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Archive for the ‘Encouragement’ Category

Dear brothers and sisters,

You are not forgotten. We see the horrible, graphic pictures on the Internet of those among your ranks who have been slaughtered because they chose to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And we know that you, who remain in areas controlled by Islamist extremists, live under daily threat of being beheaded or raped. Even your little children are victims of these horrors.

I write to remind you of Jesus’ encouragement to all who would follow him:

Don’t be afraid, but be glad and rejoice

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:28)

So when your persecutors demand that you renounce Jesus Christ or you die, remember that your physical death pales in significance to the eternal consequence of denying Christ in this life (Matt. 10:32-33). If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for Christ, you will find it (Matt. 10:39).

Jesus assures you that even in the midst of danger and in death, your Father in heaven is aware of you and everything that is happening to you. So don’t be afraid, you are more valuable to him than even a single sparrow that dies in his care (Matt. 10:31).

Moreover, Jesus encourages you to be glad and rejoice in the midst of your persecution, for not only is he blessing you with his blissful presence that fills you with joy and peace as you face your persecutors, he assures you that your reward will be great in heaven. So, yes, rejoice! God’s kingdom is yours—now in this life and in eternity! (Matt. 5:10-12)

Be wary and wise as snakes and harmless as doves

In this current climate of Islamist terrorists of a variety of stripes—ISIS, IS, ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda, and others—you are as vulnerable as lambs in the midst of wolves (Matt. 10:16a), so Jesus offers you these specific ways of conducting yourselves:

• Be wary and wise as snakes (Matt. 10:16b)—Be alert and observant about what is happening around you, and don’t be impulsive and gullible. Avoid premature martyrdom, and flee to safety when possible. Don’t be afraid to speak in defense of your faith in Christ, for the Spirit of the Lord will tell you what to speak. (Matt: 10:19, 20, 23).

• Be harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16c)—Like Jesus, you are to be nonviolent, peaceful, and harmless. It is Jesus’ deliberate will for us to live in weakness so that we might flourish in his strength (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

While Jesus does not forbid his followers from having weapons, presumably for defense (Luke 22:36), in almost every other instance he tells us not to resist when persecuted. For example, when Peter used a sword to defend Jesus, Jesus told him, “Put away your sword. Those who use the sword will be killed by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52; Luke 22:47-51; John 18:10-11)

So when they bomb your churches, you are not to bomb their mosques; when they invade your homes and chop off the heads of your children, do not attack their homes to do likewise to their children, nor should you render evil for evil. Vengeance belongs to God alone (Rom. 12:19).

Love your persecutors and pray for them

You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you. In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:43-45, NLT)

Loving your enemies, especially those who seek to harm and kill you, is not something that is a natural human ability, but Jesus gives you the divine ability to love your enemies, even your persecutors. How?

By praying for them—As followers of Jesus, you are instructed to seek the welfare of your enemies through prayer and forgiveness. Follow the examples of Jesus and Stephen who, as they were being killed, prayed that God would forgive their killers (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:59-60).

By blessing them—If people persecute you because you are a Christian, don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them (Rom. 12:14).

By heeding the warning about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer—Jesus taught us that when we ask our heavenly Father to forgive our sins, we must also forgive those who sin against us, and if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive our sins (Matt. 6:14-15).

Take heart, Jesus has overcome the world

The mission of Islamist terrorists is to use hate, violence, fear, and murder to intimidate peoples and nations into submission, and make the entire world into an Islamic State. However, God will not allow this to happen.

When Jesus was about to return to heaven, he told his disciples to expect hardship, trials, and persecution because of their allegiance to him, but he assured them that he has already won the ultimate victory over those who would oppose him:

“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, NLT)

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean that he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death? (Even the Scriptures say, ‘For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.’) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Rom. 8:36-37, NLT)

From Genesis to Revelation, our Scriptures tell us that Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God who died to take away our sins, will return as the Conquering Lion of God and defeat Satan and his evil forces.

So brothers and sisters in Christ, you who are being persecuted because of your faith in Jesus Christ, take courage and be strengthened in the knowledge that God is about to destroy ISIS and the myriads of similar Satanic forces that seek to persecute the body of Christ. Their days are numbered, and God will defeat and destroy them as surely as he destroyed Hitler’s murderous Nazi regime and other tyrannical forces throughout history.

May you be encouraged in the knowledge that millions of Christian believers throughout our planet are praying for you that, whether you live or die, your faith and witness remain strong and unmovable, and that the Lord will be pleased with your life of worship, praise, and sacrifice.

