It is doubtful anyone has had a terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, quite like Job. (Apologies to Alexander.) In one day, Job lost his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants, and all his children. No one could have blamed Job had he cursed God and said, “I’m done with you!” But that’s not what he did. “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship” (Job 1:20).
In the midst of unimaginable grief, Job’s first response to calamity was to worship. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (vs. 21).
I believe Job has something to teach us about first responses. Some of the actions taken at the recent Annual Council in Battle Creek have left many feeling like they’re living through a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day…again. Though not to be compared with Job, some are grieving and lashing out in ways that all but say to the church, “I’m done with you!” But for a people whose very identity is defined by the three angels in Revelation 14, the first of which gives a global call to “Fear God and…Worship Him,” worship should be our habitual and first response in any circumstance.
Christians are faith’s first responders who are called to respond first in worship. Responding in the flesh is only human. But God expects more from us. Faith’s first responders are called to walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. The only way to know which of these has control (flesh or Spirit) is if we worship God first before we do or say anything else.
Worship fixes my eyes on Jesus, not on committees, votes, or policies. Worship reminds me that I’m to tremble before God more than I tremble before men. Worship assures me that God’s got this and that it’s not about me but all about Him. Worship keeps me focused on Christ and Him crucified, risen, and coming again. And when I worship Him first, then “all these [other] things will be added to me” as well. (See Mt. 6:33.) In worship I see the Lord, and in the light of His glory I gain the proper perspective to discern how to respond.
As long as my eyes are on the “winds” of strife blowing through the church, I, like Peter, will sink in fear and despair. Rightly will Jesus say, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31)
Jesus walks calmly above the churning waves in the midst of the storm to remind us that no matter how things appear, He is in control. Responding in worship puts Jesus in view and teaches us to trust Him regardless of the storm. These are but the outer bands of the hurricane coming against God’s truth and God’s church. If we stumble now in the early rains, how will we do in the floods to come? (See Jer. 12:5.)
My Bible links Job 1:20 to 1 Peter 5:6 in the marginal reference. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” This is a call to worship that is spelled out practically in verse 7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” These actions are prescribed as a hedge against the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (vs. 8). Resist him with everything you’ve got—worship being the first thing.
“Curse God and die!” was Job’s wife’s response to their woes. Given her losses, none of us would condemn her for her outburst. The pain was talking. But Job, though hurting emotionally and physically, let his worship do the talking. He held to his integrity and “did not sin in what he said” (Job 1:10).
The pain of many is talking. It is real and not to be minimized. Job’s pain was real, too. Worship is not a substitute for, nor silencer of action, but it is the first action before others are safe to take.
Ever wonder where the expression “deer in headlights” comes from? It comes from the animal’s bizarre behavior when confronted by the headlights of an oncoming car. The deer will freeze in place and stare straight ahead despite the obvious danger.
Science has revealed that this paralysis is not due to stubbornness, but to temporary blindness. Deer have more rods (light receptors) than cones (color detectors) in their eyes, which means they have superior night vision. Their pupils are fully dilated as darkness falls, so when a headlight beam strikes eyes that are already fully dilated to capture as much light as possible, deer cannot see at all, and they freeze until their eyes can adjust. They don’t know what to do, so they do nothing.
People can be like deer in headlights, too. When Elijah confronted the people of Israel with a choice between following Baal or God, 1 Kings 18:21 says: “the people said nothing.” They were as deer in headlights. Elijah was shining the light of truth in their eyes but they had grown accustomed to falsehood. Their eyes had become adjusted to the low light of Baal and when the bright beams of Jehovah were upon them, they couldn’t see at all. They didn’t know what to do, so they did nothing.
Where are you being as a deer in headlights today? Is God shining a light on some attitude or habit that is paralyzing you in place? Are you frozen in fear of giving your all to Him? Or, like Israel on Mt. Carmel, are you being blinded by the light of Truth, and preferring the low light in the darkness? (“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil,” John 3:19.)
The world is getting ever darker and, more than ever before, it is dangerous to be paralyzed by satan’s confusing lights. Too many of us are staring into every light except the light of God’s word, and in the process, our eyes are getting adjusted to oncoming death.
Don’t go into the light. Not the light of satan’s distractions and temptations. Keep your eyes on Jesus and move with Him out of harm’s way.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet wrestles with the reality of the rise of an evil ruler. Haunted by visions, he feels that he must set things right. “The time is out of joint,” says Hamlet. “O cursed spite,/That ever I was born to set it right!”
