40! Months of Testing, Resting, Training and Trusting

40! What is it about the number “40”?  

40 years, 40 months, 40 weeks, 40 days

Many numbers in general have a symbolic meaning in the Bible: eg. 3, 7, 12.  The number 40 is mentioned over 150 times in Scripture and often symbolizes a period of testing, trial … and then, triumph.

Just a few examples:

  • The rain fell on Noah’s Ark, and all the earth, for 40 days and nights (Genesis 7:4) – and THEN God made an everlasting covenant with the human race.
  • The Israelites wandered in the wilderness, living on Manna, for 40 years (Exodus 16:35) – and THEN they reached the Promised Land.
  • Moses was with God on the mountain for 40 days and nights, without eating bread or water (Exodus 24:18; 34:28) (on two occasions) and THEN he received the Ten Commandments from God
  • God allowed the land to rest for 40 years (Judges 3:11, 5:31, 8:28)
  • Elijah had one meal that gave him strength for 40 days (1 Kings 19:8)
  • Jesus fasted and was tempted in the desert for 40 days and nights (Matthew 4:1-2, Luke 4:2, Mark 1:13).

Of course there is nothing magical or mysterious about the number “40” per se – it’s just a number – but it’s fascinating to see how often it shows up in the Bible, and the context in which it appears.

It seems that through particular seasons of hardship lasting 40 days or 40 years – whatever the cause of those hardships may be – God’s people emerge stronger, more spiritually aware, and more equipped to serve.

On a personal note, those of you who know me best, know that after nearly 40 years of full-time “professional ministry”, the past few years have been very different for me as I have found myself working in a hospital, driving for Uber, and living life as a “normal person” in a real and broken world rubbing shoulders with real and hurting people. It’s been a liminal period, a season, that I never expected to go through. But I’m so glad that I have. I have learned, among other things, that my salvation and my honor truly depend on God (Psalm 62:7) and NOT my gifts and abilities, my marital status, or my role as a pastor. I have learned what it means to be deeply loved and cherished by the Almighty God of the Universe (Psalm 136:23; 147:11; 149:4; Zephaniah 3:17 …).  I have learned, and perhaps am still learning, the difficult but beautiful truth that as I intentionally become less, He becomes greater in the eyes and estimation of those around me (John 3:30).

So what does all of this have to do with the number 40?

Maybe nothing. Maybe it’s purely coincidental.

But I think not.

As I was praying the other day for clarity in my life and where He might be leading me in my “final third”, the number “40” just kept sweeping across my brain. No matter what I did, no matter how I tried to divert my thoughts, the number “40” was constantly present.

40!  Forty what? Forty years? Forty days? Forty lashes? Forty ….

Wait a minute! I did some quick math (definitely a “God thing” since math was never my forte), and I suddenly realized: It’s been exactly 40 MONTHS that I have been in this liminal season.

What an epiphany!

Is the “season” over? It seems that way. Several circumstances have very recently converged to lead me to vacate my present place of residence and resign my position at the hospital at the end of this month. What’s next? Where will I be living three weeks from now? What will I be doing? I’m not entirely sure, but God knows, and I’m ok with that. I’ve been in a similar spot before, and God always leads.

Whatever the number 40 may portray or symbolize in the Bible, one of the primary purposes of testing is to humble us and to show us how strong or weak our faith really is.  God doesn’t test our faith so that HE will know, but so that WE will know. We all have times of trials and testing, and we all have our seasons in the wilderness; for some that season may seem like a lifetime, for others it may simply be a brief “dark night of the soul”; but rest assured, joy comes in the morning for those who put their trust in God.

“Another season ended – another tear is shed
Another chapter finished – and all the pages read
But a Voice is leading me onward to walk through the open door
And I know that I must follow, like before.

“Another plan unfolding – another flag unfurled
Another day is dawning – across a darkened world
And I don’t know where I’m going, but I will not be afraid
Because the One who goes before me knows the way.

“ Lead me beside Your quiet streams
Take me to feed in pastures green
Restore my soul, and lead me home
Oh Lord, I’m trusting You.

“Another day is over – another song is sung
Another chance to praise Him for the victories won
And I, I have no regrets now though I may not understand
I know that I am guided, by His hand.
And I know that we’ll be guided by His hand.”

