There is No Substitute for Face-to-Face: 2 John 1:12-13

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2 John 1:12-13:

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings.

Several years back, when I worked on the staff of Anne Graham Lotz and sat under her teaching daily, I learned to study Scripture verse-by-verse, one paragraph at a time. I learned to never skip over the verses that seem “extra.” Whatever the next paragraph was, those were the verses up for that day. I approach each day’s study with the same simple prayer, “Holy Spirit, please open my mind and heart to understand your Word, and use these verses to change me to be more like yourself.” Over the last 7 years of this practice, I cannot tell you how many times I have been blessed and clearly instructed by verses I know I would have otherwise skimmed right over had I not been disciplined to simply study “the next paragraph.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Some of the Scripture is useful? No. All Scripture is useful … so that we will be equipped for everything. And “all Scripture” includes the genealogies, and the lists, and Leviticus and Numbers, and the greetings and the closings of the letters.

This is how I came to the two closing verses of 2 John in the waning pages of the New Testament.

It is Not Good to be Alone

12 – I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

We were created to be relational. We were designed for face-to-face interaction. There is no substitute for in-person communication. All other forms of communication are lacking and incomplete, and will leave us wanting more.

I find it absolutely fascinating that John found paper and ink to be an incomplete source of relationship communication, much like we experience today when our relationships seem primarily fed by texting, social media, and email. Why is that? I hypothesize that it is because our Creator intentionally designed us to be personally relational.

In Genesis 2, Moses records this account:

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being … The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” … So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

Humankind was intentionally created to be in close, personal relationship with one another – to share work and responsibility and life and trouble and joy and happiness and sorrow together. It is not good for [us] to be alone.

13 – The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings.

Verse 13, then, shows us the purpose and appropriate use of intermediary communication devices: relationship maintenance. We send greetings. We check in on someone. We let them know we miss them and we’re coming to visit soon. But, as John has shown us in the preceding verse, sending our “greetings” is not a substitute for relationship growth. Nothing is an adequate substitute for face-to-face interaction in a relationship that is growing.

What Then?

The book of 2 John is an instructive letter. John’s intention in writing it was to help grow those who would read it. In so doing, he would also strengthen and increase his relationship with them. In closing the letter, he acknowledges the insufficiency of anything other than face-to-face interaction in having complete joy and satisfaction in their relationship.

John’s frustration with the “technology” of his day being a poor substitute for face-to-face relationship is both comforting and informative. It’s comforting because we didn’t invent this problem; it’s clearly been around much longer than iPhones and Macbooks and Facebook and Snapchat.

And also comforting because God knows. This verse isn’t “extra.” It didn’t accidentally end up in the final edit of the Scriptures. He intended for us to have it and let it instruct our relationships. He created us to have close, in-person relationship with others. And whenever we try to substitute something “other” in place of God’s perfect design for us, we are left lacking.

These two simple verses are also informative because here we learn that one antidote to feeling incomplete joy in our relationships is really quite simple and, evidently, has not changed for several millennia: put down your [phone, laptop, pen] and go invest in a face-to-face relationship. Have a cup of coffee together. Go for a walk. Sit on the couch. Go for a drive. This relationship might be in your home (a child, a spouse, a parent), in your office (a boss, a coworker, a direct report, a client), or in your community (a neighbor, a friend, a person in need).

Where are you lacking face-to-face relationships? Which relationships are you maintaining with “greetings,” and which relationships are you intentionally growing? How can you be more intentional about pursuing your relationships and growing them, face-to-face?

All of Scripture

In closing, one final thought goes back to 2 Timothy’s admonition that all of Scripture is God-breathed and useful for our instruction, etc. Yes, this means don’t skip verses in your study; there are pearls of wisdom for rebuking and training in each one. But, I have also come to learn that this verse also means to take all of Scripture together – the whole context of God’s Word – for our “training in righteousness.”

There are many other verses in the Bible that instruct us about how we ought to care for our relationships. A few that come to mind immediately are: John 13:35; Galatians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 13; John 15:13; Hebrews 10:24-25; Matthew 5:23-24; Ephesians 4:2-3. So, when you consider the care and feeding of each of your relationships, do take these simple closing verses from 2 John in context of the whole of Scripture. And especially if you are navigating a particularly difficult relationship, pray often and seek God’s wisdom (through Scripture) about how to apply all of His Word to that situation.

Advent: Counting It All Joy When Christmas Hurts

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Advent is the season we look forward to the coming of Jesus — His birth as our Savior, and His eventual return as our reigning King. But in the context of our daily suffering, Advent also helps us to keep our eyes on Jesus as we place our hope in Him for our future understanding of our present hurt.

We’ve all read the exhortation of James to “count it all joy when you encounter trials of many kinds” (James 1:2) and wondered, “But, how? And if I can’t seem to ‘count the joy’ in the midst of my hurting, is there something wrong with my faith? What kind of Christian does that make me?”

It occurred to me recently that as humans, we are bound by the limits of our finite thinking. We seem to think there is some sort of expiration on our opportunity to give praise for a situation. But we often need the gift of retrospect to be able to see the good work of God in hard times.

