In Difficult Times
When we experience challenging times its quite easy to wonder “why me” or exclaim “not again.” And unless you have been living under a rock, the recent past has presented plenty of causes for anxiety. You might even be wearied out from life’s happenings.
I have often observed that it does not take much effort to walk through life when times are easy, and everything seems to go your way. So, what do we do when life is the opposite of what we expect or desire? We definitely need more than cliché sayings or positive self-talk to get through these difficult times.
Followers of Christ will find peace and comfort in the knowledge that God is aware of and in control at all times. We should also remember the cosmic reality that our lives are mostly likely going to marked with times of difficulty and suffering. This week I read a quote which offered a faith-strengthening perspective.
It was found in the notes of Andrew Murray, written during a time of painful difficulty.
First, He brought me here; it is by His will I am in the strait place; in that fact I will rest.
Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace to behave as His child.
Then, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.
Last, in His good time He can bring me out again – how and when He knows. Let me say I am here,
(1) By God’s appointment.
(2) In His keeping.
(3) Under His training
(4) For His time.
Consider the graphic above this article. It reflects the response we can hold in times of difficulty. We can place roots down to nourish ourselves in the grace of God, or we can turn upward and away in bitterness over the tough time, depriving ourselves of the power of His grace. Recall that even our Lord Jesus suffered, and the scripture tells us he learned from it. Should we expect any less or respond any differently?
If you are in need of encouragement or assistance in prayer or wish to learn more about life as a disciple of Jesus Christ, contact us here at Assembly of The King.
Every Spiritual Blessing
Today’s reading brought to mind the extent to which the Father has blessed his children. Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
This is a weighty statement the apostle wrote to the church. In Christ, we have every spiritual blessing.
Have you ever had the experience of trying to choose a gift for someone who has been in your life for a very long time? Often it becomes a difficult task because that person likely has “everything.” We cannot think of a single thing they need and either we give up or just hand them some cash.
In Christ, we have everything we could ever want. This is a truth worth meditating upon to appreciate its depth. We are in a position where every possible need and desire is met. What difference would it make in our lives if we actually lived from that reality.
The consumer culture can affect us by creating in us a spirit of lack and scarcity and keeps us hooked by only offering temporary and empty solutions. Fully embracing this mindset could lead to minimizing or forgetting the blessings already attained for us in Christ.
This is part of the inheritance of every believer. To understand we have every spiritual blessing in Christ. John, in his gospel, at John 1:12 writes ‘to all who did receive him [Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born of God.” Those who have believed in the name of Jesus, in his person, or in his position; have as their possession a place of a child of God. What an amazing gift. And one that God has purposed from the beginning of time. This blessing is no afterthought.
As time and circumstances unfold in the days ahead, choose to rest in the reality of your spiritual blessings. This reality pushes into and transcends all physical things.
Join us every Sunday at 11:00am Eastern time for more discussion on our place in God’s purposes.
Normal Has Changed
“I just want things to go back to normal.” These words were uttered by one of the characters in an episode of the CBS TV series Blue Bloods. In the scene, the DA and ADA were trying to get a teen who witnessed the murder of her boyfriend to testify in court. She was struggling between her desire to see her boyfriend’s killer punished and the possibility of suffering gang retaliation for testifying. As she turned it all over in her mind, she just dropped her head into her hands, broke down in tears and said “I just want things to go back to normal.”
Likely most of us have said these words either out loud or silently over the past few years. If you are living in the United States in the recent past you have experienced the public life affected by vigorous debates about what the public schools should teach about the country’s history, the spread of SARS COV-2, policies about becoming vaccinated against SARS COV-2, the effectiveness of the SARS COV-2 vaccine, claims of fraud in the election process, whether the January 6 assault on the US Capitol was incited by President Trump, and whether or not police agencies are corrupt and racist. There are many more that can be added to this list. Masks anyone?
To the degree that your daily life has been changed over the past 2 years, to that extent you likely are experiencing the effects of what many are calling a new normal. What is normal? Normal may be defined as that which is usual, typical, or expected. It references that which is consistent or common in the life of the individual and society.
