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National Poetry Month: Let’s celebrate

April 21, 2017

National poetry month

Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country come together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of businesses and non-profit organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.

As a practicing poet who writes from a decidedly Christian perspective, I recognize a spiritual connection with poetry and would like to share comments from a radio broadcast “Poetry and Praise” which I hosted more than a dozen years ago:

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the famous English Romantic poet, defined this literary art form as the “best words in their best order.” Poetry is an expression of the heart.  As Longfellow said, “Look into thine heart and write.”  Another poet said, “When you have something special you want to say, poetry helps you say it in a special way.” Certain qualities make this literary expression called poetry “special.” Poetry generally has rhythm or meter, sometimes in a specific recurring metrical pattern but not always, as with free verse.  Poetry can also have rhyme but then again, not always.  As the late Roger Miller once stated:

Roses are red, Violets are blue.

Some poems rhyme and some poems don’t.

Finally poetry has meaning or significance and a remarkable ability to evoke a mood or attitude, using figurative language to paint unforgettable mind pictures. The Roman poet Horace stated that “The purpose of literature is to instruct the mind and delight the spirit.” Robert Frost said, “Poetry begins in delight and ends with wisdom.”  Poetry causes you to think and to remember what you didn’t know you knew.

Most poetry is relatively short: a compact unit of lines that reach deep into the heart. Whether the words of the Psalmist who speaks, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. . .”  or the line from the classic love sonnet from Shakespeare, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” or the powerful imagery of James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation” or Dr. Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” or the closing lines of “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost or lines from your favorite poem, poetry has remarkable power to touch the heart and soul in an unforgettable way, which we celebrate, especially during the month of April.

I encourage each of our readers to join me in the celebration of poetry throughout this month: write a poem, learn a new poem by heart—recite a poem and share it with a friend. Why not check out a book of poetry; make a new friend with a poet whose work you enjoy or someone whom you’ve heard about. Do something poetic that you’ve never done and celebrate God’s goodness in some way involving poetry.

As born-again believers, Christians are also said to be new creations in Christ, and we praise God for having given us all things richly to enjoy. Indeed, Ephesians 2:10 declares that “. . . we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  The word “workmanship” is translated from the Greek word poiema, which means masterpiece, a glorious creation, a centerpiece of attention, as the French would say, le piece de resistance, or showpiece. Of course, the Greek word poiema is transliterated into the English word poem, which in the minds of many people is always a “masterpiece” or glorious creation. So that the people of God represent the real poetry of life, for which we praise God.  Accordingly, we should not just wait until April to extol the beauty of poetry, but recognize and celebrate this cherished literary form every day. Make every day a

Good News Day

 This is the day the LORD has made;

we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24

 

It’s a good news day

no blues day

new shoes

no way to lose

What a good news day

 

It’s a great day

I can’t wait day

lift your voice

let’s rejoice

Good God, a good news day

 

It’s a payday

goin my way day

no nay–all yea

what you say

Such a good news day

 

It’s a live it up day

overflowin cup day

It’s a bright and bubbly

doubly lovely

Show-nuff good news day

Take a look at and listen to this video promotion of National Poetry Month from Museum of the Bible, showing the use of Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament:

Enough is enough: More than enough

April 2, 2017

Matthew 20_17-19

From the Gospel of Matthew with its focus on Jesus Christ as the King comes a passage in which the Lord tells the Twelve of events that will transpire in the days ahead:

Matthew 20:17-19 (NLT):

[Jesus Again Predicts His Death] As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

The Verse of the Day for April 2, 2017 begins with conjunction “and,” the most frequently used word in the King James Version of the Bible, being used 28,364 times.  The figure of speech known as polysyndeton involves using “many ands” where emphasis is placed on each item listed in any series connected by the conjunction. Here “and” is used nine times in the three verses where Jesus prepares his disciples for the forthcoming events which are utterly unthinkable in their minds.

The passage is rendered this way in the Amplified Bible:

17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside along the way and said to them,

18 Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes; and they will sentence Him to death

19 And deliver Him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and whipped and crucified, and He will be raised [to life] on the third day.

