Blind Faith

I was watching America’s Got Talent last night.  My mother and I have enjoyed viewing each week as the aspiring contestants showcased their talents in hopes of winning the grand prize.  The acts are varied; all ages represented.

One act was a man and his wife on the trapeze.  He would stand high on a platform and literally throw his wife into the air.   He would hold her hands or feet and swing her back and forth, back and forth, gaining momentum.  Then, into the air she was hurled!  Along with the studio audience, I caught myself holding my breath; at times, my hands cupping my mouth in fearful anticipation of what might happen if he missed!

He caught her each time to the applaud of all.  Then, the judges and audience stared incredulously, as the man blindfolded his wife.  Grabbing her hands, he swung her back and forth, then tossed her high into the air!   She flipped and began quick descent.  What happened?  She just stretched out her arms and he caught her!  Several times this blind endeavor was repeated.  One time he caught her by the ankles.  She just flipped, descended and waited to be caught.  I began clapping in my living room along with the TV audience.  What an amazing act of faith on his wife’s part.

How could she do it?  How could she trust that he would catch her each and every time?  (By the way — they had no safety net!)  As I turned the situation over in my mind, wondering how she could exhibit such blind faith, I concluded that it must be because:  she had spent enough time with her husband to know his skill, to know his firm touch, to know he would be there with hands outstretched to catch her.  She had to know him so well, that it would be unheard of for her not to trust him, evenly blindly.  He had never missed; why would he miss now?

Oh, I was so challenged by this act!  I contemplated that, if this woman could blindly trust in her physical world, where mistakes do happen, then why can’t you and I blindly trust in our spiritual worlds where our God never gets anything wrong?  How can we strengthen our faith?  Like the woman with her husband, we, too, must come to know our Father so well that we know His skill in dealing with life’s troubles.  When we spend time getting to know our Father, we come to a point where we recognize His touch; we know of a certainty that His hands will be outstretched to catch us lest we fall.

This man’s wife had to practice a lot to learn to trust that her husband would catch her. We need to practice, also, spending time getting to know our Father, cultivating our own faith to know that He will never let us go; He will always be there to catch us.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

Coming Soon!

I set myself a goal this week to finish painting the back porch.  I had begun this task some weeks ago but had to stop midstream due to some work being done on our house.  A few days ago, things came to a point that allowed me to begin my own labors once again.

My mother had some errands to run and would be gone for most of the day.  I saw my chance and took it, painting non-stop, so wanting to complete the porch as a surprise to her.  I could imagine the look on her face and her sheer happiness at thoughts of enjoying morning coffee on her freshly painted back porch, and with everything back in good order. It was a pleasure dipping the brush in the paint and pulling it across the wood.  She would be coming soon.  Anticipation of her arrival thrilled me.

In the midst of my painting, a thought came to my mind.  Jesus is coming back soon.  It could be any minute, or any day, or any month, or any year.  We don’t know when, but we know He is indeed returning for us who know Him.  We are encouraged throughout God’s Word to be ready.  What does that mean?  To see Him will either be an event filled with great joy or mixed with thankfulness at His return coupled with shame in how we have been living.  If we are found walking in His ways, having kept our hearts and minds steadfast on Him, we will be joyful at His return.  On the other hand, if we have ignored His leading, paid no attention to His commandments, given no thought to living in holiness, then we will be filled with great shame.

Let’s be ready for His coming!  Let’s determine, like painting the back porch, to keep our lives clean, our minds focused on Him.  After all, there’s no earthy joy to compare to it, and the thrill at His return will be immeasurable.

In Revelation 22:12, Jesus speaks to those who belong to Him.  He says, “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds.”

Let’s be ready!  Preparing for His arrival is an anticipation of jubilation and triumph!

Do You Want To?

Have you ever thought about why God gave us the ten commandments?  I mean, surely He knew that no one could ever keep them all.  “Thou shalt not covet,” or “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” or “Thou shalt remember the sabbath and keep it holy.” “Thou shalt not steal,” or “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  Who has kept all of the above, and that’s not even the  complete list.

The Bible tells us that God knows we are weak; He knows our frailties.  Why then give us such commandments when He knew all along that we could not keep them?  The answer?  Because He knew we could not keep them!   By attempting to keep the law, only to fail in the attempt, was designed to make us realize that we can’t do it on our own; we need someone who can do it for us.  Jesus is that someone.