Now if you have lived for a few decades or more, you probably can look back over your life and acknowledge that what was once normal is no longer the case. Between changed family circumstances, employment, physical location, or maybe the state of your health, change is normal as is often said. As these changes occur, we reflect, we adjust and for the most part move on. And in most of these cases we feel some measure of control and even responsibility in how these changes occur. So, in part we initiate and manage the circumstances of our change.
In the case of widespread societal changes, many of us may have little if any change or control to what is happening around us.
An interesting thing happens to us humans when things begin to change. We assess. One of the things we do is assess whether the situation is a threat to our being, our survival. And when something is perceived as a threat, a reaction is triggered called fight or flight. In some situations, this happens instantaneously, like when you accidentally step into the path of an oncoming vehicle. You don’t think about it, your body reacts for you, and you get out of the way. In other circumstances we may be able to take the time to react and assess the situation. This is especially crucial in situations where a situation that is perceived to be an emergency, is not truly an emergency and a situational assessment is more advantageous than an immediate reaction.
It is also interesting to consider what happens physiologically during the fight or flight response. The body releases several hormones and chemicals which induce a heightened state of alertness. Basically, it is a stress response. There is a danger though. If we remain in this heightened state of alert, we then become anxious and overwhelmed. Let that sit with you for a moment. Constantly living in a heightened state of alert, anxious and overwhelmed. Perhaps you have seen one of those nature shows where a prey animal is aware it is being stalked by a predator and walks haltingly, eyes constantly darting about. This is not the way our Creator designed us to live. Proverbs 14:30 reads “a tranquil heart is life to the body.” Tranquility in this sense is a state of wholeness or peace.
I imagine individuals who serve in combat zones, prisoners, emergency services personnel, individuals living in abusive relationships all experience life in this way to some extent.
Now remember what we shared at the outset. Consider some of the issues in the center of the public conversation. All these things in some way or another have upset the public perception of what is normal. Questioning how to teach the country’s history is an idea that many would rather not even consider. Discussions about the origins of SARS COV-2 can cause stress. Is the solution offered by the pharmaceutical industry a safe solution? For the most part, until the January 6th storming of the US Capitol, this country has seen a peaceful transfer of power. Things like that only happened in other countries and appeared on YouTube videos. Also with the ubiquity of personal video devices it is evident that some law enforcement officers are unethical, commit crimes and abuse their power in the exercise of their duties. What was deemed to be unusual has now become normal.
Consider that these few things have all become condensed into a relatively short period of time. And for many of our neighbors they are stressful. And for some of our neighbors, these conditions which some perceive as recent changes have been their normal for many more years than some of us realize.
So now we have a proliferation of helps arising to help us make sense of this new normal. Organizations are discussing how to help their members develop coping skills. The term “post-pandemic” has become a part of our vocabulary as we seek to navigate life under new circumstances with new threats. Threats trigger stress.
If you have stayed with me this far, perhaps you can agree that no facet of our personal lives have been spared the impact of this ongoing stress.
Do you feel equipped to manage assess and manage life circumstances so that you are not constantly living in a heightened state of alertness?
Over the past few years, I have begun to appreciate how much more we need to the church, the body of Christ, the household of God to fulfill its purpose as a place of refuge. Sadly in some circumstances, the church has become as a contributor to the stress rather than a salve for healing. We need to ask of one another “how are you doing,” and then listen. We need to take more time to think deeply on the impact of our words and positions. We need to understand that the Gospel transcends the national conversation. We are not rule makers, we are to shine the light of Christ into all corners of our community.
When I think of all that God promises to be to His people; protector, provider, place of refuge, shepherd – that He is one who accompanies us even in dark times, it is clear we can do better.
Jesus is God, who came to dwell with us as a man to show us how to live with one another with his life. He brought calm to those whose hearts were yearning for relief from their burdens, where oftentimes condemnation was offered. He acknowledged the fears and weaknesses of humanity while inviting those he encountered to walk into the way and the life that would lead to a divine communion that sustains through all adversity until the full consummation of the kingdom of God.
In the years following Christ’s ascension to glory, the new church community faced many challenges. What was normal underwent radical change. The standard or routine of life evolved. Read the letters to the churches, read the book of Acts and it is clear that they were constantly making adjustments and dealing with some intense issues involving many of the same cultural and societal forces at work today. Personally, I believe that those who prospered where those who kept their eyes on the risen Lord and remained open to his direction. They were not isolated from nor immune to the difficulties of life and the burdens common to men. This too is another reality the church must face as it navigates the times. We were not promised a rose garden. We are assured of victory. We were not assured a life free of difficulty or opposition.