In reflecting upon the horrific circumstances leading up the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ and his subsequent resurrection, we attempt to comprehend to a limited degree the unimaginable anguish and suffering that the Savior took upon himself on our behalf. The scriptures speak of “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith . . . who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame. . . .” As we read about or view in a film or some other graphic portrayal of his Passion during this season of the year, we are sometimes tempted to scream, “Enough is enough.” Such sentiments express the intensity of the suffering the Savior willingly endured:

More than Enough

How much is enough?

Can you measure the length of each scar on his back?

Can you trace the depth of each gash and follow each track?

Can you extract and analyze sweat, like drops of blood?

Can you remove water and blood and then weigh the good?

Can you collect the tears and hold them in a vial?

Can you assess the shame and disgrace of trumped up trial?

How much is enough?

One more mocking bow, one more man to spit in his face,

One more taunting gesture, one more mark of disgrace.

One more lash, one more gash, one more blow to the head,

As he endured the cross, despising the shame as he bled.

To smash once more, one blow short of certain death.

He cried, “It is finished” then yielded his last breath.

How much is enough?

Who can assess the worth of his blood and establish a price

For the precious Lamb of God, unblemished, sinless sacrifice?

God’s bounty of mercy is sufficient. His deep love will suffice.

Despite the deficit, God balances each account to set it right.

Where sin once had free reign, now grace has abounded instead.

The Lord himself provided the Lamb, whom He raised from the dead.

In His gracious goodness Jehovah-Jireh reminds us

That He is more than enough, yes, so much more than enough.

Listen to this corresponding musical composition, “More than Enough” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:

Despite the devastating circumstances that will occur, the Lord proclaims a triumphant conclusion with “and the third day he shall rise again.” We take great comfort in knowing that God, our gracious Father, always has the last say so. . . Amen          !

Watching, waiting, seeking

March 27, 2017

The Verse of the Day for March 27, 2017 is taken from Psalm 62:7 in the New International Version:

My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Three other versions of the Bible provide additional insight into the Verse of the Day:
Amplified Bible:

On God my salvation and my glory rest; He is my rock of [unyielding] strength, my refuge is in God.

New Living Translation:

My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.

The Message Bible

My help and glory are in God —granite-strength and safe-harbor-God— So trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be.

The foundation for the confident expression of strength that believers receive from God who is our refuge is established from the very beginning of Psalm 62 which makes this declaration:

Psalm 62:1-2 (NIV):

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
2 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

These various versions of the Verse of the Day all remind us that we are not just waiting, but we are waiting silently, quietly in a state of rest. In such a tranquil state of assurance we see the power of three verbs: Watching, waiting, seeking. . . All are expressed in the present tense, continuous action, over and over. The intersection of these three verbs also  bring to mind the words of John Milton, 17th Century British statesman and poet, who said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” His word are incorporated into this poem:

Watching, Waiting, Seeking

You are my strength, I watch for you; you, God, are my fortress,
Psalm 59:9 (NIV)

“And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.
Psalm 39:7 (NKJV)

Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face continually [longing to be in His presence].
1 Chronicles 16:11 (AMP)

We are strengthened by the words of the bard gone blind,
Who said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
We look into the mirror of God’s word and find
That God has been ever faithful and never late.
We trust in the Lord, as the Word of God extols.
Like Job we wait until at last our change shall come,
Assured that in patience we now anchor our souls.
May we not faint and fall by the wayside as some
But follow in Christ’s steps, as we quickly obey
And bear up under and yield fruit of endurance.
We must walk in God’s love, the more excellent way
And through faith and patience claim our inheritance.
In these perilous times we are yielded and still,
Watching, waiting, seeking to fulfill all God’s will.

Aaron Keyes offers a musical rendering of Psalm 62: Praise Song (My Soul Finds Rest in God Alone)

Meditating on Psalm 62:7 the Verse of the Day, is great way to start the day, as we are watching, waiting, and seeking.

One more reminder: Love one another

February 14, 2017

John 13-34-35

It comes as no surprise that the Verse of the Day for February 14, 2017, Valentine’s Day, should remind us to “love one another”:

John 13:34-35 (NKJV):

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This clear exhortation is repeated not only in the Gospel of John but in more than a dozen other places throughout the New Testament where believers are commanded “to love one another.”   Jesus Christ is the model, the standard of love whose demonstration of the love of God we must follow.

