Category Archives: Encouragement

Ten minutes before the bad times end

I received some good news recently, and it was great! It made me so happy; my emotions began soaring, and the whole landscape of my world seemed brighter. I felt inspired and alive, so naturally, I did what you probably would have done in that moment—I threw up a quick prayer of thanks.

I said something like, “God, thank you for this moment. Thank you for answering prayer, and thank you for being so good.”

A little while later though, I started thinking about that prayer and I realized something. God hadn’t suddenly become good just because my bad news finally came to an end. He wasn’t an aloof, indifferent God who suddenly turned good once my good news finally arrived.

God was already good ten minutes earlier, before the good news finally found me.

It might be helpful for us to ponder this. In the middle of bad news everything seems bad, including God. And then when good news breaks through the gloom we suddenly feel like God is good again.

It’s not true. Ten minutes before the bad time ends He is still good.

At this very moment—whether you are buckling under bad news or soaring because of good news—God is at work. He is working goodness and an eternal purpose in and through your situation. Or course you probably can’t see it when everything looks bad, but it’s there. God’s purposes are still being done, and they will eventually be seen.

Romans 8:28 is a verse that often gets applied too quickly to painful situations. It is the famous passage where the Apostle Paul declares, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

We have to be careful with this passage, because it is almost impossible to see or believe in an overarching cosmic goodness when we face news of shootings, abuse, or personal loss or breakdown.

Paul wasn’t telling us that all things are good or that all things become good. They don’t. Some things are ferociously and appallingly bad. However, even amid the bad God works for the good, and if we hold steady during the bad we will eventually be reuinted with the good.

Let’s just remember when we do, that the goodness we sense from God during the good times was still there ten minutes before the bad times came to an end.

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Fear of bad news versus actual bad news

You have no doubt heard Mark Twain’s oft repeated quote: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

There is profound truth inside Mr. Twain’s witty remark, and when you and I reach our own old age, we will undoubtedly say the same thing: we will have worried about countless things that never actually happened.

The Scriptures speak to this dynamic in Psalm 112:7. It says that the righteous “will have no fear of bad news.” I love that! It doesn’t say they won’t experience bad news (we all know that everyone does); it says that they won’t fear it—they won’t worry, fret, and live out their anxieties in advance.

Yes, you and I will experience bad news in life, but we don’t need to be afraid of it in advance. First of all, if the bad news strikes, God will still be with us. And second, most of it probably won’t strike anyway.

God has delivered us…and He will deliver us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:10)

I’m not done yet (are you?)

Have you ever had an overly efficient server at a restaurant try to take away your plate before you were finished eating? Have you ever gotten into such a great conversation that you neglected to eat, and then had to tell your server, “Sorry, I’m not done yet”?

It is not uncommon in the life of faith to reach a moment when you are tempted to quit and you have to declare, “I’m not done yet”. Life can be so mysterious, perplexing, and painful that sometimes we can be tempted to lose heart and give up on our vision and our ideals. Even Jesus’ closest followers had moments like this.

Once when people were losing heart, getting offended, and bailing out on the faith, Jesus turned to Peter and the gang and said, “What about you? Will you also go away?”

Peter’s words still echo through history, instilling strength into sinking hearts. He said, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”[1]

Let’s follow Peter’s lead and let’s declare with him and the other apostles, “Jesus, we’re not done yet! We’re not jumping ship! We haven’t exhausted all of the life that you promised to give. You are the Holy One of God and our journey with you is just getting started!”

Statements like that invite courage back into the human soul. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations…courage breeds creative self-affirmation…courage faces fear and thereby masters it…we must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”[2]

Are we done yet? Not by a long shot!

 

[1] John 6:68-69

[2] Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1963), 119.

There is always a rescue scene

Every great epic story has a rescue scene. Whether it is evil wizards being defeated, dragons being slain, or Death Stars getting blown out of the universe, there is always a scene where the tide turns, justice and truth are finally upheld, and the heroes eventually win the day.

Have you ever wondered why?

Why does every great story have a rescue scene? For that matter, why does every great story start out with paradise being lost, evil setting up shop, and then a small band of heroes getting called upon to fight against nearly overwhelming odds? Why is there is always a moment when the beauty—there is always a beauty—gets captured and seems lost forever? Why does every epic tale have a moment when all hope is lost until someone mounts a rescue scene to finally save the day?