However, we have been warned of where the battlefront exists and even how to overcome the enemy. When we view our brother, our neighbor, someone of a different ethnicity, or someone who has a different opinion on the economy, or the political flavor of the day as the enemy, we only increase stress and uncertainty. For if, refuge cannot be found in the household of God, where can it be found!
In the life of the believer, what is normal is that no matter whether things change or remain the same, we are in Christ and God is faithful to His word to sustain us through all things. We overcome in faithfulness. We endure to the end.
We invite you to join us in a journey to rediscover the caring and supportive life found in the household of God. We meet on Sundays at 11am to enjoy community life. Together we will work through life’s challenges so that no one walks in constant stress.
The Foolishness of the Cross - Unity
In the opening to his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul writes the community of believers to remind them of their calling, their salvation, and the need for unity. He wraps this message up in the foolishness of the cross.
Apparently, believers within the church had begun to attach themselves to various personalities in the body to the extent that Paul had to ask them about the source of their quarrels. (1 Cor. 1:12) Paul reasons with them by asking if any of them were baptized in the name of anyone other than the Christ. Or, if any of these other individuals were crucified for them. Or was it Christ?
Powerful words today in a world obsessed with celebrity personalities and influential individuals who seek to elevate their status by acquiring followers. The body of Christ is no place for this manner of divisive spirit. No individual, no matter how ‘great a man of God’ they may seem to be deserves our adoration and devotion. For we were not baptized in the name of any name other than the Son Christ Jesus. He is the one who was lifted up and crucified and it is by His name we are saved. He is the one we follow. We belong to His church.
Paul goes on to argue that this idea of a crucified Savior may seem to be foolish to man. Indeed, the Jews believed that one hung on a tree is accursed. They sought a miracle or sign, certainly deliverance from the cross, which would identify their messiah. The Romans and Greeks could not believe that a seemingly defeated leader, one whom they put to death, could be the way of salvation. Yet Paul shows that the thing foolish with men is God’s wisdom. God chose that which seemed weak, of low status, and foolish to accomplish his will. The world would choose that which is strong, of noble birth, and wise.
The gospel message and God’s means of salvation on the face appears to be simplistic. That is, if it is approached and evaluated with human wisdom and logic. Just as the ancient Greeks, many today pride themselves on their command of logic and the latest sophisticated beliefs. Many of these are really nothing more than a recycling of the teachings of rebellious spirits.
What God has done for those of who have placed their faith in Christ Jesus, who is our “righteousness, and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30) is given us a cause to ‘boast in the Lord.’ (1 Cor. 1:31)
Let not this world with its shifting standards, its cult of personality, nor its fallen wisdom shake your faith in the one appointed for our salvation. Let not its facades fool you into believing it over the Word of God. In Jesus we rest assured that we are rich, not lacking in any gift, and we shall be sustained, being found guiltless in the day of the Lord. (1 Cor. 1:7, 8)
The Kingship of Jesus
We are living in a time of momentous events. Over the past 12 months our lives and routines have been upended by a global pandemic. The unexpected impact has disturbed the collective psyche of our communities. In the midst of this, the ever shifting responses of national leaders and muddled messages of policy makers and experts have increased the anxiety of many. Issues of police brutality, racial injustice, economic insecurity, and mental health have been brought to the forefront of the national conversation. Through this all we have been expected to carry on with the usual concerns and affairs of daily living.
With all of this in mind, it is understandable that we are looking for answers. We need a way out and many expect our leaders to formulate and present a path forward that eases our concerns.
Here in the United States, the recent election cycle has aroused strong passions about who should lead. We have witnessed lies, exaggerations, and manipulation of the masses on a level that many have never before seen. Extreme viewpoints have emerged to take center stage. Proponents from every political affiliation and all flavors in between believe theirs is the cause of what is just and right. They whip out what they believe to be persuasive arguments and categorically and caustically dismiss those who fail to walk lockstep with every line of their logic.
