful or more turbulent?

I know it is common for some (e.g. Mikhail Gorbachev) to blame wars on religion, but this is not true. Most have to do with a lust for power. Have you ever considered dictators are never religious individuals? Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, etc. were neither religious nor virtuous. And this New World Order we occasionally hear about, this will be an atheistic, secular humanistic totalitarian government. This might be closer than we realize.

The Bible has warned us for many years there would come a time of great difficulty (see 1 Tim. 3:1-7); a time when many would reject the Christian faith (see 2 Thes. 2:1-12); a totalitarian government and cashless society (see Rev. 13). I do not profess to know when all this will fully fall into place, but the process has begun. Even now, there are many within the U.N. pushing for a one-world government and an ecumenical one-world religion. The present Pope Francis does not hide his ambitions concerning these.

All of this gives us multiple reasons to be afraid, but Jesus invites is to find refuge and peace in Him.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me… I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ~ John 14:1, 6 (ESV)

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

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:6-7

The world continues to promote the myth and superstition of a secular humanistic “utopia.” This tale is but a smokescreen for a lust for power of the elite. Nothing less. And like deadly spiders, they will spin whatever lie to catch and devour.

Jesus is up front with us and tells us there will be difficulty; however, in Him we can have peace, and He will get us through the difficulties.

May these words encourage your heart, and help you fix your eyes on Jesus with a renewed confidence.

Spring’s Declaration of Our Everlasting Hope

Living in Minnesota, the winters can seem rather long. In fact, some can seem forever. The sky is often gray and dismal, and the temperature biting. “Seasonal depression” is not uncommon here.

March and April can be taunting months. Warm, sunny days and melting snow—then comes another snowfall. Repeat the process. I remember one year this happened several times, and one could sense the irritability in many people (including myself). Although the blustery, lifeless winters would appear to have a stranglehold, spring proves to be victorious as life bursts forth throughout the landscape.

In his book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis tells of the evil white witch who brought perpetual winter to the land of Narnia. Yet, certain citizens (i. e., the Beaver’s) remained steadfast in their hope in Aslan and his promise of the coming spring. Mr. Beaver quotes the ancient rhyme:

“Wrong will be right,
when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar,
sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth,
winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane,
we shall have spring again.” [1]

Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia, is an allegorical story of Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. The winter wonderfully portrays the brutal coldness of the witch’s heart, as well as the barrenness and harshness of the ice and snow. These capture well the absolute evil of the adversary (the devil), and the  impoverishing effects of sin: loneliness, guilt, greed, violence, evil, and death. I know Hollywood makes entertainment of these, the education system scoffs at the source of them, and Washington and world leaders make use by exploiting these. Regardless, the reality of these is before us continually.

The situation, indeed, appears hopeless. However, just as the Beaver’s held to the promises of ancient rhymes, we also have ancient promises we can hold onto with confidence.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. ~ Romans 8:18-25

Because of sin, creation was subjected to bondage, corruption, and futility. For centuries, for millennia, creation has been groaning—left to suffer in the ever bitter winter. However, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sunlight has pierced the dreary skies. The temperature is rising, and the snow and ice are melting. Although the winds still bite, the eternal Spring draws ever closer! At that time,

A new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~ Revelation 21:1-4

Although the devil and wicked men sought, and continue to seek, to silence Jesus, His Gospel continues on and will not stop.

As Lewis writes, in a manner as only he could,

“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards’” [2]

Darkness will continue to try to smother the light; evil will continue to resist the good; and the wicked will continue to persecute the righteous. These would forever perpetuate the winter; however, the light of Christ has already dawned. Even now the ice is melting. Although the blustery, lifeless winter of sin at times seems to have a stranglehold, when Christ returns His Eternal Spring will prove to be victorious as life bursts forth gloriously throughout the landscape—to never succumb to another winter again.

Notes:

[1]  C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1950), 74-75

[2]  Ibid., 159-160.

