The Truth Hurts

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+16%3A33&version=NLT

One of my favorite movies is “The Princess Bride.” The title character begins the story as a young, beautiful, wealthy, and spoiled young woman. She falls in love with the young farm boy who works for her father. The young man leaves to make his fortune, but word comes that he has been captured and killed by pirates. In utter despair, the young woman allows herself to become engaged to a spoiled and wicked prince. She has allowed her grief to consume her, and she cares nothing for the prince, his wealth or power, or even her own future. Before she can be married to the prince, she is kidnapped by villains, and “rescued” by a mysterious pirate. Instead of being grateful, she curses the pirate, telling him that he could never understand her great loss and pain. His answer, harsh, glib, but to the point, is to say that “life is pain, Princess. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”

There are certain truths in life that we would avoid if we could– death, pain, sorrow, grief, suffering, and Sin–we don’t want to hear the harsh reality of our situation. We don’t want to suffer or hurt at all; much less to discover that our suffering is commonplace or universal. Everyone will taste death; everyone will face pain and grief and suffering in this life. Everyone will suffer as a result of Sin– our individual actions have consequences, as do the cumulative actions of our culture, our ancestors, and the entire human race. This is a harsh truth, but it IS the truth.

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There are four common techniques we tend to use to avoid facing harsh truths– denial or avoidance, anger, bargaining, and depression or despair. Many people know these terms from the Kubler-Ross studies on patients with terminal illnesses and the five “stages” she identified as they came to terms with their impending death. https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/ The fifth “stage” was acceptance. The five stages have been applied commonly to other forms of grieving and loss, including the loss of a loved one or the break-up of a marriage. While most of us go through some or all of these stages when we face suffering, we don’t all go through them the same way or even in the same order.

Many of us live in avoidance and denial– rushing headlong into meaningless pleasure, self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, staying busy with the pursuit of wealth or power. Others wrap themselves in anger– blaming everyone else for their pain, seeking revenge, driving away those who want to help. Still others try to bargain– seeking to avoid death by trying every new diet or fitness routine, or trying to be righteous enough to earn a supernatural blessing or “good karma.” And many wallow in depression and despair, lost in the swamp and mist, sinking into a pit of their own feelings.

These reactions are normal and human. Harsh truths hurt– they shock us, overwhelm us, shatter our trust, even shake our faith. But they ARE true. What is also true is that God has not left us without resources, even for the harshest realities we face. Even when we are in despair, or angry, or in denial, God can give us peace and strength to go on.

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God isn’t “selling something” to make the pain go away or make our life “trouble-proof.”  Jesus never offered a comfortable life to His followers. In fact, He promised that our lives would be filled with trouble and pain and sorrow!  Christians who claim that they never face fear, or failure, fury or frustration, loss and sorrow– they are “selling” a false gospel.  Jesus faced and conquered death on a cross! He could have avoided it– He could have been angry at those who betrayed Him–He could have stayed buried in despair and failure.  But He arose! We don’t worship someone who has never wept, or faced betrayal or loss. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)– if anyone knows the harsh truth, it is the one who IS Truth!  And this Truth hurts– He hurts to see us grieving; He hurts when we reject Him to go our own way; He hurts even as He allows us to hurt.

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Faith, prayer, worship, promises– these are not God’s way of helping us escape the reality of harsh truths.  They are His tools for helping us to overcome and be victorious in the face of trials and setbacks, grief and pain, even death!  As Princess Buttercup discovers in “The Princess Bride”– “Death cannot stop true love!” And it cannot stop the Truth that IS Love!

…And Grace My Fears Relieved…

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

timelesstruths.org
Amazing Grace, lyrics by John Newton

As I write this, a massive hurricane looms in the Atlantic Ocean, devastating the Bahamas, and threatening several major cities along the southeastern coast of the United States. There is much fear, danger, and distress for people living in these areas, for their families, and for compassionate people watching helplessly from a distance. What can anyone DO in the face of such raw power and destruction? What hope or comfort can we offer?

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There are many questions we cannot answer in times like this– we can offer no definitive explanation why hurricanes form, how they behave, why they change courses, grow, shrink, or when or where they will make landfall. There are many actions we cannot take– we can’t stop a hurricane, or shift its course, weaken it or make it go away (though scientists and others have been trying for decades). We cannot provide immediate “fixes” for the damage that hurricanes (or other weather emergencies) leave behind.. roads and houses take time to rebuild; fields and forests must be replanted; families must heal and grieve.