Sadly in some circles these views have begun to compete and in some cases been merged with the name of Jesus. To listen and observe, the impression is given that Jesus Christ would endorse the platform of the Democrats or the Republicans. Or perhaps He is actually backing the candidates they put forward. To top it off, alongside endorsing the philosophical and political party lines, we hear many say ‘God is still on the throne.’ The disturbing reality is that these words seem to be spoken in a tone of resignation. As if, well if all else fails we still have God.
Is this the proper viewpoint? Is this the impact the reality of the kingdom of God should have in the life of one who has placed his or her faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior? Is the kingdom of God a fallback position, a backstop for when all else has failed?
We should acknowledge that our varied backgrounds and life experiences can color our expectations and desires for equity, justice, and security. It is easy to formulate a plan which seems to be reasonable, fair, and solves problems and believe it is God’s way. However, we must understand that the kingdom is God’s and Jesus is Lord, not for our own temporal concerns. It is to His name and glory, until every knee is bowed before the Lord and every heart fully submitted to Him.
While current events may seem to be unprecedented, in reality they are nothing new. Pandemics, epidemics, economic instability, oppression, racism, injustice, corrupt and failed leaders --- all of these have been the burden of society ever since the rebellion in the Garden of Eden. So too, the answer has always been the same. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33
The kingdom of God has been and is the answer to all that afflicts humankind. Jesus’ words in this section of scripture are noteworthy because they go to the root cause of many of our problems. Anxiety. Anxiety over how our lives will unfold. He reduces the anxieties of life into a few major concerns. “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink, nor for your body, as to what you will put on.” (Matthew 6:25) That’s it in a nutshell. All that would consume us in anxious concern centers around these things. Jesus did not say we should not be interested in meeting these needs. He did not say we should not take steps to address these needs. He did not speak to minimize the reality of our concerns. He did say we should not be worried or anxious. And what is anxiety? Anxiety is an apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness over an impending or anticipated event.
Is not this what many of us have felt in this current season? Anxiety over COVID, anxiety about a job, anxiety over the election, anxiety over conspiracies, anxiety over when school will resume, anxiety over when we can travel again, and so on.
Again Jesus speaks to the heart of the matter as read from Matthew 6:27, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” Wow! Just stop and marinate in that thought.
Then He follows up with a revelation to some, a reminder to us all. “For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” Well duh! What He has given us is found back in verse 33. Rather than live in anxious concern, seek first the kingdom and ‘His righteousness.’ Seek the righteousness of God. Seek His favor. Seek to know and fully comprehend His ways and His justice.
I believe included in God’s justice is God’s timing. God always intervenes at a time, the time that is best for all persons and matters that are involved in an issue. And that is one thing that we as humans cannot say. Our timing is awful. Our understanding of matters is severely limited. We almost expect to live with unintended consequences and collateral damage. Not so with God.
And yet again, here we are in a season where many are responding as if we are presented with something new, something unseen, outside the realm which God can redeem. Based on how so many are responding, this would appear to be the case. Add in human sinfulness which is involved in racist and unjust actions, and we can begin to see the underpinnings of much of what we have witnessed of late.
It is at this point, that I wish to address a related outcome of succumbing to anxiety. The belief that we must take matters into our own hands, in the name of Jesus, to fix all that ails mankind. The idea that the faithful are called to impose the will of God upon a nation and its citizens. How quickly we forget that this is another failed attempt at human independence, a failure to submit to God, and an exaggerated sense of importance.
The most qualified individual to rule mankind has already walked this earth in the person of Christ Jesus. He did so at a time when the Roman Empire dominated his land and his people. People lived under oppression, injustice, and their lives were cheap. The wealthy took advantage of the poor. The political leaders were corrupt and the religious leaders viewed themselves as above the commoner.
So imagine when Jesus appeared on the scene. He spoke of justice and the equality of man. He fed the hungry, healed the sick and expelled the unclean spirits. Surely here is the candidate to take on the mantle of leadership. Let’s get this guy to run for office. Let’s take over! “So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. - John 6:15.
And again when Jesus was wrongfully arrested and tried. Brought before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, the issue of kingship is raised. Pilate asked Jesus in John 18:33, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Let me frame it in today’s language. Jesus are you a Democrat or are you a Republican? Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world… My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36) Think of the impact of Jesus’ reply. Jesus said His kingdom is does not derive its legitimacy from the institutions of men. It is not from this place. It is out of and above this world.
