Keep Your Courage Up and Believe God

Storms_Seaham_BIG__2698112k.jpg

The 276 people aboard the ship bound for Rome bobbed about in the sea at the mercy of the fierce Euroquilo (northeaster) storm that battered the ship’s sails and rigging to the point that the captain ordered them taken down, leaving the ship subject to the storm’s capricious will. The fierce squall raged for days unabated in its fury, bringing with it misery upon misery for the passengers and crew. Acts 27:20 says, “Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.” Between verses 20 and 21 of Acts 27 it appears a few more days pass for the narrative states, “And when they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst” encouraging them that no one would perish from the storm, though the ship would be lost.

In verse 23 Paul tells the passengers and crew that an angel of God appeared to him that very night telling him, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you. Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told (verses 24-25).”

Oh, wouldn’t it be just lovely when we are experiencing our own northeaster storms and our hearts are tempted to despair that all hope is lost, we could, like Paul, have a direct messenger from God, telling us not to be afraid? Such a message would be so particular and tailored for us that we immediately take heart. Yes, it might be tempting to somewhat envy Paul’s personal encouragement from the Lord. Yet, there really is no need for envy on our part, for we have received just such a kindness from the Lord, in fact, even better, for the multiplied promises of deliverance contained in the Scriptures cover every circumstance we might ever undergo.   

Paul encouraged all on board the ship to keep up their courage because, as he said, “I believe God (Acts 27:25).” Knowing that God always keeps His Word, Paul chose to believe God’s promise of deliverance would come to pass. Paul trusted in God’s character of faithfulness to fulfill His promises and render aid to His children. Paul’s words of faith and trust—I believe God—can encourage us today when we face our own storms.

Will you keep up your courage and believe God?

God says He is always with us. The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus Himself said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’ (Hebrews 13:5-6).” That universal promise of the Lord’s presence is meant to bolster our courage and lead us out of fear, so that we can respond with that same faith and hope as Paul—“The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid!”

God says He is the God who delivers. Psalm 107 is a testimony to the delivering nature of God. He comes to the rescue of His children—always, as the oft repeated phrase attests, “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses (Psalm 107:6, 13, 19, 28).”

God says He is an active and ever present helper to us. Psalm 46:1-2 proclaims, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.”

God says He brings us through the trials. Psalm 68:19-20 encourages us, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation. God is to us a God of deliverances; and to God the Lord belong escapes from death.”

If we continue to look at Paul’s story in Acts 27, we also learn that though Paul received God’s comforting message that all would be saved from the storm, it’s also helpful to note that deliverance wasn’t immediate. There were still more hours of soul-numbing and body-bruising buffeting from the storm before God’s rescue would be realized. In fact, the text says they endured the storm a total of 14 days, going that long without food as well. It wasn’t until Paul again encouraged them all to trust God, and cheerfully led the way in eating some food, that they themselves finally took heart and partook of some nourishment (verse 36).

Trusting God means keeping your courage up. Keeping our courage up comes from focusing on the Lord's character and His complete faithfulness. Trusting who He is, helps us wait well for our deliverance. David understood this when he wrote in Psalm 27:13-14, "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord."

We learn from Paul’s example, and other writers of Scripture, that we can trust God, believing His promises, even when the pledged help and aid isn’t given immediately. Can’t you hear Paul? “God said He would preserve us from the storm, so He will. We can believe God, even though right now, the storm continues to rage. He will bring us through, so let us trust Him! Our God is faithful!”

Without a doubt, it is difficult to keep trusting the Lord when there are no changes in our circumstances or when the situation even worsens. Yet even then the promises of God are true, no matter what our situation. We often have an idea of what our deliverance should look like, but God rarely rescues us in the way we expect. He will, however, deliver us in His way, in His time, and in the way that will produce the most spiritual profit in us and promote praise in our hearts.

Therefore, keep your courage up, for I believe God.

