Salvation Was *Always* God’s Plan

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to (them), and proclaim to (them) that (their) hard service has been completed, that (their) sin has been paid for, that (they) have received from the Lord’s hand double for all (their) sins.” ~ Isaiah 40:1-2

If you’re a person who says such things as, “The Old Testament was meant for then and doesn’t apply to today,” I submit that no one has helped you to more completely understand God’s heart.

The words quoted above, which God spoke through Isaiah regarding salvation were targeted to the Hebrew tribes. We can, however, change the people groups and names in this section of scripture using pronouns (indicated by the parentheses) and put on display the future that God has in mind for anyone, anywhere, at any time.

We can do that because God is immutable—unchanging. So when He says something, the meaning doesn’t change simply because we only turn to the pages of the New Testament to read about Jesus and a New Covenant.

God’s plan has always been to redeem people from sin. Isn’t that a comfort to you? It is to me.

What we may have formerly chosen to see when we read the Bible or hear when we listened to a sermon might be changed when we realize God always meant to send Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) That’s what an angel said to Joseph, telling him about the Son that was coming: “that (their) sin has been paid for.”

The Old Testament speaks to New Testament people—you and I, here and now—because, simply put, if the words come from God, those words will always translate to the context of His eternal plan for us.

We’ll better understand that when we have “eyes to see and ears to hear.”

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid  for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2)

 

 

Jonah and a Big-Mouthed Fish

While waiting for my appointment with a doctor, I picked up a Highlights magazine from the table beside me. I don’t often read magazines for children, but this one caught my eye because of a cover blurb.

“Whoa! Whale Sharks,” it said.

The article in the February 2015 issue was fascinating. As I read it, I began to wonder if perhaps this huge fish wasn’t of the species God chose to swallow Jonah. When I was growing up, our Sunday school teachers gave us flannel graph lessons and explained this reluctant prophet’s story as “Jonah and the Whale.” But ‘whale’ isn’t the animal name given in the Bible. (Jonah 1:17, emphasis mine)

The King James Version says, “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

The New International Version reads: “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.”

Yet another version, the New Revised Standard Version, says “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah.”

Even more interesting language comes in the English Standard Version: “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

I guess, even aside from the verb used to say how the fish came into the story, it’s obvious that this is not a whale, but a fish. Whales are mammals; fish are not. Scripture also makes it clear that God caused this to happen.

Basic information about whale sharks is agreed upon from research which scientists have done on them. Science describes and provides “everything you ever wanted to know about” whale sharks. For perspective, a whale shark is about the size of a school bus so it could easily hold a man in its belly.

Most of us were captivated by the story of Jonah when we were children. It’s even captivating when we’re adults with the very idea that someone survived inside a fish for three days and three nights.

Some people don’t believe the story is true. But God never answers all the questions we have about what happens in the Bible. Scripture includes lots of mysteries.

Perhaps the mystery of what kind of great/huge/large fish swallowed Jonah will never be known. But I think it’s nice to have whale sharks as a possible answer to where Jonah spent three days in the dark as he came to his senses and decided to obey the Lord.

Doxology = Praise

Praise God

from whom all blessings flow.

Praise Him,

all creatures here below.

Praise Him,

all you heavenly hosts.

Praise Father,

Son,

and Holy Ghost.

Amen

The word “doxology” has roots in the Greek language. Doxo, meaning opinion or glory and logia, meaning oral or written communication. It follows that anything calling itself a doxology would mean praise.

Growing up in church, I sang this ‘song’ with everyone, usually prior to the sermon. I had no idea what praise to God meant. I do now. The song isn’t sung at the church I now attend, but I don’t hold ill feelings about that or expect my church to implement the practice. Gratitude to God is encouraged through other means.

I wrote out the lyrics to this particular doxology not only because it’s the one I’m familiar with. I chose to write them in that fashion because seeing then this way forces me look at the phrasing more carefully. As with many songs with which we become familiar, the meaning can get lost in that familiarity.

To me, prayer itself is a form or worship. Beginning a prayer glorifying God and with expressions of praise is how I most enjoy hearing prayer. I may start conversations with God by asking questions or expressing frustration, but eventually, I get to the part where I recognize his wonder and thank him for how he works in my life.

Sometimes, I even sing the words.

Father, I’m grateful for a God who is who he is and, surely, “I AM” is how you define yourself. When I know “who” you are, I’m more likely to give praise to you. Help me to always, in addition to my questions, requests, and emotional expressions based on difficult circumstances, be aware enough to show the gratitude you’ve taught me is necessary for a fruitful life. Amen

Why? Why? Why?

Guest Post by James N. Watkins

If you have children, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a three-year-old’s favorite word is “why.”

“Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”

“Why?”

“Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”

“Why?”

“Because if it’s a contest between a thirty-five-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”

“Why?”

“Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on it goes—right into adulthood!

“Why didn’t God heal my friend?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why do I still have acne at 50?”

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade Sunday school teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing—twice—or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

I have learned that while why is often a futile question, God is more than willing to answer other questions. But, like the popular game show, Jeopardy, the answers are in the form of a question.