The Epistle of 1 John echoes the same sentiments regarding the love of God, exhorting believers, likewise to show their love to one another:

1 John 4:7-11

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.

10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

The Holman Standard Bible describes the exhortation to love in this way:

Romans 13:8

[ Love, Our Primary Duty ] Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Dr. Martin Luther King has also offered this reminder:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day love should be the foundation upon which every relationship is built, as this poetic excerpt reminds us:

To decide, demonstrate, freely give and practice love:

The platform whereby we must build all relationships

And follow Christ’s command that we love one another.

This time Kathy Troccoli and Friends offer yet another reminder to love one another:

 

Increasing faith, abounding love

February 9, 2017

2 thessalonians 1-3

The Verse of the Day comes from 2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NKJV)

[ God’s Final Judgment and Glory ] We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other,

The Amplified Bible puts it this way:

We ought and indeed are obligated [as those in debt] to give thanks always to God for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is growing exceedingly and the love of every one of you each toward the others is increasing and abounds.

The Verse of the Day notes two areas of growth in Christian believers: faith and love which are mentioned in Thessalonians, the Church Epistles whose focus is hope, the hope of Christ’s return.

Faith

Faith is not static but God’s desire is that our faith grow, increase and abound. When the  apostles said unto the Lord, “Increase our faith,” he responded:

 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. (Luke 17:6)

The plant mentioned by Jesus Christ to illustrate faith is the very small seed of the mustard tree, a pod-bearing, shrub-like plant, growing wild, which is also cultivated in gardens. The little round seeds were an emblem of any small insignificant object. Faith is described in this way: “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth.” Jesus goes on to say, “It [faith] is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.”

A mustard seed once planted and nurtured grows into a mighty tree, just as our faith should grow and abound.

Love:

Not only are believers to grow in faith, they are also exhorted to abound in love, as is mentioned in

2 Corinthians 8:7

Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.

Philippians 1:9

And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;

1 Thessalonians 3:12

And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:

One of the classic metaphors that describe love is a rose. Indeed, love is a rose that grows—

The budding rose never stays the same but unfolds in lovelier ways.

Although the Verse of the Day reminds us our faith and love are to increase and abound, the opening lyrics from a song written by Dale Evans Rogers speak of three essential aspects of the Christian walk:

Have faith, hope and charity,
That’s the way to live successfully.
How do I know, the Bible tells me so.

Volumes could be written and have been, for that matter, on each of these topics, all three of which are mentioned in the last verse of I Corinthians 13 which provides the quintessential definition of “charity” which is also translated from agape, meaning “the love of God” in the following poem which introduces all three elements:

These Three

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three;

but the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians 13:13 (New King James Version

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love,

and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ

in the sight of our God and Father,

1 Thessalonians 1:3 (New King James Version)

 

As Abraham lived by faith, trusted and obeyed,

So we walk by faith and follow his example,

For God is faithful and through His Word conveyed

That the blessings of the Lord are more than ample.

Despite the storms of life, we are anchored in hope.

As Kingdom citizens with their minds set above,

We view heavenly bodies as through a telescope

And soar beyond the world on wings of a dove.

We seek to follow after Christ, the more excellent way,

To walk in love and simply follow his command.

Renewing our minds in all that we do and say,

We seek not be understood but to understand.

Live by faith, rejoice in hope, walk in love and see

Faith, hope and love: Love is the greatest of these three.

The following song embodies all three of these priceless virtues:

Day after Super Bowl and every day: Made a way

February 6, 2017

made-a-way-2

On Monday following Super Bowl LI, the sports world is still reeling from the historic 34-28 win of the New England Patriots over the Atlanta Falcons. In one of the most amazing comebacks in sport history, Tom Brady and the Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit to seize the victory in the first Super Bowl overtime. In reflecting on the game and its outcome, some seek to find spiritual application and look for lessons that can be learned.

I recall lyrics to a children’s song composed to teach the character trait “perseverance,” a strong quality of life that the Patriots demonstrated:

Never give up! Keep your chin up!

Never give up! And you will find

The strength you need to give it one more try.

Never give up Keep your chin up!

Never give up! But realize

You’ve got to go “through” to get to the prize.

So never give up! Keep your chin up!

In the end perseverance always pays.

In the end perseverance always pays.

Most remarkably, at our church, Christian Provision Ministries in Sanford, NC, the morning service was part of Super Bowl weekend, and one of the songs offered by the praise and worship team  was “Made a way” by Travis Greene  with these lyrics:

Standing here not knowing how we’ll get through this test
But holding onto faith you know best
Nothing can catch you by surprise
You’ve got this figured out and you’re watching us now

But when it looks as if we can’t win
You wrap us in your arm and step in
And everything we need you supply
You got this in control
And now we know that

You made a way
When our backs were against the wall
And it looked as if it was over
You made a way
And we’re standing here
Only because you made a way
You made a way

Now we’re here
Looking back on where we come from
Because of you and nothing we’ve done
To deserve the love and mercy you’ve shown
But your grace was strong enough to pick us up

And you made a way
When our backs were against the wall
And it looked as if it was over
You made a way
And we’re standing here
Only because you made a way

You move mountains

You cause walls to fall

With your power

You perform miracles

There is nothing that’s impossible

And we’re standing here

Only because you made a way

Travis Greene stirs our heart with this powerful song:

In reflecting on what happened during Super Bowl LI and in every aspect of “the game of life” when circumstances seem impossible, as believers, we are standing in victory because God “Made a way.”

Yes, Spring is coming

February 3, 2017

spring-is-coming

On yesterday, February 2, the following headline appeared in the Washington Post:

“Groundhog Day 2017: Phil says ‘long winter,’ but he was wrong before he even woke up.”

Despite the fact that Punxsutawney Phil, the celebrated groundhog from Pennsylvania, saw his shadow, predicting another 6 weeks of winter weather, much of the country has already experience record-high temperatures in January. In many places spring flowers are already in bloom. A couple of days ago, I noticed three trees in full bloom with delicate pink blossoms, and I thought  it looks like it’s going to be an early spring this year.

In addition, on February 1, robins were sighted in nearby Angier, North Carolina, another sure sign that Spring is on the way.  Whenever I think of robins returning after their brief winter absence, I recall that I made my acting debut in the second grade when I played “Robin Redbreast.” With my red sweater and brown paper wings flapping vigorously, I ran across the stage proclaiming, “Spring is coming! . . . Spring is coming! . . . Spring is coming!”

A few years ago our daughter, Melissa, sent me a card with the “Easter Legend of the Robin” on the cover:

A little grey robin, as he was flying to the Holy Land, saw Christ hanging on the cross. His heart filled with sadness. He noticed the crown of thorns the soldiers placed on the crucified Savior. The small bird, forgetting his timidity, flew down to remove a thorn from the brow of Christ. As he did so, a drop of Christ’s blood stained the little bird’s breast. The robin, through his act of love, earned the red badge of courage.

From this time forth, all robins have had red breasts as reminder that one of them was kind to the Lord. Thus, the robin is truly the harbinger of spring. He welcomes Easter with his cheerful note of hope, reminding us that from death comes life.

In reflecting upon my acting debut, I composed a song that I sing when I see robins returning in winter:

Red Robin, Red Robin—Harbinger of Spring,

Rear back with your red breast

And sing, sing, sing.

Originally written in light of the Challenger Spacecraft disaster, the poem “Until Spring” was also written in anticipation of one of my favorite seasons:

Until Spring

So when this corruptible has put on incorruption,

and this mortal has put on immortality,

then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,

“Death is swallowed up in victory.  O Death,

where is your sting?  O Hades, where is your victory?

I Corinthians 15:54-55

Whether on earth or shuttled in the sky,

Death snuffs out our candles in devious ways,

For we all must learn to number our days,

Although the soul still probes to fathom why.

The mind made numb with pain can only try

To make sense of the immense ache that stays.

The answer sounds since Adam but still dismays:

It is appointed unto man once to die.

Though grief surrounds us, comfort can be shown.

The sun melts frost with new life as surely

As blossoms will flourish from seeds once sown.

Until Spring, on tip-toe we yearn to see

The day when we shall know as we are known,

When death is swallowed up in victory.                     

To close our discussion is this magnificent song by Steven Curtis Chapman, who wrote the song following the death of his 5 year-old daughter in a tragic accident at the family’s home in 2008.  This exquisite musical composition offers a comforting reminder that, indeed, “Spring is coming.”