One is Greater than Many

One is Greater than Many

As believers, we live in this realm on earth where the bald truth of a number can feel more real than the promises of God and the life of faith we are supposed to live. So, how do we counteract the fearful power of those numbers that sap our strength and place weights upon our faith? 

Read More

Close Enough To See His Face

We’ve been in Louisville for two months now! We are settling in to our new church and getting to know the dear ones who attend it. Louisville itself is no small town; it’s not even a comfortably mid-sized city. It’s big and busy and full of nooks and crannies of places to explore and live, which is why we have been temporarily living in an apartment until we discovered which “nook” we wanted to roost in.

About a month ago we began the process of looking for a house. On our first day out our realtor, Troy, who is also a dear brother in the Lord, carefully constructed the day’s tour. He had managed to pack in showings at 12 or so houses to the east and south of Louisville. Jack and I were full of anticipation at watching the Lord’s plan unfold. Maybe we would find a house! Maybe our 3 ½ years of temporary would soon be at an end!

When we got to Troy’s office he needed to make a few adjustments to our schedule because one or two of the houses we wanted to see had sold overnight. After a bit of a delay we got on the highway out to see the first house. We hadn’t been on the highway out of town more than a minute or two when the traffic slowed to a complete stop. And there we sat for the next 2½ hours, inching forward at a snail’s pace. We learned that 3 semi-trucks collided and the crash completely blocked the freeway. Our day’s plans were rapidly changing.

Normally, I might have been anxious or discouraged about the changes, yet I found myself rejoicing. Left to myself there was no way I would have been exulting, especially since I had feasted on anticipation all morning. Yet, the Lord had already kindly prepared my heart for the day’s events.

It all began when Psalm 89 greeted me during my quiet time that morning. In Psalm 89 the psalmist extols the Lord’s character and ways. In fact, he’s just downright exulting in the Lord’s power and goodness. The psalmist, Ethan, creates a picture of heaven and all the holy ones praising the Lord. He describes the scene in verses 14-15, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You. How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O LORD, they walk in the light of Your countenance.” Ethan describes the Lord’s throne being built upon righteousness and justice, which really just describes how the Lord reigns over His subjects—righteously and justly. Then the psalmist designates “lovingkindness” and “truth” as those who triumphantly announce our great King’s presence. What a grand and glorious picture of the Lord’s throne room!

That’s why the psalmist says in verse 15, “How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!” Isn’t that the truth? We really are blessed when we know that lovingkindness and truth proceed from the Lord. And it’s even better when we live close enough to Him to experience that flood of His lovingkindness and truth. Yet, there’s more, for as we live closely to the Lord we will walk in the light of His countenance (verse 15). 

That’s the phrase caught my eye. It grabbed at my imagination and entered my heart. What does it mean to live in the light of the Lord’s countenance? How would my life be different today if I remembered I was living within reach of His smile?

Living in the light of the Lord’s countenance is just another way of saying that we live close enough to see His face—and conversely that He sees us. The idea is captured really well in Aaron’s blessing of the sons of Israel in Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.”

The idea of living in light of the Lord’s countenance carries with it His blessing. It also carries with it a sense of accountability. It’s basically like living in His throne room—and that’s where the accountability comes in. We’re called to live differently in the throne room so that when His face shines upon us in holiness we’re not ashamed.

That’s why when our day of looking at houses looked like it was going to rapidly derail, I had a unique opportunity to check my thoughts and my responses. Was I living with trust and hope in the fair light of God’s gaze? Or would my countenance reveal fear or discouragement or a complaining spirit?

The Scriptures remind us that when we live in the light of the Lord’s countenance, He helps our countenance. Psalms 42:11 and 43:5 say virtually the same thing, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” He helps our countenance! What a joyous thought! We don't have to live in the cellar of grumpiness or fear for the Lord will help us.  

