Resolve to Live Fearlessly

img_2726On January 15, 1933, Germany was adrift in an ocean of fear and anxiety. The devastating effects of defeat from World War I, 14 years earlier, haunted peoples’ hearts and minds. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 shredded what was left of the struggling German economy. As the number of the unemployed rose to more than six million, the fledgling Weimar Republic, lacking strong leadership, struggled to maintain political and social stability. Fears of communism and extremism intensified the national anxiety. As the turmoil increased, many Germans—including German Christians—feared that the ship of state would sink in a whirlpool of social, political, and economic turbulence.

That same day, January 15, 1933, a young pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, preached a sermon entitled Overcoming Fear. He began his message with this haunting allegory:

“Let’s say there is a ship on the high sea, having a fierce struggle with the waves. The storm wind is blowing harder by the minute. The boat is small, tossed about like a toy; the sky is dark; the sailors’ strength is failing. Then one of them is gripped by . . . whom? what? . . . he cannot tell himself. But someone is there in the boat who wasn’t there before. . . . Suddenly he can no longer see or hear anything, can no longer row, a wave overwhelms him, and in final desperation he shrieks: Stranger in this boat, who are you? And the other answers, ‘I am Fear. . . . All hope is lost, Fear is in the boat.”

“Fear is in the boat, in Germany,” said Bonhoeffer, “[it’s] in our own lives and in the nave of this church—naked fear of an hour from now, of tomorrow and the day after.” He continued,

“[Fear,] hollows out [our] insides, until [our] resistance and strength are spent and [we] suddenly break down. Fear secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others, and when in a time of need that person reaches for those ties and clings to them, they break and the individual sinks back into himself or herself, helpless and despairing. Fear takes away a person’s humanity. This is not what the creature made by God looks like.”

Given the current social, political, and economic turbulence roiling through our nation, a similar fear haunts our national consciousness. Be it the fear of terrorism, the fear of losing our religious freedoms and values, or the fear of uncontrolled immigration, we are a nation adrift in an ocean of fear. Fear is in the boat. It’s in our own lives. That’s the bad news.

 Here’s the good news. We know Someone greater than Fear.

When we are confronted by fears greater than our strength, God gives us grace greater than our fears. He gives us grace in the form of an unwavering trust in His power to protect those who have put their trust in Jesus and the gospel.

When Fear invaded his life, the apostle Paul turned to Someone greater than Fear. This explains why he wrote with such resolve, lived with such abandon, and lived so fearlessly. We cannot prevent fear from invading our lives, but we can prevent it keeping us from trusting in Someone greater than Fear. When Fear invades our lives, we must resolve to trust God to give us grace greater than our fears.

Grace greater than my fears leads me to treasure Jesus Christ above life itself.

“… for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1.19-21

Should God answer the Philippians’ prayers for Paul’s deliverance, he fully expects to resume his ministry. Should God choose not to answer their prayers and Paul is executed, that too, he will find acceptable. Paul does not fear Death because he knows Jesus has defeated Death. From Paul’s perspective, at the same time Death causes a painful separation from loved ones, it is also the means by which God grants him the gain of his lifelong passion: to be with Christ.

Paul did not have a death wish, or that he was tired of life and simply wants to be done with earthly troubles and trials. On the contrary, it is the honest declaration of a man who is as certain of his future destiny as he is uncertain about the circumstances of his present situation.

 Paul treasures Christ above all things, therefore for him to fear Death would give it more power than it deserves. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Paul did not fear death because he learned to see everything, including Death, within the context of His relationship with Jesus Christ. The death of Christ caused the death of Death. By His resurrection, Jesus permanently removed the sting of Death. When He stood at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet he shall live,” (John 11.25). Paul believed Jesus is the resurrection and the life. So did the early church. This is what we believe. Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life. Therefore to live is Christ and to die is gain. Therefore I resolve to live fearlessly by treasuring Jesus above all things—even life itself.

When Fear is in the boat, it will tempt us to panic and despair. It will tempt us to believe survival is everything and death is the loss of all things. False. According to Paul, when Jesus rose from the dead, He not only defeated Death, He also gave us the means by which we can conquer Fear: He gave us Himself! Jesus is the guarantee of life beyond this life. He is the assurance of life after life after death. Jesus is our courage to live fearlessly in the here and now. Think of the line from Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” ~

Let goods and kindred go/This mortal life also

The body they may kill | God’s truth abideth still

Grace greater than my fears leads to an unwavering confidence in the life beyond this life.

“… our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3.20-21

This life is not all there is. How we live now expresses the values, virtue, beauty and truth of our inherited homeland – as well as our King. The reality of life beyond this life gives me a firm foundation on which I can build my life as well as encourage others to do the same.

Fear challenges my hope in Jesus. The chief tactic of fear—what makes it so fearful – is its ability to distract my attention from the source of courage: the Lord Jesus Christ and the trust His Spirit inspires in the promises of God. Fear tempts us to abandon all hope/trust in the promises of God.

Fear turns my thoughts inward. Fear zeroes in on my weakness and vulnerability. Fear dredges up my past and mocks my trust in Jesus. Fear says, “You are powerless.” Fear ridicules my every vulnerability. It exploits my humanity; jeers at my frailty; and mocks my faults.

Faith, on the other hand, encourages me to fix my eyes unwaveringly upon Jesus. Faith encourages me to confess my sins. Faith finds no shame in vulnerability. In fact, faith encourages me to boast about my weakness, because, in Christ, when I am weak then I am strong. When I am vulnerable, the Lord is my Protector. When I am powerless, His strength is made perfect my powerlessness. Faith turns the tables on fear.