Be Not Afraid

We are living in turbulent times. This should not come as a surprise, since the Scriptures tell us:

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. ~ 2 Timothy 3:1 (KJV)

At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” ~ Hebrews 12:26 (ESV)

The closer Christ’s return draws near the more difficult things are going to become (see also Matthew 24). Nevertheless, the people of God do not need to be paralyzed with fear.

With the recent concerns of the Coronavirus, many have gone into an irrational panic, while others have tried to exploit the situation.

I question the chaos around me. Is the panic, closings, etc. truly warranted? What I do know is I am not in control—but my God is. Furthermore, whether by a virus or something else, I am going to die someday. What good is all the toilet paper and supplies worth, then, if I didn’t have Christ? Therefore:

I will not live in fear, what’s going to happen is going to happen. I will do the best I can day by day.

I will be thankful. Tomorrow I might not have a house, food, job, etc; but TODAY I do.

I will not hoard. I will purchase as I have need of just as I always have.

If my family, friends, or neighbors are in need, I will not close my heart to them if they need me. God knows that there are times I need them.

I will remember the poem, “If,” by Rudyard Kipling, for it is an excellent reminder of what it truly means to be a man in difficult times.

And I will try to not be so cynical of panic, hoarding, and attempts to exploit that I am aware of. How else should human depravity be expressed? Any peace, goodwill, or benevolence I might have simply comes from my Lord Jesus Christ. How truly arrogant of me whenever I think otherwise!

My friends, whatever may come, May we not be afraid. May we find comfort in God, and through Him support and comfort one another.

Several years ago I wrote the following song. I hope it may be of encouragement and comfort to your heart, mind, spirit.

Be Not Afraid (I’m Watching Over You)

Be not afraid, though nighttime approaches;
Though shadows stir within the dark.
Be not afraid, for I am your Starshine,
And I will be shining within your heart.

Be not afraid, though storm clouds might gather,
And tears might fall down like the rain.
Be not afraid of thunder and lightning,
Know that the daytime will come again.

Chorus:
Be not afraid, dear child,
You’re not alone;
Be not afraid, My child,
I am with you.
Be not afraid, dear child,
Though you can’t see Me;
I am your God, My child,
I’m watching over you.

Be not afraid, though winds might be howling,
Taunting you within the dark;
Be not afraid, for I will be whispering
My love and peace into your heart.

(Repeat chorus)

Be not afraid, no, be not afraid;
Be not afraid, dear child, be not afraid.
Be not afraid, no, be not afraid;
Be not afraid, My child, be not afraid.
I am your God, My child, I’m watching over you.

~ G.P.

To God be the glory. Peace to you. You are loved!

Heaven (Part 1): The Christian’s Longing

The world mocks the concept of sin; nevertheless, we see and experience its ravaging effects through violence, crime, addictions, betrayal, heartache, loneliness, weariness, sickness, suffering, and ultimately, death.

Life can be very dark and wearisome—even for the people of God. The Scriptures are neither shy nor vague about this. Jesus says,

“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

Paul writes:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. ~ 2 Timothy 3:12

Even the people of God can grow weary and discouraged. The author of Hebrews writes to such individuals:

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. ~ Hebrews 10:35-36

The Risk, and the Courage, to Love

To love. I do not mean the raging hormones seeking to find release that is mistakenly called “love” and so extolled and worshiped in music, novels, and film. No, I mean LOVE: genuine benevolence, compassion, and desire of wellbeing for others.

Authentic love requires courage, because it is accompanied by sacrifice and risk. On this side of eternity, love will always result in heartache. Such heartache will come by means of being nonreciprocal (rejection or resistance), betrayal, or loss (separation or death). Each pain is different, but each hurt immensely to the core of our being.

