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Archive for the ‘FAITH’ Category

Jesus Controls My Chaos

Editor’s Note:  Even as Jesus is able to set the boundaries of the Earth’s seas and control their fury, He is able to wisely and compassionately set limits on and control the chaos, destruction, and fury of life’s storms that affect each one of us.

Jesus Stills the Storm

SOURCE:  R.C. Sproul/Ligonier Ministries

“The men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (v. 27).  – Matthew 8:23–27

Having explained the cost of discipleship to two would-be followers, Jesus and His disciples set out to cross the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:23). Little do the disciples know that this journey will give their teacher an opportunity to show forth His identity in a way they have not yet seen.

Because of its geographical location, violent squalls frequently occur on the open water of the Sea of Galilee, especially in the period between May and October. Seasoned fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John (4:18–22) are certainly familiar with such storms, and so their fear, evident in Matthew 8:24–27, shows that the turbulence in which they find themselves is unusually fierce.

However, despite the storm’s ferocity, Jesus is able to sleep peacefully as the boat traverses the waves. This indicates His great trust in God and comfort in His faithful obedience because the Old Testament understands sound sleep to be a gift from God to His holy people (Lev. 26:6).

Christ’s ability to sleep in the storm is more remarkable when we consider that the boat in which His company is traveling is the customary fishing boat of His day, just big enough to accommodate the small group of men and a large catch of fish. The sailors are completely exposed to the elements. Jesus is not worried like the others even though He feels the storm’s effects no less than they do.

Yet Jesus’ command of the storm tells us about much more than His great faith.

In the biblical worldview, the sea and the storm are associated with chaos and destruction (Ps. 69:1–2). Only God can control the sea, and in fact, He sets its boundary and stills its fury (Job 38:8–11). That Jesus is able to silence the storm and still the waves indicates that He possesses an authority equal to the Creator’s (Matt. 8:26–27). The disciples marvel at this miracle because it is evidence that their beloved rabbi is more than just a teacher; He is in fact God Almighty.

John Chrysostom writes that “[Jesus’] sleeping showed he was a man. His calming of the seas declared him God” (Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 28.1).

We put our lives in Jesus’ hands based on the evidence of His power. Today’s passage shows us that we can trust Him because He has authority over all nature and is worthy of our faith since He is the incarnate God over all creation. We follow the Creator of all things, not merely a good man. Take time today to review biblical teaching on the divinity of Christ (for example, John 1:1–18) so that you may be confident that your trust in Him will never be in vain.

When one asks, Jesus always receives — always!

SOURCE:  Tolle Lege/J.C.Ryle

“At the time when He Himself was dying, He conferred on a sinner eternal life” by J.C. Ryle

I ask you if any man’s case could look more hopeless and desperate, than that of this penitent thief once did?
“First of all you are meant to learn from these verses Christ’s power and willingness to save sinners. This is the main doctrine to be gathered from the history of the penitent thief. It teaches you that which ought to be music in the ears of all who hear it,—it teaches you that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.

He was a wicked man—a malefactor,—a thief, if not a murderer. We know this, for such only were crucified. He was suffering a just punishment for breaking the laws. And as he had lived wicked, so he seemed determined to die wicked,—for when he first was crucified he railed on our Lord.

And he was a dying man. He hung there, nailed to a cross, from which he was never to come down alive. He had no longer power to stir hand or foot. His hours were numbered. The grave was ready for him. There was but a step between him and death.

If ever there was a soul hovering on the brink of hell, it was the soul of this thief. If ever there was a case that seemed lost, gone, and past recovery, it was his. If ever there was a child of Adam whom the devil made sure of as his own, it was this man.

But see now what happened. He ceased to rail and blaspheme, as he had done at the first. He began to speak in another manner altogether. He turned to our blessed Lord in prayer. He prayed Jesus to ‘remember him when He came into His kingdom.’ He asked that his soul might be cared for, his sins pardoned, and himself thought of in another world. Truly this was a wonderful change.

And then mark what kind of answer he received. Some would have said he was too wicked a man to be saved. But it was not so. Some would have fancied it was too late, the door was shut, and there was no room for mercy. But it proved not too late at all.

The Lord Jesus returned him an immediate answer,—spoke kindly to him,—assured him he should be with Him that day in paradise,—pardoned him completely—cleansed him thoroughly from his sins—received him graciously—justified him freely—raised him from the gates of hell,—gave him a title to glory.

