Comfort


Some time ago, I was driving through Nashville and heard an abnormal noise from the left rear side of my car.  Quickly, I decelerated (as safely as I could) and maneuvered to the right side of the interstate right past Exit 215; and turned on my flashers.  Sure enough, I had a flat, so I immediately dialed my insurance company as I was on my way to an engagement in eastern Tennessee.  They indicated they would dispatch a wrecker to come and repair the tire within an hour.  In a matter of minutes, a huge lime yellow truck pulled up behind me with the tag on the side which read, “Tennessee Highway Incident Response Unit.”  A rather tall gentleman exited the vehicle and came to greet me.  I concluded he was not sent from my insurer, and asked him how did he know I was there.  He calmly pointed to the overpass behind us over a half mile away, and said, “Our monitors saw you when you pulled over, and I was sent (radioed) to come and assist you.”  I strained my eyes to see, and in the distance, I noticed surveillance cameras strategically mounted on the interstate bridge that had us in view at that very moment.  I waved, and was amazed and grateful at the same time.

 

In an ancient culture and in quite a different world than the one in which we live, the Psalmist—without the advantages of technology and electronics—yet knew something very similar about God.  In the 46th Number, it was declared, “God is my refuge and my strength, a very present help in the time of trouble…” (verse 1).  No matter where you are and what you may be going through, this reality remains indisputable.  Our God sees all, our God knows all, and ONLY our God is yet able to do ANYTHING; but fail.  If you’ll wait on Him, He’ll come see about you.  Sometimes He sends angels, sometimes He sends others (believers), and then sometimes, He just shows Himself!  Ain’t that good news!!!!!

 

You may not have had an “accident” or perhaps some other major “incident;” even if you’ve only had a flat, God can still fix it!!

 

While attending the Hampton’s Ministers Conference recently, a colleague and I were conversing about the NBA playoffs and he asked at what time the game would start that evening. Motioning to pick up the TV remote, he objected and said, “Let me get it!” Curiously, he took his Smartphone and began speaking into it. Effortlessly, he simply verbalized the question, “What time does Miami and Dallas play tonight?” In a matter of seconds, the phone executed a search and revealed the game would begin at 8:00 p.m. I was literally blown away. Quickly, I asked him what in the world did he just do! He told me about this downloadable application for Smartphones that would allow such an option to anyone who wanted to use it. Not wanting to be left out, I located the software on my phone and downloaded it with ease. I have been using it ever since.

Don’t miss this! Technology has now come to a point that without ever typing a key, one can simply via voice recognition ask your phone just about any question you want, and in almost no time the phone will reveal the answer. Well, the creators of Google aren’t that smart. In fact, they simply have been trying to mimic an application designed by God since the beginning of time. Similar to Google Search, God’s search engine is called prayer. It’s free and only takes a little, and it is available to anyone who would access it. Our Creator has already designed us to employ it; and is only waiting an opportunity to resolve and answer all of our issues and questions. He is only a prayer away.

If you’ve got a problem, just ask God. I am a witness He will answer you!

Fate has a way of introducing situations into our lives that challenge us at the deepest levels. From debt, difficulty, disaster, divorce, death, and beyond, these have a way of putting-the-squeeze on us in ways we would prefer to avoid. Never does God intend for these things to depress or destroy us. To the contrary, He uses these to develop us into power-broking people who can endure trials and prevail at any time, in any place, and under any circumstance. Settle with the fact that some realities just won’t change. Loved ones do age and may become ill. Grown children will eventually leave home; whether at a time we are ready for them to go, or earlier should they decide to take the plunge. Employers may make hard choices that cost us substantially. In short, we will continue to experience losses no matter who were are or what we have attained. We cannot change these!