So even if it takes the passing of time and a new perspective to be able to praise God for your trial, don’t let that moment pass you by! PRAISE HIM STILL. It’s not too late. You didn’t miss your opportunity. Because here’s the mystery of it all: We serve a God who transcends time (Hebrews 13:8). Therefore, it is never too late to count it all joy. 

If you are in a season of suffering, do not heap additional guilt on yourself if you’re having trouble praising Him for your trial while in the depths of your pain. That condemnation is not from God (Romans 8:1). But DO keep taking daily steps forward in your faith (Hebrews 11:1), believing God is good and righteous and loving and kind and that one day, you will be able to truly praise Him for this season. You will. He promises you will.

Christmastime can be an extraordinarily painful time of year for those who have been enduring a season of suffering. Indeed, there are no twinkling lights in the Valley of the Shadow. But the whole point of Advent is to give us hope for the future. So this year, let Advent lovingly cradle your downcast, tear-stained face in both hands, and gently lift your eyes back toward heaven. There is hope for the future there.

Merry Christmas.

Psalm 119:73-80 — The Fellowship of Scripture in Suffering

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photo credit: Dainis Derics | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Psalm 119:73-80

73 Your hands made me and formed me;
give me understanding to learn your commands.
74 May those who fear you rejoice when they see me,
for I have put my hope in your word.
75 I know, Lord, that your laws are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
76 May your unfailing love be my comfort,
according to your promise to your servant.
77 Let your compassion come to me that I may live,
for your law is my delight.
78 May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause;
but I will meditate on your precepts.
79 May those who fear you turn to me,
those who understand your statutes.
80 May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees,
that I may not be put to shame.

Spend any amount of time in the Psalms and you will quickly identify a theme of suffering. Indeed, the Psalms tell us much about how to suffer well. I wish I could tell you that on this topic they reveal exhortations to hang out with friends, lay on the beach, stay in bed for hours on end, binge-watch Netflix, or drown our sorrows in a favorite food or beverage. But those tend to be our (sometimes unhealthy) responses to suffering, not God’s.

And why is that? Because our typical human responses tend to point us to more of ourselves, which may result in a temporary “forgetting” of our trouble, but ultimately leave us more empty on the other side. Instead, the Psalms point us to more of Jesus and result in a spiritual “filling up,” which enables us to persevere through life’s trials in peace, and even joy.

(Side note: Next time you read through the Psalms, notice how even the literary structure follows this revelatory pattern: The Psalmist often begins his writing in despair, intensely focused on himself and his circumstances. But by the end, he is exalting glory and honor and praise of God’s goodness and love and faithfulness, which results in words of hope, peace, and joy – even though the Psalmist’s suffering continues. This is an instructive model!)

Here’s a bit of personal context on how I come to these verses in particular: As someone who values the comfort and support of my family and close friendships, I found a recent season of suffering even more difficult when my family and I were required to relocate to a new state for a job change. It was during this time that we were also thrust deep into a family crisis, which sent me into a season of depression, anxiety, and heartache unlike anything I had ever experienced.

God had led us out into the deep and I felt excruciatingly alone — separated by hundreds of miles from my family, friends, and church home. It was in this season that God took me through Psalm 119 and showed me that even though my instinct in suffering is to run to my closest confidants, His Word directs me to run to Him. Indeed, it is the fellowship of Scripture that leads to hope, peace, and joy in the midst of suffering.

Notice in this passage how every verse points us to Scripture:

  • Your commands (v73)
  • Your word (v74)
  • Your laws (v75)
  • Your promise (v76)
  • Your law (v77)
  • Your precepts (v78)
  • Your statutes (v79)
  • Your decrees (v80)

And how this fellowship of Scripture leads us specifically to:

  • Understanding (v73)
  • Hope (v74)
  • Faithfulness (v75)
  • Comfort (v76)
  • Delight (v77)
  • Focus (v78)
  • Confidence (v80)

Isn’t “understanding, hope, faithfulness, comfort, delight, focus, and confidence” what we seek most when we are in the midst of crisis; when we are suffering? We search and stumble and try to conjure up these things on our own. And yet, God’s Word is right here, free for the taking, ready to faithfully guide our steps there, every time. Whether we are called out into the deep all alone, or we are surrounded by friends and family for support, how much sweeter will our trust in Jesus become as we step boldly into the fellowship of Scripture in seasons of suffering.

Lessons

73. Only the Creator can give understanding to the created. God created each one of us and He created Scripture. He knows our needs and He grants us understanding of His Word when we ask Him.

74. When we put our hope in God’s Word, and not in our efforts or abilities or relationships or expected outcomes, then we find joy and peace despite whatever our circumstances. This is one way God uses our suffering to encourage others and to encourage us.

75. God’s law is righteous, and His purposes are holy and just. Therefore, we can trust that even in affliction (suffering), God is faithful to us …

76.(cont’d from 75) … because it is in the hardest of times that we experience His unfailing love for us most profoundly, which He promises us in His Word.

