Our Preserver

One of the attributes of God is Preserver. He is our Preserver. He lovingly secures our salvation for eternity and maintains His gracious hold on our lives as we love and serve Him and others. Believers are firmly placed in His grip through faith. God safeguards His Word in our lives and He perpetuates our progressive sanctification through His Holy Spirit. We are preserved! We’re in His clutches, defended, conserved, kept, and in a sense frozen solid.

A January snowstorm can bring to mind the good, bad, and ugly of ice and snow. On the one hand, the beauty of new fallen snow in the sunlight is breathtaking. On the other hand, the treachery involved in traveling in the storm or being caught in icy conditions is often underestimated. Finally, there’s the dependence we have on keeping food stored longterm through the means of freezing. Freezing is a means of preserving. Meat is frozen, vegetables are frozen, medications are kept on ice, and the list goes on. And we are acquainted with the panic that happens when thawing happens unannounced by a power outage. We grow very concerned when preservation becomes compromised.

Scripture promises us that God’s preservation of us is without compromise. No power outages threaten us. There is no fear of melting away, no fear of slippage, no fear of being lost. He is our ultimate Preserver. In Him, we can have complete confidence.

God has put important things in place to preserve His children. Deuteronomy 6:24 (NKJV) says, “And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day.” God preserves us through our obedience. Nehemiah 9:6 says, “You alone are the Lord; You have made the heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them, And You preserve them all. The host of heaven worships You.” God preserves us through His Creation, the air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat, the shelters that cover us. Psalm 16:1 says, “Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.” God preserves us through our ever-deepening trust in Him, enabled by His Holy Spirit. These truths are encouraging to me at the start of a new year – 2022…

Also, God preserves us through His protection. Psalm 32:7 says, “You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.” Psalm 121:7,8 says, “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” Psalm 140:4 says, “Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have purposed to make my steps stumble.” 2 Timothy 4:18 says, “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!”

As God’s imagebearers, and as we mature in our faith, we begin to reflect God’s preserving characteristics in our own lives – His righteousness, His truthfulness, His fairness, His sincerity. Psalm 25:21 says, “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, For I wait for You.” He involves us in His plans to reconcile and restore. Isaiah 49:8a says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you; I will preserve you and give you as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth…’ ”

Most importantly, God gave us His Son to preserve us eternally. In Jesus Christ, we experience the gift of salvation and understand that by losing our lives in submission to Him, that our lives become preserved forever. We are secured. We are protected. We are delivered from slavery to sin. We are reflectors of His grace because we have first experienced it in Him. We are sealed. We are forever part of His Kingdom.

Luke 17:33 says, “Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” A great promise for 2022!

Everywhere Incognito

I love this quote by C.S. Lewis: “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”

God is everywhere. This is one of His attributes. He is omnipresent. Although you can’t find the word “omnipresent” in the Bible, you can find how God’s Word conveys His “everywhereness.”

Jeremiah 23:23-24 (ESV) says, “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.” Psalm 139:8 says, “If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!”

What does this mean to me? Especially as a God-worshipper? With God’s power being everywhere at one time, I realize that the power of God’s supreme enemy surely cannot be everywhere at one time. I take comfort in the limitations God has placed on the power and the presence of Satan. In James 4:7 we are told, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” My resistance ensures that God’s enemy will be away from me. Not present with me. Not capable of “everywhereness.” Out of sight. Out of mind. Out of my presence.

But, not God. When Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven after His resurrection, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to believers. Believers were sealed in this promise and this reality. There is nowhere we can be without His presence. Admittedly, we may ignore His presence or suppress His presence, but He is nevertheless near us because of His “everywhereness.” It is a promise and a seal.

The experience of God’s enduring presence extends to the eternal soul that lives on following bodily death. We may wonder about the mystery of this, but God’s Word gives us pointers. In Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, he indicates that our souls will not sleep even after death (sleep) of the body. We will celebrate the continuing condition of being “with” Him. Luke 23:43 says “today you will be [with] Me in paradise;” 2 Corinthians 5:8 says “away from the body… at home [with] the Lord;” and Philippians 1:21-23 says “to live is Christ, to die is gain… and be [with] Christ.”

