An Encouraging Word

Sometimes we feel “where never is heard a discouraging word” is a Utopia existing only in dreams. Despair and pessimism are rampant. Bad news is all we ever hear. Futurists have little optimistic to predict.

When it seems discouraging words are all we hear, we can take a walk through the New Testament and revel in transforming truths.

Jesus Christ is our Travel Companion.  (Matthew 28:20)

Earth’s saddest day and gladdest day were just three days apart.  (Mark 16:6)

The gospel story captivates us and cheers us on.  (Luke 1:31-33)

The Holy Spirit brings peace in pandemonium.  (John 14:16, 27)

Christ’s return gives reason for living until paradise is restored.  (Acts 1:8-11)

In the darkness, dawn approaches.  (Romans 13)

Believers are victors, not victims.  (1 Corinthians 15)

We enjoy freedom, not shackles.   (2 Corinthians 1:19-20;  3:17;  10:3-5)

Our Heavenly Father cares for us, His children.  (Galatians 3:26)

Prayer opens the window to infinite resources.  (Ephesians 3: 20)

Christ unlocks the secret to surviving every situation.  (Philippians 4:13)

Unimaginable glory is waiting just around the corner.  (Colossians 3:4)

God is the Eternal Optimist—we can be too.  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

The Prince of Peace brings peace at all times and in all situations.
(2 Thessalonians 2)

Jesus came to earth to solve our biggest problem—guilt.  (1 Timothy 1:15)

God gives power to live, love to relate, and self-discipline to mature.
(2 Timothy 1:7)

Christ is our Blessed Hope.  (Titus 2:13)

Active sharing of faith’s perspective helps us grow up in Christ.  (Philemon 1:6)

At the throne of prayer, we find mercy for sins and grace for struggles.
(Hebrews 4)

A humble attitude ensures help from the Almighty.  (James 4:10)

Trust causes joy beyond words.  (1 Peter 1:8)

Internalizing God’s Word purifies us from moral filth. (2 Peter 1:4)

In Jesus, there is certainty in all circumstances.  (1 John 1:4, 5)

We can count on Unchanging Truth.  (2 John 1:2)

Life’s greatest blessing is enjoying the pleasure of God’s company.  (3 John)

God is our Source of eternal security.  (Jude 1:24, 25)

The United Kingdom is on the way.  (Revelation 11:15;  22:21)

When we take this walk, God’s encouraging Word always lifts our spirit.

©  Johnny R. Almond

Pastor, Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

Victory Dance

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57 KJV

Sunday’s Washington Post recounted the story of Ghana’s dancing pallbearers. Dancing is a fixture at funerals there—upbeat performers wearing black suits, sunglasses and patent leather shoes, grooving to a tech-no beat while carrying a coffin. This unusual ritual is intended to make mourners grin through grief. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic raging, these comedic grim reapers are being edited into footage of risky behavior as a warning to stay at home or die. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, millions of clicks on their videos have created an international fan base for the dancing pallbearers.

The Post article comments “At a time when mortality is on everyone’s minds, morbid humor seems to be a popular coping mechanism.”

Death is no laughing matter. It is a serious matter—we might even say, a life and death matter. No one will get out of this world alive, so how do we handle the fear that fact can bring?

Is humor the best way—dancing at funerals? Charlie Chaplin said “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you’ll just smile.” In a silent movie Chaplin portrayed a prisoner on board a slave ship. After shipwreck, he made his way to the beach by holding on to a board. Shackles still chafing his ankles, he tried humor to be rid of them—walking the length of the chain, he fell. Then he tried philosophy—again, he only made it as far as the chain allowed. Next he tried denial, saying this wasn’t happening to him—with the same result of failure. Finally, the film depicts him looking heavenward hopefully—realizing if he is ever to be free, he’ll need outside help.

People still attempt similar ways to deal with death—laughter, philosophy, denial. Our only hope is the Lord Jesus Christ, who “died to break the power of death and set us free from living our lives in the fear of dying.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Trusting our Savior, we can face death confidently, even joyfully—a far better way than joking, trying to think our way out of it, or denying its reality. A beautiful prayer confesses our faith:

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints, 
     where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of humankind;
     and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return.
For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.     
    – Book of Common Prayer

The last Old Testament prophet wrote that the Sun of Righteousness frees us to “leap with joy like calves let out to pasture” (Malachi 4:2). David praised God for turning his mourning into joyful dancing (Psalm 30:11). Our victorious Savior can do the same for us.

Michael Kelly Blanchard wrote lilting lyrics in The Bonnie Breath of God

I see the sorrow that has left your heart almost paralyzed frozen in the frost of fear.
Real forgiveness falls like a rain from heaven sent to free us from the dreads we feel.
God’s been dancing two thousand years ever since Jesus showed up around here.
I know everything you’ve ever been through, and I’ve got some very, very good news.
I love ya so much I wanna dance with you.

The living Lord invites us to join him in his victory dance—replacing our blues with the jig of joy. Rubem Alves, American theologian, said “Hope is hearing the melody of the future; faith is dancing to that melody here and now.” If we spend more time listening to that melody, we’ll learn some new dance steps.

© Johnny R. Almond

Pastor, Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

The Other Side of Fear

Whatever we’re afraid of, whatever we worry about, even death—the worst thing we think can happen, will not end our relationship with God.

The reality is that none of us will get out of this world alive. The ultimate statistic? One out of every one born will die. But we believe that our loving Heavenly Father will give us the grace we need to cross the Jordan, when our time comes—like Corrie ten Boom’s father gave her a ticket just before she boarded the train.  

Beyond death is eternal life. The most famous verse in the Bible reminds us of that. Sometimes at funerals I’ve challenged people to “do something radical—believe that Jesus Christ tells the truth!” Since He does, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.”

The Good Shepherd gave His life for us, defeating death. Because Jesus did this for us, we do not “live our lives as slaves to the fear of dying” (Hebrews 2:14-15). As Eugene Peterson put it in The Message, we don’t have to be “scared to death of death.”

In a silent movie, Charlie Chaplin portrayed a prisoner in chains aboard a ship that was wrecked and began to fall apart. Clinging to debris, he made it to shore. Desperately wanting to be free of his chains, he tried humor, denial, and philosophizing—but every time he tried to walk, he went the length of his fetters then fell down. The last scene shows him looking heavenward—finally realizing if he’s ever to be rid of his chains, he must have outside help.

Looking up is our only hope too. We cannot laugh, deny, or think our way out of the fear of dying—only Jesus can help us. His death has removed the sting of death, overturned the grave’s despair, and brought us eternal victory (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).   

Depending on our Shepherd, we find a better way to face forward than “perhaps” or “maybe.” God teaches us faith language, trust vocabulary. Then we can say with confidence “I will (not might) live in the house of the Lord forever.”  

We joyfully anticipate what God is about to do. Here’s what we can expect—death of death, burial of badness, resurrection to resplendence.

From where we sit, we may feel there’s plenty to be scared of. From where God sits, it has already been taken care of. God sees the bright side of gloomy clouds; one day we will see it too.

The other side of death is life. The other side of despair is solace. The other side of sin’s dirge is redemption’s dance. The other side of earth’s sad discord is the joyful symphony of paradise. The other side of fear is blessed relief.

Thunderstorms obscure stars. Clouds camouflage blue sky. Dark valleys threaten peace of mind. But we can take heart—Jesus walks beside us through shadows to His house. Nothing will ever terrorize the place our Savior is preparing for us on the other side of fear.

Johnny R. Almond

Pastor Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity