Peter was a large, muscular man who served in the Vietnam War. His appearance was intimidating; yet, he was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. He faithfully attended church. He served others and was generous with his time, skills, and finances. He was the ideal Christian man except for one thing: he never really appeared to be happy. He wasn’t grumpy or mean. He was soft spoken and displayed a servant’s heart. He just didn’t smile very much. He gave no hint of joy. He was the strong, silent type who gave the impression of “I’ll help you, but don’t mess with me.” He was an anomaly.
I was a little anxious about meeting with him. He had scheduled an appointment over the phone and gave no hint about what he wanted to discuss. Shortly after entering my office, he melted into a chair and began to cry. I said very little as he shared his story with me.
While in Vietnam, Peter was a successful soldier. He was so good at his particular set of combat skills that he was chosen to be a part of a special CIA team that performed secret ops all over southeast Asia. He did not give orders. He took them and performed them. I will never forget him looking at me with tears streaming down his face, and saying, “God can never love me…I’ve done bad things.” Until this moment, I would have never guessed he was struggling with the truth that God loved him.
Seeking clarification I asked him, “Why do you think God does not love you?” He gruffly replied, “Because of the things I’ve done.”
I then asked, “Have you asked God to forgive you?” “Of course!” His gaze giving a hint of frustration. “So, you don’t believe God has forgiven you and that’s why you question His ability to love you?” I was intentionally pressing him. “Exactly,” he said, with a little fire in his eyes.
We spent the next several minutes talking about war, the evil man is capable of, and the blood he felt was on his hands. As we talked, I shared God’s Word and watched God’s Spirit chip away at the lies he had come to believe about the Heavenly Father. The truth began to set him free. It came full circle when he read the first two verses of Psalm 32.
Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
Instantly, something happened. It is hard to describe, but he changed in front of me. It was not a physical miracle. It was an emotional one that could be seen on his face. I did not know what the change was in that moment, but the next time I saw him I immediately recognized it. He had joy.
All of us have sinned and carry the guilt of our actions. Fortunately, most of us do not have the regrets Peter had, but we do have the same joyless, religious life. It doesn’t have to be that way. When we turn to Christ and accept the grace He offers from the Cross, four things happen:
God’s love for the repentant sinner is truly great and amazing! Let the joy of forgiveness fill your heart. It all starts with being honest about your sin. Tell God all about it.
Here is a song I’ve found encouraging. I pray it encourages you.
As an athlete in high school I would sometimes wear a weighted vest as part of my strength training regiment. Weighted vests vary in weight. I remember them being anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds.
Weighted vests do not hinder movement in any capacity. You can walk, jog, or sprint with one. Pushups, pull-ups, lunges, squatting, and dips are all good exercises one can do while wearing the vest. The purpose of the vest is to create resistance in movement to build strength.
Recently, my father left this world and went to be with Christ. Caring friends, co-workers, and neighbors have consistently asked me, “How are you doing?” The question is lovingly simply, but each time I answer it I am reminded of a weighted vest. The sadness I feel fits over me like one of those vests. I can still do everything that I normally do, but the movement of life feels heavier.
No one wears a weighted vest all of the time. The athlete wears it while training, but not throughout the whole day. Sadness is like that. It wraps itself around us for moments in the days and weeks after a loss. It can be really heavy, but for the most part we keep moving. Some days are better than others, but sadness is unpredictable. The athlete gets to choose when they wear the vest. The one suffering loss does not get to choose when they feel sad.
As I bear the weight of sadness, two verses from the Bible have become anchors:
Psalm 30:5 – Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.
Jeremiah 31:13 – I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.
They comfort me with 2 truths:
We can wear the weight of sadness for many reasons, but the causes do not cancel out the promises of God. If we take our sadness to God, if we trust Him with the losses we endure in life; He will take our sorrow and replace it with joy.
Here is a song that has encouraged me through my recent loss. I hope it encourages you.
For the first time in my life there is a legitimate risk attending church. The risk is not political, legal, or social. It is medical. This is new territory. We have never had to consider going to church a medical threat. In the past we may have chosen to stay home during flu season, but never have we been warned about the danger of being in a crowd like we have over the last two months.
However, people are beginning to leave their living rooms. Stores are open for customers. Restaurant dining rooms will be open in a few days. Employers are calling people back to work and elective surgeries are being scheduled. Little by little, we are beginning to take risks even though the threat has not been completely removed.
Along with these openings comes the opportunity to worship at church. I realize this opening might be scary for some of God’s people. Who would have ever thought someone in the United States who genuinely loves God might have reservations about going to their local church?
For centuries people have chosen whether they will publicly worship God or not. Some have had the privilege of making this choice safely with no threat of harm. Others have had to make the choice under tremendous pressure with the risk of prison, loss of property, or life. One day each person will stand before God and give an account. What makes it strange for us is that we have always been able to choose to worship without any threat. Today—it is different. Today—many who love God may have doubts about worshipping Him at church.