Of all the multitude of saved souls, none ever received so glorious an assurance of his own salvation, as did this penitent thief. Go over the whole list from Genesis to Revelation, and you will find none who had such words spoken to them as these, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

Reader, the Lord Jesus never gave so complete a proof of His power and will to save, as He did upon this occasion. In the day when He seemed most weak, He showed that he was a strong deliverer. In the hour when his body was racked with pain, He showed that He could feel tenderly for others. At the time when He Himself was dying, he conferred on a sinner eternal life.

Now have I not a right to say, “Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God through Him?” Behold the proof of it. If ever sinner was too far gone to be saved, it was this thief. Yet he was plucked as a brand from the fire.

Have I not a right to say. “Christ will receive any poor sinner who comes to Him with the prayer of faith, and cast out none?” Behold the proof of it. If ever there was one that seemed too bad to be received, this was the man. Yet the door of mercy was wide open even for him.

Have I not a right to say, “By grace ye may be saved through faith, not of works,—fear not, only believe?” Behold the proof of it. This thief was never baptized. He belonged to no visible church. He never received the Lord’s Supper. He never did any work for Christ. He never gave money to Christ’s cause,—But he had faith, and so he was saved.

Have I not a right to say, “The youngest faith will save a man’s soul, if it only be true?” Behold the proof of it. This man’s faith was only one day old, but it led him to Christ, and preserved him from hell.

Why then should any man or woman despair with such a passage as this in the Bible? Jesus is a physician who can cure hopeless cases. He can quicken dead souls, and call the things which be not as though they were.

Never should any man or woman despair! Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen hundred years ago. The keys of death and hell are in His hand. When He opens none can shut.*

What though your sins be more in number than the hairs of your head? What though your evil habits have grown with your growth, and strengthened with your strength? What though you have hitherto hated good, and loved evil, all the days of your life?

These things are sad indeed; but there is hope even for you. Christ can heal you. Christ can cleanse you. Christ can raise you from your low estate. Heaven is not shut against you. Christ is able to admit you, if you will humbly commit your soul into His hands.

Reader, are your sins forgiven? If not, I set before you this day a full and free salvation. I invite you to follow the steps of the penitent thief,—come to Christ, and live. I tell you that Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. I tell you He can do everything that your soul requires. Though your sins be as scarlet, He can make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Why should you not be saved as well as another? Come unto Christ by faith, and live.

Reader, are you a true believer? If you are, you ought to glory in Christ. Glory not in your own faith, your own feelings, your own knowledge, your own prayers, your own amendment, your own diligence. Glory in nothing but Christ. Alas! the best of us knows but little of that merciful and mighty Saviour. We do not exalt Him and glory in Him enough. Let us pray that we may see more of the fulness there is in Him.

Reader, do you ever try to do good to others? If you do, remember to tell them about Christ. Tell the young, tell the poor, tell the aged, tell the ignorant, tell the sick, tell the dying,—tell them all about Christ. Tell them of His power, and tell them of His love. Tell them of His doings, and tell them of His feelings. Tell them of what He has done for the chief of sinners. Tell them what He is willing to do to the last day of time. Tell it them over and over again.

Never be tired of speaking of Christ. Say to them broadly and fully, freely and unconditionally, unreservedly and undoubtingly, ‘Come unto Christ as the penitent thief did,—come unto Christ, and you shall be saved.'”

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–J.C. Ryle, Living or Dead? A Series of Home Truths (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), 258–265.

18 Questions about Faith and Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Brad Hambrick

When engaging a difficult and highly personal subject, it is better to start with good questions than a list of answers. The better our questions are, the more responsibly we will utilize the answers of which we are confidant, the more humbly we will approach areas of uncertainty, and the more we will honor one another in the process of learning.

As I’ve read, counseled, and thought about the subject of mental illness, here are some of the questions that have emerged.

The purpose of these questions is to expand our thinking about mental illness. We all bring a “theory of mental illness” to this discussion. This theory, whether we can articulate it or not, shapes the questions we ask. Exposing ourselves to important questions from other perspectives is the first step in becoming more holistic in our approach.

Don’t allow these questions to overwhelm you. All of these questions existed before you read them. Speaking them didn’t create them. Actually, an appropriate response to this list would be the generation of more questions. Take a moment to write down the additional questions you have.

