Monday, September 1, 2014

Hide and Seek

     Our grandchildren Briggs and Beckett love to play hide and seek.  They came to our home on Friday night while our son did some work and one of their first requests was to play "hide and seek".  The only problem is that Beckett, who is three, keeps revealing where someone is hiding.  When his brother Briggs is trying to hide, he goes with him and then comes back to me to show me where he is.  I have tried to explain to him that it takes all the fun out of the hunt when you tell someone where the other person is hiding, but I don't think he yet understands.  Nevertheless, they still enjoy this game.
While hiding from grandchildren brings giggles and fun, it is quite another story when it comes to hiding from God.  In fact, we can't.
A fig leaf
     Adam and Eve had a perfect environment where all their needs were met, and they enjoyed intimate, unbroken relationship with God their Creator.  Nothing could have been more idyllic until that day when they disobeyed God.  The story is told in Genesis 3.
     God had told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or they would die.  Yet, Eve chose to believe the lies of Satan who challenged God's credibility assuring Eve she would not surely die if she ate from that tree.  Tempted, she fell and enticed her husband to join her in sin.  Their fault was not eating the fruit, but in disobeying God.  So what was their response?
     First, they sewed together fig leaves to cover themselves because they knew they were naked.  In doing this, they revealed their shame.  They knew they had broken fellowship with God because He had commanded them not to eat of the tree.  The Bible tells us:  "Then the eyes of both were opened..." (Gen. 3:7a).  This is when they realized that everything was changed.  Now, instead of intimate fellowship with God, they were afraid of Him.
     Genesis 3:8-10 tells us:  "And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, 'Where are you?'  And he said, 'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'"  Now certainly the God of all creation knew where Adam and Eve were.  He wasn't asking about their geographical location, but what He wanted from them was an admission of what they had done.  They thought they would obtain freedom and be like God knowing good and evil, but instead, they were now cowering in fear before the Lord wrapped in the chains of sin.
     When they did emerge from their hiding place, they began to blame their disobedience on someone else.  Adam blamed Eve, and she blamed the snake.  However, they both knew they had transgressed against God, and ultimately, the consequence of their sin brought death into this world.
This is the history of mankind.  It all began in the Garden, but fortunately, it did not end there.
     With the judgement of God came a promise of a deliverer who would overcome sin and death.  It was a promise to Adam and Eve and fulfilled in Jesus Christ the Son of God.  He perfectly kept the Law of God as the second Adam.  There was no sin in Him, and yet, He paid the price for our sins on the cross.  His resurrection forever broke the bondage for all who believe in Him.  So why do we still hide from God today?
     People today don't hide behind trees like Adam and Eve did, but we hide nevertheless.  Some hide behind their title.  Still others hide behind fame, riches, or possessions.  People may wear a mask thinking that no one (especially God) can really see who they are or what they think.  But God does see and know where we are.  Just as He called to Adam and Eve, He calls to us "Where are you?"  Those who answer that call, confess their sins and trust in Christ alone for their salvation are set free from sin and death.  This is the Gospel plain and simple.  And yes, there is no place we can hide from God.  Read Psalm 139 written by King David to know the truth of that statement.
     While the game of "hide and seek" with our grandchildren is a source of entertainment, hiding from God is deadly serious.  Our eternal destination is at stake.  Not only is heaven for real...so is hell.  The Good News is that we can once again walk in the cool of the morning with God in rich fellowship through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  In Him, we live and move and have our being.  Selah!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Suffering Well