Doubt about returning to church is not a sin. It is a reality of the time in which we find ourselves living. Some people should not come back to church just yet. Others should. Each person must make their own decision. Here are some Biblical guidelines as you make your choice:
Here is a song I’ve been enjoying. May it encourage you.
Over the last several weeks we have all lost something. High school seniors lost all the traditions of a senior year. Grandparents lost hugs from their grandkids. Those in nursing homes lost visits from family and friends. Families lost vacations. Parents lost jobs. Children lost sleepovers and birthday parties. Hospital patients lost visitors. Those who saw a loved one pass away lost having a funeral. On and on I could go. It is all sad.
The hardest part of COVID-19 is not knowing what we are still going to lose. Everyone is aware the world is going to look different moving forward, but how different? The answer to that question eludes us all.
Yesterday I was having a pity party. I’m sure that doesn’t happen to any of you, but it was happening to me. While internally bemoaning my losses, I received a story in a text from a friend. It was exactly what I needed in that moment. Let me share it with you:
A story is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer’s well. The farmer heard the mule “braying”—or whatever mules do when they fall into wells. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the old mule, but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving.
Instead, he called his neighbors together and told them what had happened and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the mule in the well and put him out of his misery.
Initially, the mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and dirt kept hitting him the back, a thought struck him. Every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back, he would shake it off and step up!
This he did, blow after blow. “Shake it off and step up…shake it off and step up…shake it off and step up!” He repeated this to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows or distressing the situation seemed, the mule fought “panic” and just kept right on shaking it off and stepping up.
As you may have guessed, it wasn’t long before the mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like would bury him was actually a blessing because of the manner in which he handled his adversity.
Each loss in our lives is another shovel load of dirt. In the face of so much loss, we are tempted to give in to panic, bitterness, and self-pity. But, if we can trust God and keep a good attitude, the losses that we feel may bury us, have within them the potential to be our way to step up.
The Bible says it this way…
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4)
My pity party is over. It’s time to step up.
Here is a song that encourages me. I hope it encourages you.
Doubt is a terrible companion. It is not like any other emotion. Generally speaking, emotions create a specific response. When sad, we cry. When mad, we yell. When happy, we laugh. When frustrated, we complain. What do we do when we doubt? We don’t believe.
Doubt creates unbelief. Unbelief strips away hope and wonder replacing them with skepticism and uneasiness. Unbelief causes us to not believe what we should. It moves us to question truth, ignore honest people, and not accept a good thing.
I get that we live in a world that puts a spin on everything. Therefore, we have been conditioned to doubt, but doubt should not be an option when it comes to reading God’s Word, accepting His truth, or trusting His promises.
The writer of Hebrews warns us…
So watch your step, friends. Make sure there’s no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God. (Hebrews 3:12)
We cannot believe everything we see on the news, read on the internet, or hear on the radio. We must use discernment with all the information being dumped on us, but clearly there is an evil unbelief that we should avoid.
What is “evil” unbelief? It is believing God will not do something that he said he would do. Apparently, evil unbelief can be just lying around in our hearts and mind. When we come across it, we are to remove it from our thinking. If we don’t, it will turn us off to the living God.
Here is what God has said if you have placed your faith in Jesus and received his grace offered from the cross…
“I am with you. I have an unfailing love for you. I have a plan for your life. I can only do good to you. I will forgive you. I will help you. I will answer your prayers. I will not allow you to be tempted more than you can bear. I created you to do good. I accept you. I will work everything out for your good. I will give you grace and mercy everyday. I will not condemn you. I will not abandon you. I will welcome you into heaven.”
Do you believe this, or have you found some unbelief? If so, get rid of it.
Here is a song that has been encouraging me. May it encourage you.
Over the last several days, as the talk of reopening the state has begun to grab attention, an emotion, more deceptive than fear, has started impacting our psyches. Its name is doubt. Doubt is married to fear. They usually do not leave home without each other.
Fear paralyzes us. It influences us to do the opposite of faith. It screams. “Bad things will happen if I’m ignored!” Doubt does not work that way. Doubt uses our logic and circumstances to stir up unbelief. Fear points its finger and yells in our face. Doubt sips coffee with us in the morning and gently asks, “Can God be trusted?”
Fear and doubt are both overcome with faith that trusts in the promises of God, but since they approach us from different angles, victory over each looks different. Fear challenges us and God responds with a promise. We must then choose. Will we believe the fear or God’s promise?
Doubt comes at us with questions using logic and circumstances to stoke unbelief. God counters by telling us truth and reminding us of past encounters with Him. We then have to choose between not believing or trusting.
