When You Are Powerless, Jesus Is Not

I just took all my financial information to my accountant who does my taxes. A few weeks ago I took my car to my mechanic to get it fixed. A couple of months ago, when my furnace went out, I called a heating and cooling company that sent out a tech to get it working again.

We’re used to having professionals take care of stuff that we can’t. But this Coronavirus is different. There is no medical researcher with a cure for this virus. There is no doctor we can go to get an immunization vaccine. The best the government can do is to recommend we limit contact with each other. We’re feeling very vulnerable because we are feeling very helpless, and that is scary.

Jesus’ disciples felt like that one day on the sea of Galilee when a furious storm came up so quickly the disciples had no time to make it to shore. Before they knew it, the rain was blowing sideways, the waves were crashing into and over their boat, threatening to sink it. They were helpless.

But Jesus was also on that boat. And standing up, he addressed the storm as if it was an unruly child, and said, “Quiet! Be Still!” Suddenly, the wind stopped blowing, the rain stopped falling, the waves stopped churning, and the once wildly rocking boat now glided calmly along the glassy surface of the sea.

Jesus has the power you and I do not have. He has the almighty power of God. And in this present health crisis which makes us feel so small and weak and helpless, he is with us. He promised that when he said, “I am with you always to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

So Jesus—who is your almighty God and your loving Savior—will get you through this crisis. He will end this threat at the right time. And until then he will make sure you have what you need each day. No matter how helpless you may feel, you are never helpless with him by your side.

What Do We Pray In Times Like This?

So, what are you praying for these days? For God to keep you and your loved ones from getting the coronavirus? For God to end the threat of this virus, so people don’t get sick or die from it anymore, and so you can stop losing income and pay your bills?

Those prayers are appropriate because God invites us to pray, “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you,” he says in Psalm 50.

But, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus also taught us to pray, “Your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42) Why would you pray, “Your will be done” in these days when you are stressed about your future or that of those you love? Because God has promised to bring good out of your suffering. The apostle Paul reminds us of this in Romans 8:28 when he says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

What good could God bring out of the uncertainty and anxiety caused by this virus? He could be reminding you that you need him so that you rely more on him and less on yourself or the things of this world. That would be good. He could be showing you that things you assume will always be there—your health, your job, your income, your lifestyle—can be gone in a flash so you don’t build your life on such unreliable things but instead on him. That would also be good. He could be helping you rethink your priorities, so you think more about what matters—your relationship with God, being there for your loved ones, helping the needy, and hurting. That would be good too.

Maybe it would be good to pray for God to open your eyes to all the good that he can work through these present hardships and the suffering they may bring you. Because that is his specialty. Through the worst suffering possible—his Son’s suffering at the cross for your sins, he achieved your greatest good- your eternal salvation. So, keep praying “Your will be done,” with confidence that he will keep working well for you in these difficult times.

Lord, even as I ask you to protect my loved ones and me during this difficult time, I also pray that your will be done. Help me to trust that your will is always best for me. Amen.

Life Never Seems To Be What We Want It To Be

Do you remember the name of Michael Jackson’s estate? He called it, “Neverland,” after the fictional island in “Peter Pan.” It included a lavish home with a huge theater, gardens, fountains, a four-acre pool, and a private amusement park and zoo.

But did it make him happy? A lot of people who knew him described him as troubled. Michael’s dream estate never gave him true peace and contentment. Sadly, the name “Neverland” was fitting.

“Neverland” is a fitting name for the world we live in. It never seems to give us the peace and contentment we are looking for. Things might be going great and then a pandemic turns our lives upside down. But even before the coronavirus brought upheaval and anxiety into your life, you probably had financial pressures, relationship problems, work stress, illness in your body, or sadness in your heart. Because this life is “Neverland”—never able to give us the life we long for.

But even as we are keenly aware of how this life fails us, here’s what does not fail: God’s love for you. The Bible describes God’s love as “unfailing” no less than 32 times. He loves you so much that he sent his Son to undo the mess you have made in your relationship with him and the mess that human sin has made of life. He sent his Son into our world to suffer on a cross for our sins as if HE was the one who had messed things up. Through that sacrifice, you are forgiven.

Now there is nothing to keep you from going to heaven, a very different kind of “Neverland.” In heaven, there will NEVER be and sin. There will NEVER be any suffering. There will NEVER be any disappointment. There will NEVER be any death.

So expect this world to be “Neverland” when it comes to being what you long for it to be. But be content and at peace anyway. Because God’s love in Jesus Christ will never fail you. In that love, God will give keep forgiving you and giving you what you need until that day when he brings you to perfectly restored life in the “Foreverland” of heaven.

Jesus is Your Certainty in Uncertain Times

I recently checked out some survey data for a community here in my hometown. At number five on the list of life concerns were “Fear of the future and fear of the unknown.” If you were to survey that same community today I am sure that “fear of the future and fear of the unknown” would be a clear number one with all the questions about the future on our minds these days as we face the threat of the coronavirus.