The times of Martin Luther King, Jr. were certainly out of joint as far as civil rights for African-Americans were concerned. And Dr. King, among many others, haunted by visions of lynchings, fire-bombings, water canons, police dogs and jailings of peaceful protestors, felt the call to right the disjointed times with a compelling dream of liberty and justice for all.
The “drum major for justice,” as he wanted to be remembered, accepted history’s weight of responsibility for change and pursued a dream of a better future—a future free from the triple evils of racism, war, and poverty.
That dream entered into the American consciousness 55 years ago on August 28, 1963, when more than 200,000 demonstrators took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the nation’s capital. But it almost didn’t happen. The “dream speech” that people of all creeds and ethnicities recognize as one of the most memorable and inspiring in American history, wasn’t in King’s notes that day.
King had shared elements of the dream speech in sermons and talks before the Washington March, but for this occasion he opted to go with the “‘bad check’ metaphor in one of the drafts, which would support an argument that America had failed to fulfill its promises of liberty and equality to black citizens. He didn’t think he could fit both that and the ‘dream’ refrains into the five minutes allotted to each speaker.”1
When King began to speak, he stuck to his prepared text, reminding America of its promissory note guaranteeing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all men—a promissory note it had defaulted on as far as people of color were concerned. As he neared the end of the speech, Gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, who was seated within earshot of Dr. King, suddenly shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”
It could be argued that without those six words spoken in the hearing of Dr. King as he addressed the crowd that day, the “dream” may never have made it into the American lexicon. “King looked out over the crowd. As he later explained in an interview, “all of a sudden this thing came to me that I have used — I’d used many times before, that thing about ‘I have a dream’ — and I just felt that I wanted to use it here.” He said, “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”2
With soaring oratory, King painted a picture of the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners sitting down together at the table of brotherhood. He dreamed of a day when little black boys and girls would join hands with little white boys and girls as sisters and brothers.
With all the fire and homeletical passion of the Baptist preacher he was, King’s call to let freedom ring from every “hill and molehill,” transformed the civil rights rally into a revival meeting. King’s dream fueled a movement and pricked the conscience of America. But did it convert the soul of America? More than half a century later, is our nation any closer to making good on its promissory note for freedom? Or is the “Bank of Justice” still in default?
Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, at the western end of the Washington mall, perhaps even the Dreamer never imagined that 41 years later on the eastern end of that same mall, an African-American would stand on the steps of the nation’s capital to be sworn-in as the 44th president of the United States. For many, the election of Barack Obama respresented the realization of the dream. America’s opportunity “check” was finally cashed. Others knew better.
Without question, many strides have been made in the fight for racial equality. As an African American I have benefitted from those strides. I recall eating at a restaurant in a southern state while on a business trip in the 90s and reflecting on the reality that just 30 years earlier I could not have eaten there.
Nevertheless, on the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, the times seem “out of joint” again and more like the 1960s than we care to admit. Rising hate crimes, NFL protests, controversial police shootings, emerging white nationalism, confederate statue debates, rancorous immigration reform exchanges, Charlottsville, Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, White Lives Matter, the Stephon Clark shooting, etc., are symptoms that the cancer of racism has come out of remission.
Why the relapse? Why hasn’t the dream been fully realized in 55 years? Perhaps it’s because the commandment has never been fully obeyed in 2,000 years. You see, long before King had a dream, the King of kings gave a command. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”3
Could it be that the reason “our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than by our own values and principles”4 is because we have given lip service to the dream and ignored the commandment? And by “we” I mean Christians. I mean the church.
During the Birmingham campaign a few months prior to the dream speech, Dr. King wrote these words from his Birmingham jail cell: “I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church . . . . too many have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows . . . . I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love . . . . Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and of being nonconformists.”5
Have the scars of social neglect and prejudice on the body of Christ completely healed? Just days before writing this, a friend sent me a link to an article describing racist attitudes of a church staff member directed toward a white family who had adopted black children.
[Staff member]: “It’s really good that you adopted him. Then he won’t be ghetto like other black kids.”
“Excuse me?” I replied . . . . I scooped up my son and walked away….
“We were a multiracial family now, white parents raising black children in a white community and a nearly all-white church. We had educated ourselves about race issues, read books, and had personal experiences that showed us how far we are from being a post-racial society. But I never expected our biggest awakening to come from within our church family.