Have no fear: Love trumps fear

January 20, 2017

1-john-4-18

In reflecting on the unfolding events of January 20, 2017, I recall the words posted a week ago on Friday, the 13th, regarding fear and its remarkable antidote, love. Although a week has passed, the demonstration of fear still grips the land, particularly on Inauguration Day for the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. In fact, that post has been revised and re-titled “Have no fear: Love trumps fear.” In discussing fear and its potentially deadly consequences, we commented:

Fear, an emotional response to potential danger, if not properly addressed can become a deadly emotion with serious consequences. Excessive fear can become crippling and impact our daily lives in a negative way. Fear, an emotional response to potential danger, if not properly addressed can become a deadly emotion with serious consequences. Unbridle fear, a toxic emotion, limits and inhibits. Proverbs 29:25 makes this clear:

The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.

Some of the responses to the events taking placing in Washington, DC indicate that some people are overly concerned about the future which has led to anxiety. We are encouraged not to be overly concerned about the future nor anything for that matter in Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT):

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

The Bible addresses the issue of fear with numerous reminders that as believers we are not to fear. This comforting exhortation to “fear not” or “do not fear” occurs 365 times in the Bible, indicating a daily memo from God that we are to have no fear. We could look at each one of these exhortations, not as the Verse of the Day but as “a Verse of the Day” for every day.

One such passage offering great encouragement during the trying times in which we live comes from Isaiah 41:10, 13 from which these lyrics are taken:

Do Not Fear

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will strengthen you, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

For it is I, the LORD your God, who holds your right hand;

It is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.”

“Do not fear, I will help you.”

“Do not fear, I will help you.”

It has been said that fear is the only thing that defeats the promises of God. Pastor Rick Warren describes fear    as “. . . a self-imposed prison that will keep you from becoming what God intends for you to be.”

A previous blog post on this topic discussed 1 John 4:18 where we find the perfect antidote to fear:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

The Book of 1 John makes known that those who hear the Word of God and keep it, the love of God is “perfected” or made perfect or complete, wanting nothing or brought to maturity in them. To be “perfected” is to be brought to a full end.

When an individual is “perfected in love” and walks in or demonstrates that love, there no room for fear. The love of God is the key that releases each believer from the bondage of this “self-imposed prison” from which Christ came to set the captives free. Without question, “Love casts out fear. . .” Indeed, “Love trumps fear.”

As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, when we walk in power of God’s love, we will recognize a notable change, not only in our own lives individually, but we will also experience fruitfulness and favor upon our land, even in the midst of famine. The following poem expresses the two-fold blessing that God generates through “Perfected Love”:

Perfected Love

The Lord will answer and say to His people,
“Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil,
And you will be satisfied by them;
I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.

Joel 2:19 (NKJV)

 

Jehovah, creator, author and finisher,

Who initiates to nourish perfected love;

Ever-abiding source and resource, publisher

Of declarations of genuine love to move

The soul of man to return to the place of his first

Love, the Beloved, whose heart overflows to give,

For only this passion can satisfy our thirst,

As you refresh us and teach us how we should live.

You have pledged your love through a sacred covenant.

If we maintain our vows of love, you will sustain

Our souls and feed us so that we shall never want.

You will shower with mercy as the gentle rain

And will bless and multiply the fruit of our land

With “grain, wine, and oil” supplied by Your gracious right hand.

Despite the challenges that confront us as individual believers or collectively as a nation, the Word of God exhorts us to be bold and take courage, not just on this particular Inauguration Day but every day of our lives. We are reminded that “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it, as we put on our “no fear gear”, as we walk in the love of God which casts out all fear. We close with the reassuring words of Wintley Phipps, who tells us one more time, “No Need to Fear:”

Perfected love overcomes fear

January 13, 2017
Friday the 13th

Some people have a negative reaction to Friday, the 13th, but believers are encouraged to have no fear.

As the sun rises on a new day, we celebrate and joyfully declare: “This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Today, the second Friday in the New Year, actually turns out to be Friday, the 13th, a day that some react to in a negative way. Some even have an abnormal fear of Friday, the 13th, actually expressed in the psychological term paraskevidekatriaphobia. While not everyone harbors an ungrounded fear of Friday, the 13th, we cannot deny that fear seems to abound during the perilous times in which we live. We all recognize that fear is a common and natural emotional response to potential danger, but if not properly addressed, it can become a deadly emotion with serious consequences. Excessive fear can become crippling and impact our daily lives in a negative way.