And may our Father’s grace, love, and peace bless and sustain you. Amen.

****

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I was visiting the Getty Museum in Los Angeles recently when I saw the Jean-Francois Millet oil painting, “Man with a Hoe,” painted during 1860-62. As I gazed at the painting, I began to sense what Millet intended to convey—the utter exhaustion of a peasant as he pauses from the backbreaking toil of plowing a rocky plot of land filled with thistles, weeds, and dry grass.

The expression on the man’s face, along with his wearied posture, suggest not only a hard day’s labor but one of a lifetime of endless toil with little progress to show. And yet, the green, productive fields of his neighbors in the background suggest that there might be hope for this man and this bleak plot of land.

But I saw more.

In that moment I saw in him the countless numbers of individuals whose lives today are mired in seemingly hopeless situations—beaten down, exhausted, depressed, caught between life’s proverbial rock and a hard place, with little or no relief or hope in sight. And in my heart I saw their despair and I heard their anguished cry to God for help.

I know what these people are going through—for I’ve been there myself.

I’ve been there through life’s deserts—long periods of unemployment, eking out a living in dead-end jobs, facing failure after failure, set back after set back, struggling with depression, and screaming at a seemingly silent God.

But always, in the midst of those harsh, lonely, desert places, I would experience God’s mercy, peace, comfort, and joy. And with those blessings, I would find renewed hope and strength to keep on the journey through life.

It is in such deserts that I experienced the reality of Jesus’ Beatitudes recorded in Matthew 5:3-6:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

In Mathew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt, 5,6,7), Jesus teaches about the characteristics of being a disciple in the Kingdom of God, and in verses 3-6 of chapter 5, he blesses the worn-down, broken, and powerless people who recognize their need for him and seek him.

He blesses them in their present state—here and now!

Those who are poor in spirit—who are utterly helpless to meet life’s challenges but seek God in their poverty of spirit—are blessed to be part of God’s kingdom here and now!

Those who mourn—who are in spiritual crisis, sadness, pain, sorrow, grief, and loss, and who earnestly seek God—are comforted with his peace, joy, and strength, here and now, for the journey still ahead.

Those who are meek—who in humility know their own ignorance, weaknesses, and needs, and who turn control and discipline of their lives to God—are blessed here and now with God’s assurance that when Christ returns on Judgment Day to destroy the earth, they will receive new eternal bodies and inherit a place in Christ’s kingdom that he will establish on the newly created earth (2 Pet. 3:7-13;  Rom. 8: 18-26; Rev. 21:1).

And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—who yearn desperately for a right relationship with God and with people, who care about justice for all, and who earnestly seek God out of their awareness of their own urgent need to be right with him and with people—are blessed here and now with God’s forgiveness and covered with Jesus’ own righteousness (Rom. 3:22; 2 Cor. 5:21).

These four beatitudes are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems. The world admires and envies only those who are strong, rich, famous, successful, and powerful. The world cares nothing about the nobodies, the materially or spiritually poor, those who mourn, the meek, or those who seek righteousness and justice.

But God cares about such people, and he wants us as disciples of Jesus Christ to not only care for them with his heart of love, grace, and compassion, but also to reflect in our hearts an awareness of our own poverty of spirit, brokenness, humility, and hunger for righteousness.

For only then can he bless us—here and now!

*****

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Paul was livid.

It had been more than two years since young John Mark had deserted him and Barnabas in Pamphylia on their first missionary journey to Asia Minor (Acts 13:13), and now Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark, his cousin, with them to revisit the new believers in those cities.

Paul refused. He still burned with anger over the desertion. Maybe the journey had been too difficult and hazardous for John Mark; maybe he had been homesick for his mother, Mary, who was back home in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12); or maybe he hadn’t liked how the team had gone from “Barnabas and Saul” to “Saul and Barnabas” to “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 11-15).

Whatever John Mark’s reason had been, Paul didn’t want him on the next mission journey.

Paul and Barnabas argued over this, and when they could not come to an agreement, they decided to go on separate journeys—Paul would take Silas, and Barnabas would take John Mark to minister on the island of Cyprus.

Barnabas’ decision to give John Mark another chance wasn’t just because they were cousins (Colossians 4:10). It was Barnabas’ nature to encourage people. In fact, his real name was Joseph, and he had developed such a reputation of coming alongside people and encouraging them, that the Christians in Jerusalem called him Barnabas—meaning “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36).

