Finding the Best during the Worst of Times

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”—Isaiah 41:10 (NIV).

 

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

So begins “A Tale of Two Cities,” written by Charles Dickens, a prolific British author. Published in 1859, this historical novel takes place during the French Revolution. If you reread Dickens’ opening paragraph, you might think he was describing today’s world.

In a sermon by Pastor John Piper, he said, “The same is true today: It is the best of times and the worst of times. Perhaps this is true at every point in the history of a God-ruled, sin-pervaded world. It was true in 1859, and it is true today.”

He will not leave you or forsake you.

Since the beginning of creation and the fall of Adam and Eve, our world has been defined by the best of times and the worst of times. As the author of Ecclesiastes wrote in the first chapter, verse nine, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Recently, a 14-year-old Owasso, Okla., student, J.J. Willis, made the news with a poem he wrote and recorded inside his mother’s minivan where it was quiet. The poem was inspired by the current political atmosphere stirring up hateful arguments—even among Christians—across social media.

In his video, Willis said “We’re all proud and arrogant, and we believe we’re always right. Things should be different.”

Can We Give Better Gifts?

The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son.

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” – Acts 4:32 (NIV).

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Three words at the top of a brightly colored advertising insert in my daily newspaper captured my attention. “Give better gifts.”

The insert was only one of 25 stuffed inside to lure customers into shopping Black Friday sales. Retrieving the heavier-than-usual newspaper off my driveway on Thanksgiving Day reminded me that Christmas isn’t far off and I’d better get busy shopping. However, I abhor crowds so I tossed the advertisements in the trash.

I’m not opposed to saving money when shopping. However, I have come to detest the commercialism now associated with a sacred Christian holiday. Recent TV commercials and a story in the business section of the newspaper several days before Thanksgiving made me want to cheer. Many businesses are refusing to open on Thanksgiving so that their employees can spend the day of gratitude with their families.

Gifts of our time and our presence are better than any store-bought gift.

One company has gone one step further by announcing for the second year in a row that they will be closed on Black Friday. In fact, according to the article, they are not offering any Black Friday deals online or otherwise. REI, a national outdoor retail co-op, is dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. Passionate about the outdoors, the company is committed to promoting environmental stewardship and increasing access to outdoor recreation through volunteerism, gear donations and financial contributions.

And here’s the Good News!

“Now let me remind you, brothers, of what the Gospel really is, for it has not changed—it is the same Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then and still do now, for your faith is squarely built upon this wonderful message; and it is this Good News that saves you if you still firmly believe it, unless of course you never really believed it in the first place”—1 Corinthians 15:1-2(TLB).

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Tired of the negative news? Me too. You can’t watch television, read a newspaper or peruse social media without being bombarded with bad news. Depressing news. Sad news. News that leaves us wondering why and how our world has become so dark.

Then, good news happens. A story on television, a newspaper article or a post on social media reminds us that there is still light in the world, a light that reflects the goodness still alive and well bringing hope to our weary souls and our heavy hearts.

Trust God where you cannot see Him.

At the heart of the gospel message is hope, hope of better days, a better future and a better life awaiting us once we leave this fallen world. Our hope is in Jesus Christ, not man. That is, if you ever believed it in the first place.

Even if we have believed and placed our hope in Him, our steps falter when we become weary and want to quit because we’re overwhelmed with responsibilities. We take on too much. We’re too busy. We don’t have time to stop and listen for that still, small voice reassuring us, guiding us, speaking to our spirits and inviting us to take refuge in His arms.

Have you been persecuted for your faith?

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted...”— 2 Timothy 3:12(ESV).

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What does it mean to you to be persecuted for your faith? Most of us automatically think of those in other countries who are dying because they refuse to renounce their belief in Jesus Christ. Places like Kenya, Pakistan, Nigeria, Libya, Uganda and Syria come to mind.

While there are other countries, most of us in America pay no heed to the stories of those who are killed for their faith. We sit in our comfortable pews on Sunday morning, participate in church activities and have no clue what it means to die for our beliefs. While there have been incidences in our country where Christians have been murdered in a church setting, they are not commonplace.