By faith, we know that God is everywhere as His Word surely indicates. And, there are great comforts found in God’s “everywhereness.” Here are a few that I’ll end with. Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God Who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” 2 Chronicles 16:9a says, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him…” Revelation 21:3 says, “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.’ “

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God.” He keeps watch. He goes with us. He does not leave us. He gives strong support. He dwells with us. He is everywhere. He is the God Who is at hand. Omnipresent.

Many Are The Wonders

When I look out of my front window of 35 years, at my favorite time of the year (around Thanksgiving), when color is still on the trees, I think of Psalm 40:5 – “Many, Lord my God, are the wonders You have done, the things You planned for us. None can compare with You; were I to speak and tell of Your deeds, they would be too many to declare.”

All in God’s plan. This piece of property, hidden in the depths of a wooded community. The manner in which this location for our family was revealed to my husband many years ago. The way our family became completed in this spot. The refuge it has been while keeping us near to work and school and church commitments.

Many are the wonders! Quirky flamingo ornamentations. Prolific wildlife of the good, bad, and ugly variations. Plenty of shade and privacy. Even a creek view in the winter. And yes, technically it is a swamp somehow survived by past generations I guess without bug repellent, chain saws, and severe allergies (but how? is the question). Still, it is our peaceful place, swamp or not. Home.

Nothing can compare to God’s grace in this homeplace. There are too many stories to tell which would declare God’s mercy here. Three children and six grandchildren later, we marvel at our heritage of faith and unconcealed love for God, but acknowledge that His work is never finished, even after 35 years.

As older means wiser, we more often count our blessings, knowing it started with a Savior born in a stable and a Lord Who would wrestle us all down and teach us humility, a thing He had planned for us in this wonderful place. Many, Lord my God, are the wonder You have done…

Later in Psalm 40, verse 10 says, “I do not hide Your righteousness in my heart; I speak of Your faithfulness and Your saving help. I do not conceal Your love and Your faithfulness from the great assembly.” Not unexpectedly, our faith has been challenged, tested and measured in 35 years. We are a household of admitted control freaks, authority haters, easily given to stress and perfectionism, short on patience, and big on independence. But God has been faithful to take His gracious sandpaper and file us down. Of course, there are scars… His work continues…

Still, when I look out of my front window of 35 years, the sunrise of God’s love and faithfulness, new every morning, is blinding and pure. And, of course the beauty of this place is a physical wonder because the chief landscaper is meticulous (and it is not me). However, the spiritual wonder is like the Christmas tree lights! They sparkle, they cast away the darkness, and they whisper miracles. Many are the wonders!

I am grateful that Christmas becomes the pathway to Easter in my heart, now and forever. It starts with a Savior born in a stable and ends with the Lord Himself Who gave us the gift of faith and life, and even specifically placed us in this certain location, in this certain home, with these certain family members, for such a time as this. Many are the wonders!

Prayer At Church This Morning

GCPC Congregational Prayer – Nov. 28, 2021

Almighty God, You are the Holy and Compassionate God Who gives us eternal hope in Christ. This morning we lift Your Name high as we meditate upon Your abounding Goodness, Your Truth, and Your faithfulness to all generations. With humility we approach Your Throne of Grace with freedom and confidence, understanding that You see us and hear our prayers.

Holy Spirit, we ask that Your providential purposes in our nation, state, and local governmental agencies be fulfilled and that believers who serve in government, military, or in first-responder capacities will look to You for wisdom and courage to lead as You direct. Give us pure motives as we live in obedience to Your Word and live in accordance with governing authorities.

Gracious Father, we are thankful for all those who worship You. Thank You for Your transformative work to change our lives so that we might reflect the love of Jesus and the power of the Gospel. We ask that You would bring great encouragement to our church staff with our determined and continual prayer support. Give us all the desire to serve in the church, thereby lightening the burdens of responsibility necessary to complete the gospel work in our community and the world, to which God has called each of us.

With Thanksgiving, we raise our hearts and voices, remembering that this season is one that leads us to the celebration of our Savior’s birth and reminds us of our enduring spiritual treasures found in Him alone. We pray that in every Christmas-related outreach to our community and world during this season that You will bring the Gospel to the forefront, moving hearts to embrace the great gift of Your Son Jesus.

Father, we ask for Your protection and provision for our missionaries, military personnel and others who risk their lives to serve You in hostile places. We ask You to strengthen the hope and perseverance of the persecuted church around the world. We pray that, by Your Grace, the spread of the gospel would be unhindered in all areas where it has been previously prevented.

