Tag Archives: encouragement

Today’s Scripture – May 9, 2018

Luke 21:25-28 (NIV) “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Jesus is still talking with His followers about the impending destruction of Jerusalem that would occur about 40 years later. The destruction of the city and its temple would be so complete that not one stone would be left on another, and the suffering of the people during and after that destruction was going to be horrific.

Next Jesus seems to look forward, far into the future, to the time of His return from heaven at the final judgment. And in that vision, He spoke of terrible things: signs in the heavens, shaking the very heavenly bodies; unrest among the bewildered people of the world; and finally, the appearance of Himself, coming with the clouds of heaven in power and glory, ushering in the new age of full redemption. This interpretation is logical, and even scriptural, especially if we look at this discourse as recorded in the other gospels. Matthew includes a bit more of the disciples’ question than merely what they were asking about the destruction of the city and its temple: “Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 NIV)

The disciples were actually asking more than they knew. They logically assumed that the destruction of the temple would be such a drastic step in God’s plan, that it would surely signal the beginning of the end of the world.

But, as is frequently the case, Jesus’ words, using symbolism drawn from the Scriptures and from current Jewish figures of speech, had a both/and aspect to it. Jesus was pointing to the far distant future in this section of His discourse, but He was also still pointing to aspects of the coming destruction of the city and the temple.

All of the imagery of celestial signs, disruption of the powers of heaven, the roaring of the sea, and anguish among the nations of earth had meaning for the people of Jesus’ day, as well as for those in the centuries immediately following. They point to, not only the fall of Jewish leadership and the dispersion of the Jewish people, but also to the unrest in the far reaches of the Roman Empire, of which the rebellion that would happen in Israel was a harbinger. Within a relatively short time, the Empire would be required to draw in its boundaries, and to take a more defensive posture, due to continuing and increasing incursions and rebellions in the frontiers, causing a lot of unrest and uncertainty among the people.

But despite all of the unrest and chaos that Jesus was forecasting, the people of the kingdom were not to join in the despair or confusion. When everything looked like the end of the world, and when people were fretting and fuming about not knowing what was going to happen, they were instead to lift up their heads and look for the power of Jesus to deliver them, symbolized by the imagery of Jesus coming to the rescue in a cloud of the heavenly host.

Again, this is a case of both/and. The description Jesus gave will be quite literally fulfilled at His second coming. But it also has had symbolic significance down through the ages for those in the Church, especially for those who were undergoing persecution. This vision has encouraged them, and helped them to lift up their heads in their darkest hours, and to look for Jesus to deliver them through His magnificent power. And He always has.

Father, sometimes we do get stuck into an either/or viewpoint instead of being willing to entertain the possibility of a both/and meaning. But many times You showed visions to Your prophets that definitely had a both/and significance, meaningful to those who heard, meaningful to those who lived later, and ultimately and literally fulfilled by Jesus. Help us to stay open to ALL of the truth that You have given us in Your Scriptures, and not try to box You into only the interpretation that we favor. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 9, 2017

Luke 1:39-45 (NIV) At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

While Mary sorted all of this out, she decided that she would make the journey to the hill country of Judea near Jerusalem to see Elizabeth, and to witness for herself what God was doing. This was no lack of faith on her part, but a simple desire to see for herself the miracle that Gabriel had told her about. And Mary hoped to find in Elizabeth, as one who had experienced God’s power in her own body to do something impossible, someone with whom she could openly discuss her own experience.

As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, the baby jumped in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit, instantly seeing things that were invisible to other eyes, able to understand things that were hidden, and given clear words to speak God’s truth boldly.

For example, Elizabeth knew that Mary was pregnant, and that the baby she was even then carrying was the Lord, the promised Messiah. Because of that, Mary, as the one whom God had selected for this role, was truly the most blessed woman who had ever lived. And she also knew that there had been a moment when Mary had had to trust in God’s word, and to say agree to His plan for her life. She knew that when that moment had come, Mary had trusted and agreed.

Elizabeth was surprised at Mary’s unexpected arrival, but she was glad that she had come for the same reasons that Mary had decided to make the trip. Here now was a woman who could relate to what she herself was experiencing; a woman with whom she could compare notes and with whom she could talk about things that no one else would really understand.