And it had been Barnabas who had encouraged the apostles to accept the newly converted Saul (later called Paul) into Christian fellowship and ministry (Acts 9:26-30), even though Saul had persecuted Christians before Jesus dramatically changed his life on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9).

We are not told what changes John Mark went through during those two years after he returned to Jerusalem, but it is likely that Barnabas might have counseled and mentored him and might have seen a new level of maturity in him that convinced Barnabas to give him another chance.

Barnabas’ patient investment in the young life of John Mark proved fruitful to the Christian movement and the growth of the church throughout the ages:

  • John Mark went on to work with the apostle Peter and heard Peter’s first-hand account of his life with Jesus (Acts 12:12-13; I Peter 5:13).
  • John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark, based largely on Peter’s first-hand account of the life and death of Jesus, but also on his own personal experience with Jesus. Many scholars believe that John Mark was present with Jesus in Gethsemane and was the young man who ran away naked after the mob ripped off his nightshirt when they came to arrest Jesus (Mark 14:51-52).
  • John Mark later proved invaluable to Paul as his assistant and companion in ministry, especially during Paul’s prison confinements (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon1:24).

Had Barnabas not given John Mark a second chance, the Gospel of Mark might not have been written, neither might the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, for they based much of their material on Mark’s Gospel.

How different the New Testament and Christianity might be today without those three gospels—for countless millions of believers might not have come to faith in Jesus Christ throughout these two thousand years!

As we reflect on the Acts account of Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark, it’s important to ask ourselves:

  • Are there John Marks in our lives—boys and girls, and young men and women—who have failed and disappointed us?
  • Can you and I be a Barnabas to them? Are we willing to encourage and mentor them despite their previous failures?

Giving them additional chances—along with our mentoring and encouragement—could change their lives completely.

And, like John Mark, the lives and contributions of these young people could impact our society and world in significant ways in years to come.

You and I might be the difference between a young life failing or succeeding, so let’s not give up on them.

Remember, we have been the beneficiaries of second chances—the most important one being the grace and forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ.

So, be a Barnabas and ”encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV, ©1984).

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Four times those words of encouragement were given to Joshua—three times by God and once by the men serving under him. (Joshua 1)*

And that encouragement is relevant to us today.

For forty years God had been preparing Joshua for leadership by having him serve as Moses’ assistant and military strategist. When Moses died, God appointed Joshua to lead the nation of Israel into the Promised Land and establish a homeland for Israel.

His primary task was to lead more than two million people into Canaan, defeat the armies of the nations that occupied the land, wipe out those nations because of their wickedness, and divide the land between the twelve tribes of Israel.

It would involve years of protracted warfare against thirty-one kings and their armies, destruction of their cities, and putting to death millions of their inhabitants.

It was a daunting task, and God knew that there would be many times that Joshua would feel overwhelmed, even afraid. So, to assure and strengthen him, God said:

“…I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.” (Joshua 1:5)

“Be strong and courageous, for you will lead my people to possess all the land I swore to give their ancestors.” (Joshua 1:6) Joshua would succeed because God would fulfill his promise made to their ancestors.

“Be strong and very courageous.” (Joshua 1:7-8) This time God outlined for Joshua how to be strong, courageous, and successful—by obeying the laws that Moses gave him; and by studying and meditating on Scripture at all times.

“Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged.” (Joshua 1:9) This third encouragement came with the assurance, “For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The twenty-four chapters of the book of Joshua provide a fascinating account of how Joshua, with God’s help, succeeded in establishing a homeland in Canaan for the Israelites.

Although we are not called to lead millions of people into battle, we face a different kind of battle—living life and meeting challenges of every-day living that sometimes cause us to be afraid and discouraged.

Whether it is the loss of a job, taking on a new job and new responsibilities, financial problems, declining health, broken relationships, the loss of loved ones, uncertain tomorrows, or a host of other challenges, each of us experiences times of fear and discouragement.

And there will be mornings when, for unknown reasons, we will wake up afraid to face the day.

To us, God says, “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged!”

How can we be strong and courageous?

Believe and trust in God’s words of encouragement:

“I will be with you…I will not fail you or abandon you.” (Joshua 1: 5 & 9)

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen and help you. I will hold you up in my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Believe and trust in the words of Jesus Christ as he encouraged his followers:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me.” (John 14:1)

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift that the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

And take to heart the words of the Apostle Paul who suffered many things in his ministry, but always found strength and encouragement to press on in the task that God had given him in service to Jesus Christ:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

I pray that whatever you’re facing in life at this moment, you’ll put your trust in God, spend time alone with him as you meditate on his holy Word, and seek his guidance, strength, comfort, and direction.

