Friday, August 22, 2014
WORDS OF HOPE LEAPING OFF THE PAGES
"...a word spoken in due season, how good is it!" (Proverbs 15:23)
This is one of those posts anybody can read and think about, but it's particularly intended for mature Christians. The most important part of my day is my "devotions", or what could also be called my "devotional life". I know that's "evangelical Christian-ese" which is not understood by large numbers of people. The fact is that when somebody truly comes to know Jesus Christ as his or her "Personal Savior and Lord", there are changes that will come to that person's life. Most people would think that spending (say) an hour or so a day reading the Bible and praying would be like serving "detention" in middle school. When you come to know and love the Lord, however, you value the time spent in talking to Him in prayer and reading from His Holy Word. When I became an evangelical Christian in my mid-teens, reading the Bible was often not all that exciting or interesting. It frequently seemed like a chore. (Ever try reading through the Book of Leviticus, for instance?!)
After over forty years, however, I have seen the value of reading through the Bible over and over, even though at times it can be "dry". In time, you notice a lot of "hidden" things in the Bible you just never noticed before; and you and notice some amazing common themes and even common threads that can be quite exciting! I had one of those "common thread" experiences today. I've used different patterns for devotional Bible reading through the years, and several times I've "changed it up" to make it fresh. It's been about seventeen years now that I've had a particular reading pattern. One day I read a New Testament chapter. The next day I read another New Testament chapter. And, the next day I read an Old Testament chapter. I pretty much go through the Bible in order. It takes a little over a year to go through the New Testament and it takes about eight years to go through the Old Testament. However, I do insert special readings for special occasions. For instance, on Christmas Eve, I might read Matthew 2, and on Christmas Day, I might read Luke 2. I buy a blank journal toward the end of every calendar year, and I "lay out" the schedule of Bible readings I'm going to follow for the upcoming year. Honestly, it's tedious doing that. I don't look forward to all that writing and layout work, but later on, I'm so glad I did. I will be stunned when there's a day of heavy rain in April and my Bible passage talks about heavy rain. Or, on some day in February, I was disturbed by hearing someone's destructive gossip, and I'll do my Bible reading and it's about the danger of gossip! Things like that are not a coincidence: this is the work of the Holy Spirit!
Yesterday's Bible reading passage for me was Genesis 32. It's the story of when Jacob is about to "meet" his estranged brother Esau for the first time in twenty years. Jacob hears that Esau is on his way with four hundred men. Jacob is terrified. Today's Bible reading passage was Acts 27. Listen, if you easily get seasick, I don't recommend that you read Acts 27. It's the story of a terrible storm; really a "perfect storm" as in the movie. Paul and Luke are on board a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean. I know we think of guys like Paul and Luke as giants of the faith, but verse 20 of Acts 27 tells us that everybody on that ship lost all their hope of surviving that voyage. Everybody- even Paul and Luke. They all became hopeless. This, like Jacob's plight in Genesis 32, was also a terrifying time.
I would never have thought that there's a common thread running through Genesis 32 and Acts 27 but today the Holy Spirit showed me that there absolutely is. You see, over two years prior to that perfect storm, the Lord Himself had appeared to Paul (who was a prisoner in dire straits in those days) and told him to be encouraged and that one day he would travel to Rome. (At the time, Paul was located in what we now call Israel.) That's found in Acts 23:11. Paul had held tightly to that promise. It got him through the next two years. And, similarly, God had told Jacob in Genesis 31:12-13 and reiterated in Genesis 32:9 to return to the area he'd originally come from and that things would go well for him. Both had specific and definite promises from God. Both were on journeys. Both faced circumstances which were terrifying and which made the promise from God look false and like it was not going to happen! Listen, this could be developed into a whole sermon, and perhaps someday I will develop that sermon and preach it! I don't want to go into too much detail, but Genesis 32 is the chapter where Jacob wrestles with God! I know some folks say he wrestled with an angel. That's not what it says. Specifically, it says he wrestled with a man, but the chapter indicates it was God in human form! (Was it Jesus Christ in pre-incarnate form? I think so!) Jacob tells his wrestling opponent that he will not let go until He blesses him, and God does mightly bless him there! At that point, God changes Jacob's name to Israel! And, for Paul in that horrible situation on the ship in the midst of the storm, an angel of God speaks to Paul and tells him that despite how things look, the ship will be destroyed but that not one person on board that ship will perish!
In the next chapter in Genesis, there is a meeting between Esau and Jacob. Twenty years earlier, Esau hated Jacob and wanted him dead, but things had changed. Esau was very cordial and it was a pleasant meeting. And, the ship carrying Paul and company wrecks off the coast of Malta, but amazingly, the passengers all make it to land. In the following chapter, several months later, Paul finally arrives in Rome!
Listen, I know the reality of God having made promises to me, yet my circumstances are the exact opposite of what God has promised! I know the reality of terror, doubt, and hopelessness. I'm not proud of that, but I do. Well, so did Jacob and Paul! I got so much out of my devotional reading today! I was reminded that despite my own depression and hopelessness at times, God knows the journey I'm on. He also knows the promises he's made to me and He will keep his Word!
Honestly, I'd love to receive any feedback you have on this one!