Two thousand years ago, the apostle John was also feeling uncertainty and anxiety about the future. In a vision God gave him, he saw a scroll with the future recorded on it. But it was rolled up and sealed. The uncertainty of the future reduced John to fearful tears. He said, “I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside” (Revelation 5:4).

But when John finally wiped away his tears, he saw a Lamb which appeared to have been sacrificed but was alive and standing near the throne of God in heaven. And as the Lamb picked up the scroll, all of heaven broke into a joyful song with lyrics that went like this: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

The sacrificial Lamb next to God’s throne was Jesus whom the Bible calls “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). At the cross, Jesus took your place and died for all of your sins. It’s a great comfort to know that the one who holds the future in his hands is the God who loves you so much he suffered and died and rose again for you!

But it gets better. The Lamb in John’s vision opened the scroll. He revealed the future! And it is good news. Life will not be easy. But through it all the Lamb will be with you. Whatever comes, he will give you strength and comfort to get through it. And when death comes, he will share his victory over death with you and bring you to a life free of all danger and uncertainty forever in heaven.

Lamb of God, comfort me in these uncertain times by reminding me that my future is in your loving hands. Amen.

Why does bad stuff happen?

Have you ever:

  • Been gossiped about…
  • Been injured in a freak accident…
  • Been dumped in a relationship…
  • Contracted a disease…
  • Lost a loved one…
  • Lost a job…
  • Just “lost it”…

If so, what is the common denominator in all these situations? Isn’t it that they hurt? When bad stuff happens, it hurts, and because we don’t like to hurt we ask why bad stuff happens.

The answer, in a single word, is “sin.” You won’t read that word on the op-ed page of your favorite newspaper or on a CNN newscast. Scientists won’t use that word. Philosophers won’t use that word. Politicians won’t use that word. But God does!

In the book of Romans, we read, “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). God is willing to identify the source of suffering and pain. It is sin. That’s why bad things happen.

But just knowing why is not really helpful. What we really want to know is what we are to do about the bad stuff that happens.

In that regard, CNN, the scientists, the philosophers, and politicians will have something to say. They will offer a theory, a medicine, or a philosophy by which to live. Those answers to life’s problems, however, only create another problem. What do we do when the solution doesn’t work?

That’s when it is wise to turn again to God. He has something to say about the bad stuff. He is willing and able to do more than identify the source, he has provided the solution. God has a plan for health and healing. God deals with sin–the source of hurt and pain–by removing it.

Romans 5:20-21: “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If scientists could wipe out diseases, they would…
If politicians could end war, they would…
If philosophers could create bliss, they would…

But they can’t, so they don’t, and we keep asking why bad stuff happens.

If God could wipe out sin, he would…

And he has. Where sin increased, his grace–the love he has for undeserving sinners–increased all the more. That grace came to all in the perfect life of Jesus, in the sacrificial death of Jesus, and in the resurrection to life of Jesus. Jesus brings us God’s grace, and with grace come spiritual peace and health and joy that last forever. That’s God’s good answer to all the bad stuff.

 

How Can I Be Safe in a Terrifying World?

There are scary people and scary events in this world. But terror is not really outside of you. It’s internal. Terror is being so afraid inside that you are paralyzed outside, unable to live a normal life.

Because terror is internal, the solution to it has to be something that works internally. Lots of people try to work out internal solutions, such as “sucking it up” or “lifting themselves up by their own boot straps.” But those don’t seem to work.

Experts will tell you that you have to go outside of yourself to feel safe. They suggest a network of friends and reliable diversions to take your mind off what’s bothering you.

Do you want to feel safe? Real feelings of safety come from actually being safe. That’s where Jesus comes in.

He’s not called “Savior” for nothing. He has actually made us safe from the devil (1 John 3:8). He has defeated the worst enemy of all, death (1 Corinthians 15:55), rescuing us from the fear of what comes after death. He has saved us from hell by winning forgiveness for us (Luke 1:77).

When you get to know the power and love of Jesus, you can say and really mean things like: “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress. . .You will not fear the terror of the night. . .No harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent” (Psalm 91).

There are still scary people and things out there. You can still feel uneasy in scary situations. But when you have Jesus, you have real safety where it’s needed — inside.

Who is my neighbor?

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus once said. But who is your neighbor? Good question.

Someone once asked Jesus that question (Luke 10:29). He responded by telling the story of a traveler who was mugged. Two “respectable” members of the local ethnic majority passed him by on the side of the road. But a third passer-by, a member of a despised ethnic minority, stopped, helped the traveler, and paid for his hospitalization (Luke 10:30-35).

Who was the real neighbor? The one who showed mercy (Luke 10:36,37).

Kind of scary, huh? Do you have to stop for every roadside wreck now in order to be sure of going to heaven?

There is no person alive who has treated his or her neighbors perfectly. Everyone has some selfishness in them. Do we have any hope of heaven?