77. We are unable to live apart from God’s compassion on us. He shows us compassion by giving us His Word and enabling us to understand it (see v 73). When we find our delight (our pleasure; our enjoyment) in it and not in the fleeting, temporary thrills and things of this world, then we find life.

78. Those who refuse God’s Word are arrogant — they assert no need for Him — and they will shame us and persecute us without cause. But rather than listen to them and be influenced or persuaded by them, we meditate on Scripture — we keep our focus on Scripture — and we let Scripture guide our every thought, motive, attitude, and action.

79. Although seasons like ours may find us alone in our suffering, we were not meant to stay there long-term. As hard as it may be, reach out. We were designed for community, and in times of suffering, a community of like-minded Believers will be a source of encouragement.

80. Think about what it looks like to observe someone who is pursuing a social cause wholeheartedly. They are sold.out. They read, they learn, they share, they try to convince others to become involved. They can’t get enough. So we must also follow God’s Word wholeheartedly, not picking and choosing the parts we prefer, but reading, learning, sharing … never getting enough. It is only when we follow God wholeheartedly that we can be confident we will “suffer well” according to God’s promises, and in so doing, we will become more like Christ.

Applications

73. Am I actively seeking God to give me understanding of His Word?

74. Am I putting my hope in God’s Word; or in my efforts, relationships and expected outcomes?

75. How have I seen my affliction as an expression of God’s faithfulness?

76. How have I seen God’s unfailing love in my affliction?

77. What is the source of my delight (pleasure; enjoyment)?

78. How am I yet arrogant to God’s Word? Where might I be refusing Him? And when others shame me for His sake, what is my response? Where do I turn?

79. Am I actively part of a community of Believers? If not, why?

80. Am I following God’s Word wholeheartedly? What evidence is there of my passion for His Word? How has God’s Word equipped me for a season of suffering? How does my suffering make me more like Christ?

Did Jesus Come to Save The Good Girls Too?

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We read in the Bible about Jesus and how he brought about radical life transformation in the form of:

  • Damascus Road conversions
  • Thief-on-the cross forgiveness
  • Mary Magdalene sacrifical devotion
  • Woman-at-the-well contagious discipleship

But what about those of us who grew up in a Christian home (or more generically, a “religious” home), a stable family, have never rebelled, are rule-followers, and always do the “right” thing. When we read the Bible, we may not “see ourselves” in the lives that Jesus touched, so how do we know we need Jesus? Did Jesus come to save us too?

Filthy Rags

First and foremost, it is imperative for us to know that no matter how “good” the Good Girls are, our “good works” are not good enough to earn our place in God’s presence. Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” And in case you’re a predominantly New Testament girl, Paul confirms this in Romans 3:10 saying, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” So, to Jesus, our outer “goodness” — the “righteousness” of our own striving — does not meet the standard of a Holy God. Apart from Jesus, our “goodness” is still like filthy rags. Our propensity for sin may look different than the rebellious girl next door, but our sin-stained souls are no different to God.

“God Has No Grandchildren”

As a Good Girl, our Christian upbringing is most definitely a blessing to us, but it will not save us from eternity in hell if we do not claim this faith for ourselves. Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.” And Romans 14:12 says, “Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” Jesus himself said, “’Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24). There are many other Scriptures that point to our individual need to respond to God in faith. These are only a few.

Having worked on Anne Graham Lotz’s ministry team, I heard her say on numerous occasions, “God has no grandchildren.” Can you imagine being the daughter of THE Reverend Dr. Billy Graham? Talk about spiritual coattails! And yet, Anne will be the first one to tell you that if she were to try to stand in the shadow of her father on Judgment Day, she would be denied a place in heaven. God has no grandchildren. No matter how “good” or religious or spiritual or Christian of a family we come from, at some point, we must make our own decision to follow Christ. Our parents’ faith will not save us.

Rule Followers

It is easy for us “Good Girls” to mistake our “rule following” for Christian-living, when it may be more akin to Pharisaical legalism or self-reliance. Jesus said to the Pharisees: “‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness’” (Luke 11:39). Jesus goes on in this passage to warn the Pharisees repeatedly of presenting an outer “good” image, when the reality of their hearts was sinful.

This can be tricky for a Good Girl. Because, it’s not the good deeds and “rule following” in and of themselves that are wrong. As Christians, good deeds are required! In fact, James says clearly that faith without good deeds is dead (James 2:14-26). In that context, good works that are done in response to Christ’s transformation of our heart are evidence of our faith.

But this should not be confused with trusting in our own Good Girl rule following and “good works” as the means of our salvation. Scripture is abundantly clear that all the rule following and good works we can muster will not save us. Our eternal salvation is only secured by God’s mercy and grace through faith in Jesus (Titus 3:4-6).

This is a danger of living the Good Girl life because “being good” is easy for us to do, even if, in reality, our hearts are not close to the Lord. As a Good Girl, this will likely be something we need to watch for, and perhaps repent from, daily.