     Lately, in our Sunday School Class, the topic of the persecuted church has come up in discussion.  We have spent time praying for those who have to hide their faith or live in fear that they might lose their lives.  The question often comes to mind as to why these believers are called to suffer.  I wish I had a ready answer for that question, but we know that God sees a much bigger picture than we do.
     Throughout Scripture, we are aware that various churches and individuals faced the tribulations which Jesus told His disciples would come in John 16:33:  "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  We know from the book of Acts that the early church and many of the Apostles were beaten, stoned, and ultimately, killed by the authorities.  Hebrews 11 tells of their faith but also their difficulties as well.
     In Peter's letter to believers who had been scattered, he encourages them not to lose hope or faith during the persecution that they were experiencing.  His letter was written some time after Nero burned Rome.  Nero pointed to Christians as the cause of the fire which destroyed a good deal of property; therefore, believers felt their wrath.  Peter's words written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave sound wisdom as to how to face these trials:  "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.  Be sober-minded, be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore,confirm, strengthen, and establish you" ( I Peter 5:6-10).
     Nowhere in his letter does Peter come out and say why these saints were facing tribulations.  Instead, he wrote how we are to live as we walk through hard places.  We know, from what our Lord said, that we will face tribulations.  We will experience loss in this life, but Peter indicated that we need to rejoice when we share in the sufferings of Christ and for His name.  It is further proof that we belong to Him.  The comfort is in knowing that God will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us again.  This we can depend upon.
     Peter further instructs us to be humble in the face of suffering.  We are to commit ourselves to the Lord's keeping.  Our humility coupled with our steadfast faith will serve as a witness to others.  In addition, we are to pray and give our anxieties to God.  He is able when we are not.
     Finally, Peter encourages the believers to be sober-minded.  They should not panic but be on guard watching for the enemy who is looking for areas of weakness to attack.  It is so easy when we are going through hard times to let our guard down.  However, we are called to be vigilant and resist Satan.
     Speaking from my own experience, I have found the difficult valleys have increased my faithfulness in prayer and caused me to rely upon God.  Too often, we lean on our own understanding, and when we do, we are vulnerable to the attack of the enemy.  I may never know "why" God allows certain things to happen in my life, but I know Him.  He is good all the time and righteous in all His ways.  Furthermore, God cares about the death of His saints (Psalm 116:15).  He is not far from us or indifferent to our needs.  Instead, He desires us to be conformed to the image of His dear Son as we walk in this fallen world.
     Suffering comes to all people both believers and nonbelievers alike.  Our world is broken and fallen.  However, when we are in Christ, we have the hope of heaven.  God's purposes in allowing trials may not be clear to us, but we know that He is able to work all things together for good, and we can depend on Him.  Let us rejoice in Him that we have so great a salvation through Christ.  He is our defender and the lifter of our head!  Selah!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

     One of my favorite hymns is "Great Is Thy Faithfulness".  The words speak to the character of God which is unchanging, and in our ever changing day to day life, this is so reassuring.  To know that we have a God who will never leave us nor forsake us has been the hope of many during times of suffering and loss.  Certainly, this was the situation for the writer of this hymn.
     Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866.  He had a difficult adult life due to fragile health.  He was often unable to work as he was confined to bed from time to time; thus he had to push himself to work extra hours in order to make enough to live on.
     When he was 27 years old, he gave his life to Christ and found tremendous comfort in the Scriptures.  He knew God was faithful to provide for his needs, and one of his favorite verses came from Lamentations 3:22-24 which reads:  "Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning, great is Your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!”
     At the age of thirty six, Chisholm became a pastor.  Sadly, he could only serve in this capacity for a year as his health again became an issue.  He took another job as a life insurance salesman, but his devotion to the Lord grew as he wrote 1,200 poems which included several published hymns.
     While Thomas was away on a missions trip, he happened to write to a friend of his, William Runyan who was a little known musician at the time.  Several of the poems that Thomas Chisholm wrote were exchanged in the letters while he was away and one stood out to Runyan.  He was so moved by the poem that he wrote a musical score to accompany it.  As a result, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" was published in 1923.
     This hymn was not an instant success, but eventually became popular when George Beverly Shea  began singing it during Billy Graham Crusades in 1945.  Little did Thomas Chisholm know that even though he had to give up the pulpit ministry he was still able to minister through the words he had written to encourage others.  Mr. Chisholm died in 1960 at the age of 94 and left the world a testimony to the faithfulness of God.
     Reading stories about hymn writers puts life into the songs that we share in worship.  This man did not have an easy life and could easily have lapsed into depression or self-pity.  However, the key to his joy was found in a relationship to Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  This should speak volumes to us because none of us is immune from loss, sorrow, sickness or other troubles in this world.  We can either wallow in sadness or find comfort in God's Word as Thomas Chisholm did.  As we read the words to this hymn, let us rejoice in the faithfulness of God who daily meets our needs and gives us great hope for tomorrow.  Selah!
                           Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Thomas Chisholm – 1925

Great Is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father!
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Though changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Refrain:
Great Is Thy faithfulness,
Great Is Thy faithfulness,
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Refrain

Pardon for Sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Refrain