In Life, In Death, In Suffering, “Fear Not, For I Am With You”

Today is Saturday, the sixth of March, 2021, in the second week of Lent.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,004

29 days until Resurrection Sunday

It’s the weekend! And, as is my custom, I find it hard to sleep past 6:30 in the morning, these days, even when I stay up until midnight playing games. So I’m up early, blogging. This doesn’t mean I will finish early, as I typically dawdle and get distracted by other things on weekend mornings. I’ll probably be hurrying to finish in time to go to our WW Workshop, which happens at 10:30, this morning.

We will also return to our practice of picking up the grocery order from Walmart Neighborhood Market immediately after WW, since C has returned to the office for work. Grocery runs, while she was was working from home, could occur at random times, usually dependent on our supply of grapes and bananas, our two favorite fruits.

Last night, we made our Pecan-crusted Buttermilk Chicken for dinner. It’s been a while since we made that. We haven’t forgotten how, though, and it is still delicious. And, as always, we have leftovers for lunch today.

There are no other plans for the day, nor are there any for tomorrow, outside of our 10:15 church on Zoom gathering. We have been discussing plans for next weekend, as I seem to have a birthday coming up. Next Saturday is my birthday. We have not managed to come up with anything, yet, and, at this point, don’t even know what days we might plan to take off from work. The problem is two-fold (at least). One is that, in the past, celebrations and trips always centered around food and eating. Or at least that was a major part of the planning. Our eating habits have changed drastically in the past year, obviously, so there is not so much excitement surrounding that. The other thing is that I’m not terribly enthusiastic about going anywhere a few days after the Covid restrictions in Texas have been lifted. I have no desire to be around the masses of people who will, no doubt, be flooding places.

Also, the week after my birthday is Spring Break for most places, which is why we decided not to go to Glen Rose or Galveston for part of the week. So, we may just take off a few days and hang around the house. Maybe try to play a round of golf or go bowling, even. Of course, another issue (did I say “two-fold?”) is that, after sixty-something birthdays, they just don’t mean as much any more. I don’t even have a wish list for birthday presents. And, of course, the Friday after my birthday is the day I get part two of the Covid vaccine. So there’s a chance I will not be feeling well Friday night into Saturday of that weekend.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

"Father, I abandon myself
into your hands.
Do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you.
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul.
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands
without reserve
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father."
Charles de Foucauld

Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the earth and all living things join in. Let the rivers clap their hands in glee! Let the hills sing out their songs of joy before the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with fairness.
(Psalms 98:7-9 NLT)

Today I am grateful:

  • For the weekend, to rest and refresh for the upcoming work week
  • That, when I am tempted, You always give me a way out
  • That I have been born from above, born of the Spirit
  • That You have shown me the path of life
  • That all suffering will eventually end

Scriptures and Prayers from Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year

LENT – DAY 16

INVITATION

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does.
(Psalms 145:13 NIV)

Spend a moment thanking God for His trustworthiness and faithfulness.

BIBLE SONG

A psalm of David.

Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
(Psalms 29:1-4 NIV)

The voice of the LORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King forever. The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.
(Psalms 29:9-11 NIV)

BIBLE READING

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
(John 3:1-8 NIV)

DWELLING: SILENCE AND MEDITATION

There is a lot of depth in this passage from John. The phrase “born again” became very popular when I was a teen, in the mid-seventies. But even then, I don’t think we quite understood what it meant. It was just a euphemism for “saved.” What was “saved?” It meant that we had “invited Jesus into our hearts.”

At the risk of upsetting some folks, there are problems with that whole philosophy. For one thing, there is nothing in Scripture about “inviting Jesus into your heart.” But we are people who need formulas; we need things to be simple and “boxy,” so it’s easier to “sell.” It’s easier to market something that has one, two, three easy steps, and you’re done.

Unfortunately this does not reflect the truth of the Christian life. It may be “simple,” to a degree, but there are no quick and easy steps to it, as it is a lifetime of struggle, kind of like the ups and downs of a roller coaster ride.

But back to the Scripture above. The phrase “born again,” would be more literally translated “born from above.” Jesus even explains it, in verse 5, as being “born of water and the Spirit.” Being born of water is the first birth, the human birth. Being born of the Spirit is the second birth, “born again,” or “born from above.”