“Another”, by Steve Hughes ©2010

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An Elevator Talk with a Prisoner

I wanted to say so much more!

I stood today waiting for the ‘up’ elevator at the hospital, when the doors flung open, and there was a prisoner in a wheel chair (in full prison-garb) flanked by security guards, police and medical personnel. I said, as I always do when the lift is going in my direction, “Mind if I join you?” The prisoner responded, “As long as you don’t mind being on here with the scum of the earth.” Instinctively I replied, “You’re not the scum of the earth”. He said, “Well the majority of people think I’m scum!” “You’re not scum!” I insisted. He said “as soon as people see me in ‘these pajamas’ they know I’m scum”. I repeated, “You’re not scum! You’ve got to stop believing the lie!”

Unfortunately, I was only traveling one or two stories, so I disembarked and that was the end of the conversation. But I couldn’t shake his image from my mind. I couldn’t get his words out of my head.

I don’t know this man. As far as I know, I’d never seen him before. I don’t know what crime (or crimes) he may have committed. I don’t know how heinous his actions or how serious his offenses. But I cannot bring myself to think of this living, breathing human being as “the scum of the earth”. As I walked away from that elevator, I kept thinking of all the things I might have said had I just 30 seconds longer to complete my elevator talk, or better yet, 5 minutes. “God loves you” although so true, and so important for him to believe, seemed so trite in that space. “You believed the lie that you are scum, and then you acted on it”! Again, probably true, but perhaps a bit presumptuous.

The fact is, God DOES truly love this individual, knowing full well every word he has ever uttered, every deed he has ever committed, every secret thought or attitude he has ever entertained. He also knows every heartache, every disappointment, every negative experience; He knows every idle word or accusation that was ever uttered against him; every act of abuse perpetrated toward him; every insult ever hurled at him; He has seen every tear, heard every cry, and felt every pain.

Does any of that justify His crime?

Does it excuse his actions?

Does it atone for his wrongdoings?

Absolutely not!

But it does point to a God who is full of mercy and tender in compassion; a living, loving God who is not unacquainted with our suffering.

In one sense, that prisoner and I are no different. Our state and our potential fate are the same. The only difference between him and me is the decisions we’ve made. Somewhere along the line, for whatever reasons, that man began making a series of very bad decisions. And decisions always have consequences. Just like me, and just like every other human being on the face of the earth, that guy is a sinner, badly in need of God’s mercy. Whether our sins are secret sins that nobody sees (bitterness, envy, pride, lust), or “acceptable sins” that everybody does (“little white lies”, gossip, angry outbursts), or big, glaring, horrific sins that are worthy of incarceration, in God’s eyes we have ALL sinned and fallen far short of His design for us. That sin has caused a chasm between us and God – a huge gulf that we cannot cross even with all the good intentions and acts of charity in the world. Saying our prayers, reading our Bibles, going to church, refraining from evil, won’t cut it. We all sinned and we all must suffer the consequences – and the ultimate consequence is death!

That’s the bad news!

The good news is that Jesus already suffered our ultimate consequence when He died on the Cross and literally took upon Himself every sin that has ever been committed – before or since – and suffered the punishment that every one of us deserve.

There seriously is only one catch!

Like any gift freely offered, we have to receive it. How do we do that? The short, Bible answer is, “repent and believe the Gospel” (Jesus, in Mark 1:15). “REPENT” means to not only confess to God that we have sinned, but to utterly and completely forsake our sins and turn away from them; a 180 degree turn; an about face, as it were – no longer walking in our own direction but turning and going in God’s direction. And “BELIEVE” is more than just mental assent, it means ready to stake our lives on the claims of the Gospel: acknowledging in our hearts that what we have done is worthy of eternal separation from God, and that what Jesus did, He did for us personally. HIS suffering and death was for MY sins; HIS resurrection and victory over death means MY resurrection to eternal life!

And this gift is available for all people everywhere: from the self-confessed “scum-bags” who find themselves in prison clothes; to the corporate CEOs sitting on millions of dollars; from the likes of me, to the likes of you!

My prayer is that everyone who reads this will “repent and believe the Gospel”, thus receiving God’s good gifts of mercy and grace.

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Eyes to the Hills

In the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the confusion, is there any hope at all?

Where does our help come from?