What can I know?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

So, while I’ve struggled with hundreds—probably thousands—of questions about God’s workings, I have grown in my knowledge of who he is. While agonizing about an estranged relationship, I burst into tears—for God. I had described to a friend my pain: “It feels like my heart has been cut out with a chainsaw, run over by a logging truck, and then fed through a wood chipper.” If I was feeling this excruciating pain for one broken relationship, how was God feeling about billions of heartaches? It was one of the few times I actually felt I understood God.

I can also find the answer to . . .

How can I grow?

I’ve always leaned into Romans 8:28:

“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” (NIV).

But what is that “purpose”? The very next verse answers: “To be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). So do other verses:

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit——makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

That’s our purpose! So ask, how can I grow more like Christ through this difficult time.

Who can I show?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 has become one of my favorite passages in encouraging me while I’m going through terrible times:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (NLT).

The Greek word translated comfort isparaklesis. It is a calling near, summons for help; a prayer, a plea; exhortation, admonition, encouragement; consolation, comfort, solace, refreshment; or a persuasive speech, motivational talk, instruction. And it’s feminine case. No one comforts like a mother.

We offer our best comfort to those experiencing what we have personally gone through.

So, sorry, we can’t always answer the “why” questions, but we can answer these three.

Condensed from The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil by James N. Watkins.

What is Jesus Doing?

Sometimes we wonder what God must be up to. Life is getting weird and we seem to be floundering.  Ever feel that way?

If I keep my eyes open to what’s happening and keep trusting that God is doing what I cannot do for myself, the answer is usually simple.

What is Jesus doing? He’s helping me to grow in grace.

Be a blessing to someone today.

The Patience of Job

When I was growing up, occasionally I’d hear my mother refer to someone as having “the patience of Job.” I went to Sunday school and then upstairs for ‘big church’ with her, but we didn’t learn about Job in Sunday school.

Our flannel graph stories revolved around stories that didn’t include Satan, for the most part. You know, Joseph and his coat; Noah in the ark; Moses with the burning bush; that little guy Zacchaeus; and the loaves and fish miracle.

Now that I know Job’s story, I still enjoy reading it even after years of study. The more I learn about patience and how God works, the more I learn not to pray for it. A friend once shared in a group which I belonged to that she had prayed for patience.

“God didn’t send me patience in a package tied up with a bow,” she said. “I got pregnant.”

That’s a funny line from my friend. But I don’t believe God was playing a joke on her. What I do believe is that God uses our circumstances – the ones he causes and the ones he allows – to help us grow in character and in virtue (among other reasons).

Job grew from his experiences of loss and from the aftermath. He also learned some things. I don’t know if it was patience he learned. But I do know he grew in his knowledge of God.

“The theme of (the book of) Job is not ‘Why do the righteous suffer?’ The theme of Job is ‘Do the righteous believe that God is worth suffering for?’” ~ Warren Weirsbe

“They (Job’s three friends) plead a poor cause well, while Job pleads a good cause poorly.” ~ John Calvin

 “Be silent about great things; let them grow inside you.” ~ Baron Friedrich von Hugel

“The book of Job is not strictly a pessimistic book. It does not despair of the universe, despite all its sorrows. What it does despair of is the adequacy of any one of man’s theories, or all of these theories united, to furnish a solution of its sorrows.” ~ George Matheson

“I had a million questions to ask God: but when I met Him, they all fled my mind, and it didn’t seem to matter.” ~ Christopher Morley (Job 23:3-4)

While we read the book of Job, we get to see what happened behind the scene. But Job had no knowledge of it. We can be assured that God works for us in unknown ways and what may look like a setback becomes the setup for a blessing if we trust God and remain faithful.

Hoping and Coping With a Disability

We who have disabilities have certain limitations. We understand that and, with the passing of time, we accept them. But we also have abilities in addition to those limitations.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m manic-depressive. Or, to use the more common name for it, I have bi-polar disorder. People who are bi-polar are limited in different ways; limited in as many ways as there are people with the diagnosis, I imagine. And so it is with anyone who lives with chronic illness or a disability.

I believe that, although people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have limitations, most of us aren’t constantly “suffering.” What we’re doing is learning how to manage it; we’re living our lives and sometimes even thriving. Sure, we struggle sometimes.  But we also have hope. We manage to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and do the necessary things to have a relatively good life.

Stress exacerbates any chronic illness, so we must avoid situations we’ve discovered we can’t handle as easily as someone without a disability. The symptoms we often have because of stress could be mental or emotional. They could manifest as physical symptoms.

Please don’t expect us to make important decisions when we are sick. If we’re experiencing a flare-up or an episode of the illness, we may in fact, need your patience as we make simple decisions to just get through the day.

If it seems we’re being irritable, you’re right. Some disabilities are noted for having an irritability aspect. For me, this is one of the first symptoms I display when I begin a manic phase–even before I begin the ‘hyper’ activity. I think I can speak for many when I say this is another aspect of having a disability we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t have to. Most of us have a great attitude toward life. We don’t complain all the time and we’re generally nice people. But if we’re in pain or not able to think our way out of a paper bag, we can get grumpy. Hey, everyone gets grumpy occasionally; people with disabilities are no different.

