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.

The Splendid Sound of Silence

In my last post I had mentioned that ours is a society that not simply loves—but is addicted—to noise. There are many who cannot bear the sound of silence—especially when it is broken by the sounds of their own thoughts and questions.

What is it about silence that is so unnerving? For prolonged periods of silence (and lack of distractions) we must wrestle with questions of deeper issues:

  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Why am I here? Do I have significance?
  • Is there a God? If so, What is He like?
  • What happens after I die?

Such questions are quite natural. The writer of Ecclesiastes notes, “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:11

Mind you, when I talk about silence, I am talking about healthy, essential periods of quiet solitude. I am not encouraging unhealthy, debilitating isolation. We are social creatures. Yet, consider the following:

On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. ~ Psalm 145:5

And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” ~ 1 Kings 19:12-13

What might we hear if we take the time to be still, to be quiet, to hear—to actually listen—in the silence? In his book, The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer discusses “The Speaking Voice.” This Voice, the voice of God, is constantly calling, forever pursuing, people.

“It is spiritual responses for which this Wisdom of God is pleading, a response which she [in Proverbs Wisdom is referred to in the feminine] has always sought and is but rarely able to secure. The tragedy is that our eternal welfare depends upon our hearing, and we have trained our ears not to hear.”

Tozer later writes,

“When God spoke out of heaven to our Lord, self-centered men who heard it explained it by natural causes, saying, ‘It thundered.’ This habit of explaining the Voice by appeals to natural law is at the very root of modern science. In the living, breathing cosmos there is a mysterious Something, too wonderful, too awful for any mind to understand. The believing man does not claim to understand. He falls to his knees and whispers, ‘God.’ The man of earth kneels also, but not to worship. He kneels to examine, to search, to find the cause and the how of things. Just now we happen to be living in a secular age. Our thought habits are those of the scientist, not those of the worshiper. We are more likely to explain than to adore. ‘It thundered,’ we exclaim, and go our earthly way. But still the Voice sounds and searches. The order and life of the world depend upon that Voice, but men are mostly too busy or too stubborn to give attention.” [1]

The Voice continues to speak that we might gain wisdom, discernment, and life. Yet, how often do we miss it due to all the noise? The psalmist tells us:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. ~ Psalm 19:1-4

The writer of Hebrews tells us:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. ~ 1:1-2

If we learn to listen we might learn to delight in the sound of silence, for its in the silence we can begin to hear the Voice. Nevertheless, I am sure many will be apprehensive. Tozer writes:

“The Voice of God is a friendly Voice. No one need to fear to listen to it unless he has already made up his mind to resist it. The blood of Jesus has covered not only the human race but all creation as well. ‘And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven’ (Colossians 1:20)….

Whoever will listen will hear the speaking Heaven…. Religion has accepted the monstrous heresy that noise, size, activity and bluster make a man dear to God. But we may take heart. To a people caught in the tempest of the last great conflict God says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10), and still He says it, as if He means to tell us that our strength and safety lie not in noise but in silence.” [2]

May the Voice break our addiction to noise and may we come to delight in the splendid sound of silence—being broken by the Voice of the God who so loves us!

__________

[1]  A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1993), 64-66.

[2]  Ibid., 67-68.

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 3): R.S.V.P.

Not everyone will enter heaven. What a sad and fearful thought that many church members—even persons of the clergy—will be denied entrance. 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 (ESV)

Only those who repent of their sins (each of us have sinned) and believe on Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for our sins. Some will argue this is unfair, but consider the following:

  1. God is perfectly holy and pure. By His very nature and essence  He cannot, and will not, permit sin in His presence and heaven.
  2. Those who love sin would not enjoy heaven. The immoral, nefarious, and maleficent would abhor the absolute purity of heaven. Make no mistake, heaven would not be a paradise for those whose hearts are not changed by the Gospel and Holy Spirit.
  3. Some argue the Gospel is too “exclusive,” but God offers His salvation to every individual, regardless of their age, background, gender, color, or nationality. He will not force anyone to accept, but why would a person not want to?

If a deadly virus began ravaging the world, would you resent hospitals for saying there is only one cure? Would you refuse it because of its exclusivity? Yet, God says the only Cure for our dire spiritual predicament is to believe on His Son Jesus who died for our sins. Many are offended by this, and thus, forfeit heaven and every spiritual blessing that could be their’s in Christ.

Heaven (Part 2): The Beautiful City of Holiness

While a measure of rest can be had in this life, the true rest is in the life to come—heaven. What does the Bible say about heaven?

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 21:2-4

Heaven will be a beautiful place, like a stunning, breathtaking bride!There will be no suffering, crying, or death. There will no longer be feelings of distance or disconnect from God. There will be no violence, betrayal, corruption, or oppression. There will not be racism. In fact, we are told,

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” ~ Revelation 7:9-10

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

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