And there is a chilling pronouncement made by Jesus, here. First, in verse 3, as He says, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

One who is not born of the Spirit might be walking around in the middle of God’s kingdom, and never see it.

Then, in verse 5, He goes even further to say that, unless one is born of the Spirit, one cannot enter God’s kingdom.

This is why I have long believed that, without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to fully understand the Bible. Sure, there are parts that a non-believe could read and grasp. But the deeper things within, the deeper aspects of God’s kingdom, cannot be seen, cannot be grasped, cannot be entered into, unless one is born of the Spirit.

How, then, does this occur? If it doesn’t happen by inviting Jesus into my heart, as we were so fond of saying, then how?

That’s where it gets more complicated, and yet so simple. It happens by believing. Believing and embracing. If you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved, says Paul, in Romans 10. And, there is the declaration that Jesus is Lord, as well.

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
(Romans 10:10 NIV)

But even the faith to believe and declare is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Father, I praise You for the gift of faith and belief. Everything came together in my life to lead me to this point. I could have easily not been born into a family of faith, or even in a country where faith is encouraged. I shake my head and wonder, sometimes, at how You worked my life out. Forgive me for not being more serious about it, and for not living to my potential in Your kingdom. As I recall yesterday’s readings, I am, indeed, fully persuaded that You have the power to accomplish everything that You promise. Your will will be done, on earth as in heaven. How much involvement I have in that is entirely up to me, it seems. Strengthen me to do the right things; draw me closer into You, Lord, through the life of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. I wait for You, Lord, my whole being waits, and in Your Word do I put my hope!

"God of new birth,
may the mysterious wind of your Spirit
blow in my heart today.
May new life,
born again in the womb of the Spirit,
grow in me,
as I live my life in the presence
and power of your kingdom.
Amen."
(Canon of Dort 3/4, 12)

BLESSING

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
(Psalms 130:5 NIV)

“Furthermore, tell the people, ‘This is what the LORD says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.'”
(Jeremiah 21:8 NIV)

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
(Deuteronomy 30:15-16 NIV)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
(John 10:10 NIV)

And there it is. Life and death. There are two roads; two choices, and this is a choice that is made once, but it is also a choice that is made daily. For even though I have made the permanent choice to walk in the way of Christ, who is The Life, I must also daily choose to remain on that path.

Don’t misunderstand me . . . I don’t believe I can lose my salvation. I am, once again, fully persuaded that God is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him. But I can most certainly leave the path by making poor choices each day. He will always guide me back, sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently. I have, in my lifetime, experienced both.

But here’s the thing. 1 Corinthians 10:13. I have no excuse. “I couldn’t help myself,” is never a true statement.

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
(1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT)

Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.
(Revelation 2:10 NLT)

Christ tells the Christians at Smyrna the same thing that He has told us, time and time again, throughout the Bible, and throughout history. “Don’t be afraid.” But fear is part of suffering, is it not? “Fear of the unknown, fear of isolation, fear of death? But Christ is with us. Do not fear.”

What does the psalmist say in Psalm 56?

But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.
(Psalms 56:3 NLT)

Any suffering that we may encounter is temporary. “Ten days” is just an expression for a “brief time.” Our suffering is limited, temporary.

Even if it ends in our death, it ends. And our death is the gateway to our eternal existence. “Suffering has an end because Christ suffered, died, and lives again.” This is not a call to stoicism; it is not a call “just to grit our teach and carry on; it is a promise of a companion and a presence.”

(From This Hallelujah Banquet, by Eugene H. Peterson)

Thank you, Jesus, for Your promise to always be with us. This promise gives us hope, and gives credibility to Your command to fear not. I am less likely to be afraid when I remember that You have promised to be there. “Fear not, for I am with You,” the Father says. May You help me always remember this, no matter what I am going through in my life.

This morning, Lord, I pray that Your Church would work more intentionally for the common good and benefit of all people. Sadly, there are many, today, who insist on holding on to their “rights” to do whatever they want. Change our hearts, Lord, that we may surrender those rights to You and do what is best for all people. I pray that all who are part of Your kingdom would experience the deepest sense of love and community. And I pray that, as it is that time of week, that Your Word would be preached effectively wherever it is spoken over the next few days.

I pray for peace in our nation, peace in our world. I pray for racial injustice to end, and I pray for the pandemic to be over. Above all else, though, I pray for Your will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10 NLT)

Grace and peace, friends.