Today's Bible Verse...

Do Not Be Afraid, God Cares

Continued from TRUSTING GOD: TURNING OUR WORRIES, DOUBTS, AND FEARS INTO LAUGHTER AND JOY. The Scripture for this post is  Genesis 21:8-21 and Matthew 1:18-25.


Time-traveling to the Old Testament era, we find Hagar in the wilderness with her son, Ishmael. Having been driven out by Abraham (because of Sarah's jealous demand); she is wandering and about to perish. Her water container (given to her by Abraham when he sent her away) is empty. Afraid, Hagar abandons her son; she doesn’t want to see him die. She weeps.




Flash back: “I heard you walking in the garden," Adam replied to the LORD God, “so I hid because I was afraid, being naked” (Genesis 3:10). And so fear enters the world of mankind, seemingly for the first time.

Before Genesis chapter three, however, Adam and his wife, Eve, walked with God in peace and harmony (hence, no need to be afraid). But then, since mankind’s disobedience, God has to remind His created beings, Do not be afraid.” And God continually reminds us through His Word that we have nothing to fear, but can trust in His care.


Returning to Hagar: (Genesis 21:17 – Hagar was Sarah's maidservant): Hearing her crying, God sends His angel to her: Do not be afraid, Hagar. God cares for you. Go back to the boy. Be assured of God’s promise: He will make a great nation from your son’s descendants.” (Genesis 21:18.) God provides a well full of water there in the wilderness. Hagar refills her container and gives her son a drink.

(This is not the first time, however, Hagar was driven from Abraham and Sarah’s presence. Earlier (Genesis 16 we saw Sarah’s impatience at not being able to have children. We also saw there God’s care for Hagar, the same care He has for all of mankind whom He created in His own image [even though that image was distorted through Adam and Eve’s one act of disobedience]. Thus, that one act sets up God’s continual plea to us, “Do not be afraid. I’m your God who cares for you.”)


Our "time machine" takes us now to the New Testament era, and to Joseph’s dream (Matthew 1:18-25) He is that Joseph who is engaged to Mary, the mother-to-be of the promised Messiah, Jesus.

Do not be afraid, Joseph, to take Mary as your wife,” the angel of the Lord says to him, For the child within her is of the Holy Spirit.”

Waking up, Joseph obeys the angel and lets stand his betrothal to Mary. She gives birth to her son on that blessed Christmas morn in the little town of Bethlehem – the city of David – south of Jerusalem (while she is still a virgin) Luke 2:8-11.
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Then, the news rings out to the shepherds abiding in their fields. The angel of the Lord encourages them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people…” (Luke 2:10.)

Hurrying to the village, where they find Mary and Joseph, the shepherds’ faces brighten in seeing the baby Jesus lying in the manger. It was just as the angel had said to them about this child: “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today…” (Luke 2:11.)

Witnessing this great event in their lives, the shepherds return to their flocks, giving glory and praise to God, and telling everyone their story, to the astonishment of all those who heard (Luke 2:16-20).



Flash forward: The Jews in Corinth resist the Apostle Paul’s message to them about this Jesus, who was born their Messiah and Lord (Acts 18:1-11). Paul is discouraged. Then, while sleeping one night, in a vision the Lord encourages Paul – and Christ-followers today in sharing the Good News to their neighbors, co-workers, and the ‘nations’: “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city [and around the world] belong to me” (Acts 18:9-10.)

Ours is to Go, as Jesus commissioned, and find His people (Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:20)


  

We zoom ahead once more, now to the 18th Century, and meet Henry Martyn. As Ruth A. Tucker puts it in her work From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, he is “sometimes described as the pioneer Protestant missionary to Muslims.”

He is born in Cornwall, England, in 1781. Completing his formal education, he enters Cambridge University, graduating from there with top honors in mathematics.





Flash back: Martyn drifts from God in his youth. However, the death of his father, the
David Brainerd
influence of family and friends, and in particular the writings of David Brainerd, bring about his spiritual transformation and a vision for missions.

Of Brainerd, Martyn says, “I long to be like him. Let me forget about the world and be swallowed up in a desire to glorify God.”






And so in 1805 Martyn sails for India. He serves as a chaplain with the East India
Company. He then meets William Carey who recognizes Martyn’s brilliance, and encourages him to do Bible translation. This becomes the yearning of Martyn’s heart.

Martyn serves on military posts, preaches to Europeans and Indians, and establishes schools. He also finds time to work on translating the New Testament into Urdu, and later into Persian and Arabic; his closest assistant is a Muslim convert.