You should know, though, you have options! You can either fight it—that is, try hard to deny the reality as if it does not exist—or you can face it. You can either take it lying down, or you can stand up in the midst of it and be a victor, and not the victim. When life issues you a lemon, you can actually make lemonade. God gives believers the power to take stumbling blocks, and successfully turn them into stepping stones. Regardless of how painful the dilemma is, we can make it, because it’s not the end of the world. That is, yet! Want to know how? Here’s an approach:

First, thank God for the test (trial). Really, that’s all it is. It’s a test of your faith. I don’t know anyone who tries to intentionally fail a test. There are some Christians, however, who would prefer to simply “not take the test.” Don’t trip! Thank God for it. It’s only a test! Second, ask God to help you learn from it. There is so much to learn in every experience. Turn that trial or challenge into a learning module. God will show you areas where you are much stronger/wiser than you realized, and ways (and places) where you need improvement. No matter what, learn from the experience! Third, be positive! The matter of faith is a “living” reality. Therein lies a power at our disposal to handle and overcome any adversity if we would simply appropriate it. Sing songs of praise and be joyful. Do all you can to celebrate God’s goodness even in the dark places! Make God larger than the problem. Fourth, trust His word (Him) through it! Remind yourself of the promises of God. He alone declares never to leave nor forsake us. He alone has the power to defeat death, hell, and the grave. Read and remember His word.

Daniel had fasted and was praying for three full weeks anticipating a breakthrough and some needed relief for the people of Israel (Chapter 9). While still praying, the angel of the Lord came and told him what he needed to hear. Amazingly, the angel confessed he departed heaven to come to Daniel’s aid a full three weeks earlier, but had been strangely detained by demonic forces (see Chapter 10:13). Even more amazing was the fact Daniel never lost hope. I wondered why! I pondered how we might equally be resilient as we wait on God’s timely intervention into our situations today. Two things came to mind:

(1) God always gives assurance in spite of the appearance. When things appear they are not changing and you find yourself getting a bit weary, pay close attention to how God mysteriously provides assurance even in spite of the appearance. Things are not always as they seem.
(2) Trust the revelation instead of the manifestation. As you read His word, hold fast to what God has said rather than what you see. His word alone can kindle a fire in your heart and give to you the comfort you need to make it through. I am a witness He will!

Dear brothers and sisters; roll up your sleeves and tell the devil “He’s a liar; and the truth is not in him!” Trust God! You can and will make it!

Continental Flight 1734 was the carrier on which I was to be flying through Houston on my way to the east coast for a conference. At 7:00 a.m. on the day planned, we pushed away from the gate at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield, and taxied as scheduled toward the runway. Approved for take-off, the jumbo jet quickly began accelerating. Our bodies were automatically welded to our seatbacks with our seat belts fastened as instructed; anticipating lift in only a few seconds. Suddenly, the aircraft noticeably decelerated and it was quite obvious ours was not to be a successful takeoff after this try. In a matter of moments, the captain related the aircraft had experienced power failure with the right engine, and it would need to be fixed before we could re-board for Houston.

After more than an hour delay, another announcement declared the flight was being cancelled due to a mechanical failure, and the gate agents would need to re-book us. Some passengers were concerned as they had appointments they were scheduled to meet. A few were outright angry at the inconvenience. I got in line and waited to be re-booked on another aircraft. Two hours later and the last person standing, when I reached the desk the flight attendant announced our original plane was finally repaired. We would be re-boarding within ten minutes. For me, there was only one problem—I was scheduled to be in Richmond by mid-afternoon to attend the opening ceremony at our annual convocation. The delay was surely going to cause me to miss worship.

I related my conflict, and in a matter of moments, new arrangements were found and secured for me on another airline. I was on my way to my destination with the reasonable assurance I would be there well in advance of the evening’s event. I guess you know I made it.

Church troubles are like mechanical failures and technical difficulties. Of course, they happen in this Christian journey, and sometimes they can delay you (your development, that is). Often times, they may deter you, even discourage your journey. The good thing about it is yours (that is, the church you attend) is not the only carrier to get you to your destination. It’s really not that serious. Sadly, some churches are just plagued with problems. It doesn’t mean the people are not Christian or they will wind up in hell. It means they are simply having a hard time getting off the ground, and just can’t seem to make any headway, and there’s nothing you can do to help them.