When Fear invades my life and tells me I am powerless to stop what’s coming; Faith reminds me I can do all things through Jesus Christ who gives me strength. The strength is His. The power is His. The courage is His.

When Fear stalks the soul with the predatory instinct of a skilled archer; Faith says, use me as a shield.

When Fear attacks my trust in future grace; Faith inspires me to trust in One greater than my fear.

Fear finds its strength in filling me with dread of what might happen.

Faith gives me strength by directing me to the One who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of a cross.

Fear sneers and says, “Think about all that could go wrong.”

Faith smiles back and calmly replies, “ … do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, … whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (cf., Philippians 4.8)

Today you and I will face fears greater than our strength. At the same time we will receive grace greater than all our fears. Let us resolve to live fearlessly by holding firmly to God’s promise of everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ.

When we face fears greater than our strength, let us resolve to live fearlessly by trusting God to give us grace greater than my fears.

 You think about that.

 

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Resolve to Live Faithfully

Generally speaking, faithfulness is a commitment to something greater than ourselves. When the Bible speaks about faithfulness it’s talking about a commitment to Someone greater than ourselves. Faithfulness is a lifelong commitment to following the Lord Jesus Christ. Whereas the source of our faithfulness to Jesus is the faithfulness of God, the faithfulness of God is motivated by His delight in His own glory. One way in which God delights in His glory is by having His Spirit make us more like Jesus. To paraphrase John Piper, the more satisfied we are by the faithfulness of God, the more He is glorified in us.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Paul’s instruction in Philippians 1.27-30, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” is a call to live faithfully by trusting in the faithfulness of God. It is a call to trust Jesus by trusting in the trustworthiness of God. Once again; the more satisfied we are by the faithfulness of God, the more He is glorified in us.

The more satisfied I am by the faithfulness of God the more faithfully I will follow Jesus—not partially, but as totally as I can—this side of eternity. I will never be perfect at living faithfully, but with the Spirit’s help, I can resolve to live faithfully by trusting in the faithfulness of God.

 To live faithfully we must be directed by the same kind of thinking as directed Jesus.

Referring to Jesus in Philippians 2.5, Paul writes, “…who though He was in the form of God, did not count (or, think) equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Since Jesus did not think equality with God something to be grasped, the fruit of His way of thinking was the ultimate act of selflessness and sacrifice. Paul’s command sounds impossible. How can our lives be directed by the same kind of thinking as directed Jesus? And yet, since neither Paul nor God is in the habit of giving impossible commands; the way forward is to focus on the kind of thinking which directed Jesus before focusing on the action He took as the result of such thinking.

This is exactly what Jesus meant when, referring to Himself, He said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10.10) The faithfulness of Jesus is revealed by His obedience to His Father’s plan.

So then, the thing to focus on is this: the obedience of Jesus is the fruit of a way of thinking which Paul commands us to adopt and apply. Jesus emptied Himself by becoming human and by becoming obedient. He humbled Himself by pouring out His life in an act of obedience motivated by an unwavering trust in the trustworthiness of God. In the same manner, we must resolve to live faithfully by trusting in the trustworthiness of God.

In order for my life to be directed by the same kind of thinking as directed Jesus, I must follow faithfully His example of selflessness and humility. It is no less than a lifelong commitment to Jesus’ call to discipleship in Mark 8.34-35 ~

“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s, will save it.”

Jesus lived faithfully by adopting a way of thinking which led Him to trust His heavenly Father with His very life. He trusted God to honor His obedience. Even more, He left to God the timing of that honor. Speaking of Jesus, Hebrews 5.8 says, “Although He was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.”

It is worth remembering that the command, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” is given to the entire church, not isolated individuals. To follow Jesus faithfully requires following Him as part of a community of like-minded believers all committed to trusting in the trustworthiness of God.

When we live faithfully we contribute to the overall health of the church.

Paul wrote Philippians from prison. Since he did not when, or if, he would ever see them, he promised to send Timothy. In the meantime, he sent them another of his trusted confidantes, Epaphroditus. Notice how Paul describes the character of these men.

  • Timothy – 2.20-22

“For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.”

  • Epaphroditus – 2.25-28

“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.”

We need people like Timothy and Epaphroditus in the church. Their value is their faithfulness to Jesus. Their lives were directed by the same kind of thinking as directed Jesus. Paul recognizes this and he commends them to the Philippians as servant-leaders.

The importance of Timothy and Epaphroditus to the church at Philippi becomes clear near the end of Paul’s letter. If you read Philippians carefully, one senses something is not quite right. There is a tension in the church. There is a public disagreement between Euodia and Syntche, two women who are prominent in the church. In all likelihood, Paul is sending Epaphroditus, and later Timothy, to help resolve the conflict. Some scholars think Luke, who authored the gospel bearing his name as well as the Book of Acts, is already present in Philippi and needs help leading the church toward reconciliation.

The Spirit-inspired cleverness of what Paul does here is this: by extolling the character of Timothy and Epaphroditus, he is putting Euodia and Syntyche as well as their compatriots on notice. These men are to be taken seriously and their leadership is to be respected. What they say, Paul says. Remember, Paul is an apostle. What he says, Jesus says.

Paul is sending Timothy and Epaphroditus because they can help the Philippians to stand firm in one Spirit, and with one mind so they can contend side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not be frightened in anything by their opponents. This requires unity. This requires everyone in the church making the same resolution: to live faithfully by trusting in the covenant-keeping character God.

Jesus is the supreme example of trusting in the covenant-keeping character of God. In the same way He trusted in the trustworthiness of God, so must we follow His example.