We praise You for the gift of new life. We pray that you will continually protect and provide health to our expectant mothers and their unborn children. We praise You for recent births in our church family, and especially your healing work in reversing the effects of perilous birth complications among these. As well, we ask for Your tender care of our women who face great losses in unfulfilled motherhood. We pray for effective outreach to provide care to women facing those hard seasons.

Great Physician, we pray for an end to the pandemic and its suffering. We pray for those most vulnerable to the virus or those who are already infected —, the elderly, the weak, those with chronic conditions, the poor, the hungry and the isolated. Let us meanwhile continue in our loving commitment to protect our family members, neighbors, and friends from its harm. For the sick, the lonely, the grieving, and the disconnected in our church, we ask for Your intervention, both spiritually and physically. For those suffering with recurring health challenges, we ask that You provide them with the gifts of perseverance and steadfast hope, even when circumstances do not lessen or become removed. We also ask that You carry those who have recently lost loved ones through the valley of grief with a great sense of Your presence, mercy, and comfort.

We pray for the next generation – our college students and our young people. We ask that they come to fully trust in You, Lord, and become like trees planted by streams of water, whose leaves are always green and who yield fruit even when the heat of drought comes. May they not conform to the pattern of this world, but instead develop a keen ability to test and approve Your perfect and pleasing will. Give them great discernment and great dependence upon Your Holy Spirit for strength and endurance.

Rock of Ages, grant us all, adults and children, fresh confidence that “there is no future where You are not present, no sorrow where You are not near, no tears not kept in Your bottle, and no locust-eaten years You will not restore (quote from a prayer by Walter Henegar, Senior Pastor of Atlanta Westside Presbyterian Church).”

Today move us to reflect Your generosity with our tithes and offerings. Open our hearts to the message of Your Word preached here today.  Create in us a receptive spirit and an open heart, and a new energy to be obedient and fruitful in Your Kingdom.

In the Name Above All Names, Jesus Christ Our Lord, we offer these prayers. Amen.

To Be Human

Romans 8:29 says, “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” He made the ultimate way for us to be restored humans – to end our spiritual poverty, to be remade in God’s original design, to be free from the power of sin and degradation and decay. That Jesus took on our humanity and still maintains his “fully Godness and fully humanness,” is our eternal Hope. He didn’t provide salvation so we could simply escape hell. He provided it so that our humanity might be preserved according to what the Creator-Designer God fully intended His humans to be. Preserved for eternity, preserved for a new heaven and new earth, preserved for life with Him.

A book that recently challenged my thinking about Jesus and His humanity is called GENTLE AND LOWLY by Dane Ortlund. I needed this book to remind me that, to this day, Jesus Christ is still fully God and fully human, both before and after His Ascension…

As God’s Creation, humanity has uniqueness in purpose. To be human was and still is to love the Father, Master, Savior and Lord. Any exception to that Truth reveals a loss of our humanity. We were created to live in relationship, fellowship, and communion with God, just like Jesus does. In the Garden of Eden, humanity was devastated by corruption. And because of that, Jesus entered our world through the Incarnation to rehumanize us as we were truly meant to be and to replace that which was stolen by sin and death.

In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), the first mention of blessedness goes to those who are “poor in spirit” or those who recognize their spiritual poverty and recognize their need for a Savior. That Truth opens our awareness to what being fully human means – that being our dependency on and accountability to God our Creator.

By God’s grace, Jesus came to rehumanize me and you by humanizing Himself in obedience to God the Father. He came to reveal my sinful heart, and to offer a 180-degree course correction. If I will only live by faith in Him, I will be made new. Jesus will release me from the sin problem that defeats my human flourishing. He’ll remove the deceptions that take away my true humanity, the things that degrade my status as God’s child, the things that undermine His good purposes in my life.

Although important, the matter of our faith in Jesus Christ is not all about what happens after we die. Faith is also about what happens while we live in the world as recipients of Christ’s purpose to restore in us human flourishing according to God’s design. His Holy Spirit works to sanctify us, to prepare us, to recreate us, to make us new. We are “made-new” humans, who will die (yes), but not be swallowed up by death. We will live in eternity with Him in the full reality of being humans saved by His grace. In my restored humanity, I am able to identify and reject lies, I am able to combat the assaults of worldly culture, I am able to flourish in Christ.

