A Comfort During the Worst of Times

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ESV

I was broken, physically broken. I had sustained a major shoulder injury the previous summer at military training. I re-injured it first semester and here, second semester, I had re-injured it again. This time was the worst by far. I had been on constant painkillers for a couple of months but they didn’t do much for the pain. I wasn’t able to sleep except when my body became so physically exhausted I basically collapsed. And the damage done to my shoulder was firing signals all throughout my nervous system, leading to spasm like occurrences on a regular basis. My grades plummeted, my military contract was put on hold, and I even had a talk with the Dean for Academic Affairs about how leaving school might affect my scholarship status. This was as low as I had ever been.

But I had also come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ at about the same time the injury happened. It was that relationship that sustained me. It kept me moving forward. My rare moments of peace usually came when I was reading my Bible, a gift from my girlfriend (now my wife), as she encourage my new faith. Starting in Genesis, I realized that a lot of folks had it bad. God was with them. Even when they chose actions to separate themselves from Him, He was still there if they had a relationship with Him. When I read about Hannah, my jaw dropped. She had been miserable for many years. She just wanted a son. But there was a timing involved. Samuel was her son. And he had to come along at the right time to foster the events that led to King David being chosen. She received her comfort during one of her bitterest moments.

If you are a Christian, you have a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you are hurting, He is available. He is the God of all comfort, as Paul wrote. God comforts us, which then prepares us to comfort those who are afflicted. Even in our affliction, God has a plan. Sometimes we are in a bad place because we must learn how God works so we can be the one there for someone when they are in a tough spot. We may not know who. We may not know when. But God tells us why. The point is, if you are in need of comfort and you have that relationship, turn to Him. Wait on Him patiently, as I wrote about yesterday. Sometimes there’s a timing to our suffering, a point beyond being a comfort to others, like with Hannah or Job or Naomi or Jeremiah. Don’t despair if you have to wait. God is there. And He will comfort. He promises.

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Wait Patiently in Times of Distress

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.  – Lamentations 3:25-27, ESV

There’s a lot going wrong in the world today. Regardless of what you believe or what your politics are, you can probably compile a list of things you wish were fixed or corrected. There are wars everywhere. People starve. Injustice still happens, even within nations who proclaim hundreds of years of an established legal system. I’m sure you could add many more. 

For the Christian, seeing so many things wrong should be distressing. We know that this isn’t the way the world should be. But sin is present in all of us and the Enemy endeavors to destroy all which God has created, including us. The reality is that we have no individual power to fix the major things. We can add our voices to the call to correction, but most of us can’t pick something and say, “I’m going to make it right,” and have the power and capability to solve the problem. 

This isn’t to say we give up. Scripture tells us to continue fighting for the orphan, the widowed, the poor. We are to be there for our brothers and sisters regardless of their state or ours. We must strive for the ideals God has called us to while realizing that there are some things we aren’t going to fix and, due to sin and the Enemy, new problems will continue to occur until Jesus’ promised return. 

The fight can become discouraging. The cost of sin, especially our personal sin, can cause us to despair. God knew this would occur with us and He used Jeremiah to put into  words that which we sometimes feel, especially when we look around and wonder what happened. The good news is Jeremiah doesn’t just describe he despair. He also provides a solution: 

Wait for the better times. Continue to seek after Christ. Do so quietly, knowing that these troubles are to be expected, that we can bear them, and that they will come to an end. 

In the rest of Lamentations Jeremiah answers the question, “How will God respond if we obey this series of commands?” God hears. God tells us not to fear. He restores and redeems us. God will correct the wrongs (warning, that means our wrongs, too). We may have doubts. We may continue to call out to God. But He will take care of the things that trouble us. And He will make us right again. What a great encouragement!

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Those Who Don’t Share Our Faith

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. – Ephesians 2:11-12, ESV

Humility is a key characteristic of the Christian faith. One of the reasons we have to be humble is what our state was before we were saved by Christ. From an eternal perspective we had no hope. If you’re like me and came to faith as an adult, you may not have believed there was a God and there was a need for salvation. However, that is where we were. 

This humility should carry over to how we treat people who don’t believe as we do. We were once the same. Even if you came to faith as a child and don’t remember a time when you didn’t believe and follow Jesus Christ, you were still in that state. Since we were in that state, we have no ground to stand on that we are in some way better, superior, or in any way above someone who doesn’t believe. The only reason we are not in that state was because God brought us out of that unbelief. 