“Hood-wearing, vitriol-spewing racists? Absolutely not. A thousand small comments or assumptions that began to shatter my heart? Painfully, yes. Isn’t it so good we rescued them from a life of inner-city drugs and gangs? “Don’t worry, [the staff member whispered] we won’t ever view your children as…black.”6
As hurtful as this was to read, what pained me even more was a comment someone—a non-Christian—posted in response: “Church goers are racist hypocrites. What a shock!” Believe me it got worse from there. Much worse. The overwhelming sentiment from readers was that this behavior shouldn’t come as a shock because it’s been going on, under the guise of godliness, forever.
If only God’s people kept His commandments! Especially the eleventh one to love one another! “By this,” He said, “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”7 Sadly, it seems the church is known for something far different than loving one another. We can and must do better!
The dream tarries because the commandment doesn’t go beyond skin deep. It must go heart deep. The commandment is more than a dream. Love requires more than political correctness; more than tolerance. It requires death to self and submission to yet another command of Christ: “You must be born again.”8 Love goes beyond surface “tokenism” and produces a new creation.
“Christianity, doesn’t require any power when its only challenge is doing something that already comes naturally,” wrote Spencer Perkins. “But it will take a powerful gospel—a gospel with guts—to enable us to love across all the barriers we erect to edify our own kind and protect us from our insecurities.”9
More than Platitudes
If Martin Luther King felt the “fierce urgency of now,” in 1963, how much more urgent is the need for a gospel of guts today? As torch-carrying mobs march through our streets with the slogans of 1930s fascism on their lips, will Christians of all ethnicities and political persuasions have the courage to love one another as Christ loved us? Will we all go beyond platitudes and “not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth”?10
This gospel of guts, though, cuts both ways. Whether Black, White, Asian or Hispanic, if we claim Christ as our King, we have no justification whatsoever to harbor prejudice or malice toward anyone. No one gets a pass when it comes to Christlikeness. To promote hate on the one hand, or to retaliate against it with violence on the other, is to mock and ultimately deny the One who, though “He was afflicted,…opened not His mouth” (Isa. 54:7).
Here are some ways to respond now to the love crisis around us.
Confess your own prejudice. Be honest enough with God to admit your biases and insecurities.
Seek to understand even before you are understood. Listen, without defensiveness, to people’s stories. Hear their pain without judgment. Lay down your “life” (viewpoint) for your brothers and sisters, so you can see through their eyes and have compassion.
Bless those who curse you. Do not return evil for evil in person or on the internet. Refuse to be sucked down the rabbit hole of hate when provoked by a post or a tweet.
Reject all forms of hate speech. Don’t use slurs yourself, and don’t sanction them by your silence when they are used on others. (Eph. 4:29)
Spend productive time with others of a different ethnic or socio-economic group.
Defend the defenseless. Don’t tolerate injustice to any group. As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Forgive. As Christ forgave you, forgive.
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, I see a gospel with guts. A “Love so amazing, so divine,” in the words of Isaac Watts, “Demands my soul, my life, my all.” You and I aren’t sufficient for such things. But God’s grace is sufficient for us.
The dreamer is gone, but the King still lives, and His commandment to love still matters. If we will not be ashamed of a love like this, then we can do more than dream. “…We will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”11
The Word became flesh! The Logos—the mind and thought of God—became mortal flesh. “Incarnation” is the theological term; in regular terms it means that God was spelling Himself out in language that we could understand. Immanuel—God with us. But such a gift is hard to understand.
An African boy listened carefully as his teacher explained why Christians give presents to each other on Christmas Day. “The gift is an expression of our joy over the birth of Jesus and our friendship for each other,” she said.
When Christmas day came, the boy brought the teacher a seashell of lustrous beauty. “Where did you ever find such a beautiful shell?” the teacher asked.
The youth told her that there was only one spot where such extraordinary shells could be found. When he named the place, a certain bay several miles away, the teacher was left speechless.
“It’s gorgeous . . . wonderful, but you shouldn’t have gone all that way to get the gift for me.” His eyes brightening, the boy answered, “Long walk part of gift.”
God came from heaven to a manger, from a manger to a cross, from a cross to the grave and from a grave back to heaven. And we ask, “Why all this trouble, God?” And God would say to us, “Long walk part of gift.”
And the whole world appreciates the gift, right? Not really. Now, just like that night long ago, Jesus is, for many, an inconvenience. There’s little room for God’s gift.