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O Sacred Head

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A Shout-Out to the Heroes and the Source of our Help

Many of you who have known me for a long time may not know that, for the past 2 years, I have had the opportunity to work “downstairs” (distribution) in a community hospital.  As you can imagine, the last few weeks have been pretty crazy. In one sense it’s been a little slower as all non-essential surgeries and procedures have been postponed or cancelled in light of the anticipated Corona surge. Some of the hallways are eerily silent, while others are buzzing with more activity than ever as some units have been shut down completely and others have been re-assigned. A Covid-19 Command Center has been set up, our limited supply of PPE is being severely rationed, and there is a sense of uncertainty and trepidation that seems to be ramping up exponentially day by day. We have already begun treating Covid-19 patients.

I want to give a massive shout out to all those on the front lines (doctors, nurses, techs, transporters, registrars) who are dealing personally, one on one, with the patients. I salute and respect every one of you immensely. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I also want to give a huge ‘THANK YOU’ you to all my colleagues in the support services, especially EHS workers (who have to, among other things, prepare and sanitize every room), but also Dietary Staff, Plant Operations, and my own department, Stat Stores (central distribution). Without all of you, there would be no patient care; there would be no hospital!

I’m pretty sure that all of whom I have mentioned in this post – and others – are committed to ‘see this thing through’ to the bitter end. Even the Community in which we are located has been fantastic: rallying around, seeking ways to support us in whatever way they can by donating supplies, making masks and face shields, encouraging staff with treats and thank you notes and promises of prayer… A shared crisis always seems to bring out the best in people and THAT has been beautiful to see.

But (and here it comes) I want to encourage everyone to put their hope and trust, not in the front line heroes, support staff or caring community, but in the Almighty God who is above all things! All of us are subject to failure, God is not! We can make serious errors in judgement, God cannot! We may grow tired and lose strength, not so the Lord Almighty! 3,000 years ago, a young shepherd/musician/warrior who would later become King David, cried out in desperation: “I lift up my eyes toward the mountains— from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). He knew! His confidence was not misplaced! God miraculously preserved his life. A few hundred years later, King Jehoshaphat also got it right. When a formidable foe was about to attack his kingdom he cried out to the Lord, “We are powerless against this vast army that comes against us. We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (2 Chronicles 20:12). The people of Judah turned to prayer, and they were delivered from the hands of the enemy.

And so we come to this time in history –  a time like no other! It is no exaggeration, nor is it histrionic to state that a worldwide pandemic is threatening the lives of every person on this planet – and we are powerless against it. We can follow all the prescribed measures to mitigate the disease, we can boldly and bravely rush to the front lines of the battle or support those who do, we can come together as communities to support, encourage and help one another, but ultimately our help comes from the Lord; and the key …. is with His people! The prescription could not be more clear. God Himself says this:

“If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain,
or if I command the locust to devour the land,
or if I send an epidemic among My people,

and My people who are called by My name
a) humble themselves and
b) pray and
c) seek My face and
d) turn from their wicked ways,

THEN I will hear from heaven,
will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

(2 Chronicles 7:13&14)

So people of God arise, move to the front lines where the real battle is the fiercest, and fall on your knees before our merciful God! If we truly humble ourselves, and sincerely pray, and actively seek His face, and decisively turn from ALL our wicked ways, this pandemic will be miraculously lifted, and this could be our finest hour!

If there are some who have read this far who have not yet joined the ranks of the redeemed, I implore you to repent, accept the forgiveness that is offered to you through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, turn to God, and join us in the battle! This could be YOUR finest hour!

“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the salvation of the LORD!”

Exodus 14:13

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A Peaceful Repose – Psalm 23

In a world gone mad, in the midst of a global crisis, when chaos abounds, there is still a peace that surpasses all understanding for all who return to the loving arms of the Good Shepherd who loves us and gave Himself for us.

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LENT AND LIFE: The Journey Explained

And so the journey begins – the journey to the Cross! In one sense, we make this trek once a year. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Good Friday, the day we commemorate the death of the Son of God who loves us and gave Himself for us; the day we ‘survey the wondrous Cross on which the Prince of Glory died”! It is a journey of reflection, remembrance, and repentance, often marked with solemnity and sacrifice.