Scripture commands us to be gentle, to be patient, to be sacrificial in our love towards others. There aren’t provisions for who we treat in this manner. We are to treat everyone with respect, kindness, and compassion. This includes those whose views are diametrically opposed to ours. 

The good news is that some of the folks who disagree with us will come to share our faith. The encouragement we can take is that God can and often will use us to reach folks who believe differently than us. If we respond to others as God commands, we may have the special privilege of seeing someone come to faith. Now that’s something to look forward to!

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Beatitudes: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

My friend and I were messing around, as 5 and 7 year-old boys are apt to do. Then we broke his grandmother’s favorite decoration. Naturally we did what boys do, we tried to fix it. We couldn’t. It was porcelain and we had broke it beyond our ability to repair. Even after it was glued back together (later), you could tell someone broke it. So next we tried to hide it. Only Ms. Alice didn’t keep a lot of decorations in her living room. We knew she’d see it. So we did what boys do next. We told Ms. Alice, who was in the kitchen, that we were going next door to play with the neighbor kids. In other words, we ran for it. 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. -Matthew 5:7, ESV

We stayed gone all day. But as it was getting towards late afternoon, we had to go back. My mom and dad would be picking me up. After all, Ms. Alice kept me so my parents could both work. We snuck into the house. No Ms. Alice waiting in the living room! We were safe. But then we saw the repaired decoration. She knew. We were done for. 

Ms. Alice didn’t say anything that day. The next morning, however, she sat us down for breakfast. “I know what you boys did,” she started. Then she explained that she wasn’t going to punish us, this time. She knew it was an accident but we didn’t tell her when it happened. That was where we were wrong. My friend and I were about as happy as we could be. Ms. Alice was a stern lady. You didn’t mess around in her house. And yet there we were, not in trouble. At the time I didn’t understand mercy. In hindsight, that’s exactly what she showed us. 

God showed us unbelievable mercy when, by His grace, He made a way for us to be forgiven for our sins. Many times He commands us to forgive and He always sticks the proviso in that we must forgive to be forgiven by Him. Forgiveness, without looking for revenge or retaliation, is mercy. The other person may deserve punishment, but we don’t deliver. We don’t deliver because we know how much we ourselves are reliant on God’s mercy and how He commands us to be merciful, like Him. 

If you want God’s mercy, you must be merciful. In this world, we hear a lot about getting even. There are plenty of movies and stories where this is the central plot. They tend to make good money. But this isn’t God’s way. If we obey Him, people are going to hurt us. They are going to take advantage of what they perceive as weakness. Only it takes more strength to hold our action, to control our emotions, and to forgive and act with mercy. The Beatitudes are our blueprint for what we should be like. Choose to be merciful. Choose God’s way. Choose His blueprint for life. 

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Beatitudes: the Right Kind of Hunger

For two days I found myself with other Air Force Officer Candidates in the field at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, equipped with a poncho, some rope, a canteen, and two Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). This was our introduction to survival training, giving us a brief taste of a school that was necessary for pilots and a few other career paths. We were the second group of candidates in that area and both groups were large, meaning anything of sustenance had already been picked clean. Two MREs don’t go very far. We were all hungry. But we knew it was only two days. At the end of it, we would be able to eat voraciously. 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. – Matthew 5:6, ESV

During those two days, we looked forward to our next physical meal. We knew it was going to be abundant. Have you ever been hungry like that? You hadn’t eaten in a day or two or had only eaten a small amount? Do you remember the satisfaction of that next big meal? Can you still recall how that full stomach felt?

Jesus described that state, only instead of physical hunger, he referred to spiritual hunger. Blessed are those who seek after righteousness. However, we’re not talking about a casual seeking. This isn’t a “when we feel like it” type of search. Jesus is describing someone who has that empty and growling belly, who wants righteousness for fulfillment and sustenance. To this person, Jesus promises satisfaction. 

There aren’t a lot of steps here. There isn’t a specific offering or a ritualistic set of words. There isn’t even a defined place or time. Jesus said those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. That’s the requirement. That’s the only requirement. If that describes you, Jesus promises that you will be satisfied. 

Put in context, this is a continuation of the other states and promises. Do you look at your spiritual state and are you sorrowful over it? Does it cause you to mourn, to cry out, “Woe is me?” Are you choosing gentleness and trust, not fretting over how folks committing evil are getting ahead, but earnestly desiring righteousness in your own life? If so, Jesus says you will be satisfied, that your hunger and thirst for righteousness will be met. Do you hunger? Do you thirst? If not, ask God to change you, to see yourself as you are to Him, to break you, so that you may meet these conditions and be blessed with the promises He has laid out. Choose to be blessed. 