To have relationship with Holy God, we must be cleansed of every sin.  Holy and sin do not go together.  Therefore, we are doomed to die in our sin, but here’s the wonderful thing: Jesus died in our place to pay the penalty for sin.  Isn’t that the most wonderful news?  If we accept His penalty as His gift of freedom to us, then, as Jesus said in John 8:32, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  Jesus is the truth; the only truth.  There is no other way to have sin paid for in full and to walk away free.

So, how does a person come to Jesus?  Is it by learning more about Him?  No, education does not make one worthy of freedom from such a penalty.  Is it something emotional?  If I feel guilty and cry, does that make me ready to come to Jesus?  No, emotions change like the wind.  Then, what brings me to Jesus?  What sets me free?  The Bible tell us in Romans 10:13, “Whosoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It’s not education or our emotions; it is a matter of our will — whosoever will.  In other words, whoever wants to, can come to Jesus.  Tell Him you believe He paid your penalty.  Tell Him you are thankful and that you want to receive His forgiveness.  That’s it.

The only question to be asked is: do you want to?   Do you want a new life?  Do you want forgiveness for all the wrong thoughts and actions you have committed?  Do you want to be made into someone brand new?  Do you want to start over with a clean slate that stays cleansed eternally?  If you want all of that, then just call out to Him and tell Him.  He’s always listening.  He never sleeps.  He’s waiting.  He won’t force a decision.    It’s up to you.

Do you want to?

This question also applies to those who already know Jesus; who already have Him in their lives.  As a child of God we have available to us everything we need to get through anything at all.  Why then do so many  Christians walk through life in a continual weakened state when God’s own power is available to them?  Answer?  They fail to guard their heart.

The heart is the place where we number our priorities.  It’s easy to let the visible cares of this world crowd out the unseen power of God.  We can see what worries us in the situations connected with our lives, so we focus on the worry.  We can’t see the courage and wisdom that God has available for us, so we don’t focus on His provisions.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us to, “Guard your heart above all things because it affects everything you do.”  Yes.  The focus of our hearts determines whether we flounder around in our circumstances or walk through them with the strength of God.  To flounder or to walk through. It’s really a matter of habit.  We can develop a habit to daily talk to Him, listen to Him, and take the wisdom He longs to whisper into our hearts.  The question is:

Do you want to?

To Speak Or Not To Speak

I have often contemplated the meaning of Colossians 2:8 which reads, “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that comes from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.”  It’s increasingly difficult in our world where all manner of philosophy is out there.  It’s on our televisions, in our newspapers and magazines, and taught in our educational institutions.  Therefore, to discern between what the world teaches and what God teaches becomes blurred.

I find this to be so in the area of when to speak, sharing our hearts, or when to be silent, guarding those things that are hidden away.  James tells us in James 1:19, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”  Then there is that verse in Ecclesiastes 3:7, “…a time to be quiet and a time to speak.”  Oh, to have God’s own wisdom reigning in our minds rather than the philosophies of this world.

I have a dear friend named Lucy Shockney.  I met Lucy years ago when I had the joy of speaking at a Christian conference in France.  She and her family had been missionaries there for many years.  We have kept in touch ever since.  I have often benefited from the wisdom that God gives Lucy in a variety of matters.  Recently she wrote concerning transparency and honesty. I have asked her permission to share her thoughts with you.

“Had a great conversation yesterday. Here is what I discovered. In this day and age TRANSPARENCY AND HONESTY are valued above RELATIONSHIP. Trust me when I tell you that you need me to be genuine, you don’t need to know every little thing inside of me. Frankly you might not be able to handle the weightiness of what is going on inside me and it could wreck our relationship.
So I will be genuine but I won’t be transparent. That’s saved for people I trust and who love me. Honesty is for those relationships where we have forged the dark waters of hurt and came out ok on the other side. Otherwise my honesty can wait till we are in a stronger place.
This is not a compromise, this is an issue of maturity and timing.
Stop being TRANSPARENT 24/7 (and all over social media) and start being discreet and save your tender truths for someone who cares enough to keep them safe.”  Lucy Shockney

The world’s philosophy encourages us to share all in order to build relationship.  Jesus taught that it’s not wise to spill out everything to everyone called friend in an attempt to establish deeper understanding.  Our good intentions in speaking truth can turn around and bite us and the friend.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:6, “…Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.”  Jesus was not actually calling people pigs; rather, He was teaching that, to pour out everything in our heart to everyone at any given time, is unwise.  What is in your heart is precious.  Some things need to stay hidden away, shared only with God.  It takes His own wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent.