Henry Martyn persists in the work God has called him to despite difficulties (even hostility) and ill health; he is not afraid. At only 31 years of age Henry Martyn departs the physical realm (through death) from Asia Minor in the autumn of 1812.


As the apostle Paul encouraged young Timothy, so it is for Christ-followers today, as we labor in Christ’s cause for the ‘nations’: Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. [He’s your God who cares for you.] Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you” (2 Timothy 4:5.)

Trusting God: Turning Our Worries, Doubts, and Fears into Laughter and Joy

“Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14.) Absolutely nothing. He brought everything into being at His spoken command. He can do anything He desires to do with, through, and for His creation. He can do it in His way and in His time. He can make bread from bricks, dissolve pain with a gentle loving touch, cause the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk. He can dispel evil with the breath of His mouth. With Him there is no such thing as an impossible task.  What is my impossibility? I must give it all (my all) to Jesus.


He performs the impossible for His glory. And in the process, he gives us laughter and joy. This is what he does for Abraham and Sarah. He had promised them the impossible, and we read here in Genesis 21:1-7 of his delivery: Sarah gives birth to a son for Abraham in his old age (he's 100). This baby comes just as God had promised many years earlier (Genesis 21:2; cf. Romans 9:9). Abraham names his son Isaac.

Sarah too (at 99), is far beyond the age for child bearing. (Indeed, she was already far beyond childbearing many years earlier when God made the promise!) “God has brought me laughter,” Sarah declares.

Yet, why does Sarah laugh, being so surprised? If she had simply believed God in the first place, her worry, doubt, and fear would have dissolved and she'd have been relaxed in God’s peace; as we see, God does fulfill his promise, howbeit "in the fullness of time", according to God’s schedule, not ours.



Zooming ahead now, to the New Testament era: We hear of another birth to be (two, in fact) which comes just at the right time (See Galatians 4:4.) – according to God’s perfect plan, not ours.

The angel Gabriel comes to a virgin named Mary and says, “Don’t be afraid, Mary … for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31.)

But before this, Gabriel had already appeared to Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. Elizabeth is, like Sarah of old, advanced in age, beyond the age of child bearing.

Zechariah is shaking in fear at Gabriel's appearance. Gabriel assures him, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! …Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.” Gabriel goes on, “At his birth you will have great joy and gladness. Many others also will rejoice” (Luke 1:12-14).

Yet, it is the birth of Mary’s baby, Jesus, which will mean greater joy for all ‘nations’ (peoples of the earth), as the baby within her is of the Holy Spirit, the child of the promise – God Himself becoming one of us to set us free from the curse of the Law. (Luke 1:35; John 1:14; Galatians 4:21-31.) (Indeed, the baby who was bringing such joy to Elizabeth and Zechariah, this yet-to-be born baby himself, leaped with joy at Mary's news of the coming Savior of the World!)

And herein is our laughter and joy – we who believe – as Elizabeth proclaims concerning Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed … you are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said” (Luke 1:42, 45.)

And we are blessed who take God at His word – the God of the impossible – and proclaim this Good News of great joy to the ‘nations’ (peoples of the earth).



Moving forward now to the Nineteenth Century and to the South Pacific islands as  we look in on Florence Young, a native of Sydney, Australia. She is teaching a Bible class to the South Seas plantation laborers.

Having studied the Bible since early childhood suits Young well for her teaching ministry now. Thus, she finds her niche in God’s will for her life. Her first class of ten men, meeting on Sunday, soon grows to eighty, about half that number come to her class each evening during the week.

The men have been imported from the islands through trickery and kidnapping – "blackbirding” – to work on the plantations. Even though laboring long hours in the scorching sun, they “sacrifice their hours of rest to come [to Young’s Bible class] and hear the gospel” (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, by Ruth A. Tucker). No impossible task with God. He works even through that blackbirding business to open doors in the Solomon Islands for the spread of His Good News.

So overwhelmed and encouraged at the response, trusting God, Young branches out to other plantations on Queensland, where some 10,000 laborers live. Receiving a monetary gift from George Mueller she begins the Queensland Kanaka (importedlaborers) Mission. With the help of other missionaries, thousands of laborers enroll in classes. Some eventually carry the message of God’s love back to their own people.