May the words and music of Maurette Brown Clark inspire you to find your comfort and strength in God for the task ahead of you. I encourage you to listen to it in its entirety.

*All Scripture passages quoted above are from the New Living Translation © 2007

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During the recent Thanksgiving week as church members and I were in our church parking lot preparing boxes of food for needy families throughout Los Angeles, I looked out over the fog-covered San Fernando Valley below and saw the distant and majestic snow-capped peaks of the Hopper Mountain Wildlife Refuge to the north west and the Angeles National Forest to the north east.

Those mountaintops and the San Fernando Valley are constant reminders for me of our spiritual journey during which we encounter mountaintop experiences of joy, victories, and celebrations that are often followed by spiritual valleys of deep discouragement, hardship, and failure.

I think of Elijah’s experience on Mount Carmel when he, through God’s mighty power, was victorious over the 450 prophets of the pagan god, Baal, yet how quickly Elijah became fearful, depressed, and fled from queen Jezebel when she sent soldiers to kill him. (I Kings 18-19:18)

As in Psalm 23:4, the valley has come to represent the spiritually dark, harsh, sometimes dangerous places of life in which we experience failure, danger, defeat, despair, and depression, and where death is sometimes just a breath or a decision away.

I’ve journeyed through several of those valleys, the most difficult one in the early 1980s when I was out of work for 23 months and was almost homeless. In the midst of the ensuing depression, death seemed very inviting.

But like many Bible figures going through their own dark valleys, it was my willingness to cry out to God in my despair and to hang on to his promises found in his holy Scriptures that saved me from giving in to despair. Most importantly, it was God’s promise that he would not leave or forsake any of us that kept me going one day at a time.

These Bible characters, for example – Joseph (Genesis 37-50), Moses (Exodus through Deuteronomy), Joshua (Joshua 1-24), David (I Samuel16-I Kings 2; Job (Job 1-42), Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 1-12, especially chapters 3 and 6) – always turned to God in their crises and held on to God’s promises.

And we see in the following passages the many occasions during which David despaired for his life when various people tried to kill him, yet he cried out to God and clung to God’s promise of faithfulness to those who trust him:

The Crises                  David’s Responses
• I Samuel 19                Psalm 59
• I Samuel 21                Psalms 34 and 56
• I Samuel 22                Psalms 52 and 142
• I Samuel 23                Psalm 54
• I Samuel 24                Psalms 57 and 63
• 2 Samuel 22               Psalm 18
• 2 Samuel 12                Psalm 51
• 2 Samuel 15                Psalms 3 and 7

Mountaintop experiences are few and far between on our spiritual journey. Most of the time we live on spiritual plains where things are normal with every-day experiences. It’s here that we are content to go through our routines with few ups and downs. It’s here that we are safe in our comfort zones.

But every now and then our lives are suddenly interrupted with an unplanned crisis along our journey—sickness, death, unemployment, divorce, loneliness, abandonment, or some other unwanted event, some so severe that we wonder if we’ll ever survive. This is the dark Valley of Psalm 23:4!

Yet it is in the Valley that we have the opportunity to grow spiritually and be strengthened for life’s arduous journey ahead, for it is here that our self-reliance is likely to fail us and, like David, we have to rely on God to protect and guide us through the dark days.

Whether this Valley breaks us, embitters us, and defeats us, or whether it transforms and strengthens us to meet the challenges and become well-adjusted survivors of the crises, depends on how willing we are to seek God with all our heart throughout the whole Valley experience.

Some of us give up in despair if God doesn’t rescue us quickly, and we end up being bitter or angry with God. Some stop believing in him. Sadly, some take their own lives if they cannot find their way out of the Valley.

But we can be sustained, comforted, and strengthened during our Valley sojourn by relying completely on God through our fellowship with Jesus Christ and by being nourished through the daily study of Scripture and prayer.

And it helps to have a community of caring Christians who love and support us through our travail.

For any among us who might be going through the Valley at this time, take courage with these words from the apostle Peter:

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange is happening to you. Instead, be very glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterwards you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world. (I Peter 4:12-13, New Living Translation, NLT)

These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (I Peter 1:7, NLT)

Now, you might be thinking, Come on! How can we be glad or joyful when we are in the midst of suffering and trials?

As someone who has gone through the Valley at various times in my six decades of life, I can testify to the fact that it is in the midst of the pain, tears, brokenness, and despair that we can experience a very special, deep fellowship with the living Christ, and it is he who blesses us with his joy and peace—and it is for this that we can be glad and rejoice!

I have always found great comfort, strength, and joy in God’s Word, from such passages as James 1:2-4 (NLT):

Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.

. . . Romans 5:3-5 (NLT), where Paul reminds us that because of our faith in, and fellowship with, Jesus Christ:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

. . . and I Thessalonians 5:16-18 (New International Version, NIV):

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

So, no matter where we are in our spiritual journey at this time as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior—in the midst of a mountaintop high, on the pleasant plains where all is well, or in the dark Valley—

Rejoice and give thanks!

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Some years ago when my son, Chris, was around seven years old, I was preparing the charcoal barbecue grill in our backyard when a white-hot coal brisket fell off the grill and onto the ground. Chris was nearby and immediately bent down to pick up the lump of coal with his fingers.

“Stop!” I shouted, “Don’t pick it up!”

But he continued his downward movement and picked up the coal.

There was a one- or two-second delay before he dropped the searing coal and let out an ear-piercing scream as he flailed his hand in an effort to cool his fingers, followed by him sobbing and writhing in agony.

I quickly dipped his hand in the cool water of the swimming pool and had him keep it there until I got him some first aid out of the house and applied it to his palm. After his sobbing subsided, I told him how important it was to obey warning commands immediately, for ignoring those commands could lead to painful accidents or even death.

My words to him were not some simple platitude, for uppermost in my mind was an incident that I experienced when he was a toddler that could have robbed him of a father.

One morning in 1980 I was driving west on Riverside Drive in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley when I stopped for the red traffic light at the intersection with Cahuenga Boulevard. As the lights turned green, I was about to proceed through the intersection when I heard a clear, sharp voice in my head saying, “Stop!”

It was such a strong, startling command that I obeyed instantly and kept my foot on the brake.

Seconds later a car ignored the red light and zoomed through the intersection from my left and continued north, leaving me gasping with the realization that, had I moved into the intersection with the green light, the car would have plowed into the driver side of my little Datsun car and I could have been killed.

So clear and strong was the voice in my head, I was certain that the Holy Spirit had spoken to me in that instant! Had I ignored that voice and that warning, Chris might have
been orphaned that day.

Although I’ve never heard that voice again in that manner, I continue to be conscious of the different ways God speaks to us through his Scripture, through his people, and through our conscience.

And very often, God’s message to us through our conscience is, “Stop!”

Romans 1:18-20 tells us that all people have an inner sense of what God requires, for the truth about God is known to us instinctively.

Our conscience tells us to stop, back away, and even flee when we find ourselves being attracted to some temptation that we know would be enjoyable in the short term but destructive in the long term.

Sometimes we try to shut our ears to the “Stop!” messages of our conscience, and we struggle within ourselves between what we desire and what we know God wants for us.

Sometimes our “Stop!” messages involve our relationships with others, especially if we are considering a marriage or business partnership. 2 Corinthians 6:14 tells us, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” As Christians we should not team up with unbelievers in partnerships because it might weaken our Christian commitment, standards, and integrity, and it could prove disastrous.

And sometimes God uses our family, our friends, and our church brothers and sisters to tell us, “Stop!” Stop traveling the path we might be on…the drugs…the drinking…the pornography…the unhealthy eating habit…the violence…the overworking…the out-of-control spending…the idleness…the lying…the promiscuity…the cheating…the gossiping…the hate…the vindictiveness….

A “Stop!” from God is always for our good and in our best interest, and to ignore it is to put ourselves in danger of detrimental consequences. Sometimes the consequence is immediate, sometimes it is long range, and sometimes it is eternal.

Nowhere is this clearer than in our relationship with God. If we have been running away from him, he continues to call to us to stop, repent, and commit our lives to him. If we insist on closing our ears to his voice, eventually we’ll become deaf to his call and our separation from him will be eternal.

That is why the Scripture says of God,

Today you must listen to his voice.
Don’t harden your hearts against him
as Israel did when they rebelled,
when they tested God’s patience in the wilderness.
(Hebrew 3:7-8, New Living Translation)

Today is the day of salvation.
(2 Corinthians 6:2, NLT)

I’m thankful that I did listen to his voice that day in Toluca Lake, for Chris, who is about to turn 32, is a constant reminder of how different life could have been for us had I ignored that “Stop!”