One classic example of doubt in the Bible happened on the last day Jesus was on earth. Jesus was speaking to his disciples and a large crowd of people who followed him. Matthew tells us when the people saw him “they worshipped him, but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17)
Isn’t that odd…some worshipped while others doubted? Everyone there was seeing and hearing the same thing, yet not all had the same reaction.
The word doubted means “wavering, hesitant, or uncertain.” We are not told what the doubters doubted. But knowing how doubt works, I bet each doubter there was wrestling with the logic of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the emotions those events created, their past experiences with Christ and the questions of what their future would look like all converging at the same time in their brains. Put all of that together in one moment; and some began to think “Can I trust God?” We can’t be too hard on them. It happens to us.
In the midst of their doubt, Jesus gave the doubters the same purpose and promise he gave to the worshippers: “Therefore go and make disciples…baptizing them…and teaching them…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
I find great comfort in these words because there are days I doubt. There are days I am hesitant, uncertain, and waver. Yet, Jesus in his faithfulness says with mercy, “Cary, your purpose hasn’t changed and my promise is still good. You might be doubting, but I am certain about you. I am with you for the whole day everyday.”
Doubt does not scream at us. It questions us until we choose not to believe. Trusting God in a post-pandemic world is not just a safety decision. It is also a faith decision. Can we trust that God has plan? Can we trust that He has us here for a reason? Can we trust He is with us even when we leave our homes?
Unbelief or trust? Which is it for you?
Here is a song that encourages me. May it encourage you.
What do we do when we are afraid? To answer that question, we need to know what is scaring us. Different fears create different reactions. For instance, if we are afraid of…
So, what do we do if we afraid of contracting COVID-19? What do we do if we fear someone we love is going to die? What do we do if we fear death? These are legitimate questions.
Removing fear from our world is not an option. Jesus was pretty clear. He said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He did not say, “Don’t worry. If you believe in me you have nothing to fear.” Until He returns, we will face fear. It is unreasonable to think anything different.
The issue is not facing fear. It is responding to it. Not all responses to fear are necessarily a hinderance to our faith and obedience to God. It is possible to possess a healthy fear that motivates us to take the good, safe, caring, and responsible action. But, it is also possible to have an unhealthy fear that influences us to be selfish, uncaring, nasty, and foolish. It is the unhealthy fear we must recognize and push back against.
The Psalmist wrote…
But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? (Psalm 56:3-4)
Overcoming fear, the kind that causes us to be self-centered or unkind or negligent toward others, requires us to…
I hate fear. I hate what it does to me. I hate what it does to the people I love. I hate what it is doing to our country. But I cannot make fear go away, I can only respond to it. You are in the same boat.
Let’s be found overcoming our fears. Would you join me?
Here is a song I’ve been listening to. May it encourage you.
One day, when my oldest son was 4 years old, we were playing together at a pool. He still did not know how to swim, but as long as he had Floaties on his arms, he was fearless. He would jump into the water no matter what depth.
On this day, one of his Floaties deflated and would not hold air. One deflated Floatie sucked all the joy out of the moment. He felt his fun was over. I told him not to worry. I explained I would stand in the water and catch him when he jumped. It took a little persuasion, but he finally agreed to remove the other Floatie. He took his position on the side of the pool, and I took my post in the water just a few feet from him.
I told him I was ready. He could jump whenever he wanted. To my surprise, he would not jump. I pleaded with him. I promised him. I even tried bribing him, but he would not jump. I could see it in his eyes. He did not trust me. It stung.
Another man, a total stranger, had been watching this unfold. He waded down into the pool and stood right beside me. He looked at my son, held out his arms, and told him to jump. I thought to myself, “Who is this guy? My son will never jump into his arms. This is just some weirdo who has overstepped his boundaries!”
I was shocked. My son jumped into his arms. The pain I felt when my son did not trust me paled in comparison to the betrayal I felt when he left the sidewalk to leap into the arms of a stranger. I was crushed. I was embarrassed. I did not know if I should cry or rage. My son trusted a stranger more than he trusted me.
I did not understand. My son had a history with me. I loved him. I provided for him. I took care of him. Heck! I was the one who bought him Floaties in the first place. How could he trust a stranger? How could he jump into arms of a random person?
You need to know something. I just made that story up. It never happened.
But let’s imagine for a moment that it had. Imagine how I would have felt. I think that is small taste of what our Heavenly Father must experience when we choose to not trust Him.
The Bible speaks of trusting the Lord, or choosing not to trust Him, in 96 different passages. Trusting God is a big deal. When we do it, there are benefits. When we don’t, there are consequences.
If you have placed your faith in Christ, you have a history with God. You have a past with Him. He has already proven Himself trustworthy to you.
I get that some of our Floaties have deflated in this Coronavirus crisis, but He provided those Floaties. Now He stands ready to prove just how trustworthy He really is. You and I must be willing to leap into His arms. Our joy does not have to disappear with our Floaties. We can still play in the water. It will look different. In fact, He may teach us to swim. It all starts with trusting Him enough to jump.