 To live faithfully means trusting God to supply our needs.

Paul wrote Philippians from prison. From prison! And yet he is convinced God will supply their every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

The only way a man in prison can have such trust in God’s faithfulness is because he has learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. The source of Paul’s faithfulness is the faithfulness of God in the person of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Just as God enabled and empowered Jesus to endure the cross, scorning its shame, so too, God can enable and empower us to live faithfully by trusting in His faithfulness.

God supplied Paul with everything he needed. Paul assures the Philippians God will prove just as faithful to supply every need of theirs. God will finish what He started because He will supply everything we need to get us to the finish line.

And this is the key. None of us is born faithful. We must learn to trust God to supply every need of ours – starting with our greatest need: salvation. We must learn to live faithfully. Once we trust God for our salvation, we can begin to learn how to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. It comes down to making a resolution to live faithfully by trusting in the faithfulness of God.

The challenge is to trust God to define the need. Living faithfully means trusting God to supply our every need not our every want. We want many things, but we need very few. In 1 Timothy 6.8, Paul boiled it down to two things: if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

Faithful followers believe that should our need surpass the need for food and clothing, God will be faithful to supply every need of ours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To live faithfully is to trust in the faithfulness of God.

Over the years, I have kept a journal. From time to time I re-read previous entries to remind myself of God’s faithfulness, especially during seasons when He met my needs in ways I did not expect. Here is my Journal entry dated Thursday, 9 January 2014;

“My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

—Philippians 4.19a

I begin this day remembering that God is Yahweh Yireh. He is the God who provides. He is the Great I AM who will supply my every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Today I remember, “I can trust God in the present because of what He has already done for us in the past, which leads me to depend on Him for my future,” (Scott J. Hafemann).

As I look back over 2013, I remember with thanksgiving how God supplied my every need. We had food, clothing, shelter and income – all these were the fruit of His provision.

When I was vulnerable to doubt and questioned God’s willingness and ability to supply my every need, the Spirit reminded me of Paul’s words in Philippians 4.19 together with Hafemann’s maxim to inspire me to put my hope and trust in God’s promise of future grace. God will not leave us nor forsake us. God continues to provide/supply every need of mine notwithstanding my fear He will let me experience lack. So I must yield my anxious heart to His providing grace. I must speak to my soul and encourage trust/obedience in God and His provision. God is faithful. He will supply every need of mine. His promise is as sufficient as it is praiseworthy. Surplus is grace upon grace.

There are many reasons why God is faithful to supply every need of mine, but the two most fundamental reasons why are—

  1. to glorify His name
  2. to encourage me to a greater faithfulness to Him – the more satisfied I am in God the more glorified He is in me.

I resolve to live faithfully by trusting in the faithfulness of God.

 When we trust God to supply our need the Holy Spirit teaches us to live with the broader perspective of God’s point of view. And as the Spirit widens our gaze He helps us to look beyond the margins of our own heart, mind and soul. He focuses our attention on where God is at work. Although His hand is unseen, He is writing the script, constructing the background, and blocking each scene. God is in charge from top to bottom, start to finish, opening night to final performance. And He will supply our every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

You think about that.

 

 

Resolve to Live Repentantly

If you have ever been lost while driving and stopped to ask for directions you are familiar with repentance. When a man is driving and is lost, it takes humility for him to admit he’s lost. It takes even more humility for him to ask for directions. Humility is an essential ingredient of repentance. There is no shame in humbling yourself to ask for directions when you’re lost. There is no shame in repenting especially when repentance will start you heading in the right direction.

When the Bible talks about repentance it refers to a change of heart leading to a change of lifestyle. Repentance changes the direction of one’s life. Repentance requires humility. Until we follow Jesus we are going in the wrong direction—away from God. We are lost, but we do not know it. Our internal GPS is defective. We are lost, yet we put more trust in our sense of direction than in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are listening to our heart when we should be listening to God.

In order to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit must change our heart and renew our mind. The Spirit must help us turn away from our old way of life and turn toward God to begin a new way of life.

  • Repentance involves a radical transformation of thought, attitude, and lifestyle.
  • Repentance is the decisive act of turning away from sin and toward God. However, repentance is more than a one-time act.
  • Repentance is a lifestyle characterized by a lifelong obedience to Jesus Christ under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

The first step to living repentantly is to admit you are going in the wrong direction. The next step is to ask for directions so you can turn around and head down the right road. And the next step after that is to follow the new directions. We prove the sincerity of our repentance by how well we continue following these new directions so we can continue heading down the right road.

Repentance is possible because of what Jesus did for us by His life, death and resurrection. Because of Jesus we can become a new creation and live a new life. This new life is characterized by a new lifestyle: a lifelong obedience to Jesus Christ under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. To live repentantly means practicing what Jesus preaches everyday. I believe it was Tim Keller who made the observation that, based on his experience in pastoral ministry, there are two kinds of repentance: religious repentance and gospel repentance.

People who practice religious repentance believe they are saved by grace but kept by works. The goal is to keep God happy so He will continue being good to us and answer our prayers. Religious repentance draws attention to what we do for God. It is essentially self-focused, self-protective self-improvement layered with just enough spiritual vocabulary to make us look good. People who practice religious repentance believe God owes them for their good behavior. They present God with a spreadsheet of their religious activity expecting Him to reward them for their hard work and good behavior.