Old Nature, New Nature

It is our “nature” to be a Good Girl, but when we are saved, God commands us to put off our old nature, and put on our new nature. This can be tough for us Good Girls because we may not think we need a radical lifestyle transformation. We keep on doing the “new self” Good Girl things, which look an awful lot on the outside like the “old self” Good Girl things. But that is the key: the kind of “old self-new self” transformation Jesus works in us originates from the inside-out; not from the outside-in (Ephesians 4:22-24 and Romans 12:2). We may not need a radical lifestyle transformation, but we very well may need a radical heart transformation.

When we reflect on the true nature of our heart, us Good Girls might especially find sin lurking there in the form of pride or selfishness or resentment or greediness or self-reliance or idolatry. It’s easy to “hide” these sins, masterfully masked by our Good Girl exteriors. But do not be fooled that these sins of the heart are any less destructive than sins of the flesh. The heart is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23) and eventually, our life will reflect what we keep there. When sin lurks in the heart, it inevitably begins a slow rot unto death of friendships, of marriage, of commitment, of life.  As David confronted his own sin, he knew the only path to a transformed life was through this heart, so he prayed: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

Good Girls Need Jesus Too

In case you’re confused, let me be clear: Being a Good Girl is good. It truly is. We probably saved our parents a lot worry and grief; we tend to bless those around us; we typically don’t bring external destruction to our world. But we must be equally clear that those are benefits of being a Good Girl in this life.  All through Scripture, God shows us that His primary concern is with our eternal life, which is determined by the state of our heart. For our life in eternity (which, incidentally, drastically impacts our life here on earth also, but that’s a post for another day) we cannot depend on our upbringing, or rely on our good deeds, or look to the “goodness” of our outer self. But rather, we look to the inside. Because on the inside, “Good Girls” look like everyone else (Romans 3:23). We have a heart stained by sin, unacceptable to a holy God. The only hope for a Good Girl — for all of us — is Jesus. If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, then we will be saved (Romans 10:9-10).

Yes, Good Girls need Jesus too. We all need Jesus

“Do Not Be Afraid”

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Eighty-one times throughout Scripture — from Genesis to Revelation — God says, “Do not be afraid.” [1]

Eighty-one times.

Why? What is it about fear that is so important for us to overcome that God would say to us eighty-one times?

I decided to examine each of the instances in which this phrase appears in Scripture. In doing so, I came to this conclusion:

It is important to God that we not fear because God — the One who created us — who wired our minds and our emotions — knows that the root of our fear is doubt.

Let me say that again: The root of fear is doubt.

This is our life experience from when we are very young.

When we are very little and we’ve been tucked in bed at night:

It’s dark. “Mama, are you still there?”

When we are home alone and a strange noise startles us:

What was that noise?  “Is someone there?”

When we are walking through the Valley of the Shadow and it feels like the darkness of life will never end:

Why is this happening to me? “God, are you there?”

The root of fear is doubt.

When we are afraid, we question whether the constants in our life are still there to protect us.  We wonder if we have been abandoned and if we will have the strength or the bravery to confront whatever may lie in wait for us around the corner.

God knows that in our fear, we will doubt. And ultimately, we will doubt Him. We will doubt His goodness. We will doubt His faithfulness. And when we doubt Him, we lose our anchor; we lose the footing on our firm foundation. 

Knowing we need God as our anchor, He exhorts us, “Do not be afraid.” 

But why — why should we trust Him? Why should we not be afraid? 

There is an interesting pattern that emerges when you examine each of these verses (see PDF attachment below):

In nearly every instance that God tell us, “Do not be afraid”, I observed that God does not affirm us in our fear (As in, “Hey, you can do this!” or “You are capable of facing this fear!”).  

No. In nearly every instance of the phrase “Do not be afraid,” God affirms himself [2]:

“Do not be afraid … I am your shield.” (Genesis 15:1)

“Do not be afraid … God has heard you.” (Genesis 21:17)

“Do not be afraid … I am with you.” (Genesis 26:24)

“Do not be afraid … God has come.” (Exodus 20:20)

“Do not be afraid … The LORD himself will fight for you.” (Deuteronomy 3:22)

“Do not be afraid … The LORD your God goes with you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“Do not be afraid … The LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“Do not be afraid … The battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15)

“Do not be afraid … I will save you.” (Isaiah 43:5)

“Do not be afraid … I have come.” (Daniel 10:12)

“Do not be afraid … Jesus said. (Matthew 10:26)

“Do not be afraid … Your prayer has been heard.” (Luke 1:13)

“Do not be afraid … My peace I give you.” (John 14:27)

“Do not be afraid … The Lord is my helper.” (Hebrews 13:6)

“Do not be afraid … I am the First and the Last” (Revelation 1:17)

So, first and foremost: why should we not be afraid? Not because we are capable of conquering our fear on our own, but because God is capable of conquering our fear; because God is for us; and because God is God! 