 

Still Hanging On

Anyone who has spent time living in the southern U.S. states comes to realize that storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes are a natural and frequent part of life.  We had such a storm last Friday night.  There was heavy rain, great flashes of lightening, and ferocious winds.  Conditions were right for a tornado; sure enough, one hit our house.

It could have been so much worse.  As it happens, it broke two large, twenty foot limbs from one of our pecan trees, peeled back part of the tin roof over one end of the house, tore off a strip of vinyl siding from the back porch, and blew in the shed doors.  All these things are repairable.  Like I said, it could have been so much worse.  We remain thankful.

What has interested me in the days following the storm are the limbs that were broken from the pecan tree.  One limb was completely severed.  It lays stretched across the ground below.  Another limb is hanging straight down to the ground, but it’s hanging on by a sliver of bark.  Now, here is the interesting thing:  the limb completely severed is already dried out and the leaves have turned brown as if it were autumn.  However, the limb still attached to the tree, although only by the smallest fragment of wood, is as leafy and beautiful as the rest of the tree.  All the leaves are green; there is every evidence of life.

As I have observed these two limbs, it has occurred to me that the limbs are not unlike people in their relationship with Jesus.  Those who don’t know Him are like the dried up limb on the ground.  True and lasting life, full of the purest peace and joy in any storm, comes only through knowing Jesus Christ.  There is no other way.

Then, there are those who indeed know Him, but perhaps they feel spiritually dry, not unlike the limb on the ground.  Haven’t we all, at various times in our lives, felt empty?  Has your heart ever cried out like the Psalmist in Psalm 10:1, “Why do You stand afar off, Oh Lord?  Why do You hide in times of trouble?”  We know of a certainty, in our minds, that Jesus never forsakes us; but in times of trouble, we don’t always feel it.  We love feelings.  Who doesn’t smile at memories of the sweetness of God’s love wrapping around us?  We feel we can almost tangibly grasp hold of Him, such is the loveliness of His presence.  We want to feel those emotions all the time!  Why can’t we?

Perhaps the answer is, as the song, Through It All, by Andrea Crouch, states: “If I never had a problem, I’d never know that God could solve them.”   Like tornadoes swirling on the ground, wreaking havoc to everything in its path, we also get tossed about in the storms of life.  We are battered and bruised, but never forget — we are attached to the Lord Jesus!  We may feel we’re only hanging on by a sliver!  Be gladdened!  A sliver is enough!  A sliver still brings comfort and peace to a troubled soul.  What we feel is only a sliver, is the lifeblood of Jesus pouring into all our aching places.

Take heart, oh, slivered one, for you are not dying; you are hanging on to the One who will never let you go.

He Knows, He Sees All Things

A friend shared a prayer request with me this week.  It was for her daughter.  She gave no details.  All I knew was to pray.  One night I couldn’t sleep so I used the time awake to pray for various concerns; this friend’s request came to my mind.  As I prayed for her daughter I was compelled to pray that the daughter would know “holy understanding.”  Upon checking with my friend, she assured me to keep on praying that prayer.

A day or two later my friend wrote something both joyful and sad to me.  She said her daughter had written just a few sentences, but by this contact my friend knew her daughter was alive!  Until reading that statement, I had not realized that my friend and her husband had no idea whether their daughter was even living.  My heart broke for them as I tried to imagine the depth of their concern; the burden they had been bearing, the anguish of not knowing.

I have not been able to get this out of my mind; indeed, I don’t want to get this out of my mind.  I want to pray on that the Holy Spirit would whisper into this young woman’s heart.  It has been as a result of sharing in this burden that Father’s Words in Deuteronomy 32:10 came to my mind, “He found them in a desert land, in an empty, howling wasteland.  He surrounded them and watched over them; He guarded them as he would guard his own eyes.”   The parents of this young woman don’t know all the details of where their daughter is or what she is doing — until this week they weren’t sure she was even alive!  Even so, our heavenly Father sees over all.  He knows just where this loved and missed daughter is, what she’s doing,  and who she’s with at all times.  Our Father knows her every thought.

With the reading of this blog entry, would you do two things?  Would you say a prayer, right now,  for this young woman to once again enjoy contact with her parents?  Would you pray that whatever is troubling her, that she would know of a certainty that, “with God nothing shall be impossible?”   Second, if there is someone in your life with whom you are estranged, would you take comfort in knowing without doubt that our Father knows and sees all things.  He knows where your loved one is and He cares, both for your estranged loved one, and for your own hurting heart.  Call out to Him and take His comfort.

