Key Verses: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1: 3-5
Her life was hard from the day she was born. Babies born into poverty seldom find their ways into the comfort most of us, and our children, have known and, quite frankly, take for granted. Her dad was seldom around. When he was, she often wished he was not. Her mother did the best she could, but they barely got by. Her only real possession was a used comforter she received as a gift one Christmas from her mother. She treasured it as if it was woven from the finest silk, though the label read “100% polyester”. She had no idea what that meant and did not care.
Eventually the young girl and her mother found themselves on the street with just the clothes on their backs…and, of course, the comforter. It was now beginning to show some wear and tear, much like the lives of this woman and her daughter. They found shelter at the local mission and other places that offered temporary housing, but never a home. God not only made little children very huggable, He also made them very resilient and trusting. No matter what happened, she felt safe as long as her mother was around, and she could wrap herself in that fraying comforter.
Street life eventually takes its toll on even the hardiest of people. Her mother began to have health issues that went too long unattended. That happens more than it needs to with people on the street. Sadly, the illness took her life leaving the girl, now approaching her teen years, alone – except of course for the comforter.
It grieves the heart of God that our affluent churches and society are too often MIA when it comes to these young “ladies” left to fend for themselves on the streets. The outcomes are almost never good, often leading to lives of drugs or prostitution and eventually incarceration. Such was the plight of our young “lady”. Perhaps the saddest thing was when she went through the booking process into the holding cell, they took away her only possession…the comforter.
Sitting alone in a cell, she wept bitterly. And,as so many people do when bad things overwhelm them, she blamed God for all that happened in her life—an abusive dad, her mother’s death, and now they took away the only thing that mattered in her life—that ragged old comforter. It was only gift she ever remembered receiving and last memory of her mother’s love. Now even that was beginning to fade.
The Comforters of this World
At times, all of us have sought comfort from the world. We often begin with other people who we hope can at least sympathize, but in the end little real comfort. Consider these words from Job, David, and Solomon.
“Then Job answered and said, “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all.” Job 16: 1-2
“Reproach has broken my heart and I am so sick. And I looked for sympathy, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none.” Psalm 69: 20
“Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun and behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them.” Ecclesiastes 4:1
When people feel rejected, they often take one of two bad paths. The first is substances—alcohol, drugs, anything that brings immediate or short-term relief that takes pain away or at least makes us numb to it. I have been among many hundreds of men (and women) who sought comfort there. So tragic. That is the first step in Satan’s clever schemes to entrap us then lead us into the chains of addiction—bondage God never intended for His free people.
The second untoward path is when people who feel strong rejection turn to anyone who will accept them as did the girl in the story. That often puts them in worst places, i.e., the wrong crowds or in dangerous relationships that imprison or lead them to do things they never intended. AND they never found the comfort sought.
God our Comforter
Let’s look to David again for the best verse in the Old Testament about the comfort of God. In the best-known of all Psalms, 23rd, David said this in verse 4,
“Your rod and staff, they comfort me.”
The meaning may surprise some. The rod is for authority, protection, and discipline. Knowing someone loves us enough to speak biblical truth and exercise authority – at times by setting boundaries – is a great expression of love. The rod was used for discipline to get sheep back in line and keep them there. Doubtful any of us would argue we need that at times. I found over the years, many i minister to wish they had it when they did not. God said He “disciplines those He loves as a father does his children.” (Proverbs 3: 12; Hebrews 12: 6)
The shepherd’s staff was there for guidance, safety, protection, and rescue. Again, the love of God is demonstrated in every aspect of these tools of the shepherd.
Jesus Our Comforter
it is both painful and joyful to remember this. God did not comfort Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane or on the Cross! The Father did not take the cup of death away as Jesus prayed. Neither did He send angels to destroy evil and save Jesus from the cross. Rather He allowed Jesus to go through the most uncomfortable period of suffering and abuse the world has ever known—crucifixion.
Jesus knew no comfort, so we would be comforted in knowing He died for our sins and rose again. (Read again the key verses above.) From God’s indescribable acts of love, we draw our hope eternal and the kind of comfort the world will never know apart from Him.
The Holy Spirit – Our Comforter
Jesus did HIs best to comfort His disciples. They were getting more and more anxious about all His talk of leaving them. Would He really abandon them? Of course not. Neither does He abandon us. Here is the promise He made to His disciples that we can stand on today.
“And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” John 14: 16 – 18 KJV
So by now many want to know what happened to the young lady in the story? When we left her, she was entering prison for drugs and prostitution – without her comforter, full of anger and bitterness.