You may consider this: If you pray and trust God, He very well may provide for you another carrier that will equally help you reach your destination. So, do what you need to do, my brothers and sisters. Keep the goal in mind. After all, you don’t want to miss “worship.” It will be okay!

While certain critics continue their onslaught of playwright, Tyler Perry, regarding his latest film, “For Colored Girls,” box-offices prove these so-called experts don’t altogether know everything; and especially about our understanding and appreciation of black art. In my humble opinion, the production struck (strangely) a few spiritual chords I found noteworthy, and afforded me the opportunity to incorporate them into a recent message. Through a combination of varying and independent themes, Perry amazingly caused them to coalesce in a warmly communal scene at the conclusion of the movie that was packed with preaching. If you have seen it already, then you may appreciate these epigrammatic observations from my review.

As these nine ladies stood arm-in-arm on the roof of the apartment building wherein much of the drama took place, I found their dissimilar stories and uniformly unfortunate circumstances portraying these common truths. Somehow they each came to discover (1) You’re not the only one that’s going through; (2) There’s always someone else who is worse off than you; (3) You need me, and I need you; and (4) and if any of us are going to make it, only God can bring us through!

Poetic, yes! But, I submit these are both painstaking and powerful, too!

Settle with these realities, my brothers and sisters. When you do, you may find comfort to stay in the fight, the courage to continue with the struggle, and the strength never to give up (or give in) until the battle is finally over. God is not through with you yet!

Be blessed and may His peace be with you, always!

The Apostle Paul wrote to his colleague and cohort, Timothy, and incorporated a familiar trans-generational analogy to illustrate his point. He told this young servant and friend to “…stir up…” the gift inside him (2 Timothy 1:6). A few modern translators relate he was to “…fan into flame…” the gift (NIV, NLT, etc.). We can only assume what Paul meant (exactly), but the metaphor offers key insights for us to gain a reasonable understanding of his admonition as we attempt to interpret these words.

In the chill and challenge of those Eastern mornings or the brisk cold of many a night in Rome, we get the sense (a mental picture) that Paul may have been responsible to manage the fire pits used to warm and comfort prisoners and soldiers. He portrays how a well lit fire (whether in a fire place, a fire pit, or even a grill) unattended can soon become dormant and lose its ability to give heat. He knew that live coals left alone will eventually smolder and become ashen. Born of his experience (or perhaps his careful observation), the Apostle seizes an opportunity to convey to Timothy a truth we all need to learn. To avoid your fire going out, all one needs do is “stir up the gift.” What does that mean in modern language, and how do we appropriate such a strategy for our own lives? Let’s consider the following:

1. PAY ATTENTION TO IT! As in the small matter of our given dexterity, each of us (as infants) began to favor a particular hand which others saw and knew was to be our dominant appendage. In fact, they would be careful to encourage use of the same by placing the crayon or pencil into that hand in the establishment of proficiency. The same is the case when it comes to spiritual gifting. God has factored dexterity into our developmental reality. One sure way to discern it or to discover it is by simply paying attention to it. Notice your strengths and propensities. Others will, too!
2. PRAY ABOUT IT! As curiosity becomes calm, be sure to seek God about the conclusions you may be reaching. Ask Him (God), “Lord, is this your will?” Ask, “Am I headed in the right direction for my life?” I am confident we would each more easily and much more quickly fair better about our gifts and callings if we would spend more time praying about it.
3. PLAN FOR IT! When you are serious, there may be areas of your life that need serious adjustment and personal modification—like debt, education, special training, etc. Begin to position yourself and your circumstances for full-time devotion to “fulfilling your calling.” In that God has invested in you, then you should invest in you, too!
4. PURSUE IT! At some point, plans must eventually be executed and put to the test. Go for it! You have to start heading in that direction. You will never make it to DC if you don’t leave Atlanta. You’ll never become a physician if you don’t attend medical school. If you want to become a lawyer, you first must pass the LSAT. Move definitively in that direction. Pursue it.
5. PRESENT IT (or PUT IT INTO PRACTICE)! Strangely, the world feels gifts are to be received. I beg to differ. Gifts are called gifts because they are designed to be given (presented). Let God use you to be a blessing to someone else’s life so they can be transformed by the love of God in you. Allow your gift to express itself in the lives of other people.