Because yours does.

The story of Scripture—the story in which you and I are living—is a story of paradise lost and then found; it is a story of sin’s death swallowing the world before life and love win the day. The Bible begins in Genesis with paradise lost and it ends in Revelation with paradise found and restored.

1 Corinthians 15:54 tells us the outcome of the biblical narrative: through Jesus Christ “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” The Bible is the archetype—it is the original, true-life narrative that gives form and substance to every lesser story that replays its central themes. This Easter as we re-imagine and re-engage with the Bible’s central theme let’s remember that there is a larger story—scholars call it a metanarrative—that you and I have been born into.

If hope seems lost today—if beauty seems vanquished forever—please hold steady. There is always a rescue scene.

The Temptation of St. Patrick

Hi everyone! On the Eve of St. Patrick’s Day I thought I would share an insightful, helpful article from author Stephen Mansfield about a generally unknown, but profoundly powerful scene from the life of St. Patrick. Enjoy!

“St. Patrick’s Day is approaching. There will be much beer-drinking and green-wearing to mark it. I’m moved by all of Patrick’s life but there is one episode in particular that comes back to me again and again, particularly at this time of year. It helps me. Perhaps it will help you as well.

Patrick was born in Britain late in the fourth century. Though his father was a Christian deacon and his grandfather was a priest, Patrick admitted that he was not yet a Christian when, at the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders. For six years he worked as a captive herdsman, miserable and ill fed in the often-chilly pastures of Ireland. During this time, he turned to his family’s Christian faith. When he finally escaped, he returned to Britain determined to become a priest.

He was ordained in 417 A.D. and he immediately astonished his friends by deciding to return to Ireland—the land where he had been a slave so many years. He explained that God had spoken to him in a series of dreams and had instructed him to “set the captives free” in Ireland. In the years that followed, Patrick’s fearlessness, his many miracles, and his earthy ways of expressing spiritual truth won the Irish chieftains to his God and led to the conversion of thousands.

It was just at the height of his success that a nasty, undermining church fight threatened to end his important work. Reading of it these years later we can hardly believe how such a small matter nearly overthrew the progress of this heroic man.

It seems that while Patrick was studying for the priesthood in Britain, he confessed a sin to a friend. This was the standard practice among clergymen in training and it was understood that anything confessed in private was meant to stay that way. Thirty years later, the friend to whom Patrick confessed decided to make the matter known to the church. Those who were jealous of Patrick or who were grasping for control of his work viciously used this confession against him.

Patrick was clearly wounded by this betrayal and disgusted at the valuable time he lost in defending himself—time that would have been better spent changing a nation. Patrick’s famous Confession is filled with the details of this controversy. We can hear his surprise and his hurt in the words.

They brought up against me after thirty years an occurrence I had confessed before becoming a deacon. On account of the anxiety in my sorrowful mind, I laid before my close friend what I had perpetrated on a day—nay, rather in one hour—in my boyhood because I was not yet proof against sin. God knows—I do not—whether I was fifteen years old at the time, and I did not then believe in the living God, nor had I believed, since my infancy; but I remained in death and unbelief until I was severely rebuked, and in truth I was humbled every day by hunger and nakedness.

Hence, therefore, I say boldly that my conscience is clear now and hereafter. God is my witness that I have not lied in these words to you.

But rather, I am grieved for my very close friend, that because of him we deserved to hear such a prophecy. The one to whom I entrusted my soul! And I found out from a goodly number of brethren, before the case was made in my defense (in which I did not take part, nor was I in Britain, nor was it pleaded by me), that in my absence he would fight in my behalf. Besides, he told me himself: ‘See, the rank of bishop goes to you’—of which I was not worthy. But how did it come to him, shortly afterwards, to disgrace me publicly, in the presence of all, good and bad, because previously, gladly and of his own free will, he pardoned me, as did the Lord, who is greater than all?

We can imagine how deflating this must have been. We can picture the frustration; almost feel Patrick’s pain. He had risked his life daily for his God and his church only to have the bureaucrats back home debate and nitpick every detail of his life. He was questioned about his basic morality after displaying nothing but good character for decades. He was humiliated and even considered abandoning his mission to Ireland.