The next observation I make is that as we trust in God because He is God, He does not expect us to do nothing. He does not expect us to be passive in our troubles. No. In many of these exhortations to not be afraid, once He has affirmed himself, He also gives us a directive to take action. Not just any action, mind you, (since actions we are likely to take in the midst of our fear and doubt often come from our irrational brain center — but specific action that He directs from Scripture:

“Stand firm.” (Yes, standing firm is an action — it requires intentional assertion.) (Exodus 14:13)

“Go up and take possession.” (Deuteronomy 1:21)

“Be strong and courageous.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“Peace!” (Yes, the exclamation point is there in the verse!) (Judges 6:23)

“Serve the Lord with all your heart.” (1 Samuel 12:20)

“ Settle down; serve…” (2 Kings 25:24)

“Take up your positions; stand firm. Go out and face them.” (2 Chronicles 20:17)

“Be careful; keep calm.” (Isaiah 7:4)

“Lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up!” (Isaiah 40:9)

“Set your mind to gain understanding; humble yourself before the Lord.” (Daniel 10:12)

“Be strong now; be strong.” (Daniel 10:19)

“Let your hands be strong.” (Zechariah 8:13)

“Go and tell.” (Matthew 28:10)

“Keep on speaking.” (Acts 18:9)

“Fall at his feet.” (Revelation 1:17)

“Be faithful.” (Revelation 2:10)

So, quick summary of what we are to do up to this point when we are afraid:

  1. Rest in the affirmation of God
  2. Take Action as He directs it in Scripture

And finally, as part of the pattern God establishes when He tells us to not be afraid, I observe that God often offers a promise:

“I will bless you.” (Genesis 26:24)

“You will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you.” (Exodus 14:13)

“He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“It will go well with you.” (2 Kings 25:24)

“You will have success.” (1 Chronicles 22:13)

“He will not fail you or forsake you.” (1 Chronicles 28:20)

“You will not have to fight this battle; see the deliverance the Lord will give you.” (2 Chronicles 20:17)

“When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” (Proverbs 3:24)

“He who made you will help you.” (Isaiah 44:2)

“You will not be put to shame; you will not be humiliated.” (Isaiah 54:4)

“I will surely save you out of a distant place.” (Jeremiah 46:27)

“You will be a blessing.” (Zechariah 8:13)

“The pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.” (Joel 2:21-22

(I love that last one in particular, because it is such a vivid word picture that even when we’ve been in an extended season of “winter”, a new season of life and growth and rebirth is coming! It’s not a “maybe” — it’s a promise!)

These promises are comforting, but know this: A promise is not received until you take it for yourself. God gives these promises to those who put their trust in Him, but you must choose to receive them in faith. And “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

To recap once again: When we are afraid,

    1. Rest in the affirmation of God.
    2. Take Action as He directs it in Scripture.
    3. Receive His promise to you.

One final observation is that in many of the same verses where we are told, “Do not be afraid,” we are also exhorted: “Do not be discouraged”, or “Do not be fainthearted,” or “Do not panic”, or “Do not be dismayed.”

Again, as our Creator, God knows that fear and discouragement are closely linked. In our doubt, we fear. Closely thereafter, we are so likely to also become discouraged — especially in an extended season of fear and doubt.

So, when you are afraid or when you are discouraged: Examine the root of your fear and look for your doubt. Then, follow the pattern God has established in Scripture. As your doubt in the unknown is replaced by confidence in who God is, your fear will also recede.

Rest in the affirmation of God; take the action as He has directed in Scripture; and receive his promise.

Scripture Analysis – PDF: Do Not Be Afraid

Edited to Add: I want to acknowledge the very real existence of PTSD, Panic and Anxiety Disorder, and other mental health struggles related to fear. I am not ashamed to say that I live with both PTSD and Panic and Anxiety. To have a chemical response in your body overcome your physical ability to remain rational is a terrifying experience. It is not a mind-over-matter situation. This post is in no way intended to suggest that. All that said, as part of an overall positive mental health regimen, meditating on God’s goodness, His faithfulness, and His sovereignty has been extremely helpful to me in my life’s journey.  


[1] There are eighty-one instances of “Do not be afraid” in the NIV translation: https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=%22Do+not+be+afraid%22&qs_version=NIV&limit=100. For the purpose of my study, I selected 72 of the 81 verses where this phrase appears. The PDF attachment above shows my analysis.

[2] These are only a few selections. See attachment for the full list of affirmations, directives, and promises.

An Outline for Christian Living in 2016

When I am using my computer to read or study Scripture, I most often wind up at biblegateway.com. You’ll find that all my scripture URLs link there because I find it an excellent resource for reading the Bible online in an undistracted format, with access to many translations (which is super important to me).

Since I am there often, I also frequent the Bible Gateway blog:

This week, like many blogs, Bible Gateway is featuring a Top Ten List for 2015. Theirs, as you might imagine, are the Top Ten Verses in 2015. These are the verses most often accessed this year, according to Bible Gateway analytics data. They are:

  1. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
  2. Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
  3. Philippians 4:13: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
  4. Romans 8:28: “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.”
  5. Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
  6. Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
  7. Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
  8. Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
  9. 1 Corinthians 13:7: “[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
  10. Proverbs 3:6: “[I]n all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

What occurred to me as I read through these verses: What a wonderful, simple outline for Christian living as we enter into a near year.

Might we reflect on God’s goodness and faithfulness to us throughout 2015 and might 2016 reveal in us a growing dependency on Christ and His Word, and a heart that yearns for Him.