Will making room for Jesus be inconvenient? Yes, it will be at times. But before I complain too loudly, let me consider how Jesus inconvenienced Himself to make room for me.
Jesus inconvenienced Himself to make room for my humanity when He stuffed His omnipotence into a body of mortal flesh.
Jesus inconvenienced Himself when, though He was rich, He became poor for my sake and had nowhere to lay His head.
Jesus inconvenienced Himself and made room for me in Gethsemane when He drank the cup I deserved to drink and took my sins on His shoulders.
Jesus inconvenienced Himself when He carried my cross to Golgotha.
Jesus inconvenienced Himself when He was pierced for my transgressions, and crushed from my iniquities. The punishment that brought me peace was upon Him, and by His inconvenient wounds, I am healed. (Isa. 53:5)
Today He makes room for me when I pray, and bids me to come boldly to His throne. (Heb. 4:16)
Today He makes room for my sins in the depths of the sea where He buries them. (Micah 7:19)
Today He makes room for me in His mind where His thoughts toward me are precious and outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore (Psalm 139:18).
And today He makes room for me in Heaven, where He has gone to prepare a place for me, that where He is, there I will be also. (John 14:1-3)
That’s what Christmas is all about. That’s why we sing and celebrate.
He came from the throne to the cradle as Immanuel to say, I am with you.
He came from the cradle to the cross as the Lamb of God to say, I forgive you.
He came from the grave to the right hand of the Father as our High Priest to say, I am praying for you.
And He’s coming back again as King of Kings to say, I am coming to get you!
Chuck Swindoll writes about a bazaar that was held in a village in northern India. One old farmer brought in a whole covey of quail to sell. He had tied a string around one leg of each bird. The other ends of all the strings were tied to a ring which fit loosely over a central stick. He had taught the quail to walk dolefully in a circle like mules at a sugarcane mill.
“Nobody seemed interested in buying the birds until a devout Brahman came along. He believed in the Hindu idea of respect for all life, and had compassion for those poor little creatures walking in their monotonous circles.
“‘I want to buy them all,’ he told the merchant, who was elated. After receiving the money, he was surprised to hear the buyer say, ‘Now, I want you to set them all free.’
‘What’s that, sir?’
‘You heard me. Cut them loose. Set them all free!’
With a shrug, the old farmer bent down and snipped the strings off the quail. They were freed at last.
“What happened? The birds simply continued marching around and around in a circle. Finally, the man had to shoo them off. But even when they landed some distance away, they resumed their predictable march. Free, unfettered, released…yet they kept going around in circles as if still tied.”
Swindoll says, “Until you give yourself permission to be the unique person God made you to be…and to do the unpredictable things grace allows you to do…you will be like that covey of quail, marching around in vicious circles of fear, timidity and boredom.” (Dallas Seminary Daily Devotional, 2-7-05)
That kind of fettered life is for the birds! It’s certainly not the abundant life God designed for His sons and daughters. Brothers and sisters, don’t walk in fear. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and ofa sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Be the person God called and gifted you to be! For “if the Son sets you free, you will be freeindeed” (John 8:36).
I remember when my grandson, Jayden was born. I loved him with all my heart. I looked forward to the day he would learn to talk and call me by name—and when that day came, I was thrilled beyond measure, but I didn’t love him any more than I had when all he could do is babble and drool.
I remember when he just crawled on the floor, and I loved him till I thought My heart would burst. Then came the day he walked—awkward at first with lots of stumbles and falls. Again my heart thrilled at his growth and achievements. But I didn’t love him any more than I had when all he could do was crawl.
Now Jayden runs and can play catch with me, and ride his two-wheel bike like a big boy. (He’s especially cute when wearing his Seattle Seahawks helmet that I got him.) He can talk to me on the phone and do a hundred things he couldn’t as an infant. And I love him with all my heart. But not any more than when he couldn’t do these things. At each stage of life and development, he was perfect in my eyes and my love was the same. It’s the same with his baby sister Sydney. They’re both rascals and I love them with all my heart.
As Christians, we must know that at each stage of our growth and development, God loves us with all His heart and sees us as perfect.
Though our comprehension of God’s ways and His love is dim; though we, like the disciples, are “foolish and slow of heart to believe,” though we stumble awkwardly and fall many times in our daily walk of faith, we are loved by God as much today, as we will be when we see Him face to face, and when we’re walking tall by faith and not by sight. We won’t be any more saved tomorrow than we are today. Why? Because salvation isn’t based on our performance, but on Jesus Christ’s performance—what He accomplished for us on the cross.
Heb. 10:14 says “Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” That means perfection is not the product of my performance, it is the outcome of His sacrifice given to me all during the process of my learning to be holy—like Him. He loves us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3) which means you were loved before you even got here, so how could He love you any more?
And that’s also the basis of unshakeable security. You see, if my salvation depends on my performance, I can never be secure because I fall short of God’s glory constantly. When I’m up I’ll feel secure, but when I’m down, I’ll worry I’m lost. But Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross is an established fact that took place before I got here. His love is like gravity—it exists whether I’m in a good mood or bad mood. My disposition on a given day doesn’t affect gravity one way or the other. It’s a life-sustaining constant no matter what. Jesus died on the cross to reconcile me to God. It is a life-sustaining constant no matter what, and my security is based on that unshakeable reality, not on my shaky performance.
As you grow in Christ, you will eventually mature beyond the awkward fits and starts you may be currently experiencing. By the grace of God, your eyes will better adjust to the glory of His righteousness, and you will learn how to run and not be weary; to walk and not faint. There is coming a day when your childish faith will mature and you will be like Him. But on that day, you will be no more loved and no more saved than you are at this moment, because then, as now, it is our trust in what Jesus has already done on our behalf that saves us. O what wondrous love is this!
“For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (Romans 8:10, NRSV). “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). Bask in that love today.
Is fear a denial of faith? If we’re scared or apprehensive about a career move, returning to school, a relationship, refusing to work on the Sabbath, returning a faithful tithe, etc., does that dry mouth and upset stomach indicate that we’re not trusting God?
I don’t think so.
Fear is an emotion, a feeling. As an emotion, it carries no morality or judgment. But the actions we take in response to the emotion of fear can have moral or spiritual implications.
In contrast to fear, faith is not an emotion, but an action. Faith is a willful choice to trust God despite the feelings of fear associated with that choice. I want to submit two biblical examples to prove this point.
The Red Sea Crossing. According to Exodus 14:10, the Israelites “were terrified and cried out to the Lord” when they saw the Egyptian army bearing down on them. They were trapped with seemingly no way out. “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left” (Ex. 14:21, 22).
The writer of Hebrews has this to say about that dramatic crossing: “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land…” (Heb. 11:29). There is no mention of the emotions gripping the people as they crossed, is there? Were the Israelites terrified as they went down into the sea with a wall of roiling water towering above them to their left and right? As the sound of wind and water mixed with the shriek of infants and animals, and the shouts and prayers of fleeing captives, were hearts pounding? Was adrenaline pumping? Were eyes wide with fright? The Bible doesn’t say.
And that’s the point. The Bible doesn’t mention it because how they were feeling as they crossed didn’t matter. What matters is they crossed! They followed God’s command to cross regardless of their fears. Faith was evidenced by the actions taken despite their feelings. And faith is what pleases God.
Rebellion at Kadesh. We see another confrontation between fear and faith when Israel reached the borders of Canaan—the land of promise. Occupation of Canaan was the whole purpose of the Exodus. God delivered Israel from Egypt so He could establish them as a free people in Canaan.
But 10 of 12 spies came back with the report that there were giants in the land (Numbers 13:32, 33) and therefore, they couldn’t succeed. Fear and anger immediately gripped the people. All night the people “raised their voices and wept aloud” (Num. 14:1).
But the actions at Kadesh differed greatly from the actions at the Red Sea. Instead of obeying God despite their fears, they obeyed their fears despite the promise of God. The same writer of Hebrews has this commentary concerning the rebellion: “Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Heb. 3:16-19). About faith the writer continues, “For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Heb. 4:2).
At the Red Sea, they trusted God despite their fears and crossed over to safety. At Kadesh, they distrusted God, gave in to their fears, and did not cross over to their inheritance. At the Red Sea, what mattered was their action, and it was counted as faith. At Kadesh, what mattered again was their action, and they “did not combine it with faith.” The emotion of fear is not what counts; it’s what you do despite your fear that counts.
Consider Jesus who sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Did fear wash over Jesus that awesome night? “As Christ felt His unity with the Father broken up, He feared that in His human nature He would be unable to endure the coming conflict with the powers of darkness….With the issues of the conflict before Him, Christ’s soul was filled with dread of separation from God….Again the Son of God was seized with superhuman agony, and fainting and exhausted, He staggered back to the place of His former struggle. His suffering was even greater than before. As the agony of soul came upon Him, “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground”….Turning away, Jesus sought again His retreat, and fell prostrate, overcome by the horror of a great darkness. The humanity of the Son of God trembled in that trying hour. He prayed not now for His disciples that their faith might not fail, but for His own tempted, agonized soul. The awful moment had come—that moment which was to decide the destiny of the world. The fate of humanity trembled in the balance. Christ might even now refuse to drink the cup apportioned to guilty man.” (DA, 686, 689, 690)
But, Halellujah! He didn’t refuse to drink it. Despite the fear, the dread, the agony and horror, Jesus put His trust in the Father and accepted the cup. “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). This is the essence of faith—acting in obedience to the will of God despite your fears.
The emotion of fear is not what counts; it’s what you do despite your fear that counts. Do not worry that if you feel scared you are denying faith. Worry only if, like Israel at Kadesh, you allow your fears to cause you to act contrary to what you know to be the will of God.
In Jesus’ famous “sermon on the mount,” the Master said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged,…” (Matt. 7:1, 2). A friend from out-of-state had recently divorced and joined a support group for men. Though he feels acceptance within the group, he told me how uncomfortable he feels walking into the larger church gathering—as if people know the circumstances, and are looking down at him in judgment. He bristled and said, “They don’t have all the information. They are judging me solely based on the one thing they think they know, but have no idea how many years I’ve worked to reform, or how much I’ve changed over the years.”
I gently reminded him that before his current experience with being judged, he probably judged others in much the same way. He confessed that this was true.
My friend was also upset with God because He was being slow in revealing what comes next for him. He can’t see the future and is grieving the past. I told him that just like you can’t judge others because you don’t have enough information, you can’t judge God or his plans for the same reason. All you have is the present moment to go on and that’s not enough information for you to make a judgment.
In Jeremiah 29:11 God says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
God knows the end from the beginning. He knows the way that we take and will guide us toward a sure future if we acknowledge Him in all our ways. It’s not necessary that we know the next step. It’s only necessary that we know that God knows, and remain committed to following Him.
Some of my childhood memories revolve around the music I grew up listening to. We all have a soundtrack of our lives that echo the times in which we live. I grew up in L.A. during the sixties—a tumultuous decade of war, riots, assassinations, violence and racial unrest. One song I remember that blared from our 8-track player in my father’s car was “What the World Needs Now” composed by Burt Bacharach. The song was released and made popular by Jackie DeShannon in 1965, but Dionne Warwick sang the version I remember.
Lord, we don’t need another mountain There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb There are oceans and rivers enough to cross Enough to last till the end of time.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of What the world needs now is love, sweet love No, not just for some but for everyone.
What was true in the sixties is still true today. Once again our country is boiling over in riots, violent protests, racial unrest, hatred and fear. What is needed now is not another press conference, or another tweet from our leaders, or another protest march where people end up dead. It should be clear to everyone that we do not have the answers to the problems that plague us. There is only one answer. What the world needs now is love. And “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
In case we forgot, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8).
Let’s do our part to change the discordant soundtrack of our times and allow the music of God’s love to play through us.
The images coming out of Houston and other Texas towns ravaged by Hurricane Harvey are heartbreaking. The coastal cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur got pummeled with 26 inches of rain in 24 hours — and it’s still raining. Flood waters have swallowed entire communities and multiplied thousands have lost everything they’ve worked their whole lives for.
Flood waters can alter a landscape forever. Businesses, property, and lives are ruined and a “new normal” must arise from the devastation. The enemy of our souls comes against us like this also. Isaiah 59:19 says, “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.”
Throughout the world, it seems the enemy is having his way, flooding the earth with poisoned waters of hatred, skepticism, and vice. Everywhere we turn, souls are being swept away in the opioid epidemic, deluged by war and threats of wars, drowned in rage and soaked in post-Christian rejection of biblical truth.
But God has not left us without a refuge. It is when the enemy comes in with seemingly irresistible force, and it appears that nothing can prevent him from pouring out his wrath on the believers, God reveals his mighty power. In the crises of our day, and of the time of trouble yet future, God promises that “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” (Isa. 43:2) “Do not be afraid,” God says, “for I am with you.”
Even if you are waist high in the water today, know that God is your refuge and strength. He’s got you and won’t let go. This too shall pass.