The Rest of the Story
Strange things happen behind prison walls. God does some of His most amazing work in those confines. Don’t misunderstand. Most enter and leave without ever finding any comfort at all. Statistics bare that out. But for some who realize their desperate place in life, and that they have nowhere else to turn, the name of God is known to pop up in some circles of conversation. By God’s grace, our friend was incarcerated in a prison where the chaplain was a Christian and a local church with a prison ministry was engaged.
Because she had arrived at such a place in life, she attended a service one night with below zero expectations. Her mind simply could not escape the thoughts of all that had happened to her and her mom. Anger and bitterness can fill even the tender heart of a child and render it hard as stone as it had done in hers. But God…
The speaker passed out some old worn King James Bibles. When he returned to the podium, he asked them to a certain page. He read that passage in John 14 on the Holy Spirit. But the only word she heard was “comforter”. That got her complete, undivided attention. She had heard a little about God and Jesus as a child – who hasn’t? But she never felt His presence or saw Him in action. No one ever told her how much God loved her or showed the compassion of Jesus to her or her mom in a meaningful way. All she heard and knew were just empty words.
Now something quickened a lifeless spirit within her. She hungered for something or someone to fill that empty void in her life she filled in every way possible from drugs and evil men. Prison life had isolated her even more. But now someone said the magic word—Comforter. She wanted to hear more about this Comforter that promised love and life and offered hope she never knew.
As the weeks and months went by while she served out her term, she became alive again and soaked up all the Truth she was taught. Finally, completely broken, she fell into the arms of the only Comforter Who could wrap His arms around her and never let her go. She gave her life to Christ and found the comfort she had longed for since losing her mother…and the comforter.
One final note. When she was paroled and on the way out of the prison, they gave her a bag that contained what she was wearing when she entered. It contained some dirty old clothes and one ragged old comforter. She embraced and buried her face in it. She wept as she sniffed it hoping for a familiar smell that would remind her of her mother. But it only smelled of must and dust.
As she walked out of the prison into a world where she was really free for the first time, she thought about throwing the old comforter in the trash. After standing by the can for a few minutes, she decided to keep it as a reminder—a reminder that once she found her only comfort in this ragged old piece of fabric. Now she had lasting comfort from the One Who turned her heart of stone back into flesh replacing anger and bitterness with love and hope. Jesus Christ, her risen Savior and Lord.
You and Me as Comforters
My dear sisters and brothers, if you have found any comfort in these words the Lord shared tonight through me, use them to comfort someone else. I call your attention again to the Apostle Paul’s words in verse 4 above. The Lord did not give us His comfort simply to wrap ourselves up in it as a comforter like the one in the story. No. Like any gift from God the Holy Spirit, He intends for us to use it for ourselves for the purpose He intended, then give it away.
Our greatest moments of comfort come from the comfort we ourselves have received in Christ then sharing it with so many others who, like the girl in our story, seek comfort the world cannot give. In Christ alone, we have hope and comfort that bears us up no matter what human condition or place we find ourselves.
“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 2: 15)
Acronyms help us remember what a word means or just a funny play on the letters in a word. For example, LOL – laugh out loud or AWOL – absent without leave. And most everyone has heard of the KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid.
One human need that all share is the need for hope. Once hope is gone, only bad things happen. There is not a more lonely or desperate feeling than hopelessness. Hope may be defined as to long for, expect, or trust that something we want to happen will.
What are you hoping for? Some hope for fortune and fame. They want to win the lottery or be on TV or in the movies. Others hope for a good job, so they can make money and feel fulfilled. Still others hope for health.
Christians always have hope. Perhaps I should say that Christians should always have hope. The word ‘hope’ is used more than 140 times in the Bible. Whether or not we have anything else this side of Heaven, we have hope. For us, it is eternal hope. But for some, that does not seem like enough. We want hope now!
Every time I teach, one of my goals is to always bring hope to the hearer. When you teach from the Bible as I do, finding messages of hope is not difficult. What can be difficult is teaching the hard truths of God’s Word which can be frightening to those who are lost and without hope. But hopeful if you are honestly and humbly looking for real HOPE. When we do that—read and look hard enough, we will always find His message of Hope – Jesus.
Tonight I am bringing you a message of HOPE in acronym fashion—actually three messages of HOPE.
- He Offers Pardon Everyday –
(Jesus speaking to the Pharisees) “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to (pardon) sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” And he got up and went home. But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God Matthew 9: 6
“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against (pardoning our sins) them.” 2 Corinthians 5: 18-19
Have you sought and received the pardon from your sins only Jesus can give? If not, why not? Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6) for the lost. And if you are in Christ, seeking His pardon restores our broken relationship when we fall back into sin.