  1. Is mental illness a flaw in character or chemistry? Is this the best way to frame the question? What do we lose when we fall into the trap of either-or thinking?
  2. Why do we think of genetic influences as if they negate the role of the will or personal choice? Substance abuse can have a clear genetic predisposition, but every addiction program – even those most committed to a disease model – appeal to the will as a key component to sobriety.
  3. In the modern psychological proverb, “The genes load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger,” where is the person? How do we best understand the interplay of predisposition (genetics), influences (environment), and the individual making choices (person)?
  4. What percent of those who struggle with “normal sorrow” are labeled as clinically depressed? What percentage of those who think their sorrow is normal are actually clinically depressed? How do we communicate effectively when the same word – depression – has both a clinical and popular usage?
  5. Would we want to eradicate all anxiety and depression if we were medically capable of doing so? What would we lose, that was good about life and relationships, if these unpleasant emotions were eradicated from human experience? Would that be heaven-on-earth or have unintended consequences that are greater than our current dilemma?
  6. Can we have a “weak” brain—one given to problematic emotions or difficulty discerning reality—and a “strong” soul—one with a deep and genuine love for God? If we say “yes” to this question in areas like intelligence (e.g., low IQ and strong faith), would there be any reason to say “no” about those things described as mental illness? C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says, “Most of the man’s psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst of this raw material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us; all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises (p. 91-92).”
  7. When do labels serve well (i.e., offering a sense of hope by breaking the sense of isolation and shame that comes with believing “my struggle is completely unique”) and when do labels serve poorly (i.e., diminishing hope by creating a sense of determinism and stigma)? How free should a counselor be to choose whether to use or not to use labels based upon these potential benefits and detriments for a given individual?
  8. What is happening when we “think” and “feel”? Are these experiences merely random neurological fireworks, the soul talking to itself using the physical organ of the brain like an internal telephone, or something else? Ed Welch in Blame It on the Brain? says, “It is as if the heart always leaves its footprints in the brain… The Bible predicts that what goes on in the heart is represented physically. But the Bible would clarify that such differences do not prove that the brain caused the thoughts and actions. It may very well be the opposite. Brain changes may be caused by these behaviors (p. 48).”
  9. Is mental illness a physical event with spiritual side effects or a spiritual event with physical side effects; do choices-emotions trigger biology or biology trigger choices-emotions?
  10. How do we best assess when the relief of medication would decrease the motivation to change versus when that same relief would increase the possibility of change? Pain can both motivate and overwhelm; is this simply about personal thresholds or should mental anguish be evaluated by a different set of criteria?
  11. Are our emotions more than the alarm system of the soul (moral) and the chemicals of our brain (biological)? Do these two categories tell us everything we need to know about emotions? Are these categories complimentary or competitive with one another?
  12. Can we have a collective disease? Is mental illness always personal or can it be cultural? Cultural changes necessarily add to or detract from the kind of stresses that influence mental illness. How should we understand this influence and when might an “epidemic” require a collective solution as much as personal choices?
  13. Why are we, culturally, more open about almost everything in our lives than we were a generation ago except mental illness? Why does this stigma / prejudice maintain its socially-accepted status when most others have been rejected? Kathryn Greene-McCreight in Darkness Is My Only Companion says, “The mentally ill are one group of handicapped people against whom it still seems to be socially acceptable to hold prejudice (p. 36).”
  14. Are we trying to medically create an idyllic sanguine personality?Is “normal” becoming too emotionally narrow? If not in the medical establishment, then are societal norms pushing people in this direction and the service-oriented medical profession trying to accommodate its well-intended, but misguided clientele? Joel Shuman and Brian Volck, M.D. in Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine say, “The consumer model to which medicine seems to be uncritically adopting pursuance is providing what the patient wants—that is, customer satisfaction in matters of health—is the measure of success (p. 26).”
  15. Does the alleviation of symptoms with medication always mean we are curing a disease? We medically treat the symptoms of many diseases and non-diseases to provide relief. This is good. Why have we allowed the debate over the disease model for mental illness to polarize the conversation about the roles of medication can play in mental health?
  16. How should we understand the effects of the Fall on the mind and brain? We know our bodies age and die. We know all of our organs are susceptible to disease and deterioration. We have “norms” for the frequency, duration, onset, and prognosis of these effects of the Fall; what are the equivalent expectations for the mind and brain?
  17. How do we understand the tension between “already” and “not yet” with regards to the health, development, and preservation of the mind? How much should we expect to be able to remedy the effects of the Fall upon the mind prior to the ultimate redemption that will occur when Christ returns (Revelation 21:4)?
  18. How much should we expect conversion and normal sanctification (spiritual maturity) to impact mental illness? Outside of medical interventions, most secular treatments for mental illness focus on healthy-thinking, healthy-choices, and healthy-relationships; so how much should Christians expect sound-doctrine, righteous-living, and biblical-community to impact their struggle with mental illness?

What do we gain from asking good questions? Humility. Humility may be more vital for this conversation than most other conversations we have. Why? Because the neurological, genetic, and medical research that have prompted many of these questions is still in its infancy. What we “know” in these areas will likely seem as outdated as a VHS tape 10 years from now.