Here is a fun song. I hope you enjoy it.
I have people in my circle of influence who do not understand the relationship I have with Jesus Christ. It burdens me. It actually makes my heart sad. I want them to know the spiritual truths that have set me free. I want them to experience their Creator, and discover as I have, the wonderful plan He has for their life. I want them to know what it feels like to have God’s joy and peace snuff out their worries. I want them to be born-again.
Why cannot they not see Jesus in my life? Why cannot they not understand my explanations? Why are my prayers for them still unanswered? Is it my fault? Am I doing something wrong? Are my moral inconsistencies to blame?
Without a doubt, I do have many faults, but I also have grace. I share that grace…not perfectly…but I do share it. Isn’t it greater than my sins? Can’t God’s grace be bigger, better, brighter and more wonderful than my blunders? Can’t His grace flowing through me be more persuasive than my bone-headed moments? What habits or moral inconsistencies in my life are keeping them from knowing Christ?
It is a heavy load to carry—believing that someone doesn’t know Christ because of my shortcomings. Perhaps it is a load I am not meant to carry. I know I am capable of committing great sins that would produce immense pain and unforgettable harm, but if that hasn’t happened, should I believe their unbelief is tied to my spiritual failures? It is one thing to feel burdened because someone is lost. It is another thing to believe it is my fault.
While wrestling with these thoughts, I came across these words…
Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)
I can’t blame Satan for my sins, but I can blame him for blinding the minds of those who still don’t believe. Knowing this relieves some of my burden. It’s not me. I’m not doing something wrong. I’m right where I am suppose to be. I need to stay the course. I need to keep caring…keep trying…keep praying.
Lord, please cure the blindness that keeps people close to me from seeing you. Free their minds so they can believe. Let them see, receive and accept the light of Your Good News. Save them. Please.
May you see the people close to you who are blind. May you long for their salvation. May God answer your prayers and empower your efforts to reach them for Christ. Don’t give up.
Here is a song someone shared with me. I hope it encourages you like it did me.
Have you heard the chatter? There is talk that our nation is preparing to reopen. The lifting or modification of some of the Stay at Home orders is creating both excitement and anxiety. Isn’t it interesting how the news brings both hope and worry? We hope because it makes us feel there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We worry because we fear a resurgence of the virus and the ramifications of another shut down. We humans…we are both fickle and fragile. We hate to admit it, but it is true.
As we start thinking about getting a haircut or maybe visiting our favorite store, I want you to think about something else. When will you feel safe to attend a public worship service?
I know that is a specific question, but I don’t think it is too soon to start thinking about it. As restrictions get lifted, this will be the first time in our lives that going to a worship service in America will actually have some risk to it. Before we were introduced to the Coronavirus, attending a weekly worship service was a freedom that costs us nothing. No one lost their job, was arrested, or harassed because they went to their local church. Fortunately, I don’t think any of those things will happen when restrictions are lifted. The risk you and I will face is not political, legal or social. The risk will be exposing ourselves to a virus we have been working hard to avoid. In the face of that fear, when will you feel safe enough to gather with God’s people at your place of worship? Would you feel safe if it was less than 75 people? How about if everyone wears a mask? What if we are all sitting 6 feet apart? When would it be okay?
In another time and in another place, there was a group of believers in a city named Corinth. It was the location of a local church the Apostle Paul planted in what is now modern day Greece. The church was encountering internal strife as well as external persecution. It was not a comfortable place to worship. To attend worship at that church cost something. The cost could be as little as being laughed at or as painful as physical harm. It was complicated and those complications created fear.
Paul, in an effort to encourage those people wrote…
[I do] not mean…to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. [I] want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm. (2 Corinthians 1:24)
Returning to a weekly worship service will be complicated. For some people there will be no risk to their health. For others, it could be life threatening. Everyone falls somewhere between those two parameters. In other words, there will be a potential cost to attend a worship service. How comfortable are you with that?
The church in Corinth wanted some answers for the troubles they were facing, and Paul did provide some specific instruction for some of their questions. However, he made it clear that some questions could only be answered by each person fleshing out their own faith in Christ. He was not there to boss them into practicing their faith. He desired to work with them so they could experience joy and stand firm in a faith built on biblical convictions.
Attending church in a post-pandemic culture is not going to be fun or easy. I do believe, with all of my heart, it will be good. It is no one’s place to tell you when you should go back to a public worship service. However, I encourage you to go to a place that is committed to working with you so you can be full of joy and stand firm in the faith. By the power of God’s Spirit and the grace He abundantly supplies, we will figure all of this out in a way that pleases Him and encourages us.
Here is a song I’ve been enjoying. May it encourage you.