Father, by putting the urge in Mary’s heart to take the long journey south, You provided support and encouragement for both women during critical phases of their supernatural pregnancies. For Elizabeth, that support and encouragement came at the end of her pregnancy, when there would be fear that something might still go wrong. For Mary, it came at the beginning, when she most needed assurance that she had chosen the right path, in spite of the complications that she knew lay in front of her. Such great love and compassion You have for Your people! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 7, 2013

1 Kings 19:9-10 (NIV):  There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

When trouble or frustration come into a believer’s life, it is very common for us to feel as if we are all alone, trying to do the work of the kingdom by ourselves; misunderstood, mistreated, and misused.  At those times it is quite common for God to hear prayers very like the one Elijah prayed:  “I am trying to serve You, Lord, but the way is too hard, and I am all alone, and I am just one person.”

The way of a true disciple is often a lonely way, just as Jesus many times felt alone in the midst of His labors.  He had no one that He could talk with at His own level among all of His disciples.  Instead, He was much like an elementary school teacher who spends all of their time among the children whom they are teaching and, as much as they love them, and enjoy teaching them, they crave adult complain and adult conversation.  Even among the teachers of Israel, such as Nicodemus, He found none with whom He could have the depth of spiritual conversation He longed for.  And so, every day, several times some days, He went to the Lord, the One with whom He could really share His heart.

That’s one of the big reasons Elijah came to God on the mountain:  he felt all alone in his calling, and the loneliness of feeling like he was the last living person truly serving God was freaking him out!  He longed to be safe, secure, and assured that he was really walking in God’s ways – something no earthly person could give him.

While Elijah traveled to meet with God, God gave him provisions for the trip (1 Kings 19:3-8), and when He spoke to him, He not only gave him very specific tasks to perform to help him to refocus (vv 15-17), but He encouraged him by helping him to see that he was really far from alone – there were still 7,000 true followers even in the darkness that was Israel.

Today when we as God’s people are feeling frustrated, fearful, or discouraged we still need to get alone and spend some quality time with Him.  We can pour out our frustrations to Him, sure, but there is no real healing in that.  Instead, we need to quiet our hearts and listen for His voice.  Then God will help us to see the way forward, and encourage our hearts, so that we can move forward in His strength.

Father, I can’t count the number of times that You have done this for me.  Whether my way was dim and cloudy, or completely hidden in pitch blackness, every time that I have sought You with all of my heart, every time that I have listened with all of my soul, You have spoken to me both comfort and guidance.  Thank You!  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 11, 2013

Psalm 22:12-18 (NIV):  Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.

I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.

They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.

 

Many Christians these days have a theology like that of Job’s friends:  If God loves them, nothing bad will ever happen to them; and, if anything bad happens, that means that they must have sinned, and sinned badly.  This theology, widely taught, has destroyed the faith of many who are innocent, but who undergo suffering and persecution.  But that theology does not come from God’s word.  For a perfect case in point, just look at Jesus.  More harm befell Him in 24 hours than most people experience in a lifetime, yet He was totally blameless.  David was enabled to accurately portray His terrible suffering, the suffering of one who was innocent, yet His suffering was allowed, even planned, by God.  Jesus alerted His followers to the fact that the world would hate them as it hated Him (John 15:18-16:14), and that they would experience trouble in this world (John 16:33), a prophecy which has been fulfilled in God’s people all through the ages.  Rather than a theology of peace and plenty, the Bible’s theology for God’s people is one of productive suffering – God’s people will be mistreated and suffer wrong and harm from the world, but it is for a purpose:  so that they will be powerful witnesses to those persecuting them, as well as to those looking on.  When suffering comes, and it will come, don’t back away, or think that things are somehow amiss in you or in God.  Embrace the suffering as the first disciples did (Acts 5:41), cling to God, and push forward for the kingdom.

 

Father, thank You for this encouragement.  I do see and hear this flawed theology all around me.  Thank You for setting it straight.  Help us all to cling more tightly to You in times of trouble, so that we CAN be powerful witnesses to Your love and grace, even to those who mistreat us.  Amen!

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