These may not be all that Paul meant, but they surely offer some practical insights into how we can approach the notion of “gift stirring” he mentioned. In all actuality, Timothy’s gift was already in his DNA as it was evident in both his mother and his grandmother. He was spiritually “wired” for service. God did His part (by giving the gift), but it was Timothy’s job to do his part—stir it up!

Think about this in your life’s journey. If others are not being warmed, comforted, enlightened, transformed, attracted, even charmed (benefiting) from the gift of God resident within you (these are all things a flaming fire will do), then that’s a good indication your fire is out. And if yours is out, don’t be alarmed or discouraged about it. Just do what Paul told Timothy! “Stir that thang up!”

God favored me in a most refreshing and remarkable way the other day. After years of searching (and simply refusing to give up), I was able to reconnect with a dear friend I met over 30 years ago while we both were serving as young officers in the United States Army at Fort Benning, Georgia. Reassigned to a new installation in 1981, I moved on and we simply lost contact. We had not spoken since.

Finding him was not easy. It took time and effort, and the closer I got (it seemed), the more challenging the search became. When finally we spoke, the excitement in our voices was both unmistakable and indescribable. We laughed and cried as we talked. I was especially moved as he told of his painful path over the years. Injuries, sickness, difficulties, and even the shadow of death were all a part of his peculiar journey. On several occasions he shared how he almost lost his life in a few accidents during overseas maneuvers. His story brought me to more tears, but I was (and am) so happy to discover he was alive and well.

Of all the things he shared, his voice was strongest when he told me about how God alone had kept him and had brought him safely through. Confidently, he reported he held faithful membership with Eastern Star Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, where Reverend Jeffrey Johnson serves as pastor. He cited their motto there is the church “Where Jesus is exalted and the Word is explained.” What he said next shook me to the core. He said, “Reg, you know I’m not a preacher and I may not be able to explain the word like many others; but I can assure you of one thing; can’t nobody beat me exalting Him. Believe that!” There was even more joy!

In His own mysterious way, God granted me another measure of His grace by allowing me to reunite with a dear friend and brother who I have not seen in three decades. Incredibly, and perhaps equally as long he was also looking for me.

In case you haven’t already figured it out, I’m really excited about this reunion. I have only heard his voice, but I’m still glad about it. I have yet to see his face or even shake his hand, but I still have joy about it. Just the prospects of seeing him in the near future give me great encouragement, and each time I tell of this experience, my joy excites others.

I should tell you there is a Great reunion scheduled! In these days of economic challenge and personal difficulty, keep pursuing this Friend–the Lord—while He may be found. You, too, will find joy unspeakable and full of glory. In fact, you will be surprised to learn some good news in your search. This Friend has also been looking for you!

Football is perhaps my favorite of all organized sports. Routinely I enjoy a game on television, and will even catch a few highlights on a sports channel. While relaxing at home recently, a game caught my eye. The offense was executing their play as the ball was snapped, and wide receivers ran up the field hoping to get open. The quarterback unleashed a long pass toward the goal line (and near the sideline) as one receiver ran a post pattern toward the pylon—the end zone/out-of-bounds marker. Near the two or three yard line, the player inadvertently stepped-out-of-bounds, but reentered the field of play in pursuit of the descending ball. It was a remarkable catch! The referee signaled a touchdown. The stadium erupted as the crowd went ballistic. The defenders objected and I stood up in utter amazement at the acrobatic reception!

Instinctively, the scoring team’s field goal unit ran onto the field to line up for the ensuing extra point when all-of-a-sudden the game was halted. The play was being reviewed by those in the replay booth. After a short delay, the umpire repositioned himself on the field and reported, “After further review, the call on the field is confirmed; it is a touchdown!”