In praying for my friend’s daughter this week, I have also been reminded of an old song I learned in my childhood.  It has comforted me often over the years.

“His Eye Is On The Sparrow”

Why should I feel discouraged
Why should the shadows come
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for heaven and home

When Jesus is my portion
A constant friend is he
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow

And I know He watches me

When Evil Strikes

Satan, author of evil, is the arch enemy to every Christian.  From the beginning of his own attempt to overthrow God, he has been wreaking havoc in the world and particularly in the lives of Christians.  His schemes have been treacherous; his attempts murderous.

He tried to destroy Jesus at birth when he instigated Herod to order all male babies under 2 to be killed.  He thought he had destroyed Jesus at the cross; instead, Jesus conquered death, rising again, and assuring that all who are in Christ will rise also.  Even as Jesus ascended back to heaven before His resurrection, when He appeared to Mary and the disciples, (Eph.4:8-10, Col.2:15) demons tried to cling on to Him, keeping Him earthbound, desiring to keep Him from presenting Himself at the Mercy Seat of God, as the fulfillment of the perfect sacrifice for mankind, but Jesus shook them off, revealing again His absolute authority over all.

Today, Satan does everything he can to keep anyone from receiving Jesus as their Savior.  Failing that, he does everything he can to keep a Christian from walking close to God, scheming with all manner of wickedness to draw one away from the One called the Lord Jesus.

There are persecutions against Christians around the world.  There have always been persecutions, and until Jesus comes to take us to heaven to be  with Him, there always will be terrible maltreatment.  That fact is not a surprise.  Regarding this, I quote a dear brother, Tim Herbert, founder of Syzygy, a UK based organization giving practical and pastoral support for Christian Missions, who wrote to me this very week concerning the persecution of Christians.  He said:

“The writers of the New Testament letters frequently referred to suffering when they wrote to encourage their flocks. They regularly stressed that it was normal, that we had been warned in advance about it, and that it’s all part of the conflict in which we are on God’s side. Jesus said that the world would hate us because it hated him first (John 15:18ff). We in the west have been mostly insulated by the ‘Christian’ nature of our culture from the normality of suffering which is only too familiar to people in central Asia.

The Apostles’ teaching did not deny the tragedy of their suffering, but placed it into a larger context. We read of Peter and John rejoicing that they had been considered “worthy” of suffering shame after they had been flogged (Acts 5:41)! Paul talks about “momentary light affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17) and says that the suffering of this life cannot be compared to the glory of the next (Romans 8:18).”

In the west, we do not currently suffer murderous threats on the scale as happens daily in so many other countries.  Nonetheless, there may come times when we are called upon to stand up and be counted.  Let us not forget our Christian brothers and sisters who suffer physical pain, even death, and emotional heartbreak and grief everyday.  Let us hold them up to our Father in prayer, and let us pray for ourselves, that if given opportunity to suffer for Jesus, we, also, would stand and be counted with God’s own courage and joy.

When evil seems to triumph, remember that Jesus has already conquered  everything devilish and wicked.  A time has been promised when Satan will be cast away from us for eternity, and God will wipe away all tears from our eyes. Until that time, we can encourage each other with Paul’s words found in Romans 8:18-19 & 31, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.  For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who His children really are…What shall we say about such wonderful things as these?  If God is for us, who can ever be against us?”

Recognizing The Voice Of God

Every now and again someone will ask me, “How can I know when God is speaking to me?  How can I know that something I’m thinking is God’s will and not just my own idea?”   These are questions that come to every Christian.  We all want to hear God speak into our lives.  We want to be certain of His guidance. We don’t want to make a mistake in discerning what we are hearing.

When answering this question, I think of two verses of Scripture.  The first verse is found in I John 2:27, “But you have received the Holy Spirit, and He lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true.  For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know…”  Now, this verse doesn’t mean that we have no need to study God’s Word; it means that as we study and seek God, the Holy Spirit will speak His truth into our hearts.  He will be the best teacher, showing us what is correct.  He will give us an assurance that what we are hearing is of God and not of ourselves.

We know we need to study because of the second verse I want to share —  II Timothy 2:15, “Study to show yourselves approved before God; a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.”  It is clear that it is of utmost importance that we read God’s Word and meditate upon it.  As a valid part of our study, it is extremely helpful to examine the culture and Bible customs of the time.  This will help us to keep God’s Word in proper context.  Then we will learn how to adequately apply God’s truth to our lives.  In other words, as we study God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, as our teacher, will speak the truth of those words and guide us into its life application.