In time, though, Patrick rose above the enemies of his soul. As we read his story, we find that he forgave his accusers, that he became deeply concerned for his betraying friend’s soul, and that ultimately he appealed to being forgiven by Jesus Christ. Though the church leaders would spend years astir in this matter, Patrick lovingly left them to their pitiful debates. He returned to his Irish mission in peace and became, in time, the greatest name in that land.

Here is the lesson: Leaders are not exempt from episodes of pain and offense. Instead, one of the traits of great leadership is the willingness to rise above the bitterness and strife that all leaders face and to do so in pursuit of a higher purpose.  This lesson is part of the legacy of St. Patrick and we should remember it—and seek to live out its meaning–on the day set aside to honor ‘the lion of Ireland.'”

Note: for more from Stephen Mansfiel check out his blog at: https://stephenmansfield.tv/

Beware of Bilbo’s tree

Recently, I was thinking and praying about a couple of difficult situations and a peculiar phrase came to my mind: “Don’t climb Bilbo’s tree.” As an avid Lord of the Rings fan, I immediately knew what it meant.

 

In The Hobbit (both the book and the movie) when Bilbo and his comrades were struggling to survive their trek through Mirkwood Forest they decided to have Bilbo climb a tall tree to survey their surroundings and to assess whether or not they were almost out of the woods (no pun intended).

 

They selected the largest tree they could find and hoisted the slight hobbit into its lower branches. Bilbo scurried up to the uppermost boughs, enjoyed a moment of feeling a cool breeze on his face, and then he assessed their situation. His heart sank when he gazed outward because he could see nothing but row after row of forbidding trees in every direction. Crestfallen and forlorn he descended the tree and reported to his desperate friends that they were still a very long way from their goal.

 

Unfortunately, neither Bilbo nor his companions realized that their chosen lookout tree was situated in the bottom of a valley. It was indeed a tall, sturdy tree with a reliable vantage point at the top, but its position in the valley skewed Bilbo’s perceptions when he climbed it. In actuality, the hobbit and his friends were almost out of the dangerous forest, but since his tree was in the bottom of the valley all of the surrounding trees appeared taller than their actual height and blocked his view. Had his tree been on level footing with the rest he would have seen the end of the forest and then scampered down the tree trunk to lead a victorious march out of the valley.

 

All of this flashed through my thinking in an instant when I sensed the phrase in prayer, “Don’t climb Bilbo’s tree.”

 

Of course I have no idea what you might be facing today, but it is possible that this caution applies to you too. Don’t be deceived by your valleys—you may be much further through the forest than you realize.

 

What joy for those whose strength comes from the LORD…when they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs.” (Psalm 84:5-6 NLT)

I will always need you more than ever before!

Ever since I was quite young, hot tubs have been one of my sanctuaries. It’s kind of weird I know, but true nonetheless. Recently, while thinking in the hot tub, I uttered a simple prayer to the Lord, “I need you more than ever before” and then I was immediately struck by the humor in that prayer.

I have ALWAYS needed God more than ever before.

As a drifting, disillusioned college student, I needed God more than ever before.

As a newlywed husband I realized that I would need Him more than ever before if I was going to be a worthy husband for Jessica.

When my three daughters were born, I was keenly aware that I needed His help more than ever before.

In other seasons of success, failure, victory, and trauma I uttered those same words. And then the other night, I prayed them again. I guess I’m always going to need God more than ever before.

I think that’s a good thing. King David felt that way. So did the prophet Jeremiah. I can relate to some parts of their stories. I have had moments of such exhilaration in the Lord’s presence that I was certain that heaven had come to earth, and I have had other moments where I didn’t know if I could go on living. The one constant throughout the highs, lows, and everything in between has been Him. Jesus has been, is, and ever will be faithful.

If you are on a mountaintop in this season of your life, enjoy it. If you are crawling through a valley, keep crawling. There are new beginnings and better days ahead of you, and you are not alone–Jeremiah’s dread champion walks beside you.

“The LORD is with me like a dread champion.” (Jeremiah 20:11 NASB)

“The LORD is near to all who call on Him.” (King David, Psalm 145:18).