What we can offer seems, on the surface, to be insufficient and condescending– we offer prayers, reassurance that God sees and knows and cares, we say, “trust in God and His promises.” And many sneer at such “gifts. God doesn’t promise to steer the hurricanes away from our loved ones, or our own villages or cities or islands. God doesn’t promise that we won’t experience disaster, fear, pain, or grief. God doesn’t promise us days of sunshine with never a cloud, or storm or loss.

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What God DOES promise is Grace– not comfort, not ease, not happiness– something mysterious, undeserved, and unexpected. God’s grace is sufficient– it is enough– through ANY and EVERY circumstance when we ask for it. ENOUGH–never lacking, never too much for us to use, but just right for His good purpose and our best interest in learning to know Him.

Grace doesn’t take away the storms of life; it allows us to experience victory in, through, and in spite of the storms. Grace makes us strong enough, brave enough, wise enough, healthy enough, kind enough, rich enough, and “good enough” to get to the next step in our journey. It may fall short of what we expect, or envy, or dream of for ourselves, but it is never too little to be useful. God’s economy is not about bigger and better, grander or “more.” Because “More” is never “enough”– there is never enough money to buy a longer life; there is never enough strength to defeat heartache and loneliness; never enough goodness to eradicate the injustices of a hundred wicked generations. Bad things will happen. Loved ones will be wounded or killed. Homes and roads and villages will be destroyed. But God is faithful to comfort us, strengthen us, sustain us, and give us a new vision, a new hope, and a new life. Only God is big enough, rich enough, strong enough, and wise enough to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+3%3A20-21&version=NKJV. The amazing part is that He sends us the Grace we need to be part of the unfolding story–just what we need, just when we need it most– not because of anything we have done, but because of His great compassion.

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Grace doesn’t take away the storms of life– this may seem unfair and cruel. God, even a loving God– allows us to weather storms, even to be broken and crushed by them. But God also brings blessing, renewal, healing, comfort, hope, and a renewed sense of purpose, compassion, and vision. These things often come only after the storm. Storms can bring us to a point of fear and despair, or to faith and dependence. Grace is a gift–God won’t force us to acknowledge or accept His Grace. We can choose to tremble at the storm’s approach, or rage, or try to run away. But God’s offer means we never have to face the storm alone.

Grace won’t take away the storms in our lives– and it won’t make us foolishly fearless in the face of hurricanes. But it can relieve our fears and give us the courage and wisdom to face even the fiercest trials in life; even the fiercest storms that rage. And isn’t that an Amazing hope?! Our prayers may seem small; our hope may seem insignificant– because we are not “enough” . But we serve a God and pray to a God who holds the future in His hand. Our prayers are held in the same hands– our faith is in the one who is more than “enough” to face the storm and relieve our fears.

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Hannah and the Priests

The story of Hannah in 1 Samuel is filled with priests. Her husband, Elkanah, is of the priestly class, and regularly goes to Shiloh to offer sacrifices. Chapter one quickly mentions Hophni and Phinehas who were the resident priests there. And of course, there is Eli, their father, the High Priest at that time. Hannah has access to counselors, spiritual guidance, and men whose ancestral calling is to bring people closer to God. Yet none of them can bring Hannah out of her anguish and offer comfort.

Hophni and Phinehas are noticeably absent in this story. The mention of their names calls attention to this absence. They were supposed to be the acting priests, but they don’t interact in any way with the grieving Hannah, or her husband, Elkanah. Further reading reveals that they were very wicked and due to be judged for abusing their priestly role. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+2%3A12-36&version=NIV

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Eli himself is an indifferent priest. The first mention of him is as the father of the wicked Hophni and Phinehas. Next, we find him sitting in a chair at the doorstep of the tabernacle. He is not serving; he is not overseeing; he is not doing anything. When he first observes Hannah, he jumps to a wrong and judgmental conclusion– that she is drunk and raving. He doesn’t go over to see if he’s right in his assumption. In fact, there is no mention in the passage that he ever rises from his chair.
We might gloss over this passage, without grasping the importance of this detail. Nowhere in the long lists of a priest’s duties was there an option of sitting at the door and just watching people go in and out. The priests all had duties– some were in charge of the sacrifice (as Elkanah sometimes was). Others were in charge of the lamps, the incense, the care of the utensils and tools, offering prayers, singing, playing instruments, reading from the books of the law, and keeping the tabernacle clean and in good repair. None of them required sitting. Eli isn’t busy doing the work of the Lord; he is literally sitting down on the job.
In short, Eli is not a spiritual giant– he offers a standard blessing after Hannah pleads her case for not being a drunken disturber of the peace, but he doesn’t offer much in the way of true comfort or counseling. His first words to her are to “Go in peace.” The blessing seems to be almost an afterthought. Still, Hannah goes away encouraged, and comes back the next day to worship before returning home.