Happy New Year.

Psalm 119:65-72 — The Nature of Goodness

Psalm 119:65-72

65 Do good to your servant
according to your word, Lord.
66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
for I trust your commands.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
68 You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees.
69 Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
I keep your precepts with all my heart.
70 Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
but I delight in your law.
71 It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.
72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Lessons

Throughout the course of our lives, we hear a lot about trying to be good. We are taught the importance of good habits and good manners. We reward our children for good behavior. Entire religions rely on an ability to be good or to attain goodness. Even people without faith claim, though they worship no one in particular, they are still generally a “good” person and, if there is a God, surely he will take notice.

But, as Christians, we reject the notion that our inherently sinful nature is capable of goodness. Rather, we rely entirely on God’s goodness. 

So what is the nature of this goodness that only God can provide?

65. God’s goodness is a promise. God’s goodness is not a fickle emotion. God’s very nature is good and His goodness is His promise to us when we submit our lives to him (as a “servant”).

66. The foundation of goodness is faith. Too often we pursue knowledge and wisdom in an effort to establish belief. But that is not faith. Belief in God — our faith — is the foundation of knowledge and good judgment (which we sometimes call “wisdom”). We must first believe God’s Word is truth and then we will grow in knowledge and wisdom.

67. God’s goodness leads us to obedience. When we choose to sin, we stray from God’s Word. In fact, it is our human nature to do so. But it is by the goodness of the Holy Spirit that are we able to obey it.

68. We learn that God’s nature — and His will — is good by studying Scripture.  This verse tell us quite plainly that God is good. And everything God does or allows is good. When life’s circumstances seem to contradict this truth — in times of hurt, hardship, disease, loss, persecution, and in all of life’s trials — we sometimes tend to abandon God’s Word and instead try to make sense of our suffering on our own. But we will only see God’s goodness — and His good will for us — when we dig deep into His Word and choose to learn from Him.

69. What goodness is not. Those whose hearts are hard toward God and refuse to acknowledge their need for Him (this is true “arrogance”) will mock me, pressure me, aim to hurt me, and try to steal, kill and destroy my beliefs, my will, and my reputation. But even in the face of what goodness is not, I am only able to be strong and remain faithful when my heart is focused on God’s Word.

70.  Goodness delights in God, not man. The result of arrogance is a callous and unfeeling heart. Conversely, those who follow Jesus remain sensitive to sin, to pain, and to suffering — and also to joy, to love, and to peace — by finding our delight in God’s Word, rather than the approval of people.

71. Goodness is being thankful for affliction because it points us to Jesus. What happens when you are looking at something very small — something that is hard to see? You lean closer to it. Why? Because the closer you are to something, the larger it appears.  So, when we are “afflicted” (sick, struggling, or suffering in any way), and it might be hard to “see” Jesus in the midst of our circumstances, we ought to lean closer into the Scriptures. The closer we lean to Jesus, the larger He appears in our lives.

It is in these hardest times of life that we seek God with all our heart because we’ve been driven to a point when we are no longer able to answer or provide for ourselves. And as a result, it is these hardest times when we experience God’s goodness and faithfulness and kindness and gentleness in the most profound way. This is why we can be thankful not just in times of affliction, but for affliction itself, and “consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). This is true grace.

72. God’s Law is good. God’s law — and our inability to keep it perfectly as His holiness demands that we do — points us to our need for Jesus (Romans 3:20). And because we are continually pointed by Scripture to God’s goodness as the basis of knowledge and wisdom; of obedience and faithfulness; of gratitude and grace — because of this, God’s Law is more precious to us than any material possession we could ever own.

Applications 

65. Have I fully submitted every area of my life and will and heart to God? Am I seeking out God’s Word and willingly making changes in my heart and life according to His Word?

66. Do I truly believe God’s promises for me? Am I seeking knowledge and wisdom of myself to justify my belief … or do I believe first and therefore, am growing in knowledge and wisdom of God?

67. Am I regularly confessing sin so I am able to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and obedient to His leading?

68. Am I trying to figure out God’s good will on my own or by studying and learning God’s own Word?

69. In what areas of my heart am I harboring an arrogant heart by refusing to submit that part of my life to God’s Word? How do I respond when others who reject God’s Word come against me? What will be my answer? Will I turn to myself or turn to Scripture?

70. Is my delight in God’s Word or in pleasing other people?

71. Am I able to be thankful, not just in times of affliction, but for the affliction when it comes against me because it drives me deeper into Scripture and closer to Jesus?

72. What evidence is there in my life that Scripture is more precious to me than anything else? If there is no evidence — or little evidence — what do I need to do to change that?

Prayer

O Lord, thank you for Your Goodness. And thank you for showing me your good nature in Scripture. Thank you that your GOOD plan is that I pursue YOU and then I grow in knowledge, wisdom, obedience, faithfulness, gratitude and grace — rather than trying to achieve those things on my own in an effort to find You.

God, You are good. And You do good things.

Please help me to keep a heart that is sensitive to sin and arrogance, that I might always find my delight in Your Word.