Truth is a Person, not a dogma, not a code for living, not a set of laws. Jesus is the rehumanizing resurrected Savior, the firstborn from among the dead. Colossians 1:18 says, “And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.” Revelation 1:5-6 says, “And from Jesus Christ, Who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him Who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priest to serve His God and Father – to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.”

Open the Vents

In the most claustrophobic and confining spots, sometimes I have to remind myself to just breathe. Especially on a plane, and nowadays, especially with a mask on. Remember to breathe in slowly and out slowly. Full breaths, no partial breaths. I’ve always wondered why stressful situations bring about a reduced intake of fresh air. Why we forget to breathe. Why exhaling is such a relief after a near car collision, and why inhaling (of course) is such a literal lifesaver. Yet sometimes we forget to do it.

Rerouting physical air is a thing I do in my house with the HVAC vents. As an allergy sufferer, I close off vents or partially obstruct vents that are directly pushing air toward me. I also redirect the air flow in directions that reduce my sensitivity. If only air didn’t carry dust with it or other non-fresh things. And why do we all like to get outside and get some “fresh” air? Likely because staying inside the house, air recirculates and gets stale. Likely because outdoors, unless someone is blowing leaves, the air seems clean and big. I can only imagine that God designed our lungs to breathe perfectly balanced clean air, fully and deeply, in the pre-fallen world before sin entered the picture…

Similar to HVAC vents, as if I didn’t want to experience God’s encompassing grace fully and freely, I am so often guilty of closing the vents of my heart, sometimes slightly, sometimes completely. I can easily start off a day closing the vents of my heart to the outflow of God’s Spirit through me to others. I cannot count the times that I have shirked intentional gospel conversations with others. How often do I tug myself away from God’s strengthening power to try to do good things in my own strength and understanding? Too many for sure.

The unobstructed flow of grace I have received from God through faith is the same flow of grace that I should be able to freely give to others. Tamping down the vents of my heart is the same thing as withholding God’s best. Moreover, it is subtle, but second best to live life for the heart of Christ or for the smile of God when first best to live life from the heart of Christ or from the smile of God. The difference is in the “openwideness” of the vents of my heart. When I live from my identity as a child of Christ, the action flows out of my motivational headquarters. It’s not an external thing, but something from inside. “From” the heart of Christ is the way I reflect the actual Person of Jesus instead of a set of doctrines or a church. Unrestricted flow of gentleness, tenderness, and loyal loving-kindness is the “from” version of open vents of my heart, open to the heart of Christ living in me.

Galatians 2:20 says it better, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” In this way I am living out the life Christ has planted within me without reservation, with the full force of flow from vents that are wide open.

As my heart here refers not to my flesh-and-blood circulatory system pump, but to the seat of my will, inclinations and actions, I love the open vent metaphor. I know a legal spirit of judgment and spiritual blindness is what often pushes the vents of my heart shut. Yet in Christ, I really don’t want the air of my heart to get stale or stagnant. There might be some good deeds that I’ll do, but they will flow from something much lower than the fresh blow of God’s Spirit when He cleans out the impurities and prepares me to live from His heart.

Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” God has promised to remove the stone-like qualities of a heart that constricts its own vents. Imagine days where the vents of our hearts are wide open and nothing is flowing except the fruits of God’s Spirit. Imagine days where all that is blowing is the fresh air of God’s Spirit coming from within us. Imagine days where our new heart of flesh sees stone no more.

Praying God opens the vents of my heart and your heart today.

Lessons of Sadie

I love to read novels, especially historical fiction. Beach time is one of my favorite times for reading. I recently returned from an Isle of Palms vacation and read Lisa Wingate’s book THE LANGUAGE OF SYCAMORES. Why did this novel make me want to comment here? I guess because the story character Sadie reminded me that every family on earth encounters dysfunction. In the story, Sadie’s name had been scratched out of the family Bible… Serious right?