It is no secret we are often sidelined and knocked out-of-bounds—e. g. mistakes, blunders, indiscretions, bad judgments, weariness, fatigue, etc.—by the opposition (our adversary) while attempting to execute our Lord’s play (God’s will for our lives). In fact, to go “out-of-bounds” (in the eyes of many) actually renders one ineligible to continue or even further to touch the ball. This new rule in professional and collegiate football is affording us some valuable insights into spiritual truths I felt worthy of sharing.

Here they are:

(1) The goal of the enemy is to render us disqualified and totally ineligible to continue in ministry. His strategy is to cause us to “cross of the line” or “step out-of-bounds” through any number of discomforting means—mistakes, blunders, indiscretions, bad judgments, etc. So be aware of his schemes and ward him off at every juncture!

(2) No matter what happens, keep running the route! Had the receiver stopped his course (even though he was clearly pushed out), he never would have caught the ball and certainly would not have scored. Get back onto the playing field as quickly and as responsibly as you can, and continue with the route you have been given! After all, the ball is already in the air.

(3) Remember, lastly, the ultimate decision is not your call to make (nor anyone else’s)! There is another Person (God)—Power, Authority—who sits aptly in the replay booth; and He alone is the Official who determines whether you are “in” or “out!”

Work hard to avoid being side-tracked or side-lined, my brothers and sisters! Let the Lord use you TODAY. If you have been knocked down or in some way pushed out, get back up (or back in) and keep running your route. There’s an entire team (believers) and a stadium full of fans (Hebrews calls them “a great cloud of witnesses” [12:1]) who are counting on you! They (We) need you to score!

As I exited my vehicle at Wal-Mart this past Thursday, I noticed a young couple exiting their vehicle at the same time. Strangely, we had to park a good distance from the main entrance since the parking lot was rather full. I couldn’t help but notice how the guy was dressed. He had on a bright yellow cap with a huge green “G” on it, with a grass-colored bib that was turned backwards on his head. He also wore a green jersey with a huge number four centered on it. White striped on both the shoulders and the sleeves accented his garb as he sported some khaki colored knickerbocker-type shorts that came down to his knees. A pair of sandy-colored sandals finished off his attire that plainly declared he was a Green Bay Packer fan.

Interestingly, earlier in the week, the Packers found themselves on the losing end of a widely publicized battle against their Chicago arch rivals—the Bears. It was a great game that kept fans (and viewers) on edge as it came-down-to-the-wire. In the closing moments, the Bears skillfully positioned themselves to kick a winning field goal to break the 24-24 tie. Green Bay was helpless to do anything realistic with the ensuing kickoff. The game ended 27-24, Chicago! Pundits indicate the Packers actually gave the game away. That was on Monday night! Yet, on Thursday, a man gracefully and publicly wore his Packers regalia without shame. I thought, “What would make a man continue to wear his favorite team’s paraphernalia even though his team lost a game they should have won; and sadly had let him down?” It’s really rather simple:

1. He was clearly a loyal fan and unashamedly loved his team.

2. He knew this game (Monday night’s) was just “one game” and the season wasn’t over.

3. He also knew that Sunday was coming and there likely would be an opportunity for redemption.

Are you a loyal fan of Christ’s church? Or are you someone playing the victim and participating in the negativity about others who fail or fall? My prayer is that we—Christ’s church—will soon embrace these principles. It does not matter who it is or what they have done (or what they may be accused of doing). True believers will (1) always remain as loyal proponents of the church of Jesus Christ just because they love the team; (2) they will work hard to remember this is only one game (e.g. one fumble, one dropped pass, one missed field goal, one flag, one fowl, one strike, one delay of game, or one un-sportsman-like conduct call, etc.), and that the season isn’t over; and (3) they will keep in mind that Sunday is coming; and there should arrive (prayerfully) a fresh opportunity for redemption.