People who practice gospel repentance believe they are saved by grace and kept by grace. The goal is to seek the help of the Holy Spirit in order to keep practicing what Jesus preaches. Gospel repentance is motivated by daily trust in what Jesus has done for us, not what we can do for Him. It is the daily practice of presenting ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him.To live repentantly we must have a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ. Gospel repentance is the overflow of a changed heart which produces a changed lifestyle: a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ. Gospel repentance is at the heart of Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 1.27-30 –

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

To live repentantly means trusting God to finish what He started.

God and God alone is responsible for transforming our lives. This transformation involves the Spirit’s work of regeneration: the Holy Spirit transforms us from people who are spiritually dead into people who are spiritually alive. We are the walking dead until the Spirit gives us life. The moment the Spirit regenerates us, He opens our ears so we can hear and understand the gospel. He opens our heart so we can repent and confess faith in Jesus Christ. He continues His work in us by helping us to live repentantly by helping us practice what Jesus preaches every day. More importantly, the Spirit helps us want to practice what Jesus preaches.

Knowing this, gives Paul the confidence to say God will continue His good work of saving us until Jesus comes back for His church and our salvation is finally completed and everything we have done is examined and rewarded. God finishes what He starts. Nothing in this life, not even death will prevent God from finishing His work in all those who live repentantly by continuing to trust in His Son. God finishes what He starts. He will continue making us more and more like Jesus until the day Jesus comes back. Until then, we must put our trust in Him by living repentantly.

Living repentantly means leaning on the everlasting arms of the God who revealed Himself as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. It means trusting God to finish what He started. It means trusting Jesus to be the Author and Finisher of our faith. People who live repentantly follow Jesus until God has finished what He started.

To live repentantly leaves room for God to do the unexpected.

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from inside a Roman prison. However, by God’s grace, his imprisonment resulted in an unexpected double-benefit. In the first place, God used Paul’s imprisonment to make the gospel “known throughout the whole imperial guard” (1.13) In the first century, prisoners sent to Rome in cases of appeal were placed in the custody of the praefectus praetorio. God made it possible for Paul to share the gospel with as many guards as were assigned to look after him.

How divinely ironic that Paul, the captive, was given a captive audience. Only God can do that. Paul’s imprisonment became an open door to share the gospel with as many guards as were assigned to watch him. Paul was in chains. Not the gospel. God did the unexpected. Paul captivated his captors with the gospel. His prison cell became a classroom. His guards became his disciples. By living repentantly Paul avoided the trap of self-pity. He left room for God to do the unexpected.

Secondly, God used Paul’s adversity to inspire the Christians in Rome “to speak the word without fear” (1.14). Once again, God did the unexpected. Rather than dampen their zeal to share the gospel, Paul’s imprisonment encouraged the believers to share the gospel with an even more courageous boldness. And this was not a temporary zeal. The Christians in Rome were still preaching the gospel without fear even as Paul wrote his letter. God the Holy Spirit used Paul’s imprisonment to inspire the Christians in Rome to preach the gospel with greater courage.

To live repentantly means letting our lifestyle be shaped by the gospel.

Everyone who follows Jesus lives with a dual citizenship. My physical citizenship is in Massachusetts which is in the United States of America. However, the moment I was born again through faith in Jesus Christ, I became a citizen of the church that bears His name. My real citizenship is in heaven. The same was true of the Philippians. They were citizens of Philippi which was a colony of the Roman Empire. They were also citizens belonging to the church which is a colony of the kingdom of God.

As dual citizens, our lifestyle, our values and our ideals should reflect those of the gospel of Jesus Christ more than those of the Constitution of the United States. Until recently, this was not that much of a dilemma – certainly not one as dramatic as the one confronting the Philippians. As Roman citizens they faced charges of treason for refusing to say, “Caesar is Lord.” Then again, it could be that any overlap between American values and Christian values was more illusion than reality – specifically, the kind of illusion produced by Christianity as a civil religion practicing a religious repentance rather what it truly is: a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a Spirit-led faith-relationship with Jesus Christ as He is known through His word.

This is not an insignificant thing. I read an article recently in which the premise of the author was that wealthy, white American males have to work harder at the reading the Bible correctly primarily because the Bible is written from the perspective of the disadvantaged. Now whether you agree or disagree with his premise, this much is certain: the challenge of learning to live repentantly is letting the Spirit use the gospel to transform our values as well as the way we look at the world; including the way we read the Bible.

To live repentantly, means learning to read the Bible as a Christian living in America rather than as an American trying to live as a Christian. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to change my lifestyle by letting Him change the way I think. It means committing to living as part of a community of people in which each person makes it their aim to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

If my lifestyle is to “be worthy of the gospel of Christ” I must practice what Jesus preaches everyday. I must pursue gospel repentance by a lifestyle rooted and grounded in a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ. The aim is that over time my life will reflect more and more the character of Jesus Christ.

You think about that.

 

Resolve to Live Humbly

What comes to mind when you hear the word humility?

When the apostle Paul sought an illustration of humility, he pointed to Jesus Christ,

“… who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a ting to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, (Philippians 2.6-8)”

  • The humility of Jesus is why Paul willingly suffered the loss of all things and considered to be rubbish.
  • The humility of Jesus is why Paul passionately declared his desire to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.
  • The humility of Jesus is why Paul humbly spelled out his life’s mission: to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

None of us is born humble. To make matters worse, our culture mocks humility while rewarding its opposite. The opposite of humility is arrogance. Arrogance boasts and bellows. Humility speaks with soft words, without shouting at others. Arrogance craves attention. Humility refuses to be overly impressed by the sense of one’s own self-importance. Arrogance demands its place at the head of the line. Humility yields its place; considering the needs of others as more significant than its own.