Sadie’s sister Rose was the grandmother of the central character (Karen) in the novel. Rose had two sisters in life, but Sadie was the one sister scratched out of the family Bible. What could possibly have caused this kind of estrangement? We might find ourselves asking the same question in our own families. Now about Sadie – stop reading now if you don’t want to discover a partial spoiler in Wingate’s story. This is close to the ending, an excerpt from a letter that Grandma Rose wrote to Karen before she passed away, but which remained regrettably unread by Karen for a few years after Rose’s passing:

“There is one last thing I must ask you to do for me, my practical girl. Make amends with your sister. Do not harbor the little grudges of childhood. How I wish I could deliver this message to my own dear sisters: I am sorry. Just that. I was wrong. I held a grudge when I should have forgiven. I criticized when I should have loved. Most people need love much more than they need critics. Remember that, and you will live a good life. I Love You, Grandma Rose.”

I’m thinking there are even bigger grudges in adulthood because we are more sophisticated in our opinion-forming and blaming energies. And lots of us are the practical ones, with pretty good arguments. I can relate…

But, Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This made me think of what it often takes to forgive – and that is very often giving up my right to be right. It is taking time to listen. Taking time to respect. Taking time to consider. Taking time to be grateful. Taking time to remember what is good and praiseworthy. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

My opinion-forming energies are always working in overdrive until something reminds me to wake up out of my slumber. Recently, that wake up call was a car accident that could have taken out one of my children or grandchildren or all of the family. If I remember how much I have been forgiven, then I have no other motive except to know the Lord God and act like a forgiven child and recipient of His grace. God’s Truth has a melting effect. I have the freedom to forgive freely as I have been forgiven. And I have the freedom to spread grace around. What a wonderful use of precious time.

There is work that is worthy: I must cast off my non-forgiving motives. Cast off my self-reformation. Cast off my success-building in interpersonal relationships. Cast off being right about all my well-nursed grievances. Truly, love trumps every issue that might steal my joy, slurp up my emotional energy, or threaten my sense of justice. Love reminds me of the tremendous loss and grief that I would have experienced had that car accident turned out differently than it did. And the tremendous loss and grief that would have been experienced by others in the family Bible, those scratched out and those not scratched out.

Thank you Sadie for reminding me of the forgiveness that it is a privilege for me to extend to others for God’s glory. Thank you my Dear Parents for drilling this quote into me and my brother when we were growing up – “let us love one another.” Dear God, please make me less practical, less critical, less graceless. Help me never to write anyone out of the family Bible.

Powerless Positions of Jesus

After Daniel’s lion’s den rescue, King Darius issued an edict to the people of his kingdom. Daniel 6:26 says, ” ‘I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For He is the living God and He endures forever; His kingdom will not be destroyed, His dominion will never end.’ ” Pondering Daniel’s situation before his miraculous rescue by God, it’s hard to imagine that he could feel anything other than powerless.

Sometimes I run across words that express something so well that I have to write them down for safekeeping. That is what follows. This is a quote from Gary W. Moon, Ph.D., in his article “Finding Serenity in Today’s Traumatic Culture of Anger and Contempt: Part II Learning from Jesus and a Black Christian Mystic” (Christian Counseling Today, Vol. 25, No. 1):

It’s a quote within a quote: In Moon’s article, he shares highlights from the book Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman (author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader). And here’s what got me. Moon reports that Thurman said in an interview that all must consider the “unprecedented empathy of Jesus built on three seldom-pondered realities from His life. The Son of God, charged with bringing healing to the world, chose to enter into humanity from the perspective of three, powerless positions: 1) Jesus was a Palestinian Jew in an occupied land, 2) Jesus chose to be born into poverty… (Jesus’ parents offered the sacrifice of two turtle doves at His dedication – which was allowed in Leviticus if a lamb was beyond the family’s financial means), and 3) Jesus was a member of a minority group whose history included being slaves in a foreign land and living in the midst of a dominant and controlling group.”

Sound familiar? Plastered all over media, approaches that we see in today’s traumatic culture are: “Fight. Flee. Judge. Attack. Maintain power. Obsess.” Yet the Way of Jesus paints a radically different approach. Try instead abandoning the fear of Rome-like power grabbers and reverence only God. Try instead refusing to follow the path of “fighting, fleeing, power-brokering, and obsession ideation.” Try instead embracing the truth that “hatred begets destruction both to the hated and to the hater.” And try remembering that the enemy of our souls knows this all well…

So imagine a world in which hatred and deception are abandoned and exchanged for loving your enemy. Imagine when choices are made, living out instead the radical love of Jesus Christ. Imagine a heavenly kingdom more powerful than Rome. When alignments are taken up, imagine citizenship that is permanent in the kingdom of God. This is the hope of the Gospel. This is the completely transformative way of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

In Daniel 6:22, Daniel says, “My God sent His angel, and He shut the mouths of the lions.” In response, King Darius says in Daniel 6:27, “He [God] rescues and He saves; He performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of lions.”