Remain loyal, my brothers and sisters! Keep wearing the Lord’s regalia; and know that God alone is this game’s Official—He’s the Umpire, the Referee, and the Line Judge—and He alone has the power and is in the position to determine if any of us should remain on the team, or can continue to play the game!

In case you don’t know, Green Bay defeated Detroit today!

Here we go again! It should be no surprise that another Christian scandal has made it to the headlines and piqued the interest of believers everywhere, the viewing world, and especially the media. Although the truth is yet to be discovered, rumors continue to mount and many have already drawn conclusions on the innocence and guilt of the accused. The devil just doesn’t play fair, does he? It is most sad!

Let me be clear! Christ’s church is no stranger to controversy; and Christians and Christian leaders are never exempt from these routine and riotous hazards of the faith. Regrettably, some of these are self-imposed and the results of ones’ own undoing. Many are not! Throughout history God’s people have been under the microscope of constant judgment and incessant criticism. In fact, Jesus said, “…the kingdom suffers violence and violent men take it by force.” (See Matthew 11:12, NASB). As believers we will never escape satanic attack and the inequitable demonic strategies employed to destroy God’s work and our witness. What, then, are Christians supposed to do? How are we to respond when these tragic and unavoidable black-eyes occur? And believe me, this is undeniably a huge “black-eye!” Let’s see!

First of all, whenever a brother or a sister has been charged or is accused of a thing—a crime, an offense (a sin), an indiscretion, a fault, etc.,—as sad as it may be, don’t be surprised. In Revelation 12:10, our adversary is called “the accuser of the brethren.” Satan is still the “father of lies, the master of disguise, and the author of confusion.” These are the indisputable facts, and there’s no way around them!

Secondly, don’t judge. Any rash conclusions reached or quick judgments made about anyone who is accused is both premature as well as immature. “All the facts” need to be weighed! And even further, it is not our right or responsibility to ever reach a hasty “verdict” without giving those facts due consideration. Yes, believers will eventually judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), but these will surely be based on facts!

Thirdly, remember grace. Were it not for the grace (goodness) of God, any of us could be under attack (under seize, or even under fire) at any given moment. That means while you may not be on the witness stand or public display (today), you don’t have to be guilty of anything for the enemy to accuse you of something. We are ALL guilty of something(s), and it is only God’s grace that keeps ALL of us out of the lime-light and the public line-of-fire. Thank God for His grace and always be sure to extend the same to others who may be struggling or are presently under attack!

Fourthly (and most of all), PRAY! The fallout associated with these terrible misfortunes is incalculable. We should immediately begin to intercede and pray. Consider for a moment those who are directly affected:

(a) The accused—undoubtedly a human being with feelings, family, friends, some form of fortune, failures, faults, and flaws. It cannot be easy for anyone accused (whether innocent or guilty).
(b) The accusers—no doubt, there are some issues within the hearts and minds of anyone who would pursue a legal (and public) course of action to resolve an apparent personal problem or difficulty. The Bible is clear on the way believers are to resolve offenses and settle differences.
(c) The world of believers—whenever scandalous matters are aired before the world for open debate and public consumption it sadly damages the image of the church and the strength of every believer’s witness. There is absolutely no way around it!
(d) The unbelieving world—these (unsaved sinners) don’t need another excuse for failing to choose Jesus Christ as their portion. When you take a look at it, it’s a no-win situation and we all lose; and the only way to combat these kinds of heinous assaults is to engage the most formidable weapon in our arsenal and at our disposal—prayer!

Fifthly (and lastly), trust God to work it out! God alone is judge, and we should trust Him and His power to work it all out for all of our good and more especially for His glory. It is still true whatever the enemy may mean against us for evil, God can (and will) work it out for our good! Trust Him!

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters. This certainly won’t be the last attack (or perhaps fall) of a believer or man or woman of God. When it’s all said and done, God will still be God, He is still good, He will still be great, He yet remains gracious, and He will always be greatly to be praised!

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