- He Offers Peace Everyday
(Jesus) “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.” John 14:27
“(God) will keep in perfect peace all who trust in Him, all whose thoughts are fixed on Him!” Isaiah 26: 3
You may have seen the bumper sticker:
Know Jesus…Know Peace No Jesus…No peace.
Finally as Christians we know the third fruit of the Spirit Paul teaches us is PEACE. This is the kind of peace he later told us is the kind that “passes all understanding”.
- He Offers Power Everyday
“He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.” v 29 from Isaiah 40: 27 – 31
In the New Testament, Jesus promised Power to His disciples (and that includes us).
“but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1: 8
As Christians, our power to live in this world – full of all its temptations and troubles – comes from one Source – the Holy Spirit. Why do we keep trying to do things in our own power when we have His? For some of us, it is a control issue. We surrender part of our lives to Jesus but hold onto other areas.
We get the most power from God when give up control. Our surrender brings His power. The Apostle Paul said, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
My dear brothers, take heart. No matter how difficult your situation—no matter how desperate your need, there is One who knows and understands where you are right now as I am teaching here tonight. He alone can bring hope to what you may believe is hopeless. My strong admonition to you tonight is to bow before Him and ask Him to restore your hope. Jesus never ever turns away a man with a humble, repentant heart.
He is our Hope today and forever. Amen.
This week we are going to take the “churchy” sound out of this phrase and reduce it to practice. “It ain’t easy!”
Four Answers Straight from the Mouth of God
In this menistry, I am blessed to engage with men from all walks of life—homeless, dealing with addictions/related issues, in prison, successful businessmen, and church men. One thing we have in common is, at some point in life, each of us has asked the question, “What’s next?” By that we mean, what is next in my life? Some may follow that with, “Is this all there is?”
The answer, of course, is it depends—on where you are, to some extent, where you have been, and, most importantly, to whom and where you are turning for answers. If you sought answers to quadratic equation problems, you would not look in an English Lit book. Neither would you find help balancing a chemical equation using a calculus book. There is useful information in all those books. But as stated, you would NEVER find the right answers to those questions because you are looking in the wrong place—going to the wrong source.
My task is clear—point men in the right direction and to the right Source. To get started, I want to offer great words of encouragement straight from the mouth of God.
“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55: 11)
That is what I want (and so should you)—to have God’s words accomplish in and thru me all He desires, i.e., be successful in His purpose. Lord, give me all of that!
With even a modest amount of time in the Word of God, men can find the answers to some of life’s most important and bewildering questions. Purpose? God’s will? Plan for my life? Simple stuff like that! Following are just four, of many, clear instructions straight from the mouth of God (His Word) that read, understood, and applied can lead you where He wants you to go. Notice I did not say will because that part depends on you. If you don’t ask, He won’t tell you. If you don’t follow His instructions, you will never get where you want to go He wants you to go.
#1. Enter into a “Right” relationship with Me.
The answers to What’s Next? begin here. To make that point clear as crystal, you need only read these two verses that speak to both sides of the need and take Jesus at His words.
“Apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
“All things are possible to him who believes. (Mark 9: 23)
First let’s ask and answer Why Jesus? Then we can examine How we get there? I could write for hours on these questions, but here is the highly condensed version.
- God is perfect and holy and demands that we are also. Matthew 5: 48; 1 Peter 1: 16
- That is a problem because, as you may have noticed, none of us are perfect. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory”. He went on to say (as God said to the Israelites in the OT), “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). How can we enter into a right relationship with God if we are guilty of sin that is punishable by death? God provided the Answer.
- God’s love and mercy poured out from His throne of grace and sent Jesus to save us from our sins. John 3: 16; Romans 5: 8
- Jesus explained His singular purpose this way, “I came to call sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5: 32)
- Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb Who was slain is the ONLY Way – John 14: 6 That gives many people heartburn and leads to Christians being labeled as narrow-minded bigots and haters among other lies. Jesus said it would be that way, then and now.
- The Cross of Christ is the pivot point of eternity. On it lay the balance of salvation and damnation (condemnation) – Heaven and Hell.
So the question is this? Are you willing to enter into a “right” relationship with God made available only through Jesus the Christ – Messiah? If you have not yet done so, you need to deal with that first or the rest of this lesson will not matter.
God’s next instruction is very often overlooked—especially by Christian men.
#2. Get (not just seek) the HELP and HEALING you need.
This instruction is for Christian men who find themselves in a hard or bad place. Honest men admit we have all been there at some point in our personal, professional, and spiritual lives.