The problem is that far too often we don’t avail ourselves of the Lord’s help, so that we end up resembling Cain more than is comfortable. Remember his story in Genesis 4:4-7? “And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” 

Cain wasn’t keeping His eyes on the Lord and certainly didn’t seem concerned about living within the light of His gaze. Even after the Lord asked him, “Why has your countenance fallen?” Cain didn’t repent of his wrong attitudes. Living in the light of the Lord’s countenance means answering the question, “Why has your countenance fallen?” and then doing something about it. This requires recognizing what we’re really thinking about any given situation, repenting if necessary, and most certainly, asking the Lord’s help for trust and faith.

The Scriptures talk about a sad countenance in Job 9:27; a proud countenance in Psalm 10:4; and an angry one in Proverbs 25:23. That’s just a sampling of the sins of our hearts that are revealed in some way.  Paul understood this truth when he said in Galatians 5:19 that the “deeds of the flesh are evident.” We might try to hide our sinful thoughts and deeds away in the recesses of our hearts, but like ducks in the water, they always bob back up to the surface. 

Understanding all that made Psalm 89:15 all the more impactful on that day of house hunting, when everything seemed to be unraveling in God’s perfect and sovereign plan. In fact, praying through Psalm 89:15 allowed me to rejoice in the same way as the psalmist in the very next verse, “In Your name they rejoice all the day, and by Your righteousness they are exalted.” Instead of feeling thwarted, I felt protected by the Lord’s new plan for our day.

O Lord, may we live and breathe this prayer, that we would walk in the light of Your countenance (Psalm 89:15) because You are the God who helps our countenance (Psalm 43:5).

When God Thwarts Your Plans...What then?

God frustrates our plans and nullifies our counsel when our plans don’t match His plans. The counsel of the nations can be nullified, but God’s counsel stands forever. The plans of the peoples can be frustrated, but God’s plans, the plans of His heart, stand from generation to generation.

Read More

Jesus’ Compassion for Your Sorrows

Some days you just need to know that Jesus cares. Maybe today is that day for you. If so, I think you’ll be encouraged as we take a look at the compassion and sensitivity Jesus showed when Mary and Martha were grieving over the death of their brother Lazarus. I know this story has frequently bolstered my heart. 

The siblings’ story begins in John chapter 11 when Lazarus grows very sick, so sick that the sisters send word to Jesus about his deteriorating condition. Much to everyone’s surprise, Jesus doesn’t hurry to the village of Bethany to heal Lazarus, instead He stays two days longer in the place where He was. Despite the fact that Jesus doesn’t hurry to Lazarus’ sickbed we know that Jesus loved this family for the text tells us that He did (John 11:5). So whatever the reason was for Jesus not immediately going to heal Lazarus, it wasn’t because Jesus didn’t care about them. In fact, Jesus knew something the rest of the people in this story did not. He explained it to His disciples in John 11:4, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Lazarus’ sickness had a purpose. And that purpose was for God’s glory; Jesus Himself would also gain glory from it.

Could it be that God intends your sorrows and difficulties for His glory?  

By the time Jesus arrived in the village of Bethany Lazarus had been dead for 4 days and his sisters were grieving for their brother. Because we’re privy to the story after-the-fact, we know Jesus delayed coming to Bethany so He could raise Lazarus from the dead, but no one else knew that. All the sisters knew was that their beloved brother had died and their friend Jesus, who was well-able to heal the sick, had not come in time to heal him. And now it was too late; their brother was dead. As Jesus arrives in Bethany, He is first greeted by a grieving Martha and then by a weeping Mary, both women telling Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary and Martha knew Jesus could have saved Lazarus from death—before he died; their faith extended that far, but it never entered their heads that Jesus might do more.

Could it be that God to stretch your faith and broaden your view of Him through your present circumstances? When Jesus washed the disciples feet in John 13:7 Jesus explained His actions to Peter saying, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” So many of the events in our lives end up in this category where we will understand hereafter. God has more in mind for us than we realize.