What can we learn from this encounter and these details in Hannah’s story?

One possible reaction is to become critical and dismissive of the clergy. I think this is the wrong reaction, but I want to address it in this context, because it can keep us from finding help and blessing if we let it. I know countless people who have walked away from the church because of one disappointing encounter with a minister, pastor’s wife, deacon, or fellow parishioner. Eli was not a stellar example of Israel’s priesthood; he was a flawed human. He had rebellious sons, and was likely depressed or anguished over his own troubles. Yet, he was still faithful to turn Hannah’s attention to the One who is always able to bring comfort and strength. Hannah could have chosen to focus on his rude and judgmental assumption about her, but she chose to focus on the hope he was able to offer.
I have gotten dismissive, even bad, advice from people in the church. I have been hurt, judged, and ignored by those who are supposed to be serving God. But just as God provides grace to cover our own failures and mis-steps, He asks us to extend forgiveness and grace to those–even those who serve Him.*

Having said that, I think there is a warning here for those who serve the Lord. Eli ends his days in tragic fashion, his family legacy in ruins, because of some of the details we glimpse even in this short passage about Hannah. Eventually, her son, Samuel, will be tasked with the job of delivering the fullness of God’s judgment against Eli and his sons. Eli’s priesthood was not a cushy position of sitting at the door of God’s tabernacle enjoying an afternoon breeze. He was in charge of setting the tone of reverence and worship for the nation. His sons were corrupt; everyone knew it, including Eli, but nothing was done about it. He sat there, and let evil happen around him.
Church workers, pastors, and priests who do evil and abuse their positions may get away with it for awhile, but God will not hold them guiltless. Nor will he hold those guiltless who cover up or deny the guilt of those around them. No matter how high the position, no matter how much “good” they have done, unless they repent of their actions, they will face God’s wrath over their evil acts.

Finally, we need to see Hannah’s response. Regardless of how evil the sons of Eli were, or how spineless Eli was as a parent and a High Priest, Hannah found faith– not in the priests– but in the God they served. She had seen the dedication of her husband, Elkanah. He served God with reverence, and he served his family with love and honor. She saw that Eli, even sitting down on the job, was still aware that hope and healing come from the Almighty.

Hannah’s response to Eli, and the God he served so imperfectly, deserves another look– one we will take in the next post.

I pray that today, we will be grateful to God for the faithful servants he sends into our lives, and for his grace when we or others “sit down” on the job of serving others and showing Him the reverence He deserves.

Let Nothing You Dismay

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

Remember Christ our Saviour

Was born on Christmas Day;

To save us all from Satan’s power

When we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy;

O tidings of comfort and joy!

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We celebrate Christmas–we play music, dance, laugh, hang up festive decorations, feast, and exchange gifts.  But for many years, Christmas was a holiday overshadowed by Advent.  Advent is all about preparing for the coming of Messiah, much as Lent is about preparing for the crucifixion and resurrection of Good Friday and Easter.  Advent can be a joyful time, but it can also be a time of fear, darkness, and atonement.  Added to that, Advent comes during the darkest months of the year for the northern hemisphere; the farther north, the darker it gets in December.

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The early Protestants, especially the Puritans, feared the admixture of Christian teachings with pagan rituals associated with the Winter Solstice, and in doing so, they smothered much of the joy and celebration that had come to be associated with Christmas.  However, certain songs and carols survived.  Among these was “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.”  The title and many of the lyrics seem strange to our modern ears, but the title simply means, “may God keep you merry (or happy, blessed, joyful, even hearty or healthy), Gentlemen (and Gentle Ladies).”  It was a blessing sung by peasants (or the local watchman) to their local lords and ladies, but it was also an excellent and joyful summation of all that the season really means.  (See more explanation of the origins and meaning of the song here..   https://www.carols.org.uk/god_rest_ye_merry_gentlemen.htm     www.acecollins.com/books/storiesbehindchr.html  )

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Advent IS a good time for reflection and preparation, but it should also be full of joyful anticipation.  Christmas, and all that follows, is all that the angels heralded– good news of great tidings.  And the Gospel is news of comfort and joy!  Not the temporary comfort of a warm fire or the fleeting joy of a delicious feast in the company of merry men and women.  Christmas offers the comfort of knowing that Christ has fulfilled the ancient promises– He has come; he has lived among his own; he has defeated death and the grave; he has risen and ascended!  There is nothing left to fill the Christian with dismay or terror.  It is fear and pain that are temporary–life and peace are eternally promised for those who accept the good tidings!

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This life will still hold pain, grief, injustice, and darkness– but it is not inevitable and it will not prevail!  God is greater than our most pressing problem, deeper than our grief, wider than our capacity to stray, and more powerful than Satan’s thorniest snares.  Christmas Day reminds us of these truths, and allows us to live in true love and brotherhood with those around us, no matter our current circumstances.

What Can I Give Him?

In the Bleak Midwinter

words by Christina Rossetti


1 In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, 
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; 
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, 
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

2 Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; 
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. 
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed 
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. 

3 Angels and archangels may have gathered there, 
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; 
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, 
worshiped the beloved with a kiss. 

4 What can I give him, poor as I am? 
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.



United Methodist Hymnal, 1989
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I love this Christmas Hymn, though it creates a picture that is likely very false.  Historically, we have no reason to believe that Jesus’ birth occurred on the 25th of December, or even in the winter at all.  And even if it was December, it is very unlikely that the Middle-Eastern countryside was experiencing frosty moaning winds or icy waters on the night of Christ’s birth.
In addition to Mary, the Bible tells us of others who came to worship that night– the shepherds in the nearby hills.  The wise men likely came days, weeks, or even months later to bring their gifts.  And Joseph would certainly have been there, as well.

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The song is still lovely, and the last verse is the key.  Christ poured out all that He was; taking on the form of a helpless baby, He lived among those who rejected and mocked Him.  He served those whom He had created, healing their wounds, forgiving their sins, providing for their eternal redemption.  He died, betrayed and despised by His own chosen people, and dismissed by the rulers and authorities of the day.  He never owned a home, built monuments, carved his name in stone, or wrote books to preserve his legacy.  He had no dynasty or even children to carry on his name; at the time of his death, all his friends and followers had abandoned him– all but one disciple and his mother.  Yet his birth (the actual date of which has been obscured by history) is synonymous with generous gifting, rejoicing, singing, worship, and renewed hope.  So what could any of us possibly give that could even begin to match what His life, death, and resurrection gave us?

He asks for only one thing– everything we have: all the failures, mistakes, good intentions, bad choices, selfish desires, and hurts of the past–and in return, He gives us everything beyond our wildest imaginations: eternity with Him; all the riches of His Glory; all His holiness and majesty imputed to us; peace with Him; rest and restoration in Him; and His Spirit to guide and sustain us!

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The bleakness of midwinter may not have been the physical setting of Christ’s birth, but it represents the spiritual setting of our lives without Him.  In that sense, Christ comes in the bleak midwinter of our rebellion, our despair, and our isolation, and offers to give us everlasting light, hope, peace, and joy!

That’s worth celebrating every day throughout eternity!

Look Up!


My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray,
Take all my guilt away,
Oh, let me from this day
Be wholly Thine!
May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart,
My zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me,
Oh, may my love to Thee
Pure, warm, and changeless be,
A living fire!
While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread,
Be Thou my guide;
Bid darkness turn to day,
Wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray
From Thee aside.
When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold, sullen stream
Shall o’er me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love,
Fear and distrust remove;
Oh, bear me safe above,
A ransomed soul!

Hymn lyrics by Ray Palmer 1830

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 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 New International Version (NIV)

When was the last time you spent a little time sky-gazing?  Looking up at the stars?  Or even looking up at ceiling tiles or roof lines?

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It turns out that the very act of looking up is good for your body, mind, and soul.  Looking down, on the other hand, can, over time, lead to neck and back problems, and contribute to depression.  (for more info, use a search engine to look up “health benefits of looking up” or click here: https://www.spine-health.com/blog/modern-spine-ailment-text-neck )

The author of Hebrews reminds us that we should be “fixing our eyes on Jesus” as we run the “race marked out for us”. This is more than just watching the road ahead or looking up at the sky.  We look up at Jesus because:

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  • He is the Author and Finisher (the pioneer and perfecter) of our Faith.  Faith must be anchored…we will believe in something, or we’ll fall for anything, someone has said, and if we don’t make a choice to fix our eyes on Jesus, we will end up looking around or down for something else.
  • He is our guide.  Like a highway sign keeping us on the right road and keeping us from taking a wrong turn, we look to Him to stay on track.
  • He is our example.  In looking up to him, we are also learning how to live and endure and overcome.
  • He is our advocate and encouragement!  How much better will we run when we look up to see Him cheering us on!
  • He is our goal.  We run to Him, so we look up to see how close we are to running into His loving arms.
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How Firm a Foundation

  1. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
    Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
    What more can He say than to you He hath said—
    To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
  2. “Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
    For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
    I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
    Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.
  3. “When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
    The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
    For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
    And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
  4. “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
    My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
    The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
    Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
  5. “The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
    I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
    That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
    I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

“How can you believe in a God who lets bad things happen?”
We live in perilous times; dangerous times.  Right now, fires are sweeping through the western United States.  Earlier this year, the world was shaken by earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, dust storms, and typhoons–all natural disasters–as well as gang violence, mass shootings, and political unrest.  Often, it seems as if God is absent or powerless–sitting on the sidelines and letting bad things happen.  Those of us who claim faith in an omnipotent, loving, and gracious God are mocked and challenged.  How can we believe in the face of such evil and injustice?  How can we offer the empty comfort of prayers and assurances?

fire fighter wearing black and yellow uniform pointing for something
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It can be very difficult to face such challenges– there are no easy answers and “mic-drop” moments for us in this world.  But that doesn’t mean that there are no answers or that our faith is “blind” or without merit.

The Bible is filled with examples of people who followed God in extraordinary circumstances, often in the face of great evil and with little logical expectation of God’s blessing or help.  Abraham traded a wealthy, safe, and honorable life in his native land to live as a stranger and a nomad among foreigners.  Even after God seemed to fulfill the promise of a son, he tested Abraham’s faith, asking him to sacrifice his only son Read the complete story here...  Many people see this story as a horrific example of injustice and cruelty– and if Abraham had been required to go through with the sacrifice, it might seem even more unjust and cruel.  However, there are two points to consider:

  1. God clearly planned to rescue Isaac–there was a ram in the thicket all ready and waiting.  Abraham may not have known God’s purpose in asking such a thing, but he had faith that “God will provide for himself the lamb…”  God may have been “testing” Abraham, but he already knew the outcome.  The “test” was not for God–perhaps not even for Abraham–the test was for Isaac and all who would follow and experience the blessings that came through this amazing act of faith.
  2. The story of Abraham, like so many others, is given to illustrate difficult truths– sometimes about God’s character, or OUR character, or the nature and consequences of Sin.  These stories also often form patterns of allegory, foreshadowing, or illustrations of key principles and events.  Abraham was told to sacrifice his only and very beloved son– a horrible prospect for any father.  But God provided a substitute sacrifice– a lamb– allowing Isaac to live and become the father of many nations.  God’s plan for the salvation of the world was built on the same pattern.  God sent his only and very beloved “son” to be the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all mankind– a horrible prospect for a loving Heavenly Father.  And this time, the son willingly gave His life to become the fulfillment of the promise acted out in Abraham’s story.

shallow focus photography of sheep
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And, of course, there are hundreds of other stories– throughout the Bible, and throughout history– that demonstrate the blessings that come through radical and even tiny acts of faith in God.

Hebrews, chapter 11 lists several examples.  And a key verse in the chapter points out:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13 KJV)

These great examples of faith died without seeing the end results..but the end results are there for US to see!  Faith in humanity– faith in Science– faith in ourselves– these are doomed to end in disappointment.  Not because we don’t believe enough; not because these things are “bad”– but because faith needs an unshakeable, immovable, solid, and eternal foundation.  Our faith in Christ is not a blind faith, an empty faith, or a desperate faith– it is a Faith that is firmly rooted in history, in observable facts, and in revealed truth.  And even in the fiercest storms, the worst of disasters, and the overwhelming flood of hatred and evil in the world, our faith stands firm and sure– not because it is our faith, but because it is built on Him who is before and above all things–yesterday, today, and forevermore.

man holding sheep statuette
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Holy Terror

All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, brings out the fearsome, garish, gory, scary, and macabre in many people.  Movies, costumes, and stories concentrate on death, mystery, nightmares, ghosts, and terror.

I am not a fan of horror in any of its forms.  I don’t like to be scared, startled, tricked, haunted, or frightened.  I don’t like seeing others being terrorized, tortured, or hurt.