I call them desperate places God takes us to or allows us to go so He can get our full attention. We cannot go forward and accomplish all God has for us until we confront and address this essential instruction. Making the decision to get help is a huge first step in the process. It means you have come to a place where you know you need help and get it.
Let me encourage you further with acts of healing by Jesus on desperate men and women who had needs of every kind—like you and me. They sought Him out. So should you!
- Jesus healed physical illness. Lame men walked. Blind men received their sight.
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness.” (Matthew 9: 35; 4: 23)
- Jesus healed men with mental illness—cast out demon and restored right minds.
“…a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic…he often falls into the fire and into the water…Jesus rebuked (the demon) and he came out of the boy, and he was cured at once.” (from Matthew 17: 14-20)
- Jesus healed spiritual illness (sin). We call it forgiveness.
“Then (Jesus) said to her (the sinful woman who fell at His feet and began kissing them and wiping them with her tears of repentance), “Your sins have been forgiven.” (Luke 7: 48)
There is no shame in admitting you have issues. We all do! There is pride in not admitting them. We are not alone! Great men of the Bible suffered physical, mental, and spiritual illness. Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, among others. God had answers for all of them. AND He does for you as well.
Getting the right help. Sometimes our healing is best facilitated by those trained in the specific area of our needs. God expects us to call on His name first. He also expects us to be wise and use resources He ordained for such purposes. Don’t be afraid to use them. Be more afraid not to! Your help and healing await so you can keep moving through God’s process.
#3. “I have a plan for your life. I’d love to share it with you.” (God’s words)
Most Christians know or at least have heard this verse,
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29: 11
We must keep Scripture in context (what it meant when written and surrounding verses). Then we can find its application to us today. In this passage, the last remnant of Israel (the southern part of the nation— Judah) was about to be exiled to Babylon with the rest of their brothers. Generations of disobedience led to a point when God finally had enough of their sins and allowed His chosen people to be completely overrun by two different world powers. The last one even destroyed Solomon’s most holy and sacred temple.
But God does not forsake or give up on His people even though He disciplines them “as a good father does his children”. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God told His people their season of captivity would end, and, when it did, He had plans for them. That is the origin of this verse. God had plans for His captive children then, and He has plans for you and me now. But we have to find them. To help us do that, God gave them instructions on how to know His plans—they apply to us today.
“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all of your heart. And I will be found by you”, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 29: 12-14a)
God did not make this process “rocket science” or some complex mathematical formula. But it requires work on our parts. It begins by seeking the Lord and asking Him. He promises we can find Him if we do.
The problem is most men don’t bother to ask.
We think we can figure it out ourselves, or it is not ”manly” to ask for help or direction. (Kind of like men who will not stop and ask for directions or trust the GPS even when it takes us the wrong or a longer route.)
One final word regarding God’s instructions. God’s plans for our lives are written on a scroll not a road map. They are revealed over time as we get and accomplish the first part and then move forward. You cannot “google map” God’s plan for your life or plug the destination into your GPS—and that drives most men mad! Most of us are, after all, a little (or a lot) on the control freak side of the line.
* Note: The will of God is not the same as God’s plan for your life. We will investigate and uncover the will of God another time.
#4. “Go in peace, live for My Sake (not yours), and enjoy all I have for you!
For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace…” (Isaiah 55: 12a)
One of my prayers is that I leave nothing on the table that God planned for me to be, have, and do while I am here until Christ returns or calls me Home. I am good with either! And the order in which they happen does not matter either!
This instruction reads like it should be the easiest of all. But the truth of the matter is when things get hard, what seemed clear becomes engulfed in fog, or the way/plan gets blown up by circumstances and people who do not have our interest at all, we tend to lose heart and get discouraged. I know I do. How do we fight these battles and get back on track?
Let’s wrap this final instruction from God with a few great verses. These words of encouragement, written nearly two thousand years ago, were also meant for us because their messages are TIMELESS.
The Key to Success? MEMORIZE THEM! If you know the names of the key players on your favorite college and professional teams and memorized many things in school from K through college, you can surely learn a few verses God had written down to remind and encourage you in such times. The Holy Spirit is then faithful to “call them to our remembrance.”
- “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8: 28
- “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8: 31(b)
- “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith..” Hebrews 12: 2a
My dear brothers, these four instructions were given to us by our infinitely wise, unconditionally loving Father. The best news of all (apart from our salvation in Christ) is this. No matter how much we mess things up along the way, He always love us and is willing to help get us back on the right path—His path!
Your desperate brother in Christ,