Reverence only God. He endures forever. He shut the mouths of lions.

A Place to Call Home

Psalm 84:1-7 says, “How lovely is Your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near Your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.”

Life on earth is temporary. On our journey through existence on planet earth, it is wise not to get too attached. There is a real home for us that traverses beyond the universe and makes our valleys of despair dissipate into nothing except the road to that home. Gospel hope is about believers being “with” Christ and “at home” with Christ in this present world and the next. Because there definitely is a next.

There is also a “here and now” reality of the Lord’s dwelling place, the place we call home, our nest, our place with Him. The place where we worship Him. The place where we release our faintings and cries. The place where we recharge and experience the autumn rains of the soul. The place where God speaks His loveliness and strength to us. The place where we securely land in the the net that catches us and settles us and draws us close. Where homelessness and loneliness are impossible. With Christ.

One criminal who was crucified alongside Jesus at Calvary simply asked Jesus to remember him as Jesus would pass into His own kingdom and Luke 23:43 says, “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.’ ” The criminal was convinced that there was indeed a place to call home. A heavenly kingdom. With a heavenly Savior-King. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Philippians 1:21-23 says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” And I Thessalonians 5:10 says, “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.”

The Valley of Baka is simply a reminder that our home is truly with the Lord. That our tears point us in the direction of our permanent dwelling place with the Lord. That our pain motivates us toward the living God and His house. That our weaknesses, disappointments and battles with sin only push us into the arms of God Who is our sun and shield. That His tent is the only place to find soul rest, strength for the journey, and eternal destiny in Jesus Christ.

Psalm 84:12 ends with this and so should we: “Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in You.”

Not Uninformed, Not Unsettled

2 Thessalonians 2:8,15 says, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming… So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth of by letter.”

The continuities between the Old Testament and New Testament regarding the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ include references to blazing fire, punishment, destruction of the ungodly, stubble/ashes, worms that do not die, unquenched fire, and torment that does not end. Tough stuff. Yet, for believers, Paul says in his two letters to the Thessalonians, that we are not to be unsettled because we are not uninformed. We take comfort in that final justice is thankfully in God’s hands alone. It’s not if, it is when.

God’s Word cautions us about false teachings. Again, we are not uninformed. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we see that there will be a final turning away from God in the established church. Although hard to imagine and deeply disappointing, we find that Christ will not return until first, there is a massive falling away (apostasia/2 Thess. 2:3) within the covenant community (the Church) and second, there is the appearance of the antichrist. These two signs have not yet come in final form.

We are not uninformed. We learn about the man of lawlessness in scripture (also known as the antichrist). I John 2:18-20,22 says, “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us but they did not really belong to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have the anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son.”

We are living in a time of restraint, yet the mystery of lawlessness is already at work and we can sense this reality even if we don’t know exactly how it plays out. 2 Thess. 2:6-7 is a difficult passage because of the differing possibilities of who/what the “restrainer” might be. G.K. Beale, in his commentary on 1&2 Thessalonians, gives 7 possibilities (for your further investigation): 1) Roman Empire, 2) Civil order of law inherent in Rome, 3)The Jewish State, 4) Satan or one of his evil agents, 5) Power of false teachers, 6) God/Holy Spirit, or 7) Proclamation of the gospel.

Despite difficult passages of scripture, it is clearly important for believers to grasp the reality of spiritual evil and to realize that the faithful will engage in a spiritual battle to the END. Our minds and hearts must be prepared. STANDING FIRM and HOLDING FAST are themes in the Thessalonian letters. Standing firm and holding fast are especially meaningful to those who are not unsettled because they are not uninformed. These are believers boldly living out the life of faith in Christ Jesus. But, what is their key to being informed and settled?

It is critical to realize that a believer’s confidence about present & future salvation is directly linked to one’s awareness and grasp of God’s Word. Therefore, we study diligently so we will not be uninformed, and therefore not unsettled. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 confirms, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” There is no need to be uninformed. And, there is every reason to be completely settled.

We have God’s complete Word. Amen.