It Depends on Faith

When you are at your darkest moment and you open your eyes in the morning and all you see is crushing despair, how strong is your faith?

Friends who are saddled with the unrelenting sadness of failed marriages, family members involved in criminal activity, terminal diagnoses, and watching a mother waste away in hospice are currently experiencing this right now. Maybe you are, too.

In the bleakest of our circumstances, Paul advises us to look to God’s promises to counter-balance the hopelessness that we feel. God’s promises are real. God’s promises are steadfast. God’s promises are eternal.

The promise made to Abraham in the form of a covenant of God’s abiding presence with his descendants is one of the most comforting promises we can rely on in times of trouble. God promises to always be WITH us, having claimed us for himself. This promise is not based on any law, but based solely on God’s faithfulness to his people.

Romans 4 (New Revised Standard Version)

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 

The promise rests on grace. Hallelujah! It doesn’t rest on performance on our part, it doesn’t rest on the law, but solely on the grace of God. We understand grace to be the unmerited favor of our Lord. You can’t earn it, so you can’t lose it, thanks be to God. God’s grace is guaranteed.

18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 

And so we must be like Abraham, and hope against hope. No matter how awful your circumstance is, grace can come in such a way that your head will spin. God often does the unexpected in answer to our fervent prayers and unwavering faith. Even old Abraham and geriatric Sarah conceived a child!

20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

May we have the faith of Abraham as we encounter the terrible. May we have the righteousness of Sarah as we pray for the impossible. And may we be raised in Christ as the final proof of our hope that “with God, all things are possible.”

New Mercies I See by Michelle Robertson

God ALONE

I hold my breath this morning as Inauguration Day is finally upon us. The horrific images of January 6th are seared in my mind and I am fearful of violence in my nation’s capital. The uncertainty of all of this overwhelms me, and I almost long for those days in 2020 when the most pressing concern was the pandemic. Who would have thought that something more frightening than the pandemic would come along? But here we are.

In God’s incredible prevenient grace, the assigned scripture for today is a timely reminder that God is our refuge. While we wait in silence to see how this day unfolds, the psalmist reminds us that we should be waiting for God ALONE. Our hope comes from him. Alone.

Psalm 62 (New Revised Standard Version)

5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

Are you feeling shaken by the events of January 6th? Remember this:

6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

It is normal for our trust in all things to be shaken right now. Politicians, the government, law enforcement, our future together…nothing seems certain. But we are reminded to trust in God AT ALL TIMES, not just on the easy days. Were there actually any easy days? I can’t remember.

9 Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

Verse 9 levels the playing field. Those of low estate and those of high estate don’t amount to much. There is no point in putting our trust in any one human, institution, or nation. God ALONE is our hope.

10 Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,

12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

No matter what happens today, tomorrow, or until Jesus returns, know this: God ALONE has the power. God ALONE offers his steadfast love. God is in control.

PRAY.

God Alone by Susie Fitch-Slater

Open the Eyes of Our Hearts

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart!
I want to see you.
I want to see you.

I can’t recall the first time I sang that contemporary praise song, but I will always remember the clarity that it brought to me as I sang it. Praise songs are often criticized for being simple and repetitive, but others would say that is exactly the point. Repeating a phrase in music is a way to ensure that the meaning takes hold in your mind and in your heart. Repetition is a technique that helps a concept to be easily remembered. Do you remember singing the ABC song? I rest my case.

In this simple chorus, we ask the Holy Spirit to come and open “the eyes of our hearts” in order to see, know, and experience God more fully and more completely. The juxtaposition of heart and eyes is clever in the way that it encourages us to make a visual connection between being open to God’s presence and thus seeing him in his complexity. I think the challenge is to see God in the world around us….in the circumstances, places, and the people in our purview.

Where do you see God today? Where is he active in your daily routine?

It’s interesting to remember that this is exactly what Paul prayed for his beloved church in Ephesus. He longed for them to see God with the eyes of their hearts, too.

Ephesians 1 (Common English Bible)

15 Since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, this is the reason that 16 I don’t stop giving thanks to God for you when I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. 

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, 19 and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength. 

Note that when he lists the things we will see in our hearts, hope is the first thing mentioned. The hope of God’s call, his glorious inheritance, the greatness of his power, and the power of his strength are things that we see when we open the eyes of our hearts.

What do you need to see today? Have your circumstances clouded your vision? Has abuse, depression, addiction, despair, or hopelessness blinded you to God’s activity in your midst?

It happens. Those are the times when we need to blink away distractions and focus on what happened when Christ died on the cross.

20 God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens, 21 far above every ruler and authority and power and angelic power, any power that might be named not only now but in the future.

Christ is far above anything that distresses us today. He is stronger than any stronghold, deeper than any well of sorrow, higher than any artificial high, mightier than any words of condemnation, and more powerful than the evil one who would love to keep his hands firmly pressed against your eyes in order to blind you to the reality of God’s mercy and grace.

Open the eyes of your heart, and you will see God. He is in every circumstance…just keep looking.

Open the Eyes of My Heart by Brand Honeycutt

Vindication

Have you ever longed to be vindicated after an unprovoked attack? Having someone come alongside of you and take up your cause can be life-giving. In contrast, standing alone against oppression can absolutely flatten your soul. To hear someone articulate your defense is what everyone desires in such moments. If you have ever defended a friend against an attacker, you are a blessing. Friends don’t let friends stand alone.