Not on our own. But there is someone who has treated all of his neighbors perfectly. That person is Jesus. He never sinned once. Everything he did was for other people, not for himself. When it came time to die, Jesus could have chosen not to. But in a last, unselfish act, he died in our place to take the punishment for all of the times we have neglected our neighbors.

Even today, when Jesus sees us mugged on the road of life, he stops, helps us, and reminds us that he has paid the price for us to go to heaven. He has made us more than just his neighbors; he has made us his children.

Who is your neighbor? Jesus. Be glad!

Can God take my guilt away?

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

“I wish I could take it all away,” Mom whispered to her suffering five-year-old son. He had the flu for a couple of days now, and Mom’s heart was broken. As he lay in his bed suffering from the chills and a fever, there wasn’t much Mom could do except give him some children’s flu medicine and just be there for him. Mom felt helpless and wished she could take it all away from him. She even wished she could have the flu instead of her son.

When children are sick, the love of Mom and Dad really starts to shine through. In a heartbeat, parents go to extra lengths to make sure their kids are feeling as comfortable as possible. If you’re a parent, you’ve been there. You make sure their pillow is extra fluffy. You bring their favorite juice box. You provide their favorite movie to watch. And any time you hear them call, you quickly respond with, “What can I do for you?” The love of Mom and Dad goes so far that if they could take the sickness away, even become sick instead of their child, they would. But they can’t, and it hurts.

Has there ever been a time when you wished you could take it all away? Not just a sickness of a child, but something you did that you really regret? Maybe it was something you did to end a close relationship with a friend. Maybe you said something to a family member that you wish you could take back. Maybe it was something that only you know about, but it haunts you each day.

It’s at moments like those that God’s love really starts to shine through. He knows your sin, your guilt, your regrets. But he doesn’t just wish he could take them away. He did take them away. He forgave them all! He took your sin and guilt away when he put them on his only Son. He loves you so much that he had his only Son, Jesus, die for your sins so that you wouldn’t have to. God forgave your guilt and now considers you right with him because of what Jesus did for you.

Wish your guilt and regrets could be taken away? They were. In their place he gives you forgiveness and eternal life. Now that’s a love that shines through!

Where is contentment to be found?

A farmer who had lived on the same farm all his life began to long for something better. He finally decided to sell it. He listed it with a real estate broker who promptly prepared a sales advertisement for the farm. The ad, of course, listed all the farm’s advantages: ideal location, modern equipment, healthy stock, and acres of fertile ground.

When the farmer saw the ad in the paper, he hurriedly phoned his real estate agent. “I’ll buy it!” he exclaimed. “It’s exactly the place I’m looking for!”

Contentment is a matter of perspective. How many times have you lived out the cliché, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone?”

There is a place where contentment is found, and you don’t need to take a religious pilgrimage to find it. Look at the people, possessions, and pleasures in your life and see them not as your own but “on loan” from God. He gives them to you for a purpose. He wants you to take care of them, and to manage them faithfully.

Some people have received talents from God that are most appreciated by the company’s upper management. Other people have received talents that are noticed most by two-year-olds as they live securely in a loving home. Both kinds of people can be content.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” one Bible writer happily urges. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:4,12-13).

Contentment is a happiness and appreciation that comes from God tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “I’d like you to do something for me. It’s not the same as everyone else is doing, but I know you can do it well. Here’s what I want you to use.”

Rejoice! No matter what the circumstances, you can be content when you see what you have as a gift from God. Part of that gift is the purpose behind it, an improvement project that improves not just the gift, but also the one to whom it is given.

Perfection

A group of special friends comes over for dinner. You spend hours preparing for the meal. You vacuum your house or apartment. You bring out the best dishes in your cabinet. You want everything to be just perfect. Any food improperly cooked or signs of a dirty house could take away from the specialness of the evening. Everything must be perfect.

Our desire for perfection can be seen not only in the home but also in the workplace. Your employer expects you to do your job well. Mistakes will cost the company time and money. If a company is to run efficiently and profitably, everything must be just so, perfect. Further, you feel the best when you have done your job perfectly. And what about your leisure time? What is it that keeps you coming back to play that round of golf again and again? Isn’t it those few perfect shots in a round that motivate you to return again and again?

The God of the universe also is one who expects perfection in the people he has created. The Bible says, “Be perfect, for I the Lord your God am perfect” (Matthew 5:48). God knows that if his people are going to be what he expects them to be, they will be perfect.

The big problem here, as we all know, is that none of us is perfect. Some of that food that we prepared for those guests doesn’t always turn out right, our house has dirt and spiders even though we clean it often. That perfect golf shot slices and ends up just off the green. The assignment at work ends up with a mistake or two. The same holds true in our relationship with God. He has given us 10 commandments. But we break them. We say harsh words. We think bad thoughts. Being the just God that he is, our God must punish us. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Fortunately, a person named Jesus came into the world. He wanted to rescue us. Thus, he lived a perfect life. And that perfect life has been credited to us. We receive Christ’s perfection as our own. Then he died a death for all the times we messed up and weren’t perfect.

Jesus is God’s perfect solution to our imperfection.