The Bible addresses the issue of fear with numerous reminders that as believers we are not to fear. This comforting exhortation to “fear not” or “do not fear” occurs 365 times in the Bible, indicating a daily memo from God that we are to have no fear. We could look at each one of these exhortations, not as “The Verse of the Day” but as “A Verse of the Day” for every day. One such passage offering great encouragement during trying times comes from Isaiah 41:10, 13, source of these lyrics:

Do Not Fear

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
For it is I, the LORD your God, who holds your right hand;
It is I who say to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.”
“Do not fear, I will help you.”
“Do not fear, I will help you.”

Fear is a tool of the Enemy used as a barrier to stifle our confidence in God, as it attempts to limit our access to the Father’s throne of grace. Satan tries to instill fear in believers in the same way that a ferocious lion roars, seeking to instill fear that paralyzes its victim. We find a similar picture of the ways of our adversary in I Peter 5:8 (AMP):

Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour.

It has been said that fear is the only thing that defeats the promises of God. Pastor Rick Warren describes fear as “. . . a self-imposed prison that will keep you from becoming what God intends for you to be.”

A previous blog post on this topic discussed 1 John 4:18 where we find the perfect antidote to fear:

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

The Book of 1 John makes known that those who hear the Word of God and keep it, the love of God is “perfected” or made perfect or complete, wanting nothing or brought to maturity in them. To be “perfected” is to be brought to a full end. When an individual is “perfected in love” and walks in or demonstrates that love, there no room for fear. The love of God is the key that releases each believer from the bondage of this “self-imposed prison” from which Christ came to set the captives free.

I recall learning about the love of God as a counteractant to fear in a very simple yet profound way. One of the first books that my wife and I used to teach our daughters about our Heavenly Father was My Little Golden Book about God. This was a kind of primer for our daughters who memorized the words and associated them with the illustrations long before they could actually “read.” Some of the most cherished lines were these words that closed out the small book:

“Do not fear. I am here. And I love you, my dear. Close your eyes and sleep tight. For tomorrow will be bright.All is well, dear child. Good night.”

This simple response encourages all children of God to have no fear, for God is ever present, and He continues to say, “And I love you, my dear.”

As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, when we walk in power of God’s love, we will recognize a notable change, not only in our own lives individually, but we will also experience fruitfulness and favor upon our land, even in the midst of famine. The following poem expresses the two-fold blessing that God generates through “Perfected Love”:

Perfected Love

The LORD will answer and say to His people,
“Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil,
And you will be satisfied by them;
I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.

Joel 2:19 (NKJV)

Jehovah, creator, author and finisher,
Who initiates to nourish perfected love;
Ever-abiding source and resource, publisher
Of declarations of genuine love to move
The soul of man to return to the place of his first
Love, the Beloved, whose heart overflows to give,
For only this passion can satisfy our thirst,
As You refresh us and teach us how we should live.
You have pledged your love through a sacred covenant.
If we maintain our vows of love, You will sustain
Our souls and feed us so that we shall never want.
You will shower with mercy as the gentle rain
And will bless and multiply the fruit of our land
With “grain, wine, and oil” supplied by Your gracious right hand.

Despite the challenges that confront us as individual believers or collectively as a nation, the Word of God exhorts us to be bold and take courage, not just on Friday, the 13th but every day of our lives. Friday, the 13th, is just another reminder to put on our “no fear gear”, as we walk in the love of God which casts out all fear. We close with the reassuring words of Wintley Phipps, who tells us one more time, “No Need to Fear:”

Transitioning from darkness: Arise to a new place

January 4, 2017

1-peter-2-9

During the first week of 2017 I have been reflecting on times in which we live, recognizing the Lord’s command that we let our light so shine in the midst of darkness. At times the darkness that surrounds us can be overwhelming. A number of years ago I posted a prophetic word addressed to the Body of Christ by the late John Paul Jackson. Although he shared this message more than eight years ago, his words certainly can be applied and they provide encouragement to believers today.  Here is an excerpt from that message entitled: “All New Things Begin in Darkness: Transitioning through Your Dark Night”:

This is a year of transition. 