None of us is born humble. Humility is a learned behavior. To be specific, humility is a uniquely Christian virtue. It is a behavior best learned in the context of a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ and with others who have themselves entered into a faith-relationship with Jesus Christ. In other words, humility is best learned by living in community with men and women who have committed to practicing what Jesus preaches. Another name for such a community is the church. When we practice humility we are being obedient to the standard set by Jesus.

Thus any resolution to practice humility means following Jesus in community with other followers of Jesus.

Practicing humility means considering one another as more significant than ourselves.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count one another more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

~ Philippians 2.3-4

Practicing humility means more than just being nice to people; it means more than being courteous, kind, and thoughtful. Practicing humility means genuinely considering one another as more significant than ourselves.

That phrase “one another” is one of Paul’s go to phrases any time he encourages churches to live in community. As one scholar notes, for Paul “everything is done for one another” (Fee, 189). So, being the kind of guy I am, I did a search of Paul’s use of the phrase “one another” and I found that according to Paul believers ….

  1. …. are to care for one another (1 Corinthians 12.25)
  2. …. are to love one another (1 Thessalonians 3.12; 4.9; Romans 13.8)
  3. …. are to pursue one another’s good (1Thessalonians 5.15)
  4. …. are to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6.2)
  5. …. are to be kind and compassionate toward one another, forgiving one another (Ephesians 4.32; Colossians 3.13)
  6. …. are to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12.16)
  7. …. are to consider one another as more significant than themselves (Philippians 2.3; Romans 12.16)

Let’s be honest. This is difficult. Almost impossible. In fact, practicing humility is impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit. During a particularly stressful time in my life and ministry I struggled to practice humility.

  • I wanted my rights.
  • I wanted to be treated with respect.
  • I wanted my cause to triumph.
  • I wanted my antagonists to fail.

And then I studied this text. The more deeply I delved into Paul’s words, the more profound the impact of what I learned: truly humble people love others—even their enemies—with the same love God has for them in Christ.

 So whereas I thought considering others as more significant than myself meant thinking they were better than me, or that I somehow had to find the good qualities in them, I learned that I needed to see them from the perspective of grace; as people who, like me, needed to be treated with grace. That if I was to love them, to serve them, to worship with them, and to forgive them, I didn’t have to think of them as better than me, or even worthy of my love and forgiveness, but as people whose needs and concerns surpassed my own.

And that’s the hard part of practicing humility. It does not matter whether the people we are called to love, serve and forgive are worthy. What matters is they need it. And so do we. God loved us when we were not worthy of His love. He loved me when I was His enemy. And yet He treated us, He treated me with grace. Jesus put my need of forgiveness, more than that, He put God the Father’s will that He die in our place above His own will. When we practice humility we are behaving according to the pattern established by Jesus.

Think about the people you know. Think about the people you work with. Think about the people you live with. Think about the people you worship with. We like to quote iron sharpens iron. Truth be told, we like it more as a principle than a real-life practice. It looks better on a pillow than it does in real life. Nevertheless, practicing humility means considering one another as more significant than themselves. It means putting someone else’s agenda ahead of our own.

We all have an agenda. We all want to get our way. We want people to agree with us, to like us, to get along with us. But what happens when your agenda is set aside?

What happens when you do not get your way, or people do not agree with you? This is when practicing humility as a principle collides head-on with practicing humility as a lifestyle.

  • Sometimes practicing humility means resisting the temptation to get even.

The strength to do this comes from the Holy Spirit.

  • Sometimes practicing humility means hearing hard things.

With the help of the Holy Spirit we can sort through the verbiage to find the kernel of truth contained in it.

  • Sometimes practicing humility means saying the most difficult words in the English language; “I was wrong” then asking for forgiveness.
  • Sometimes practicing humility means blessing those who hurt you.
  • Sometimes practicing humility means following Jesus’ example and learning to say, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”

When we practice humility we are following Jesus’ example.

When Jesus resolved to practice humility, He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. He considered His Father’s agenda to be more significant than His own. When Jesus resolved to practice humility, He looked at the big picture. He put aside His agenda. He followed His Father’s plan. When we practice humility we are being obedient to the standard set by Jesus.

 Practicing humility means working out our salvation as part of a community.

You cannot practice humility in isolation. So Paul encourages the Philippians to work out their own salvation in the context of Christian community. He tells them, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Paul is not encouraging them work out their salvation with respect to renewing their confession of faith in Christ. He is encouraging them to work out that which God has already worked in them by the power of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel. In plain English, here’s what Paul means, “As you obeyed God in the past, keep on obeying Him by continuing to practice what Jesus says.” – Philippians 2.12-13

 They are keep on practicing humility because that is what people who practice what Jesus preaches do. The reason we must practice humility is because God Himself is at work in an among us.

  • The strength God requires is the strength God provides.
  • The humility God requires is the humility God provides by way of the example of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Humility is about being vulnerable not self-confident. Even so, the ability to obey God is the ability He gives through the Holy Spirit because we have trusted in His Son. And here is more good news: there is no risk of failure. Salvation is God’s doing from start to finish. Therefore, the working out of our salvation is also God’s doing—from start to finish. Our God, the God who saved us from His wrath, is an awesome God. He is also gracious.

I came to realize that I could not practice humility insincerely. I had to practice humility fully aware that I was doing so in the presence of an awesome God; fully aware that unless I lived in awe of His glory I could not work out my salvation with fear and trembling.

As hard as it was, as hard it is to keep doing this, the Scripture assures us that God is on the side of His people. He not only has our concern at heart, but He actively works on our behalf for the sake of His good pleasure. God does what He does for the delight and pleasure He has in His own goodness and glory.