“It is very likely that in the future, with increased research into depression and also increased understanding of the Bible’s teaching, much of the current confident certainty, which presently masquerades as biblical or medical expertise, will also look ridiculous, cruel, and even horrifying (p. 12).” David Murray in Christians Get Depressed Too

But if the Bible is timeless, do research developments in these areas matter? Yes. Not because new scientific discoveries will change what the Bible means, but those discoveries will likely change our application of the Bible. Did the discovery of epileptic seizures change the truthfulness of the Bible? No. But it did help Christians understand that these were not demonic events. It is likely, if God should tarry, that many similar discoveries will emerge in the area of mental illness.

Secret Wisdom in the Wake of Suffering

SOURCE:  Marshall Segal/Desiring God

Wisdom may be as basic a human need as air, water, or shelter.

We all need guidance and direction, and we need it today and every day.

If you don’t think you need wisdom, then you need it even more than the rest of us. We make decisions every day that require wisdom — in choosing what to do or not do, in meetings at work, in loving our spouse, in our routine at home, in parenting our children, in weathering heartache and suffering.

Job was starved for wisdom in the wake of perhaps the greatest personal tragedy ever recorded. He lost one thousand oxen and five hundred donkeys to thieves (Job 1:3, 14–15), and his servants watching over the animals were slaughtered (Job 1:15). Only moments later, fire fell from the sky and burned his seven thousand sheep, along with the servants tending them (Job 1:16). Then, all three thousand of his camels were seized in another raid, and the servants responsible for them murdered (Job 1:17). Lastly, and most tragically, Job’s own sons and daughters all were killed — seven young men, and three precious girls. A strong wind struck their house, causing the roof to collapse on them (Job 1:2, 18–19).

Can you imagine not just losing one child but ten — and all in one horrifying moment?

Job lost his ten children that one afternoon, along with almost everyone else he loved and almost everything else he owned. Then Satan even attacked his body, spreading sores from his head to his feet (Job 2:7), adding awful pain and irritation to his already unbearable grief and distress.

Few, if any, have known suffering like Job.

The book is one long, excruciating wrestling with why — an impossible mountain climb to wisdom in suffering’s dead of winter. Why all of the oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels, Lord? Why did they have to kill my servants? Why give me the blessing of ten children — knit together delicately, delivered safely, held and raised lovingly, prized immensely — and then ripped right out of my arms? Why add insult to injury, covering my grieving, lonely body with agony? Why?

Who Sinned That Job Should Suffer?

Job says, “Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12).

He’s listened to his well-meaning, but misguided friends fumble for answers for more than twenty-five chapters now — most of their counsel and advice spent accusing him of wrongdoing, presuming the waves of suffering fell on him because of some unconfessed sin. While he did misspeak at times (Job 38:2), Job carries a confidence that God is not punishing sin, but doing something profound and mysterious in all the sorrow.

His friends play the naïve and simplistic role of Jesus’s disciples — “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). What sin did Job commit to deserve loss, death, and pain like this? With less clarity, but great faith, Job echoes what Jesus would say hundreds of years later, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). It was not because of sin that my livelihood was stolen, or my servants killed, or my sons and daughters crushed, but because God, in great love and mercy, wants the whole world to see his glory.

And in his infinite wisdom, only God knew exactly how that will happen — in Job’s life and in ours.

The Author and Fountain of Wisdom

Where is wisdom like God’s found? Job says, “It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air” (Job 28:21). We will not find the right answers in the world — in newspapers, books, schools, or with Google. The world is filled with knowledge, opinion, and passion, but is starving for wisdom. So where should we turn when we’re searching for wisdom — for answers — in the midst of disappointment, suffering, and tragedy?

“God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure, when he made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder, then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.” (Job 28:23–27)

Only one holds the wisdom we need in the blinding, deafening wake of pain and loss. He sees everything everywhere all at once, and all the time. He weighs and wields the wind — imagine how hard it would be for Job to say those words after seeing his dead children.

God weaved the world with wisdom and runs the world with wisdom, including every drop of rain, every cool summer breeze, and every hurricane-force gust.

Fear the God of Comfort

But how do we search the infinite mind of God to find comfort for our sorrow and hope for our future?

Job goes on, “[The Lord] said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding’” (Job 28:28; alsoProverbs 3:7). Are you asking Why? in the midst of terrible suffering or sudden tragedy? Draw near to the awesome God of the universe, and away from every other way people try and deal with their pain. Forsake sin and all its empty promises to heal and comfort you. Run, instead, to the Author and Perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2), as well as the loving Father and Worker in your pain (Romans 8:28).