So it is with great interest and some surprise to find that the Bible tells us to fear.  Of course, it also tells us NOT to fear– several times, in fact.  We are told that we need not fear the future (Matthew 6:34), struggles, battles, or long journeys (Joshua 1:9), shame or disgrace (Isaiah 54:4), terror, evil, and the “shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4),  actual death, angels or demons (Romans 8:38), or anyone at all (Psalm 27:1; Psalm 188:6).  But there is one fear the Bible does nothing to dispel.

metal vintage old antique
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There is a Holy terror that comes from the recognition that God is Holy– and we are NOT.  There is a very real, very terrible chasm separating us from an eternally sinless and perfect God.  There is nothing we can do on this side of the chasm to close the gap– no way to escape the eternal. hopeless and horrific state of being separated from all that is good, and noble, and peaceful, and joyous.  In life, we get glimpses of glory–flashes of amazing grace at work in the world around us.  Even though we live in a fallen world, we do not live in a place rejected or abandoned by God.

beautiful blue sky bright cloudiness
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This should cause us to have a healthy “fear” of God– a soul-deep awe of His “Other-ness”, His Authority, and His Pre-eminence.  And it should give us a terror of remaining in separation from Him– especially as He offers the very restoration and renewal we can never achieve for ourselves.  And He offers it as a free gift to ANYONE who will receive it!

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Far from trying to “scare someone into Heaven,” sermons and admonitions about Hellfire and eternal damnation are meant as very real warnings with real and eternal consequences.  No horror on earth can compare with an existence devoid of all joy, peace, love, light, help, and hope–and filled with the knowledge of “all that might have been.”  Zombies, vampires, ghouls, and monsters can terrorize in the movies for an hour or two, or in books for a week or more, but what makes people willing to entertain such horrors is the latent hope that we will close the book cover, exit the theater, and wake up from the nightmares presented there.  The idea that Good will eventually triumph; that order, peace, and justice can be restored; that love conquers all, and “something” will survive, re-emerge, and carry on into the future.  All of these hopes are possible because God exists and is eternal.  When we reject God’s authority; His sovereign direction and His call to salvation, we reject all that comes with it.  While we live on His earth, we will still see the glimpses of glory– we can pretend that it is enough for now, or choose to settle for false “hope” of emptiness in death.  But we cannot escape the search for meaning and purpose that drives us to build and plan for a future we have never seen; nor can we know the peace that comes from looking forward and seeing more than darkness, doubt,  and destruction.

What a Wonderful World

Years ago, Louis Armstrong recorded a song, called “What a Wonderful World.”  Video and lyrics here.  It’s a pleasant song, pointing out all the wonderful things to see and hear in the world around us…people sharing greetings, day and night, rainbows, children…but it is also a wistful song.  Armstrong sings it as an observer, more than a participant.  He sees all the wonder of the world around him, and he sees hope for the future.  The flowers and rainbows are there for all to see; but the greetings are not for him; the children are not his and will surpass him in knowledge and opportunity.

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I could name a dozen other songs or poems with similarly ambivalent messages; songs about smiling, hiding one’s tears, hoping for tomorrow and happy days returning.  Such songs acknowledge that our world is filled with wonder, beauty, and joy; they also acknowledge that sprinkled amid the wonder there is heartache and disappointment.

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It is tempting in times of hardship to focus on the negative and miss the wonder that still exists around us.  It can also be tempting to resent the joy others experience as they soak in the wonder that seems to taunt us.

Some people ask, “How can you believe in God when you see all the pain and suffering and evil in the world?”  And others answer, almost flippantly, “How can you doubt God when you see all the beauty and grandeur in the world?”  To someone who is in pain, this is the kind of answer that rubs salt in open wounds.  It’s not that the answer lacks logic or merit, but it is devoid of compassion.

The truth is, that even in the midst of extreme suffering, we DO live in a wonderful world.  The sun still shines, there are still rainbows, and happy children, and, most of all, HOPE.

The Bible speaks of hope as one of the “remaining” virtues– Faith, Hope, and Charity (or Love).  We hear this, and study it, and recite it, but do we really appreciate it for the wonder it is?  Hope may fade in the midst of chaos, but it is not easily suppressed or smothered.  Hope gives us strength when we are struggling; it gives us a reason to look up from the ashes and see the sun.  Hope gives us the motivation to work and build after a disaster; to risk new adventures; to plan for a future.

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Our world needs hope–we need encouragement to reach out; to build and rebuild our communities; to look forward with vision, and set goals to reach that vision.  And we need hope to turn our eyes to the source of that hope– for we do not hope in vain!

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Even in our fallen world, God is wooing us with wonder, beauty, joy, and HOPE.  What we will find in the redeemed world is beyond our wildest imagination

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