We take for granted our freedom to worship each Sunday in our chosen denomination. We read our Bibles without fear of having to conceal it. We can talk openly about our faith in the media and on the street corners, if we so choose. We aren’t afraid to share what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. The word persecution usually doesn’t enter into our vocabulary.

The ‘problem of pain,’ is atheism’s most potent weapon

against the Christian faith.

As a Christian columnist, I promote my writing worldwide via my blog and social media. While I’ve received emails from believers around the globe, I’ve also encountered hatred from non-believers as well.

Recently, I received a message in response to a tweet I’d posted on Twitter. For those who are unfamiliar with this online social networking service, users are only allowed 140-character messages to convey their thoughts. It requires creativity and abbreviations to communicate.

In love, there is no hate

“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs”— Proverbs 10:12 (NIV).

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Injustice, chaos, violence, strife, racism and fear followed by anger, retaliation and nationwide unrest have come to define our country over the past several months. Beginning with the mass shooting in a gay night club in Orlando, FL, the shooting of a black man in Minnesota and another in Louisiana, and ending with the killing of police officers in Dallas, Texas, we are seeking answers and guidance.

Why does it take a tragedy or a series of tragedies to motivate people to speak out about the problems in our world? My thoughts, however, are, “Why are we just talking about it?”

We can give lip service to these shootings, point fingers and blame others, come up with “feel-good” slogans or we can hit our knees and begin praying.

Peace doesn’t come automatically.

Christian author Rebecca Barlow Jordan wrote on Facebook, “Praying for God’s comfort, love and compassion for those who have lost loved ones, friends, and family members in Dallas, and wherever lives have so senselessly been taken. And praying for a nation gone so far away from God. Praying that we can come back to the One who holds everything in His hand, not in a moment of silence, but through deep, deep, prayerful cries on our knees, prayers of submission, prayers of surrender, and prayers of longing to be a people who shine as lights in a dark world. How we need You, Jesus! Bring us back to You!”

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

“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”—John 3:16 (NIV).

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Slipping a $10 bill inside the last card, I sealed the envelope and prayed my grandchildren would be as enthusiastic as I was about my new Christmas tradition. The idea to give each one $10, along with a letter telling them the cash was not to spend on themselves but for someone in need, was born out of a discussion in my Sunday school class.

Lamenting the fact their grown children bought gifts they didn’t really need, one class member said, “Tom and I have everything. We’d rather them use the money they spend on our gifts to help others.”

She added, “I’m also going to use the money I normally spend on the adults’ gifts to help others. My children don’t need anything.”

Another class member spoke up, sharing a memorable Christmas when he and his adult siblings decided not to purchase gifts for each other. Instead, using their gifts and talents, they made presents for each other that year. “It was the best Christmas ever,” he said.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

At this time of year, I love reading and hearing stories of how others seek to help the needy. “Cooper’s Hope,” the headline on a recent “Tulsa World” news story grabbed my attention. Six-year-old Cooper Andrew spied a homeless veteran holding a sign, asking for help. Viewing the rain-soaked man, the first grader asked his mother, “How do people become homeless?”

After his mother explained, Cooper said, “How about we help them, instead of talking about them?”

The Best Sermons are Lived

“Day by day the Lord observes the good deeds done by godly men, and gives them eternal rewards”— Psalm 37:18 (TLB).

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Barefooted and clad in a sheet, the man shuffled across the street. With head down, his demeanor suggested someone who was lost. This photo of humanity had been captured by a Tulsa World photographer and was plastered across the top inside page of a recent Sunday newspaper.

After snapping the photo, the curious photographer wanted to know the rest of the story. Why was this man walking across the street with a sheet around his shoulders? Upon approaching him, the photographer discovered the man had just been released from a criminal justice center early that morning, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts.

There are no limits to God’s amazing grace.

The man had called an ambulance in an attempt to get a night’s hospital stay. In addition to the ambulance, the police showed up. According to the man’s story, authorities then arrived and gave him a sheet to protect him from the cold until he could eat breakfast at a local soup kitchen and food pantry when it opened.

When the photographer first spotted the sheet-clad man, he said, “(It was) incredible for me because of the religious implications, but it was unusual to see a barefoot man walking down the street wrapped in a sheet.”