Without romanticizing or glamorizing love, we must be willing to ask ourselves, is it worth the risk? One should not be overly critical of those who have felt the wounds of heartache stemming from what, from their part, was true love: loss of a parent, a friend moving away, the betrayal of a lover, the death of a pet, rejection by one greatly admired, etc. Such internal pain can embitter a person. There are those who choose to harden their hearts and close them up securely, so that they might protect themselves from such suffering again. Their hearts become like walls of Jericho—none shall enter and they shall not come out (see Joshua 6:1). Yet, this too, comes with great risk.

Only as a person is open to love, both willing to extend and receive it, can he truly experience the wonders of love, joy, connection, and true humanity. Furthermore, as much as we can extend and receive love can we truly appreciate another’s kindness or sacrifice, a baby’s dependency, a dog’s kisses, a friend’s good intentions, another’s sincere apology, the beauty of life, etc.

As mentioned, to choose to not love also comes with risk. One can choose to protect themselves from further pain of heartache, but not without imprisoning themselves to a place void of joy, peace, and true purpose. A person might protect themselves from the heartache of rejection, betrayal, and loss; however, replacing these is the pain of loneliness, friendlessness, disconnect, bitterness, and resentment. Furthermore, he misses his deeper purpose, as our species is created to be relational. In other words, he imprisons himself and forfeits freedom. Sadly, there are many who find such imprisonment worth it—just as long as they can protect their hearts. But in the long run, do they?

To love does not mean we are to be naive or stupid. We are to be discerning who we befriend, keep company with, and give our hearts to. Indeed, the Scriptures command us to love others—including our enemies. However, we are also told:

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. ~ Proverbs 13:20 (ESV)

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:33

Love does not mean condoning or passively putting up with abuse and meanness. Let us be clear on this. However, we should not close and harden our hearts, suspecting the universe—and everyone in it—is against us. We should not set standards so high as being impossible for others to attain. We should not erect a wall, and having a grotesque gargoyle appearance on our face—intimidating anyone who would dare approach us. And we should not shoot back a cold, empty stare when someone greets us with a warm smile.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. ~ Romans 12:9-13

Notice, genuine love abhors what is evil, and it does not rejoice at wrongdoing. Love is not about phony niceness, becoming a doormat, or giving allowance to anything and everything. Nevertheless, love is patient, kind, and honorable with others. In other words, love does not wink at corruption or turn a blind eye to injustice. However, love does not condemn everyone guilty until proven innocent or withhold mercy at every shortcoming. Love remembers, compassionately, that no one is perfect and grace is required.

Yes, there is sorrow and pain that come with embracing the risk to love, but there is greater risk in not doing so. The sorrow that comes with love is mingled with times of joy, delight, and connection. The closed heart prohibits such mingling but remains as a dank, lonesome dungeon.

Do Not Throw Away Your Confidence

Faith. What is this ambiguous phenomenon? There are three popular flows of thought in our contemporary world concerning faith, and all three are wrong.

First, the view of faith as being this mystical, ultra-spiritual experience; borderline Christianized paganism (perhaps even crossing the boundary in some cases). This view is very sensory and emotionally based. The problem with this view has to do with the fact that our feelings can be very misleading, misinterpreting, and quite deceptive.

Second, the view of faith as always being victorious and prosperous. This often condescending view perceives those who are sick, poor, defeated, etc. as schmucks who “lack faith.” The problem with this view is it essentially makes faith into a god, as if the true God is obligated to bow to it. Furthermore, it discredits genuine faith in others, and disregards passages in the Scriptures that tell of believers who were commended for their great faith but who were permitted to suffer or go without.

The third, and most arrogant of the three, is the secular view that sees faith as utter foolishness, and often treats persons of faith with contempt and hostility. This view accuses faith as being blind, and as a leaping into the dark haphazardly.  The problem with this view is it is often quite hypocritical, for its adherents often blindly follow ideologies and theories that have proven calamitous or which have no evidence.