In another sense, the journey begins when, in response to God’s grace, faith is first activated in the human heart. For me, it was almost five decades ago when, as a 12-year-old boy, I knelt at a wooden altar in the tabernacle at Delanco Camp in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, USA, confessed my sins to Jesus, accepted His forgiveness, and began a new life with His Spirit living inside me. It was the moment I was ‘born again’! I like to call it “the Divine Exchange”: my sin for His sacrifice; my confession for His forgiveness; my brokenness for His healing. In response to God’s grace, my faith was activated, and my journey began. It is a journey of discovery, discipleship, and detachment, but one that is marked with unconditional love, ineffable joy, and inexplicable peace.

And so it continues. It will continue beyond the Cross … to the Resurrection … and beyond, when one day, face to Face I will meet the One who saved me by His grace, I will feel the touch of His nail-scarred hand on my shoulder, and I will hear Him say to me, “Well done, My good and faithful servant, and welcome to Paradise, My dear, completed friend!”

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Today and Every Day

Today and every day, give thanks, with a grateful heart!

In the midst of the storm when the tempest is raging, give thanks – the Master who calms the troubled seas is by your side.

When the future looks bleak, give thanks – the God of Hope goes before you and prepares the way.

When your strength is depleted, give thanks – He gives strength to the weak and rest to the weary.

When the enemy comes in like a flood and you feel defeated, give thanks – the ‘God of Angel Armies’, your Defender, walks beside you.

When it seems that all is lost and all you have worked for has come to nothing, give thanks – your Heavenly Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

When the cupboards are bare, the accounts are empty, and the prospects are grim, give thanks – Jehovah Jireh is your Provider.

When you feel alone, isolated and lonely, give thanks – He will never leave you or forsake you.

When you feel unloved, unwanted and misunderstood, give thanks – the Almighty God of the Universe loves you with an everlasting, unconditional love.

When you have lost your way, give thanks – your good Shepherd is leading you through the valley of darkness into a place of vast verdant fields and cool refreshing water.

When illness and pain have gripped your body and soul, give thanks – your Great Physician knows the cure and there is healing in His wings.

When nations are in turmoil, battles abound and the people are filled with fear, give thanks – the King of Heaven rules over all the earth.

When life seems futile, hopeless and without purpose, give thanks – the God of all the ages knows your name and has engraved it on His hand.

In all things give thanks, with a grateful heart, for God is good indeed!

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Thoughts on the Third Strand (a little inspirational piece about the sanctify of marriage in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence)

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for children to alter the familial bands which have connected them with their parents, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station of Holy Matrimony to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, it is proper and fitting that a man and a woman shall leave their respective father and mother, and shall cleave unto one another, thus becoming One Flesh. It is fitting too that, in the very fabric of this Matrimonial Union, among the independent sinews which constitute the whole, a Divine Strand be intimately woven which shall, most assuredly, vivify, strengthen and sanctify the Marriage Bond.

three strand rope_edited1_uprightWe hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and the holy state of Nuptial Union. When any man, woman, religious, civil or political institution, philosophy, lifestyle or circumstance becomes destructive and seeks to dissolve or otherwise weaken this Sacred Union, all due diligence must be applied to ensure that such negative forces be rendered powerless and non-effective. This Matrimony, conceived and instituted by God, when tenderly and delicately woven with that third and Divine Strand, shall not be easily broken. What God hath joined together, let no one tear asunder.

 

* The wording of this piece is derived largely from the American Declaration of Independence and the motif is inspired by Genesis 2:24Ecclesiastes 4:12Hebrews 13:4, and Mark 10:9 in the Holy Bible.  I do not claim complete originality and no copyright infringement is intended.

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Sovereign Wisdom and Perfect Love

When I reflect on the events and the circumstances I have experienced over the years; when I “ponder anew what the Almighty can do” and marvel at the way He has so skillfully woven His will into the tapestry of my life; when I consider the sundry pathways upon which I have traveled – the mountains, the valleys, the sharp turns and dark tunnels; when I think of how the Master Potter continues to shape and mold me into an image that is both beautiful to His eyes and functional in His hands; how could I ever put my trust in anything less than His sovereign wisdom? Then as I begin to search the Scriptures to learn, to grow, to seek the face of my Creator, I find a God who  defies every earthly definition of love, who defines the very term itself, and who demonstrates it powerfully in the perfect sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ and I am gripped by the irony, by the scandal, and the power of the Cross, upon which the Son of Glory bore the weight of all my sin, took the punishment that I deserve – and died for me!

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