The things we study are used by God’s Spirit to lead us.  Often when I have prayed, seeking guidance in some particular matter, a verse of Scripture has come to my mind.  As I meditated upon the verse, the path of God’s choosing became clear to me.  If I had never studied, then God’s Word would not have been in my heart for the Holy Spirit to bring to my remembrance.

It stands to reason that, the more familiar we are with the Holy Words of God, the more familiar we become with His voice.  We learn to recognize when God is speaking, or when it’s someone else, or when it’s our own desires getting in the way.  It is only by studying God’s Word that the Holy Spirit is best able to teach us, mold us, and sharpen our spiritual ears to discern the voice of God.

Practicing to recognize His voice is an exciting endeavor, and developing the ability to perceive His truth is a journey that keeps us on a path of continued peace, joy, and amazing adventure in walking with Him!

What The Angels See

I so enjoy reading into the book of Revelation.  Especially in times of personal difficulty, or when I contemplate world upheaval, I find a calm that comes through reading this powerful and amazing book.  It provides a hope that is lasting.  It’s a not a hope implying that something “might” take place, but it’s a hope that is full of assurance; a hope that can only come because of the  unshakable promises of God.

Just read the following words found in Revelation 22:1-6, “Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  It flowed down the center of the main street.  On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month.  The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. No longer will there be a curse upon anything.  For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and His servants will worship Him.  And they will see His face, and His name will be written on their foreheads.  And there will be no night there — no need for lamps or sun — for the Lord God will shine on them.  And they will reign forever and ever. “

When I listen to the news and hear of world chaos or when I endure personal hardship, a tremendous encouragement comes when I remind myself that, “this world,” as the song says, “is not my home, I’m just a passing through.  My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.  The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door and I can’t be at home in this world anymore.”  This song also reminds me of another encouraging passage of Scripture.  It’s found in II Corinthians 4:17-18, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”  Isn’t that uplifting?  Oh, how positive is God’s Word!  How reassuring that, whatever distasteful situation we find ourselves in, it’s only temporary.  The angels already look on the face of Jesus, living in a place that we can only imagine.  We are promised that one day we also will see the same wonder.

I close with two things my father once said.  I often recall them when I am in the midst of less that hoped for circumstances.  He said, “Every episode that happens to us is just the Lord stirring the cup of life to make Heaven a little bit sweeter.”  The second is this: “The dark things of life take on a new character when we look at them in the light of eternity.”

Oh, yes!

 

It Must Be Nothing Of Ourselves

Many of you who know me well, know that my Bible hero is the Apostle Paul.  His Holy Spirit inspired letters have greatly influenced me, rousing me to look to the heavens in the middle of adversity.  From that place of focus I have always, without exception, found the strength and courage needed to face anything at all.  I thank God for the example of Paul in helping me to determine always to keep looking up!  When I’m going through difficult times, I like to look again into Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth.

In Paul’s second letter, he shares with the church some of the tremendous suffering he has endured, all for the name of Jesus Christ.  In II Corinthians 11: 24-27, we discover that Paul has lived through being thrown in jail, given thirty-nine lashes during three different arrests.  He was stoned once and shipwrecked an astounding three times!  During one shipwreck he floated on pieces of the broken ship for a day and a night.  He faced floods from rivers and had to always take caution in his travels because many robbers were about.  How did all this affect Paul?  Look at what he writes in II Corinthians 1:8:  “I thought you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia.  We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it.  In fact, we expected to die.  But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can even raise the dead.” 

Isn’t that amazing?  To have experienced any one of the above would be enough, we tell ourselves, for anyone to endure, but all those things?  I try to imagine how I would feel if time and time again some calamity, nothing of my own fault, were to fall upon me.  What would my attitude be?  What would yours be?

We can always encourage ourselves with the reminder that God allows nothing into our lives without using it for our good. He makes us stronger —  if we let Him.  God so knows the human spirit.  On this topic, my father wrote, “Many people will not turn to God until there is no one else to turn to.   Many people will not trust God until they have used up all other resources.  Many people do not learn that God is enough until God is all they have.”

When we read of Paul’s adversities, there is a theme that emerges.  It is a great truth to learn, that God’s purpose for His children, above everything else, is to destroy in us forever any possible confidence in the flesh.  God wants us to trust Him alone.  It’s not our gifts or talents, our abilities, our experiences, our knowledge or our own wisdom that will get us through life’s terrible times. The key is to know beyond all doubt, that getting through any suffering, is nothing of ourselves but everything of God.