Indeed, there are mysterious aspects of faith, but is it mystical? Truly, faith is triumphant (“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” [1 John 5:4, ESV]), but does this mean there are no bumps, bruises, or battle-wounds? No mistake, faith travels without seeing the whole picture, but does this mean it is blind and mindless?

Here is what the Scriptures tell us about faith:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear…. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. ~ Hebrews 11:1-3, 6 (KJV)

Notice, there is substance to faith, as well as evidence. Furthermore, through faith there is an understanding—not a shot in the dark. The substance, evidence, and understanding are each founded upon the framing of the world by the word of God. Although there is a confidence which accompanies faith, does this mean it is void of questions—even of doubt? While faith is overcoming, does this mean it is never weak?

David asks:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? ~ Psalm 10:1

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

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. ~ Psalm 22:1-2

The prophet Habakkuk asks:

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? ~ Habakkuk 3:2-3

Jeremiah asks:

Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? ~ Jeremiah 12:1

The writer of Hebrews writes of various persons of great faith, of their victories, exploits, and answers to prayer. Then he shifts gears and writes of others of great faith:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith. ~ 11:35-39

Faith is not about “feeling,” but is about trusting God—even when it feels like He has turned His back, is apathetic concerning our cries, or powerless against our adversaries. Faith is not about apparent victory or prosperity. These passages reveal that there are times faith can be accompanied by heartfelt questions, soul-shivering feelings of loneliness and abandonment, and apparent defeat of persecution. Faith is trusting God’s character, faithfulness, wisdom, justice, and power—despite our feelings, questions, and faulty perception.

So, is faith a mindless, blind leap into the dark? John the Baptist (whom Jesus referred to as the greatest born of women [see Matthew 11:11]) was unjustly imprisoned and soon to be executed. Even though he knew Jesus was the Messiah, his dire situation perplexed him. John sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replied:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” ~ Matthew 11:4-6

John (whom Jesus declared to be the greatest of men) was not rich. Now he was alone, and seemingly abandoned. What was Jesus’ instructions for John? To observe; to pay attention. Jesus was restoring lives. To the one who is willing to observe today, Jesus Christ is still restoring and transforming lives, even while He might allow us to remain in unpleasant, perplexing situations. We come then, to a fork in the road, where we must make a choice: to choose to be “offended” and travel in unbelief or to trust in Him and His faithfulness.

Perhaps this day your faith is being tested. The fires are raging or the waters are rising. You are afraid, perplexed, and God feels far away. But God tells His people:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. ~ Isaiah 43:1-2

The writer of Hebrews was writing to a people who were suffering persecution because of their faith in Christ. Many of them were discouraged to the point of abandoning their faith. The writer sought to encourage them (and us):

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. ~ Hebrews 10:35-36

Dear reader, may you remember what God has done in your life and the things He has shown you. May you remember that He never said the journey of faith would be easy (but He has promised it will be worth it). May you hold firmly to your confidence in Him and His atoning work on our behalf.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. ~ Psalm 37:23-24

Weak, Mighty Warrior

We people are a paradox: we are quite fragile, as mere words can cut us to the core; yet, we can be strong and resilient, rising up from circumstances that can otherwise be crushing.

This day, my friend, your night might be long, but know that morning will come and the sun will again shine upon you. Your winter might seem eternally cold, but your spring will again come with its warmth and beauty.

You might feel weak, as though you cannot go on—but you can, you must! Allow your storm to soften the ground so you can grow deeper roots. Sway along with the winds, yet allow them to strengthen your branches.

All pain hurts (physical, emotional, etc.), but none define. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ, even while you hurt, and He will not waste your pain, tears, or even your failures. As you are wounded, you will be strengthened. As you heal, you will be as healing to others. As you forgive, you will find freedom. As you recognize you are weak, you will also find that, in Christ, you are strong.

But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

Be encouraged, Warrior, you are weak, but you are incredibly strong!