The fear of the Lord is not terror, but awe-filled faith. “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied” (Proverbs 19:23; alsoProverbs 14:27). Christians live and suffer with a fearful rest and satisfaction in God. The believers in the early church walked “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). One kind of fear breeds clarity and comfort, rather than anxiety and confusion. Isaiah says, “Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:13–14).

If God and his wisdom are our comfort and confidence, we will walk away from foolishness and evil. Satan makes sin even more tantalizing in suffering — brighter colors, louder notes, sweeter smells. But faith knows the comfort we need is waiting in the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). We do not envy sinners (Proverbs 23:17), because we know that disaster and confusion — not freedom, clarity, or healing — are the fruits of sin.

In the face of devastating news, our gut reaction and temptation might be to doubt God or run from him. But heart-wrenching wisdom and understanding are not found anywhere deep inside ourselves or somewhere far from God, but woven into his wise and sovereign love for us.

We cannot capture or completely grasp his wisdom, but we can worship him and trust him with all the painful unknowns in life.

(Should I Pray) Whatever It Takes, Lord?

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

Whatever It Takes, Lord

We want to be people who love Jesus with all our heart, who trust him fully, follow him faithfully, and bear maximum fruit for his name. We want to be filled with as much God as we can possibly hold (Ephesians 3:19). We don’t want to be lukewarm (Revelation 3:16), or waste our brief life here on earth (Ephesians 5:16).

So let’s lace our prayers with whatever it takes requests.

The Safest Prayer

Over the years, many people have told me they fear praying “whatever it takes” because God just might actually answer. And if he does, he might make them do hard things or go to hard places where they might suffer. He might take away people and things they love. He might make them miserable.

Praying whatever it takes feels dangerous.

I understand this fear. I used to feel it, too. We look at what some saints endured and we think, “No thanks.” But if we read Hebrews 11, we find that saints who seemed to pay a significant cost to fully follow God were not holy stoics who chose obedience over joy, but holy hedonists who, like Jesus, chose costly obedience for the sake of their joy (Hebrews 12:2). They considered any hardship they endured worth the cost because the joy of their reward was so great (Hebrews 11:26).

After years of praying whatever it takes, I can tell you my former fears were misplaced. I used to fear the wrong thing. It isn’t dangerous to pray this way; it’s dangerous not to pray this way.

Whatever it takes praying is a means to experiencing inexpressible joy (1 Peter 1:8), not misery. I’ve learned that choosing not to ask God to do whatever it takes out of fear I might lose something is like declining Thanksgiving dinner because I fear giving up my bag of Cheetos.

We are never safer than when we are in Jesus’s hands (John 10:28). And the safest way we can pray is to ask God to do whatever it takes for Jesus’s joy to be in us and for our joy to be full (John 15:11).

God Only Wants to Give You Good Gifts

I don’t want to mislead you. God’s answers to my prayers have resulted in some of the most difficult experiences of my life. But hear me: I would not trade any of those experiences for the world. They’ve only encouraged me to pray all the more because of the joy-infused hope I’ve tasted through them (Romans 5:2).

It is true that God frequently answers our prayers in ways we don’t expect. But he only does this for our joy. God is always pursuing us with goodness and mercy (Psalm 23:6). Listen to how Jesus describes the Father’s disposition toward us when he encourages us to pray:

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

The Father has no desire at all to give us misery when we ask for joy (Matthew 7:9–10).

Don’t Be Afraid to Pray, “Whatever It Takes, Lord”

So don’t be afraid to pray, “Whatever it takes, Lord.”

All we are doing is asking our Father for what will make us and others most happy (Luke 11:13;Matthew 13:44; Ephesians 1:17–18; Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 4:3). This will not endanger our joy, but result in more of it (John 15:11; Psalm 16:11).

Any suspicion we have that God will make us miserable in answer to our earnest prayers for more of him is a demonic deception. Satan is casting a lying light on Scripture and our experience, playing on our fears, so that he can cheat us out of the joy God wants to give us. We must not let our unbelieving fears determine the nature of our prayers.

That’s why it’s actually more dangerous not to pray such prayers. We live in a cosmic war zone, opposed by spiritual forces of evil far beyond our strength (Ephesians 6:12). We really need God to do whatever it takes to defeat them. And he chooses to do so often through our prayers (Romans 15:18;Philippians 1:19).

So let’s boldly approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), and ask for as much of it as we can get, whatever it takes. For it is asking the One we love most to give us what we need most that will make us most happy. We should not fear, for there is no safer prayer.

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5 Things to Do When God Seems Distant

SOURCE:  Rebecca Rene Jones/Relevant Magazine

A few ways to wait well.