Psalm 119:57-64 – Living Our Faith

Psalm 119:57-64 (NIV)

ח Heth

57 You are my portion, Lord;
I have promised to obey your words.
58 I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.
60 I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.
61 Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.
62 At midnight I rise to give you thanks
for your righteous laws.
63 I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.
64 The earth is filled with your love, Lord;
teach me your decrees.

Lessons

It is one thing to learn about faith, read about faith, and talk about faith. It is quite another to live out faith, which is the self-sacrificing commitment that we as Christians are called to follow. This passage of Psalm 119 instructs us how to do that.

57. Jesus – our Savior, our Lord — is our “portion”. Like a “portion” measured out in a recipe, He has been given to us carefully, deliberately, and to satisfy our needs. In response, we commit to obey his Word. Our obedience is a response to God’s gift to us (Jesus). God doesn’t give us Jesus because we are obedient; we are obedient because He is God!

58. We may desire to seek God, but we are unable to seek God with all our heart while we remain in our own nature.  Because our nature is sinful, we do not deserve to seek Him.  But despite this, God has promised to give us His favor (grace) so that we are able to seek Him.

59. Daily, we must look back over our “ways” of the day before and turn away from our path and turn toward the path laid out for us in God’s Word.

60. We cannot delay obedience to God’s Word. We cannot “obey kind of”. There must be urgency in our obedience.

61. It can be easy to be faithful to seek God and obey Him when life is good. But how about when life is tough? When we are pressed in by enemies (persecution, discouragement, job loss, health crisis), then where do we turn? These are the times we will most see Jesus when we seek Him and are obedient to His Word.

62. Our entire lives should be an expression of praise and worship. There is no time, day or night, when we God is not worthy of our praise.

63. There is a special bond between people who love the Lord and follow His Word. These are relationships we should be cultivating.

64. It is so easy to become downtrodden and negative about this world we live in. Surely, there is evil everywhere and “The world” will fail us. But God is good. He has left us evidence of His love for us everywhere. But we must seek Him fully, commit to obedience, turn from our ways toward his ways, urgently follow him, remain steadfast in trials, praise him continually, and love his people. But only He can teach us how to live this way … by His Word.

Applications

57. What motivates my obedience?

58. Am I seeking God with all my heart, fully understanding it is only by God’s grace (unmerited favor) that I am able to do so?

59. Am I daily looking back over the previous day and considering how my ways are not God’s ways, turning my steps away from my own path and instead following God’s path?

60. Is there urgency in my obedience? What does it mean to urgently obey?

61. Am I faithful to seek God in both good times and hard times?

62. Do I allow my circumstances to dictate my attitude of praise?

63. Am I pursuing the special relationships between people who love the Lord?

64. If I am having trouble finding God’s goodness, am I fully seeking Him?

Prayer

O Lord, you are good. You love us so much and we do not deserve it. Lord, please teach me your Word and help me to live it out according to Your ways, every day.

Psalm 119:49-56 – Only God’s Word is Able

Psalm 119:49-56 (NIV)

ז Zayin

49 Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope.
50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
51 The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
but I do not turn from your law.
52 I remember, Lord, your ancient laws,
and I find comfort in them.
53 Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
who have forsaken your law.
54 Your decrees are the theme of my song
wherever I lodge.
55 In the night, Lord, I remember your name,
that I may keep your law.
56 This has been my practice:
I obey your precepts.

Lessons

Not every lesson in Scripture is difficult to see or complicated to explain. I found the lessons in this passage of Psalm 119 to be straight forward and direct.

49. God’s Word gives us hope.

50. God’s Word gives us safety.

51. God’s Word gives us self-control.

52. God’s Word gives us comfort.

53. God’s Word gives us desire for righteousness.

54. God’s Word gives us a heart for worship.

55. God’s Word gives us “light” for our path in this dark world.

56. God’s Word gives us a pattern for obedience.

Applications

49. Where do I turn to for hope?

50.  What is my source of safety when I feel threatened?

51. How do I maintain self-control when I am under attack?

52. Where do I find comfort?

53. Do I desire righteousness? Am I indignant (or ambivalent?) toward those who forsake God’s Word?

54. What motivates my worship?

55. How do I discern the right path, in the darkest nights of my life?

56. How do I establish the patterns of my life?

I wonder if the reason these lessons are so simple and so clear is because these are the areas of life where we are most tempted to make our own way … to dig from within our own strength. And yet, ultimately, we find ourselves falling short in every way. Only God’s Word is able.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to come to you and your Word only for my source of hope, safety, self-control, comfort, desire for righteousness, worship, light, and pattern for living.

Psalm 119:41-48 – God Equips Us Because He Loves Us

Psalm 119:41-48 (NIV)

ו Waw
41 May your unfailing love come to me, Lord,
 your salvation, according to your promise;
42 then I can answer anyone who taunts me,
 for I trust in your word.
43 Never take your word of truth from my mouth,
 for I have put my hope in your laws.
44 I will always obey your law,
 for ever and ever.
45 I will walk about in freedom,
 for I have sought out your precepts.
46 I will speak of your statutes before kings
 and will not be put to shame,
47 for I delight in your commands
 because I love them.
48 I reach out for your commands, which I love,
 that I may meditate on your decrees.