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Beatitudes: Gentleness not Abrasiveness

Do you like stories where the hero or heroine is the strong, silent type? I do. I like the figure who doesn’t have to speak about how good he or she is, doesn’t have to have a lot of praise, and would prefer to quietly go about business rather than drawing attention. If you didn’t know, this is type of hero God prefers, too.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. – Matthew 5:5, ESV

Meek can also be translated gentle. We see a parallel set of verses in the Psalms:

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. – Psalm 37:8-11, ESV

We are instructed to stay away from anger, to keep away from wrath. We are told not to worry, not to dwell on how evildoers are being successful, because in the end those who trust in God will inherit the land and live in peace. That means if you’re wronged, if you feel stomped on, getting angry and raging back is not the correct path. To go down a path of fury is disobedience; it is sin.

Note that Jesus doesn’t give an exception. He doesn’t say that there’s a point where it’s okay to retaliate back. In Psalm 37, we are told that even when we don’t have as much (verse 16), it’s better than being wicked and having a lot. We are reminded that God won’t forsake us, but will lift us up (verse 34). Therefore, God is telling us we don’t have any reason to think or believe that we need to be like the wicked, especially when it comes to retaliation. We are to be meek, gentle, and trust that God will take care of those who get ahead by evil deeds.

If you think about it, it takes a lot of strength to quietly go about doing the right thing, choosing not to fight back in the same manner, to simply trust and obey. This is why I say God prefers, nay, commands us to be the strong and silent type. This isn’t to say we aren’t to stand up and speak out when we see evil being done. The quiet warrior in movies and in print often states when something is wrong. He or she makes clear what should have happened. And Scripture is consistent in the expectation that we’re supposed to stand up for those who need our aid. We are to make clear what God commands and what is sin. Meekness isn’t wimpiness and it isn’t tolerance for sin. Meekness is quiet strength, assured by the promises of God; it is not resorting to actions in anger but responding in a measured, obedient way.

Embrace meekness. Our society today may not value it. We see antiheroes being presented as the ideal. However, society’s opinion on the matter, what the world thinks is best, isn’t important. God’s command on the subject is the only word that’s relevant. Seek to be the strong, silent type. Put aside anger and fury. Put to rest revenge. The promise is a rich inheritance. Meekness leads to Revelation 21-22. That is what Jesus holds for the ones who choose to be meek. Choose meekness and look forward to the promise.

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Beatitudes: Those Who Mourn

Have you ever been heartbroken? I mean torn up, barely holding on, even to the point of not being able to function. Often times we become this way over the loss of a loved one, especially if the loss was unexpected, though many earthly reasons abound. How wonderful it is when suddenly something or someone provides some hope, some comfort, some soothing of our pain! Jesus promises such:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  – Matthew 5:4, ESV

Let me start by saying that this verse is often used incorrectly. When we look at and interpret Scripture, it is important to do so within the context of the verses around it. Given that Matthew 5:3 is about those who are beggars spiritually, verse 4 is a continuation. Those who mourn here in this verse are those who mourn over their spiritual state. This is not about the loss of a loved one or being fired from a job or suffering a financial disaster. Those who mourn are those who are broken spiritually, those who identify with the tax collector, who cannot rise their eyes to God because they realize they are sinful men and women.

We fear being broken spiritually because we don’t want to face the pain and suffering. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. However, what Jesus promises us here is that if we are willing to be broken, if we are willing to face the pain, He will provide comfort. Brokenness, at least the pain of brokenness, will not be permanent. God will provide us a means to deal with our wretchedness. 

When you combine the promise in verse 4 with the previous promise, God has given us the opportunity for a powerful combination. We will have the kingdom of heaven and though the price for it is great pain through brokeness, God will do something about that pain, too. God has taken away our arguments against repentence. God has removed any reasonable obstacle to facing up to our sin. Our failure to do so is entirely upon us. 

Are you willing to be broken over your sin? Do not fear brokenness, for God will comfort you. Do not hold onto pride, for it will only be to your detriment. Instead, choose to be a beggar spiritually, to allow God to reveal the true difference between Him and you. embrace the situation, knowing full well the pain that will cme from it, but also knowing that God Himself will provide comfort for that pain. When we consider what God promises, if we choose what He offers, we sow the seeds for revival. Isn’t that what we want?

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