That June, I stood at the podium draped in black cap and gown. I was 18, my tassel dancing as I lifted lips to the mic and delivered a valedictory address full of all the right bluster: Drive slow and enjoy the brave journey. Believe in your beauty. Live out loud.

Two months later, in August, I moved into my freshman dorm. Three days in, my dad died.

After his funeral, I unplugged my mini-fridge. I hiked across campus to the registrar’s office, surrendered my meal card, un-enrolled. I stripped my mattress clean of my new sheet set and hugged my roommates an awkward goodbye. On the ride home, I began what would flower into months of questioning all of it: my dreams, my design, my direction. I balled my fist, banged hard on heaven’s screen door, and here’s the hard part: For a while, God kept quiet.

If you, too, find yourself here, on this same front porch, famished for even the faintest nudge in the right direction—sit down. Here’s what I know about waiting when God feels distant.

Know That What You’re Experiencing Is Normal

It is so unshockingly normal that C.S. Lewis actually said our fluctuating feelings about God were perhaps the only constant of our faith. “The law of Undulation,” he nicknamed it. In a nutshell, “undulation” implies that the Christian walk is a back and forth rocking between sweet “communications of His presence” and then, later: wilderness and soul-numbing silence.

In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes that God “withdraws, if not in fact, (then) at least from … conscious experience … He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.” This may seem unpleasant, but it works in us something that’s critical to our spiritual maturity: a decoupling of our faith from our feelings about it.

Undulation forces us to go beyond our own gut—and beyond our circumstances—and agree that God is good and attentive even when life suggests otherwise.

Embrace Boring Things

Today’s temptation is to bide time by distracting ourselves. We are categorically bad at waiting, at welcoming quiet, at actively wanting from God. We are much better at filling in downtime and numbing our aches with Pinterest, Twitter and Netflix.

But God dares us to do something different: To stay expectant. To stay hungry. To practice hope, as Paul says, by patiently and confidently fixing our attention on the promises we don’t yet possess (Romans 8:24-25).

Carve out quiet places to remember what you’re hoping for. For me, after Dad died, that meant taking lots of lonesome bike rides and a tedious part-time job counting pills at a local pharmacy. It’d be a stretch to call these spiritual disciplines, but I’ll go to the mat for this: they helped me protect a precious hush that God eventually spoke into.

Tell God What You Think

It’s OK to be blunt. The great prophet Elijah even prayed to die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said (1 Kings: 19:4). His earnestness isn’t exactly an anomaly, either: so many psalms echo some version of this, peppering God with the same rolling questions: Why haven’t you moved sooner? Or in quite the way we’d hoped?

On the surface, they might seem presumptuous, but at their heartbeat, these questions are actually something different: They are appeals to God’s good character. They’re sincere questions that finger a perceived disconnect between who God says He is and why His action—or seeming lack of action—seems out of step with his nature.

Sometimes, we confuse waiting on God with plunking down until we’re handed crisp itineraries.

Don’t Demand Burning Bushes

God can use pyrotechnics, of course, but our brushes with Him aren’t always so theatrical. When we knock, ask and seek, sometimes He doesn’t match our decibel level.

God honors and often uplifts the quietly faithful, and what’s more: He often comes in the quiet. When God tells Elijah to wait before Him on the mountaintop, we witness something remarkable: God doesn’t show up where we think He’d appear. He’s not in the snapping windstorm, or the earthquake or the blaze. Elijah can’t find God’s voice in any of them. Then comes a gentle whisper, and it is so divinely flooded that Elijah covers his face with his cloak.

What if God intends to meet us precisely in the places we’d least imagine?

“Help me overcome my ‘Misplaced IF!'” ~Mark 9:24

SOURCE:  Charles Spurgeon/Reformed Quotes

Is your “if” in the wrong place?

“Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe.”—Mark 9:23.

Certain man had a demoniac son, who was afflicted with a dumb spirit. The father, having seen the futility of the endeavours of the disciples to heal his child, had little or no faith in Christ, and therefore, when he was bidden to bring his son to Him, he said to Jesus, “If Thou cast do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.”

Now there was an “if” in the question, but the poor trembling father had put the “if” in the wrong place: Jesus Christ, therefore, without commanding him to retract the “if,” kindly puts it in its legitimate position. “Nay, verily,” He seemed to say, “there should be no ‘if’ about My power, nor concerning My willingness, the ‘if’ lies somewhere else.” “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” The man’s trust was strengthened, he offered a humble prayer for an increase of faith, and instantly Jesus spoke the word, and the devil was cast out, with an injunction never to return.

There is a lesson here which we need to learn.

We, like this man, often see that there is an “if” somewhere, but we are perpetually blundering by putting it in the wrong place. “If” Jesus can help me—”if” He can give me grace to overcome temptation—”if” He can give me pardon—”if” He can make me successful?

Nay, “if” you can believe, He both can and will. You have misplaced your “if.”

If you can confidently trust, even as all things are possible to Christ, so shall all things be possible to you. Faith standeth in God’s power, and is robed in God’s majesty; it weareth the royal apparel, and rideth on the King’s horse, for it is the grace which the King delighteth to honour. Girding itself with the glorious might of the all-working Spirit, it becomes, in the omnipotence of God, mighty to do, to dare, and to suffer. All things, without limit, are possible to him that believeth. My soul, canst thou believe thy Lord to-night?

~ Charles Spurgeon

Anxiety: UNDER PRESSURE

SOURCE: Cameron Lawrence/InTouch Ministries

We might be people of faith, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to anxiety.

It’s a weekday morning, and the coffee shop fills quickly, a line snaking around tables from the counter to the door. The machines answer back to their handlers—hissing steam, grinding beans—in a kind of waking song. I watch patrons sip from the day’s first cup, souls once again easing into their bodies.

And yet, I am drinking decaf—an unpardonable sin, I realize—just as I have for a decade. Not as a demonstration of dietary conviction or some obscure religious observance, but because of how years ago caffeine became a destructive force in my life. No, let me try again: I gave up caffeine because it revealed a destructive force already latent within me—a propensity toward anxiety of the sort that overtakes the mind.

It started in the weeks leading up to my wedding and then intensified after the honeymoon. Beneath my usual calm demeanor, irrational thoughts were inexplicably taking over my interior life. It was as if I had been walking through the familiar landscape of my existence, when suddenly I discovered a solitary door in the middle of an open field. I walked through, and at first nothing seemed different. But then I sensed them—specters creeping among the tall grasses, rustling the high branches. The world of my mind had become populated with shadows of my hidden fears. I looked for an exit, but the door had disappeared.

I prayed. I read the Bible. I went to church and talked with my pastors. Still, the anxiety persisted, affecting my work, relationships, and faith in God.

After several months of this, my wife had an idea. “Why not try giving up caffeine?” I’d been drinking a lot of coffee, and it hadn’t occurred to me that the daily intake might be exacerbating my condition. As a solution, it seemed too simple, too small to matter. But what did I have to lose?

I cut out caffeine, and within a week something was different. My mind was becoming clearer. After two weeks, thought patterns that had possessed me were weakening. In a few months, I felt more myself than I had in a long, long time. Since then, I can’t say I’ve ever been quite the same, having by grace passed through terror and found what I didn’t know lived in me. In truth, it lives in me still, even if not in the same ways. I feel anxiety flare up from time to time, trying to intrude. Trying to push me out of my own life. And what I’ve learned is that I’m not alone.

Just the other day, I was having dinner with a friend, when he confessed that he’d been suffering from panic attacks. Work had been tough—tougher than ever—but the anxiety he was experiencing transcended typical job stress. This easy-going, happy guy had found himself crippled by fear that had come with a suddenness and severity that left him sobbing in the morning’s wee hours. Medication has been helping, but the fear is still there, lurking. And a few months ago, I was on a retreat with some fellow writers, only to discover that due to all manner of hardships, several of the group were taking pills of their own.

No, this isn’t about coffee. This isn’t about caffeine or whether I think you should consume it. This is about the simultaneous strength and fragility of the human mind, and how powerful it is in shaping our lives for better or worse. This is about the problem of anxiety we each face in our own way. This is a conversation about faith.

Yet I hesitate to write that last line, because far too many Christians have abused their brothers and sisters struggling with anxiety. “Just have more faith,” people say, not comprehending the complexity of fear. Faith is more than the mental assent to a tidy system of beliefs. It requires more than a list of affirmations we repeat to ourselves, as if mantras can overcome our deepest existential crises. These fears, these anxieties, often lurk beneath the veneers of our theological systems and churchly behavior. We can’t always identify them, but they’re shaping our lives, guiding our reactions and decisions, whether we realize it or not.

Faith is an encounter—sometimes with a presence, and sometimes with an absence. Underneath all our apprehensions is one fundamental fear: that there is no God, or that if there is one, He isn’t good—despite our biblical training or the inspiring testimonies we’ve heard. Despite our own mysterious experiences, even if intermittent, of Love Himself. Deep down, we are often still afraid. So what to do?