Some of the ultimate limitations are being bed-ridden; inability to communicate our needs effectively; a temporary inability to handle being in public or with groups; not being able to work; and the necessity for some sort of support equipment (i.e., wheelchairs, oxygen, inhalers). However, many disabilities are what we refer to as “invisible.” Please don’t assume someone isn’t struggling just because they don’t need equipment.

As far as our hope is concerned:

For the most part, we rely on being educated about our specific disability. Knowledge is power and when we understand what’s going on in our bodies, we’re better equipped to respond to the symptoms. Then we go from being helpless to being able to manage, to a certain degree, what’s happening. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the physical (or mental) state, but we can usually control what we do. We can control our attitude toward our illness and the world around us.

Many of us practice some sort of faith. We rely on worship and prayer and are grateful when our friends and loved ones pray for us.

People with disabilities usually need to grieve their health. That process may be subtle and we may not even realize grieving is what we’re doing. Frankly, our irritability might be happening because we’re moving toward acceptance of our limitations. I mean, who wants to come out and say, “I simply can’t do some of the things I want to do”? But acceptance is one key to handling our problems.

I’ve learned that having a good day might mean leaving the house and moving my focus off myself. I can get the proverbial shot in the arm by simply having a brief conversation with a neighbor or calling someone on the phone to chat. I write letters and notes to friends and family members. Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill helps too.

People with disabilities have much to offer. We might not be able to work even part time jobs. But we can volunteer, we can engage in our communities as advocates for something we’re passionate about, and we can offer a compassionate ear to someone who’s struggling with an illness because we’ve been there ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered what Helen Keller said is also true for me.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

Seeing my illnesses as something I can learn about and learn from helps me to keep a positive outlook even during a flare-up. I know God is with me. Even during a psychic ‘crash,’ I know that when I pray, God hears me. I don’t look like I’ve got it together–and I don’t. But I trust that God is in control.

Today, I’m believing less in “self-help” and relying on “God-help.” Ironically, in my most vulnerable states, I realized God can make me strong. In our world many of us think we must declare our independence. We believe our dreams are a result of hard work and self-sufficiency. While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I prefer to declare dependence. On God.

Having a disability doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t mean my limitations define me. Having a disability doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to society. I’m a person living my life with purpose because God has promised me that I can.

 

Author’s note: I don’t claim to know everything about every chronic illness. I know some illnesses make an individual totally unable to make decisions for themselves and caregivers are needed to help them navigate life. This post about the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities is not all-inclusive or meant to be medical advice. The comments herein are taken from observations of my friends’ conditions, conversations with those individuals, and my own experience with several chronic illnesses. For those interested in such things, many support groups exist addressing the needs of a variety of illnesses.

 

A Peace That Transcends Everything

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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 your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7; emphasis mine).

Truthfully, the current patterns of the world are not worse than ever. Hard to believe, but it’s true.

We are in no more danger sitting at home in our living rooms than the ancients were. There has always been war. We have always seen unrest in families. Children have always, unfortunately, been neglected or abused. Economies crash. People betray us. Loved ones die.

Sin took its toll on Earth and we have never been the same. At one time, it got so bad that God flooded the earth and saved only one family.

Believe me, this is not meant to be a gloomy article or a prophecy about what God has in mind for us if we don’t obey. Today I merely point these things out because they are the reality we have always lived in.

However, for those who trust God in everything, we have hope. We also have peace because we know that, no matter how things look right now, keeping an eternal perspective presents the reality our Lord showed us.

Are you struggling today with unrest in your family? Is someone sick or have a chronic illness? Does your financial situation look sick as well? Is a loved one fighting to defend freedom in a foreign country and you wait while they come home? Are you grieving?

Whatever the situation, God will, if you ask, give you wisdom, strength to endure, and the knowledge you need to come through your struggle. You can be at peace when you understand how faithful he is.

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Even though he sends the rains, he has compassion on those who suffer. Because God has shown me mercy and because I finally acknowledge that, I can have compassion on people who, a few years ago, I would have shown indignation. I might have even been angry with them without knowing their individual circumstances. It’s a humbling thing for God to show me how arrogant I can be.

Our struggles are temporary like everything else in the world. To keep this in mind also helps to endure and press on. Today, know that I’m praying for you. I don’t know your struggles, but God does, and he’s there for you when you call on him.

Heavenly Father, please help those reading this to know the peace which passes all understanding. Not a peace as the world gives through temporary things, but the peace which you give. Your love for us means you are faithful to provide, to still our hearts, to heal. Thank you for giving your Son, Jesus, who is our Savior and Friend. Amen.

 

Contentment as a Way of Life

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. 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 all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

The apostle Paul is saying he learned contentment by trusting the Lord for everything. Knowing God is in control of every aspect of our lives is the “secret” he talks about. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, know that He watches over you.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)