“. . . [N]o doubt you’re aware that transition means things are changing. If you allow God to move in your life and do what He wants to do, you’ll enjoy the change. And if you don’t … then you won’t, for obvious reasons.

In this e-letter, I would like to talk to you about something that goes hand in hand with transition. It is the hardest part of change, actually, and is what makes change so often difficult.

Jesus said that whoever loses his life will find it (Matthew 10:39). Growing spiritually is possible only if you’re willing to let go of the old in order to gain the new. In other words, you gain by losing; you give up your life in order to find it.

But there’s a secret in that. What you need to give up is the thing that’s holding you back. You might think it is good, but it is actually keeping you from your destiny. It is a virus, an infection, a germ that needs eradicating before it can metastasize.

If God asks you to give up something, it is only what will destroy you — i.e., this isn’t something you want to keep!

Here’s the catcher: The in-between time when you’re coming to that conclusion is usually confusing, painful and completely black. You can’t see a thing, and you have no idea where you’re going. Have you felt like that this year … yet?

Three Levels of Darkness

From pregnancy to creation, from anointing to new days, everything begins in darkness. It has been that way from the first day of creation, and it will continue to the end.

New things begin in darkness. There are three levels, or deep times, of darkness that we encounter on the road to our destiny and true, pure spirituality: the Dark Night of the Wilderness or Desert, the Dark Night of the Soul and the Dark Night of the Spirit. With each one, you will feel like you are immersed in a deeper darkness than you have ever been in before.

You will see less clearly, if at all, where you thought you were going. You most likely will not understand the purpose of it and why God is allowing you to go through such a dark, difficult time. Depending on what God is after, this time may shake you to your very core.

The First Sign of Healing

At some point in all three phases, you finally realize that what you have self-justified (the thing you’ve been trying to hold onto) is actually hindering your destiny, and with this realization, there is often a sense of failure or sorrow or both. . . .But even here, do not give up hope, because this sense of failure is actually the initial sign of healing: You are on your way out. You have allowed God to remove the blinders, and as He does so, the first tendrils of light become visible again.

Immediately after this point of despair, everything changes. Here you see the light at the end of the long tunnel. You have hope for a better life, and it is soooooo refreshing. Though you know the rest of the tunnel still lies ahead of you, you see the light at the end, and you know you will make it, even though, up until this point, you were pretty sure you wouldn’t.

So many of us are walking blindly today, because God sees where we’re heading, but we do not. As this is the eighth month already, no doubt you’re aware that transition means things are changing. You can’t get away with the things you got away with before; your Father has asked you to come up higher. He may have asked you to give up the “good” thing in order to give you the best. Times are dark. The way is hidden.
The secret is this: No matter how dark your transitional time has been, you were always going to make it in God’s book, even during these times when the light has been hidden from you. If God is your Captain, you will survive this year — and the next year and the one after that.

But for right now, as God transitions you and you walk through intense times of not knowing, don’t lose hope. As the sun rises from behind the peaks and you see life again for the first time in months … you’re going to fall in love all over again. God never leaves His children in the dark. You’ll see.

Reading this message brought to mind, the following poetic exhortation:

Arise to a New Place

  But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,

His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises

of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

 1 Peter 2:9

In Christ you are free from the burdens you once bore.

The shackles of past shortcomings have been lifted,

For the yoke of guilt and shame you will bear no more.

Arise to a new place–all things God has shifted

The shackles of past shortcomings have been lifted.

No longer restricted, cast off every care.

Arise to a new place–all things God has shifted.

Even in darkest times God has always been there.

No longer restricted, cast off every care.

Released from bondage, reproach has been rolled away.

Even in darkest times, God has always been there.

Pure joy comes with the dawning of a brand new day.

Released from bondage, reproach has been rolled away.

In a place where love abounds and peace never ends,

Pure joy comes with the dawning of a brand new day.

You walk, hand in hand, with the Lord, as faithful friends.

Released from bondage, reproach has been rolled away,

For the yoke of guilt and shame you will bear no more.

You walk, hand in hand, with the Lord, as faithful friends.

In Christ you are free from the burdens you once bore.

Arise to a new place–all things God has shifted.

We close with Chris Tomlin, who reminds us that we are “A Chosen Generation” whom God has “called out of darkness to walk in His marvelous light.”