Verse 33 records, “When Jesus therefore saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her, also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled.” Then in verse 35 it says, “Jesus wept.” Even though God intended to use Lazarus’ death and resurrection for His glory, Jesus was “deeply moved” by the His friends’ grief. He wept for their sorrow. He wept that the best plan for their lives included this deep grief. His love for His friends moved Him to compassion for their sorrow, even though He knew that soon their mourning would be turned to joy, and that the sorrow they were experiencing would be buried by jubilation. Jeremiah found comfort in this aspect of God’s character as well so that he penned these words of solace, “For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness (Lamentations 3:31-32).

Could it be that Jesus desires you to know His comfort and learn of the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10)? “Jesus! What a help in sorrow! While the billows o’er me roll, Even when my heart is breaking, He, my comfort, helps my soul.”

Jesus left us a poignant picture of how to practically minister to the grieving. In following Jesus’ example we will also enter into the joys and sorrows of others and fulfill the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Paul reminded us of this in Romans 12:15 when he said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” We enter into their sorrows with them, rather than standing back at a safe distance. There is nothing more endearing in a friend than when they sorrow with us and help bear our burdens. Understanding this makes Jesus’ compassion all the sweeter.

The Scriptures tell us to “consider” Jesus—to think, reflect, meditate on Him. When we do this we find food for our souls, comfort for our hearts, and a guide for the journey. Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds us, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus’ compassion extends to every one of His children.

Could it be that God intends your present trials to draw you closer to Him? “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).”

The Means God Uses to Instill Hope

The Means God Uses to Instill Hope

The end result of tribulations is hope—emphasis on end result. Often, when we’re gasping for air, trying to wrestle down hope to gain some relief, we create a short bridge in our minds from verse 3 “we exult in our tribulations” to verse 5 and the “hope that doesn’t disappoint.” I think it’s safe to say most in-the-midst-of-trials people are “hope challenged.” It’s why we so quickly make the jump in our minds from “tribulations” to “hope that doesn’t disappoint.” There’s just one problem. We miss the means God uses to grant us that non-disappointing hope.

Read More

He Will Not Reject Forever

O, tried and tempest-tossed one, hear these words, “The Lord will not reject forever.” Think upon the reality of those words. Your present circumstances will not last forever. Even if they last the rest of your days on this earth, they will not last forever. For each believer “forever” holds special import. Forever means life with Jesus. Forever means seeing His dear face. Forever means no more sin, no more sorrow, no more pain. Ah, let us think on forever. Revelation 21:3-4 tells us, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’” Think on the sweetness of this “forever” truth from Revelation 22:3-4, “There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”

“The Lord will not reject forever.” You may feel rejected and abandoned by the Lord, yet nothing could be further from the truth. The Scriptures, upon which we gain our footing, tell us a much better “reality” for the state we now find ourselves in. From Hebrews 13:5 we learn that Jesus Himself said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” Or if you like, listen to Isaiah 49:14-16, “But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” We must learn to line our feelings up with the facts.

Often we feel rejected by the Lord because we forget the love, care, power, and might He infuses into every detail of our lives. We view our circumstances from an earthly perspective, when what we really need is a God-has-eternity-in-view perspective. More often than not, we need to remind ourselves that God is more concerned about our holiness than He is our happiness. He intends to complete His wondrous work in our souls, which most often is accomplished through trials and difficulty and sorrow.

“The Lord will not reject forever.” Hear the certainty of those words. He will not. Our compassionate and loving God absolutely, positively will not reject forever. There will come a day when things will change. Psalm 30:5 reminds us, “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” How long we’ll weep we cannot say, but we do know this—one day, one morning, there will be joy! David relied on this truth and comforted himself with this knowledge in Psalm 27:13-14, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage, yes, wait for the Lord.”

Let us counter our discouragement and despair with these words from Lamentations 3:21-25, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.”