Saturday, June 11, 2016

Nothing Separates from the Love of Christ

by Timothy Howe

Nisqually River Bridge, Mt. Rainier, Wa
On a recent hike, we crossed a bridge over the Nisqually River that runs down from Mt. Rainier. While on the bridge, I happened to bend down and a take a photo of the mountain through the trellis. Interesting how much bigger the beams of wood look when compared to a 14,000 foot mountain. Obviously, they are but specks in comparison to the mountain on which they rest. Though distance and perspective reduce the amount of space that the mountain takes up in the image, the mountain remains 14,410 feet. In a similar way, we too often allow our circumstances to shape our view of reality. Trials and difficulties loom large and the great things of this world seem diminished. Hold onto proper perspective.

Love of God (Rom. 8:31-39)
Dr. Randy Adams, the Executive Director of the NWBC, recently spoke to a group of pastors, pastors' wives, and church leaders. He spoke from Romans 8:31-39 and shared about God's unceasing love for us. The Scripture consists of a series of questions which summarizes our position as children of God, joint-heirs with Christ to be precise (Rom. 8:16-17). Paul uses responses to these questions to solidify what God has done for us. 

He will provide all that we need.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will be not also with him graciously give us all things? 

God recognized our greatest need and took care of it personally. Consider that at a deep level. He provided for us in a way that we were completely incapable. How much more can we trust that He will continue to meet our needs? Let us trust that He who is capable to meet all of our needs and who cares for us will meet those needs. And in the process let us be careful to not confuse needs and wants nor set improper expectation based on our time-table. 

He takes away our guilt.
Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 

Have you ever caught a child doing or saying something they know they shouldn't? As long as the offense is fairly minor, the adult can take some joy out of the cute, guilty face. The sense of guilt is a whole lot less adorable as we mature. Many people retain a sense of guilt long after the offense has been forgotten or its consequences felt. The scripture above tells us that God has already justified us. What that means is that He, who is most capable of holding our guilt against us, does not charge us as guilty. Don't be subject to guilty feelings. If there are some actions for which you feel guilty that require retribution, recompense or setting things right, then take whatever necessary actions. Beyond that release any feelings of guilt.    

He removes our shame. 
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 

Similar to guilt, many people continue to harbor shame in our lives. There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt may be associated with offenses we committed whereas shame are those offenses committed against us. Shame dogs us and tells us that we are not worthy. Paul tells us that the Greatest One does not condemn us, in fact, he advocates for us. Jesus stands next to the Father seeking our very best well-being. Shame can be debilitating and may need counseling to overcome. Many offenses are too painful or too fresh and require the help of professionals and the vantage of greater distances of time to overcome. But let the work of the Spirit help in this healing process. Hold onto the promise that the Savior stands as your champion.

He sticks with us through all difficulties.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 
     "For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
     we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This last section is often quoted by people in times of difficulty, and rightfully so. In it we are offered a promise from God that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ. What a promise! Paul goes to lengths to make clear what he means by "nothing." Each of us has experienced suffering, stress, threats, deprivation, or danger. The Scriptures remind us that in the very middle of these difficulties, our Savior's love is ever present. May you sense that love during your next trial. If you are currently in that trial, may you know that you are loved beyond measure. 

Dr. Adams challenged a group of pastors and church leaders to memorize Romans 8:31-38, a challenge which I have taken up. I encourage you to do so as well. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Hope in Difficult Times

by Timothy Howe

Gray Days in Paradise
We live in one of the most beautiful places. Within a short distance we can be in the mountains or on the coast. Forest hikes and beach strolls are daily possibilities. We love all the natural wonder surrounding us. Yet, another constant in our area can interrupt these activities. When it rains in the Pacific Northwest, we can't fully enjoy our surroundings in the same way. Sometimes rain can set in for longer periods, and when it does, gray days can have an effect on the people. We stay inside more and as a result avoid seeing and experiencing all that our region has to offer. This serves to me as a picture of life. Each of us has a lot of wonderful things around us. We also have rain, metaphorically speaking, that prevents us from experiencing abundant life.  

Unexpected Problems
There was young girl whose parents took her in for a regular doctor's check up to be told that something was wrong with her feet. This would require a fairly extensive surgery that would leave her incapacitated for a lengthy period of time. The parents, as would any parents, were willing to do whatever for their child, but the procedure seemed like a difficult endeavor for someone so small to endure. As they looked for other options, a less invasive option would require her to wear a type of orthotic during her growth years. The doctor suggested that even by doing this, she would likely not be able to run as she grew. This option seemed the best course. 

The little girl resisted the devices at first, saying that they hurt. They were uncomfortable and limited what type of shoes she could wear. But in time, she got use to them so that resistance lessened into mere annoyance and she even forgot that she was wearing them. Eventually, she outgrew the need to wear them. Her feet had grown into their permanent form. Future orthotics could provide comfort, but not form her feet any more; the shape of her feet had set. 

We all face difficulties. The parents above had a difficult choice where either outcome would significantly affect their daughter. The girl had been given a bad physiological break. Her misshaped feet were the beginning of constant annoyance in her young life. Yet, the parents made their choice and moved on. The girl learned to live with her condition and the changes required. 

Moving Forward in Difficult Circumstances
Many people have much more difficult choices to make than these parents. Many people have much greater difficulties to endure than the girl. But the principles in their circumstances can apply to us all. We make choices and endure difficulties while we continue to move forward. 

In much of the same way that the orthotics redefined the shape of the girl's feet, our difficulties shape us and can define us. The question remains with us of how they shape or define us. We may choose to let adversity form us into defeated and broken shadows of who we are meant to be, or we can allow them to form a strong character within us. 

Discouragement Abounds
It seems that as of late many people who have crossed my path have been brought low by something in their lives. It is as if there is a spirit of discouragement just floating in the air. People have challenges faced at work, in their family relationships, health concerns and financial burdens. The effects range from mild worry to deep anxiety, even debilitating anxiety that affects health and happiness.

Joy in Difficult Circumstances
One person who has recently gone through one of life's difficulties recently shared with me something that spoke to her in the middle of the tough times. She reminded me of just what sort of joy can be found in the midst of life's difficulty. She quoted a scripture that she had memorized as a little girl:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, (1 Pet. 1:8 ESV) 

Her joy in the midst of difficult circumstances came as a result of her faith, not her circumstances. She placed her faith in Christ, the focus of the love in this verse. He served as her hope when facing unwanted problems. 

Each of us has our own set of problems. For some, they bring acute and seemingly unbearable sorrow. For others, it is prolonged and seemingly never-ending sorrow. Whatever the case, how can we find joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory in the middle of these circumstances? How will we let our struggles shape us? 

Romans 5:3-5 reminds us,

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (NLT)

Let us trust that God love us dearly and allow His love to convert our trials into strong character and confident hope of salvation.