The argument he puts forth is telling too. In that same verse 36, Jesus argues, if My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over.” Whoa! If we were from here and about this life, yeah there would be a fight. Hmmm. The import of Jesus’ reply was quite clear. His kingdom is not advanced by carnal weapons.
This is a truth that many who call on the name of Jesus fail to understand. The history of religion is littered with examples of the sad and harmful outcome when the power of the State is wedded with the ecclesiastical authority. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the limitations of our fallen natures. God has not endorsed any of men’s governments or leaders no matter how lofty or pure their platforms appear to be. Truthfully God never intended us to rule apart from Him. He does not need our placeholders. He has tolerated them for a time. But we dishonor His name and reputation to allow that these failed substitutes can ever approach anything close to what He has in mind.
So what are we to do? Each of us are called to be a bearer of light. To allow the transformative power of the gospel and a life submitted to Jesus to shine in our spheres of influence. To demonstrate the power of God in our lives. To use our time and resources to render aid and relieve the suffering of one another. Jesus did not enlist the Roman legions to force discipleship upon society. After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the young church was a persecuted church because of their gospel preaching. They did not seek to seize power nor curry favor with the powers of their day. Their influence was felt because of a Holy Spirit directed and empowered manner of living. The framework was provided to address every spirit and “ism” which can divide mankind. In a living breathing community of believers they faced up to the challenge of submitting all things to the life of Christ.
We invite you to connect with us as we explore the depth of God’s riches and wisdom as revealed in the gospel and person of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Walking Into Relationship with Christ
Introduction to a series of messages on my journey from religious tradition into an ongoing relationship with Christ.
Seeing The Lord in Changing Times
Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others – Jonathan Swift
Current events call for us to feed our faith and not fear. One way to do this is by calling to mind and remembering the promises of God. All believers have a testimony. We have seen the promises of God fulfilled in our lives and the lives of others around us. Look closely, and you may even find you have overlooked His hand manifesting itself on a daily basis.
When we dwell upon the negativity and despair that dominates the media airwaves, we feed fear not faith, and we enable anxiety instead of strengthening hope.
There are real concerns as we are living in rapidly changing times. One only has to reflect upon how life was 12 months ago, and compare it to today to understand. Our lives and daily routines have been significantly altered. Weddings, funerals, celebrations, work schedules, school schedules, large gatherings, family visits, dining out, vacations and so many other activities have been forever changed.
This is why our vision and focus is even more important. Where you look determines your outcome. This is literally true for the race car driver and the pilot landing the plane. Each must look ahead to where they are going and not be distracted by the environment around them.
Worshipers of God have always been a people of vision. The vision was always based on the presence and promises of God. These provided the foundation of faith.
When Jesus invited his disciples to get into the boat and cross the sea, they trusted and followed Him. (Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-23) In the course of that trip a raging storm popped up that caused them to give way to fear. Jesus was sleeping. They looked at the storm and imagined that they were about to die. If we are familiar with the account, we know that Jesus woke up and with a word, He rebuked the storm. His words to the disciples afterward were telling, as he questioned their faith. The proper response was faith, not fear. For a few moments they lost the vision. For if they had remained focused on their Lord, they would not have given way to fear.
Again our faith is based on an understanding of God’s relationship to His people. He is true to His covenant promises. In Joshua 23:14, the aged Joshua reminded the people that ‘not one word’ of all that God had promised the people failed. Not one word! Can that be said of any of the individuals, organizations, institutions, or movements which are vying for your support?
I will end with these words taken from When the World Stops. Words of Hope, Faith, and Wisdom in the Midst of the Crisis by Michael L. Brown, PhD.
- Fear paralyzes; faith liberates.
- Fear brings death; faith brings life.
- Fear brings torment; faith brings peace.
- Fear listens to the devil’s lies; faith listens to God’s truth.
- While fear is irrational, faith is rational.
- While fear is natural, faith is supernatural.
- Fear looks at earthly circumstances and anticipates worst-case scenarios; faith looks at God’s promises and anticipates ultimate victories.
- Fear is fundamentally a denial of the existence of the God of the Bible; faith is founded on who He is and what He does.