Lessons

I’m finding a strong theme from the Psalmist in Psalm 119. Because we are a fallen people, we are completely inadequate to seek — and find — God on our own. This acknowledgment leads us to full dependence on God. In Psalm 119:41-48, we see how God does not promise to save us from eternal judgment, yet leave us to fend for ourselves here on earth. Indeed, quite the opposite. God gives us salvation and therefore, He equips us in every way to grow and prosper in Christ — providing for our every need even now.

41. God equips us because He loves us. He gives us salvation from His own holy judgement because He promises to do so when we turn our hearts and lives to Him.

42. When I think of “taunting”, I think of someone in my face — trying to get me to react badly to something. It’s a temptation to get mad or to react in a way that would cause a scene. Ultimately, it’s a person, attitude, action, or circumstance that tempts us to sin.  But the Psalmist says that when we put our trust in God’s Word, He will gives us an answer for those who taunt us — for those who would encourage us to sin.  God equips us with strength against temptation when we put our trust in His Word.

43. It has been said that Secret Service Agents who are trained to spot counterfeit money do not learn their skill from studying the fake stuff. To learn the intricacies and minutiae of every form of counterfeit money to that level of expertise would be nearly impossible.  Instead, they hone their craft by studying the one true currency.  Similarly, this sinful world offers us many counterfeits. “Just be a good and kind person, and you will earn your way to heaven.” “It doesn’t matter what God you believe in, as long as you are trying to be a good person.” “There are many ways to heaven.”  If we put our time and energy and saving hope into these counterfeits we would quickly find ourselves lost in this world.  Instead of putting our saving hope in what the world says God is, we ought to put our hope in what God says He isthis is the truth.  God equips us with truth when we put our hope in His Word.

44. I had to sit and think on this verse for a few minutes to hear God’s lesson for me in it.  It seemed to follow a different pattern than the others. At first, it seemed a simple declaration: “I will obey your law, for ever and ever.” And then it occurred to me: when the Psalmist says “I will obey”, he is declaring his will to obey — his desire to obey.  Sometimes, an attitude begets itself.  The more you do it, the more you want to do it. (This can definitely work in the negative too!)  In this case, I believe obeying God’s Word — and seeing the fruit that grows in our lives as we do so — leads us to an even greater desire to obey God’s Word — no matter what circumstances may come. I believe this Spirit-given desire to obey is what enabled great martyrs of the Christian faith to withstand such tragic and desperate persecution.  God equips us with the desire to obey His Word when we obey His Word.

45. In spite of God’s promises, we often still find ourselves trying to earn our approval from God by our “right-ness” in our words, actions, and attitudes. But God has made it clear that even our best efforts are inadequate to save us from our sin and make ourselves right before Him. Only a heart and life changed by faith in Jesus can save us. Such a saving faith brings spiritual freedom — freedom from the weight of trying to save ourselves with our inherently inadequate efforts. But the Psalm says we must seek Him. We must be intentional and deliberately point our life’s direction toward Him. God equips us with freedom when we seek Him through His Word. 

46-47. Speaking boldly for Christ can be intimidating. It can be scary when others mock us with a harsh word … or even a raised eyebrow of skeptical amusement. But God promises to help us to speak boldly — without shame — for Him when we seek our approval (our “delight”) in Him, instead of the approval of man.  God equips us to speak boldly when we love His Word. 

48. Have you ever gone into Sunday worship and just felt “blah”?  Like your worship was just lifeless, or you were having to make an effort to go through the motions?  We are even inadequate to worship God from our own nature. We must first receive from God in order to give back to God. And we receive from Him when we focus our hearts to read, learn, and apply Scripture daily. God equips us for worship when we meditate on His Word. 

Applications

41. A gift is only a gift once received. Have I received the gift of God’s unfailing love for me — His salvation according to His promise?

42. When I face temptation, do I look to myself for strength to resist, or do I receive strength by trust in Scripture?

43. When I am trying to discern truth from the many voices in this world, where do I look? Am I putting my hope in what the world says … or in what God’s Word says?

44. When I am lacking desire to obey Scripture, do I obey anyway? How have I seen obedience give me new desire to obey Him even in the midst of difficult circumstances?

45. When I am feeling spiritually weighed down, do I seek God’s Word to be reminded that Christ accomplished all I need for me on the cross?

46-47. When I am feeling shy or intimidated to share Scripture with another person or to speak about my faith, do I go back to Scripture with love and affection for The Word?

48. How has my dependence for and love for God’s Word transformed my worship?

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for not leaving us alone to find our way through this world. Thank you for equipping us with:

  • strength
  • truth
  • a desire to obey
  • spiritual freedom
  • boldness
  • worship

…all because of your unfailing love for us. Thank you that you promise to save us from your eternal judgment — and to equip us for today — if we put our

  • trust
  • hope
  • obedience
  • direction
  • love
  • focus

…in You alone. Please help us to receive this gift from you fully, each day.