********

Chris, at age 8

Chris and me recently

Clicky

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It was 5 a.m. and dark outside when I left home for my daily walk one morning. It was cold and windy, but I was clothed warmly for the five-mile trek along a route that included a steep stretch of road into the hills above our neighborhood of Granada Hills, one of the towns in the San Fernando Valley, just outside Los Angeles.

I was eager to walk that morning, for I was deeply troubled about my life and needed to work off a lot of pent-up frustration. But even more importantly, I needed the time of solitude and privacy along those deserted and darkened roads to pray and seek God’s help and direction.

As I walked I poured out my frustrations to God. I told him how burdened and beaten down I felt, and how I had lost the passion, dream, and direction for my life.

Then somewhere along the walk, amidst my tears, weariness, self-pity, and complaints, the Lord reminded me of some verses from Isaiah 40, the words seemingly rushing back into my consciousness with each step that I took:

Why do you say, O Jacob,
And speak, O Israel:
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
And my just claim is passed over by my God”?
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall fall exhausted,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:27-31, New King James Version—NKJV)

I mulled those words over in my mind, especially, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

A scene from the past flashed in my mind, one that I had seen many times from our church which sits atop one of the ridges of the Santa Monica Mountains, overlooking the San Fernando Valley.

It was a scene of a high-flying bird—sometimes an eagle, sometimes a hawk—hovering or slowly gliding majestically above the slopes. Its wings would always be spread wide, almost motionless, as it circled above unhurriedly under the California sun, as if waiting patiently for something. Inevitably it would connect with that something—an unseen thermal draft—its outstretched wings catching the full force of the swift-rising column of hot air that would send it soaring effortlessly to greater heights with hardly a flap of its wings and no wasted energy.

As I walked up the steep hill in the dark that morning, I closed my eyes, spread out my arms eagle-like, and tried to imagine what it would be like to wait for those thermal drafts and soar like an eagle. The cold wind blew steadily on my face, chest, and outstretched arms, and I began to feel as if I were being lifted gently off the ground and borne aloft by the wind.

Though my feet continued to pound the ground in a steady walk up the hill, my imagination took me to another realm where I seemingly experienced the sensation of flying like an eagle high above the San Fernando Valley, with the city lights shimmering and sparkling below and the dawn’s faint light gently washing the eastern sky. I felt as if I were hovering in the wind, gliding, waiting, and then soaring as a thermal draft swept me upwards and effortlessly to higher levels of flight above the valley.

The sensation of flight was wonderful and thrilling, sending shivers through my body. But an even deeper sensation followed—an overwhelming sense of God’s presence and a feeling of total well-being. This was God’s touch of grace, his moment of blessing for one who was poor in spirit, and one who mourned (Matthew 5:3-4).

Later that day and in the following days as I thought about that transcendent experience, God communicated clearly and profoundly through various scripture passages how to reinvigorate our lives as Christian believers:

· Never give up and quit.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed or broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, New Living Translation—NLT)

· Wait patiently for God and he will restore our flagging strength and spirit.

Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. (Psalm 37:7, NLT)

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be astounded. They will put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:1-3, NLT)

· Trust God completely to do what he promises in his Word.

…those who trust the Lord will possess the land. (Psalm 37:9b, NLT)

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18, NLT)

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and in his good time he will honor you. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you. (I Peter 5:6-7, NLT)

· Rest quietly in him.

The Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says, “Only in returning to me and waiting for me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15, NLT)

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT)

· The Holy Spirit’s presence and will are to us what the thermal air currents are to the eagle or hawk.

But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, NKJV)

I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your law is written on my heart. (Psalm 40:8, NLT)

Always be joyful. Keep praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-19, NLT)

I’ve never been able to recapture that sensation of flying, but the lessons learned through that experience and those scripture passages have stayed with me, especially whenever I see one of those majestic creatures soaring over the slopes of our San Fernando Valley.

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Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, sometimes we find ourselves tired, discouraged, and utterly burnt out on life. Thank you for assuring us through your holy Word that if we wait patiently on you and seek your guidance, you will renew our strength, reinvigorate our flagging spirits, restore us to our rightful minds, and empower us to soar to greater heights of living and serving. Teach us to wait patiently, for it is in quiet waiting that we experience you in your fullness and transforming power. Amen.

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