Our Psalmist today is in that exact spot. He is alone in his situation and looks to God for vindication. What better friend could we have than the Lord to stand with us?

Psalm 43 (New Revised Standard Version)

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
    against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
    deliver me!
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
    why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully
    because of the oppression of the enemy?

In God’s timing, the vindication is not immediately given. We don’t know why. Perhaps the Psalmist needed to learn how to defend himself. Perhaps God was teaching him something. Certainly patience and trust in the waiting times are things we learn when we cry out to God and have to wait for an answer.

That is exactly where our Psalmist lands. He knows what to do, where to go, and who will deliver him as he waits and asks for help.

O send out your light and your truth;
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
    and to your dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise you with the harp,
    O God, my God.

This statement of loving trust is beautiful. He calls out for God to send light and truth. He asks to be led up the holy hill where he will worship at God’s altar with exceeding joy. Already he is anticipating that vindication is coming.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.

He remembers God’s help and reassures himself that he doesn’t need to be cast down. Hope returns, and he is comforted.

Do you know what to do, where to go, and who to wait for when you are feeling beat down? Do you trust God to hear when you cry out for deliverance? Do you anticipate his coming, even in the waiting?

God is your refuge and strength. Keep seeking his light and his truth. When the time is right, he will defend your cause and deliver you from deceit and unjust treatment. So go to the altar and wait. Praise God with joy and wait. Lift up your head and wait.

Hope in God! He is your help and salvation, and he’s on his way.

Hope Dawns by Paul J. Clifford

Mood Rings

Readers of a certain age might be interested to know that mood rings are BACK. I recently visited my hip young niece, and was surprised to see one on her hand. Some of us can remember this amazing fad from our own youth.

For the uninformed, a mood ring is a ring made with thermochromatic liquid crystals that change color with changes in temperature of the ring finger. These colors are thought to be a reflection of the wearer’s emotions. For example, a blue ring indicates that the wearer is calm and relaxed. Yellow signals nervousness and unhappiness, while black….well, run fast if your friend’s ring goes black. Black reveals someone who is tense, nervous, overworked, harassed, and stressed. I once had a boss who wore a mood ring. It was very helpful to us peons. The word would spread through the restaurant that the “RING IS BLACK” and we would all scurry into the corners until he went back into his office. That ring probably saved our lives.

Everyone has a bad day. Everyone wakes up in the occasional bad mood. But whether we choose to stay there or not….THAT is the question.

Lamentations 3

19-21 I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
    the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
    the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
    and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

22-24 God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
    his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
    How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
    He’s all I’ve got left.

Sometimes the only way out of a bad mood is to simply acknowledge it, and then REMEMBER. Remember that God’s loyal love never runs out. Remember that his merciful love can never dry up. Remember that he is our hope and our faithful savior. Remember.

25-27 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
    to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
    quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
    to stick it out through the hard times.

The niece with the mood ring is going through a very hard time right now. This scripture speaks right into her situation…it is a good thing when you are young to stick it out through the hard times. I venture to say that it is also a good thing when you’re OLD to stick it out through the hard times.

28-30 When life is heavy and hard to take,
    go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
    Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
    The “worst” is never the worst.

Did you hear that? The “worst” is never the worst. Hang in there, black mood-ring-wearers. Blue is coming soon. Remember where your hope comes from. Things may be dark for a night, but hope comes in the morning. Don’t ask questions: just wait for hope to appear.

HopeRise by Michelle Robertson

Star Counter

Sometimes when my problems feel overwhelmingly big, I try to remember that there are much bigger things:

God’s love for me

God’s prevenient grace

God’s ability to carry my burden

God’s willingness to fix me

God’s creation around me

God’s warrior skills.

Living at the beach provides a constant reminder of how small we are. I stand at the edge of the ocean and watch its power. The waves follow one after the other, the sun sets, and the moon pulls the tide. I have nothing to do with that. Yet I live my life as though I am in control.

The ocean teaches me that it is a fool’s errand to think such things. The water moves on its own accord, set into motion by the God of creation. The beauty around me reminds me that every trial, every tragedy, every misstep, every betrayal, and every hardship we will ever know is smaller than the one who not only counts the stars, but KNOWS THEM BY NAME.

Psalm 147 (New King James Version)

Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful.

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.

He counts the number of the stars;
He calls them all by name.

Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
His understanding is infinite.
The Lord lifts up the humble;
He casts the wicked down to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
Sing praises on the harp to our God,
Who covers the heavens with clouds,
Who prepares rain for the earth,
Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.

What does that say to you today? If he knows the name of every star, surely he knows yours. And the name of your enemy. And the name of your battle. And the names of your family. Listen, he even knows your cat’s name.

If knowing the names of the stars matters to God, how much more do you matter to him? His understanding is infinite. He is mighty in power. In the smallness of our mess, God steps in and binds up wounds and heals the brokenhearted.

Whatever you’ve got today, know this: God’s got you. Whatever is defeating you, remember that God has already won your battle. Whatever is making you feel hopeless, turn to God, who created the universe and is your HOPE.

So sing praise in your darkness, and lift high the name of the Lord in your brokenness. Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Photo courtesy of NASA/Hubble Space Telescope