Humility is best learned by living in community with men and women who have committed to practicing what Jesus preaches. Another name for such a community is the church.

 To belong to Jesus Christ is to have one’s entire life and being invaded by the Holy Spirit of God so that not only is our behavior changed, but we experience a new desire to make God by following His commands. When we practice humility we are doing more than being obedient to the standard set by Jesus; we are bringing joy to the heart of God.

Everything God does He does for His pleasure. And since God is completely, thoroughly and totally good, everything He does is completely, thoroughly and totally good for those He loves. God’s pleasure is pure love, so what He does “for the sake of His good pleasure” is by that very fact also on behalf of those He loves. After all, it delights God to delight His people.

When we practice humility we are doing more than following Jesus’ example; we are bringing delight to the heart of God.

Because of what Jesus did; His example of humility makes our practice of humility an opportunity to show grace. We tend to think of practicing humility as giving up something. And it’s easy to think this way because Paul tells us that Jesus “emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant.”

But of what did Jesus empty Himself? Not His divinity. Not His eternal Sonship. He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant. He emptied Himself by practicing humility; by considering the will of His Father as more significant than His own.

 The humble soul will bless God under misery as well as under mercy, when God frowns as when He smiles, when He takes as when He gives, under crosses and losses as well as under blessings and mercies. The humble believer looks through all secondary causes, and sees the hand of God. 

~ Thomas Brooks, Works, 111:24-26

When we practice humility we are doing more than following Jesus’ example; we are looking for the hand of God.

You think about that.

Resolve to Live Wisely

A few years ago, during an extremely stressful time in my life and ministry, I came across some old files in which I had written down topics for a series of future sermons. I must have done some research into Jonathan Edwards because my notes included a list of resolutions he had written as a teenager. (If you do not know Jonathan Edwards you can Google him.) My notes read as follows:

From 1722 to 1723, (ages 19 to 20) Jonathan Edwards wrote down seventy resolutions which he read every week for the rest of his life. The preface and the first of Edwards’ resolutions reveal him to be a very serious man from his youth:

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly ask Him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.”

“Resolved, that I will do whatever I think to be best for God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my lifetime, without any consideration of the time, . . . .

  1. Resolved that I will do whatever I think to be my duty and best for the good and advantage of mankind in general.
  2. Resolved that I will do this, whatever difficulties I meet with no matter how many and how great.”

Immediately after reading this, and given my circumstances at the time, I resolved to compose my own list of resolutions. While my list is not as extensive as Edwards, it is the fruit of time spent in prayer, Bible reading and deep contemplation of the nature and character of God. Using the preface borrowed from Jonathan Edwards, I wrote down the following five resolutions:

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly ask him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”

  1. I resolve to live wisely (Proverbs 3.5-6; Philippians 3.12-16)
  2. I resolve to live humbly (Romans 12.1-2; Philippians 2.3, 7-11)
  3. I resolve to live repentantly (Philippians 2.1-16; 4-9)
  4. I resolve to live faithfully (Matthew 6.25-34; Philippians 2.19-29)
  5. I resolve to live fearlessly (Proverbs 1.7; 29.25; Philippians 1.27-28)

The inspiration for these resolutions comes from Paul’s words in Philippians 3, specifically verse 14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

You don’t need seventy resolutions to follow Jesus. You don’t even need five. According to Paul, you just need one: press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Living wisely starts with knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection.

We all have a past. The more closely we follow Jesus, the more we get to know Him, the better we are able to deal wisely with our past. People who live wisely put no confidence in who they are, where they came from, what they’ve accomplished, or what they’ve earned. In other words, people who live wisely find their identity in Jesus Christ and not in their past. They put their confidence in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross (Philippians 2.8).

Paul had a past. And while his past did much to shape him, Paul refused to let his past to define him. His identity is defined by three things:

  1. Knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection
  2. Gaining Christ by being found righteous through faith Christ
  3. Sharing in the sufferings of Christ becoming like Him in His death

 Rather than boast about his solid gold religious resume; or put any confidence in his outstanding Curriculum Vitae as a religious Jew, Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” [NB: Rubbish is a polite translation. The Greek word Paul uses is skubala meaning useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal. Skubala is the stuff you scrape off the bottom of your shoe after you’ve stepped in it.]

 Compared to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection everything else is skubala. The power of Christ’s resurrection is the power that comes to us through faith in Him. To know Christ and the power of His resurrection is to receive the power to follow Jesus wherever He leads us.

  • It’s the power to suffer the loss of all things; the power to consider them skubala compared to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection.
  • It’s the power to walk away from your past by trusting Jesus for your future.
  • It’s the power to go wherever Jesus leads you and to do whatever Jesus commands you.
  • It’s the power to press on and persevere.
  • It’s the power to face the worst life can throw at you and follow Jesus nevertheless.
  • It’s the power to say, “Not my will but Your will be done.”
  • It’s the power to live wisely in the midst of a culture that lives foolishly.

Living wisely means knowing you have promises to keep and miles to go before you sleep.

Having declared his goal is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, Paul is honest and humble enough to confess not even he has obtained it or has already become perfect. He has promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps. Thus he makes it his aim to press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Despite his status as an apostle, despite all he has experienced and accomplished since his conversion, Paul has not yet obtained the full knowledge of Jesus and the power of His the resurrection. That happens on the other side of the veil. Having been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul presses on to know as much as he can about Jesus and the power of His resurrection in this life.

The only way Paul could obtain this knowledge, the only way he was going to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection was to experience suffering for the sake of Christ. That’s the bad news.