God performs His work: Through His people. Yielded to His cause (regardless of the works of man – good or bad). And, there are no worries, doubts, or fears in our walk and work of faith. Let this be our endeavor, therefore, in proclaiming God’s love to the ‘nations’ (all peoples of the earth): Simply take God at His word – trust Him – and relax in the laughter, joy, and peace He gives, implementing 1 Peter 3:15!

“We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, ‘What amazing things the LORD has done for them’” (Psalm 126:2.)

Trusting God through Weakness—Faults, Frailties, Failures, Hardships

God is worthy of our trust, always, including in our weakness -- faults, frailties, failures, and hardships. We all are weak; we all have faults and frailties; we all fail at times, and we all suffer hardships.


The same was true of Abraham, as we read in Genesis chapter 20. Here, fearing for his life, Abraham does it again, what he had done before to protect himself (See Genesis 12:11-13.) -- he lies. (But was it a total lie, or a “little white lie;” a half truth? Is there a difference?) 

Abimelech, king of Gerar, having discovered the deception, asks Abraham, “Whatever possessed you to lie to me, letting me believe that your wife Sarah is your sister. Something grave could have happened to me and my people.”

Abraham answers Abimelech, “I was afraid for my own life. Thinking this was a godless place you may have killed me to get my wife.

“But, it’s not totally untrue,” Abraham adds, “We have the same father but different mothers, so she really is my sister and I her brother.”

Abimelech and Abraham make amends, and Abraham prays to God that Abimelech and his people would be spared. God hears and answers; He is worthy of our total, unwavering trust. As we will see later on, God has indeed kept His promise to Abraham, that Abraham will have a son through his wife Sarah. And through that son of promise all ‘nations’ (peoples) will be blessed.

What has Abraham done here? He's depended upon himself, and has used his own way to try to accomplish what God was leading him to. Just as he has done before.



Fast-forward to the New Testament era
(John 5:1-15), we see Jesus -- the blessing of promise for all ‘nations’ (peoples) -- returning to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days. At the pool of Bethesda He sees crowds of sick people -- blind, lame, and paralyzed -- waiting for the stirring of the waters so they can get into the pool and get well.  

Jesus approaches one man lying there. With seemingly no hope and without help to get him into those healing waters, he has remained ill for 38 years.

Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be well?”

“Of course I do,” the man answers, “but there’s no one here to help me get into the water.”

Jesus simply says to him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk.”

Standing up, he rolls up his mat, and walks away. After 38 years of the man wishing for healing by his own way (being lifted by men into the pool), suddenly he's completely healed!

Jesus is willing and able to help us in our weakness, whatever it may be, in our frailties, faults, and failures, and through hardships and difficult circumstances we may face. He is strong and ever faithful. The Apostle Paul saw this; recognizing his own weakness – his “thorn in the flesh”, he found God's grace to be all-sufficient (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

“My grace is all you need,” the Lord said to Paul, and so He says to us.

Thus, as Paul responded, so should we: “So now [let us be] glad to boast about [our] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through us [for the ‘nations' (peoples), and the glory of the Father]”.



Again flashing ahead, we come now to eighteenth-century North America and meet Paul Le Jeune, Jesuit missionary, with a degree in theology and philosophy from the University of Paris. (Information gathered from Ruth A. Tucker’s book From Jerusalem toIrian Jaya.)

Jesuit work among the Huron peopleof Canada has been underway for seven years when Le Jeune arrives. Yet, other than a school established for native children, there is little to show for their work.

Nearly forty years old when he arrives (in 1732), Le Jeune seems ill suited to meet the task before him. He is also unprepared for the hardships he will encounter – climactic conditions such as bitter cold winters, hot, humid, and bug-infested summers. Nevertheless, he sets out on his assignment of translating the Scriptures.

“I thought nothing of coming to Canada when I was sent here,” he confesses. “I felt no particular affection for the Savages, but the duty of obedience was binding."

Should we not also have that committed mindset: obeying the call to go into a world of darkness, shining the light of God’s eternal truth among the ‘nations’ (peoples), our neighbors, co-workers, family?

Seven years after Le Jeune began his work, and with ten resident Jesuits, fewer than 100 Hurons in a tribe of about 10,000 will have been converted to Christianity. Two decades later, however, with further increases in missionary workers, half the tribe will have been converted.

And the call for workers continues today. “So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields [who are willing to obey and go]” (Matthew 9:37-38.)

Trusting God Through Desperate Times

Continued from NOW IS THE TIME. This post focuses on, Scripturally, Genesis 19:30-38; Matthew 9:18-38; and historically, missionary William Carey.

Lot has left the city of Zoar, because he feared the people there. We find him now living in the mountains, alone with his two daughters.

The daughters suddenly realize their situation and get desperate. “Hey,” the older says to her younger sister, “There are no men around here – anywhere – for us to marry so we can have children to preserve our family line!”

A worried concern wrinkles the women’s brows. In extreme anxiety, the older sister proposes an idea to the younger; she agrees.

On consecutive nights the daughters of Lot get their father drunk with wine. The first night the older daughter sleeps with her father. The younger sister does the same the next night.


Each sister, pregnant by her father, bears a son. The older sister gives birth to Moab, father of the
Moab mountain range viewed
from 
Jordan Valley
Moabites. The younger gives birth to Ben-ammi, father of the Ammonites.
Ammon and its neighbors,
around 830 BC
[citation needed]

Two nations, products of incest, become Israel’s greatest enemies, whom Israel never defeats. Yet, despite the sinful act by the desperate daughters of Lot, the blessing of Abraham for all ‘nations’ (peoples) is not defeated: From Moab comes Ruth, the great-grandmother of Israel’s great king David. From David ultimately comes Jesus, God’s Son, who displayed such great love for all ‘nations’ (peoples) despite their sin.


God is concerned for much more than the physical. His greatest concern is for the desperate condition of fallen humanity (broken fellowship) – desiring much more to restore the relationship between Him and mankind.


We zoom centuries ahead in time to the New Testament era, and see Jesus confronting desperate people:

A leader of a synagogue whose little girl has died; yet, he believes that Jesus can bring the child to life again.

A woman who has suffered from a hemorrhage (constant bleeding) for twelve years; but still, she believes, “If I can touch [the fringe of] his robe, I will be healed."

Two blind men who believe Jesus can give them sight.

A demon-possessed man who is brought to Jesus; Jesus casts out the demon, to the amazement of the crowd (yet to the scorn of the Pharisees – not all people will see a miracle as a blessing from God).

Indeed, Jesus meets them all in their desperation – their distress – healing their physical infirmities. He, the same “yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), is able to meet us in our desperate circumstances as well, whatever they may be.

However, Jesus is concerned for much more than the physical. His compassion is for the restoration of fallen humanity (broken fellowship) to a right relationship, a "holy love affair," with the holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is Jesus as He sees the crowds (of His day and ours) “confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).



Once again zooming ahead – to Northampton, England. Born here in 1761 is William Carey (see

Ruth A. Tucker: From Jerusalem toIrian Jaya). He, too, is to become a man who has to trust God through desperate times – through struggles and distressing circumstances.

Son of a weaver, Carey works on a loom in his family quarters. Problems with allergies prevent him from pursuing his dream of becoming a gardener. At 16 years of age he is apprenticed to a shoemaker. Through the witness of another apprentice he is converted to Christianity, and actively associates himself with the Baptist Dissenters. He devotes his leisure time to Bible study and lay ministries.

Before the age of 20 Carey marries his master’s sister-in-law, Dorothy. She is more than five years older then he and illiterate. A “mismatched marriage,” as Tucker puts it, is met with hardship and poverty. Carey nevertheless continues his studies and lay preaching, pastoring two small Baptist churches while continuing to make shoes.

Carey reads Jonathan Edwards account on the life of David Brainerd (see SATISFACTION GUARANTEED) and the journals of explorer James Cook. His heart is stirred toward the biblical mandate of spreading the GoodNews of Jesus Christ throughout the world. Yet, even while he is presenting this idea before a group of ministers, it is rejected. “Sit down,” they respond. “When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.”

Undaunted, Carey continues presenting his case for worldwide missions, challenging audiences from Isaiah 54:2-3, he challenges them with his now famous quote, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

Eventually, with the formation of the Baptist MissionarySociety, Carey offers himself for missionary service. In March of 1793, he sails for India, accompanying the Society’s first appointee, John Thomas, and Thomas’ wife and daughter. Carey’s eight-year-old son, Felix, journeys with them.

In India William Carey faithfully pursues the task that God had “planned for [him].” And He does so for all who put their trust in Him. As the apostle Paul has written: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago [even through desperate times – struggles and distressing circumstances]”  (Ephesians 2:10; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4.)

“[Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘the harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest [and who delights in our participation with Him in His cause for the peoples of the world]; ask him to send more workers into his fields.’”
(Matthew 9:36-38.)