Here is the good news. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ transformed suffering by making it a redemptive experience. Most cultures, including our own (especially our own), try to avoid suffering at all costs. However, the Bible teaches us to regard suffering as an opportunity for deepening our faith. The biblical view of suffering is to see it as the means by which God the Father conforms us into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, God the Son, under the caring supervision of God the Holy Spirit. That. Is. Radical.

But do not worry if you’re not there yet. You are in good company.

Living wisely means keeping your eyes fixed firmly on Christ and practicing a long obedience in the same direction.

There is such a thing as wise forgetting—the ability to forget what lies behind. Wise forgetting refuses to let our past define us. Wise forgetting is the fruit of finding our identity in Jesus Christ. Wise forgetting trusts in the promise of future grace. It forgets what lies behind and strains forward to what lies ahead. People who practice wise forgetting press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul is straining forward like a runner leaning forward and stretching out to break the tape at the finish line. His goal is to run as much as it is to run in order to receive the prize. When Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” he means “I press on toward the thing I prize most in life. I press on toward the thing that has the most value to me – to know Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection.”

  • Paul does not press on out of a sense of guilt.
  • Paul does not press on out of the sense of regret.
  • Paul does not press on out of a sense of remorse.

 Paul presses on because of the joy he has in knowing that Christ has taken hold of his life. His life’s passion to make this knowledge His own because that is why Jesus Christ made Him His own. He is driven by the desire to know Jesus. He forgets ignores any distraction so that he can follow Christ so that he can press on to know Jesus

Paul presses on for the same reason Jesus pressed on and endured the cross scorning its shame: for the joy that was set before Him. For the joy of hearing the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. For the complete, overwhelming, soul-captivating, heart-motivating, breath-taking moment when God looks at us and says, “Well done you good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of Your Master.”

 There is as much virtue in running the race as there is in winning the prize.

 The prize of the upward call of God is an eternity spent knowing Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection. People who live wisely trust God when He says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” The future belongs to those who press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

 It’s been said that golf is a game of recovery. The honest golfer who hits a bad shot cannot improve his lie. He accepts that he hit a bad shot and plays the ball where it lies. He tries to recover. By the grace of God, life can also be a game of recovery. We can neither change nor undo the events that make up our past. But we can resolve to play the ball where it lies. We can recover by resolving to live wisely. Let us resolve to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. Let us resolve to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

You think about that.

All That Is Not Eternal

In the last chapter of The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes about Charity. He begins the chapter with this statement: “The natural loves are not self-sufficient. Something else…must come to the help of the mere feeling if the feeling is to be kept sweet” (116). At first this Something else is “vaguely described as ‘decency and common sense,’ but later revealed as goodness, and finally as the whole Christian life in one particular relation” (116). This “something else” is Charity—the love of God which, according to Lewis, shines brightest when contrasted against its rivals—the natural loves of Affection, Friendship and Eros.

Love means risk. Lewis is both grave and joyful when he declares: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken” (121). Charity loves despite the risk of injury. It cannot go about insulated. It must be vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Charity dares to let its future depend on something that may be lost. In a memorable phrase, Lewis observes that, “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is Hell” (121). Surely the life and work of Jesus Christ exemplifies a love that does not play it safe. Says Lewis, “Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness.” Rather Christ taught us to love our “earthly beloveds” … without calculation (122). In this way we are prepared to love God, whom we cannot see with the same lack of calculation. “We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in our lives, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor” (122).

If Charity makes any calculation at all it is this: if by loving without calculation we can approach (by practice) the love of God and by loving so He ordains that our heart needs to be wrung and possibly broken, then let so be it. All the natural loves are rivals to Charity in the sense they are all capable of being excessive. Here Lewis observes, “it is the smallness of our love for God, not the greatness of our love for the man, that constitutes the inordinacy” (122). So the issue is not so much that we love God or our earthly Beloved “more,” as much as it is “which do you serve, or choose, or put first?” (122-23).

This leads to Lewis’ exposition of Luke 14.26 where Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Lewis’ interest lies in an analysis of the word “hate.” “To hate,” states Lewis, “is to reject, to set one’s face against, to make no concession to, the Beloved when the Beloved utters, however sweetly and however pitiably, the suggestions of the Devil” (123). Jesus himself declared no one can serve two masters for she will hate the one and love the other. There is no middle ground for equivocation. It is either “adhere to, consent to, work for” God or work for money. To love God requires that we “turn down or disqualify our nearest and dearest when they come between us and our obedience to God” (124).

However, the difficulty here lies not so much in making the choice between “our nearest and dearest” and “our obedience to God,” as it is to know when such a choice must be made. It is here where the natural loves interfere. They meddle, partly out of sentiment, partly out of concern not to offend, and partly out of the fear of loss. Whatever the reason, it is when cast in the light of Charity’s glory, that we see flaws heretofore unseen in the natural loves.

The following statement is the clearest expression of Lewis’s theology of love:

“We begin at the real beginning, with love as the Divine energy. This primal love is Gift-love. In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plenteousness that desires to give. The doctrine that God was under no necessity to create is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation. It is essential.” (126)

The self-sufficiency of God is what sets His love apart from the natural loves. “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them” (127). One characteristic of God’s love is grace.

When He created us, God gave us the capacity to love Him, to exploit Him, and even to reject Him. This is grace. Yet create us He did and in creating us, God implanted in us “both Gift-loves and Need-loves.” The Gift-loves are natural images of Himself. By possessing them we reveal the likeness of God whether or not we make any approach toward Him. The Need-loves, by contrast bear no resemblance at all to the Love which is God. They are rather opposites; not as evil is the opposite of good, but as that which is formed is the opposite of the mold from which it is made.

However, God does more than implant within us Gift-loves. He also implants within us a bit of His own Gift-love. This “Divine Gift-love…is wholly disinterested and desires what is simply best for the beloved” (128).

“ … natural Gift-love is always directed to objects which the lover finds in some way intrinsically lovable—objects to which Affection or Eros or a shared point of view attracts him, or, failing that, to the grateful and the deserving, or perhaps to those whose helplessness is of a winning and appealing kind. But Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable.” (128)

Divine Gift-love is indiscriminate as to what and whom it loves. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it loves without regard for personal gain. In the very best sense of the phrase, Divine Gift-love loves for love’s sake. The lover loves because it is the nature of the lover to do so.

There is one more characteristic of Divine Gift-love God bestows upon us. It is that He enables us to express Gift-love toward God the giver. This must be so or how else can we answer the call to obey the greatest commandment, “love God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength.” It is when we yield ourselves entirely to God that we present to Him our whole self.

More importantly, when we love God with everything we have, we are enabled and empowered to love the unlovable, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and visit the prisoner. To love “the least of these” requires the Divine Gift-love that comes from God by grace. It is not surprising that this form of Divine Gift-love should be called Charity. For when Charity bids us to love in this manner we love God by loving others.

The premise by which Lewis wrote The Four Loves is best summed up in the oft quoted statement, “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date” (137). This statement, often taken out of context, applies first to the natural loves – Affection, Friendship, and Eros – before it applies to anything else. The natural loves, since they are natural, are not eternal. Therefore, they are eternally out of date. They are destined for decay unless they are transformed into expressions of Charity.

Separated from Charity, the Love which is Eternal, the natural loves promise what they cannot deliver. They create a desire which they cannot ultimately satisfy. Thus to pursue them is to chase after that which is eternally out of date. Given his knowledge of mythology, Lewis compares the natural loves to gods run amok. When the gods run amok they meddle in human affairs unconcerned about the consequences their meddling will have. Thus when Affection, Friendship, and Eros become gods they become demons. There is too much of the mortal in them, but just enough of the divine to masquerade as gods, not to bless, but to tempt, deceive and mislead into ruin.

By contrast, Charity is unnatural and therefore is, in the best sense, super-human. Charity is love not of this earth. Charity comes to us from God. It intrudes into our lives for the sole purpose of making us aware that the longings, the cravings created by the natural loves can be satisfied, but not by any love that is natural.

In the end, The Four Loves is a philosophical proof of the inadequacy of the natural loves to bring us near to God. Only Charity can do that. It was not Affection, not Friendship, and not Eros that John, the gospel-writer and Beloved Apostle, says motivated God to send His Son to earth to die. It was Love. It was Charity.

Here Lewis must have the last word: “There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved. It is no one’s fault if they do not so love it. Only the lovable can be naturally loved. You might as well ask people to like the taste of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All who have good parents, wives, husband, or children, may be sure that at some times—and perhaps at all time in respect of some one particular trait or habit—they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them” (140).

You think about that.

Through and Forward

The humble soul endeavors more how to glorify God in afflictions than how to get out of them.

Thomas Brooks

To seek how I may glorify God in afflictions kills pride. It kills every anti-God, every anti-trust idea I may conceive and nurture and contemplate. When I look back from now to the times when I have experienced affliction, I see how God led me through those difficult days. At first, I tried to escape. I tried to get out of them. I could not. He would not permit it. I had to pass through the furnace; had to feel its heat, be burned by its intensity.

Pride had to die. Anxiety too had to perish. All of it had to be removed – gold to refine, dross to consume. This is God’s design for affliction. Grief came upon me and with it more fear. Still God upheld he. He sent me back out to the battle line daily. He walked with me through many painful conversations. He helped me endure comments both critical and pejorative. Even so, He would not let me run. He used each negative comment like a chisel strike chipping away the unnecessary bits. The furnace heat consumed more dross. None of this was painless. My heart broke. My spirit grew more contrite. The more I tried to run, the more often did God close, no – shut the door.

The storm had come. The sea rose in  anger. The waves threatened to drown my soul. I looked for safe harbor. I found none. Each failed escape, each shut door made the voice of the Spirit more audible, more resoundingly clear. The path to safe harbor lay direct and through the violent storm. As in Thompson’s hound of heaven, the Spirit spoke to my spirit: “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

So through the storm I ventured forth. And the further out to sea the Spirit led me, the more emphatic His exhortation: “Trust in the Lord. The way of escape is found through the storm.”

Through. Not over. Not under. Not around. No escape except through. God before me. God beside me. God behind me. He leads through the valley of the shadow of death. Grace there is for such a passage; mercy and provision. Through and forward is the way home.

Today, I stand on the other side. The storm is passed. Safe harbor found. The valley is passed through; its narrowness now replaced by a broad plain through which quiet waters flow and pleasant pasture enjoyed. The sun shines anew revealing hills and mountains – and more valleys – to cross. But they are still some distance away. I will meet them soon enough. Today the ground is level and lush. There is water here in abundance.

Even so, I will not rest here long. The journey is long and –as the poet has said, “I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” So I will rest for the moment, but only a moment. The ground is soft here. The pastures serene.

I will pass through this pleasant place with gratitude. And while I will not linger here neither will I walk quickly through it. I will journey on with steady pace through this pleasant land. And I will be grateful for the company goodness and mercy will provide. They are silent companions, whom I welcome as constant friends for they remind me daily that through and forward is the way home.