Praying, reading Scripture, confessing sin, attending services, speaking with professionals—and yes, even taking medication—can all be redemptive. And we should submit ourselves to wise counsel, whether pastoral or medical. But in the end, the ultimate solution must be an encounter with God Himself, an ongoing communion we struggle toward—not through works that any man should boast, but through a humble, repentant heart.

This is how we open our hearts and minds to Him: We call out from within our desperation, and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” and wait for Him, who in due time will come shining in—liberating our plains and forests, rivers and oceans, of every haunting ghost.

With God, There is NO _____________

SOURCE:  Tolle Lege/J.C. Ryle

The pillow of God’s omnipotence” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us mark, in the third place, the mighty principle which the angel Gabriel lays down to silence all objections about the incarnation. ‘With God nothing shall be impossible.’

A hearty reception of this great principle is of immense importance to our own inward peace. Questions and doubts will often arise in men’s minds about many subjects in religion. They are the natural result of our fallen estate of soul.

Our faith at the best is very feeble. Our knowledge at its highest is clouded with much infirmity.

And among many antidotes to a doubting, anxious, questioning state of mind, few will be found more useful than that before us now,—a thorough conviction of the almighty power of God.

With Him who called the world into being and formed it out of nothing, everything is possible.

Nothing is too hard for the Lord.

  • There is no sin too black and bad to be pardoned. The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin.
  • There is no heart too hard and wicked to be changed. The heart of stone can be made a heart of flesh.
  • There is no work too hard for a believer to do. We may do all things through Christ strengthening us.
  • There is no trial too hard to be borne. The grace of God is sufficient for us.
  • There is no promise too great to be fulfilled. Christ’s words never pass away, and what He has promised He is able to perform.
  • There is no difficulty too great for a believer to overcome. When God is for us who shall be against us? The mountain shall become a plain.

Let principles like these be continually before our minds. The angel’s receipt is an invaluable remedy.

Faith never rests so calmly and peacefully as when it lays its head on the pillow of God’s omnipotence.”

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–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 1: 27-28. Ryle is commenting on Luke 1:34-38.

Why Hasn’t God Healed Me?

SOURCE:  DR. LARRY KEEFAUVER/Charisma Magazine

The invitation had just been given for anyone who needed prayer to approach the altar. John came forward, kneeling in silent contemplation–silent except for the tears streaming down his cheeks.

I stood behind the prayer rail and knelt in front of him as he extended his hands to grasp mine. His body trembled as he sobbed. Behind him stood his wife, one hand resting on John’s shoulder and the other raised heavenward as she prayed silently and wept openly.

“I just got back some tests on Friday,” John whispered. “The doctors say I have prostate cancer. Pastor, I don’t know if I have enough faith to go through this. Will you pray for me?”

As I anointed John with oil and prayed with him for healing, my mind pondered the phrase “enough faith.”

For years I have heard preachers imply that faith in some way is quantified. The myths seem to circulate unabated: “If Susan had just had enough faith, she would have been healed,” or “When Bill’s faith gets strong enough, he will be healed,” or “If everyone in this room all believed at the same moment, then all would be healed.”

But is healing really based on your faith alone? What should be your perspective when God doesn’t heal immediately?

If you are to understand why God doesn’t always heal now, you will have to peel away the layers of myth that have been so tantalizing to embrace. You will have to dig deep into the Scripture for yourself instead of consuming the “fast food” of your favorite popular name-it-and-claim-it theologian. And you will have to decide to walk by faith instead of simply mouthing the platitudes of faith that have so easily supplanted God’s Word in your daily confessions.

The truth is, while the lack of faith may hinder healing, healing does not depend on faith. I have witnessed both the faithful and the faithless being healed. And I have seen those of great faith die. In fact, everyone Jesus healed eventually died.

Those around the tomb of Lazarus lacked faith, and certainly Lazarus was in no position to exercise faith–he had been dead four days (see John 11:39-40). Yet Lazarus experienced a wonderful healing: He was resurrected.

A man once said to me after a friend’s funeral: “Life’s greatest enemy is death. She lacked faith. She doubted. So she lost and thus died.” Yet this deceased friend was a believer who had surrendered her life to Jesus as Lord and Savior. She lives eternally with Christ in heaven. How silly to suggest that people die because of a lack of faith. Does this mean that people with enough faith will never die? Of course not!

If death were the enemy, why would Paul write, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” or “We walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (Phil. 1:21; 2 Cor. 5:7-8, NKJV). We must avoid the myths of faith and healing and embrace the truth revealed in Scripture.

The Myths of Faith Healing

Some believers focus exclusively on faith as the key to healing. Yet Jesus healed many who apparently had no faith. Some were healed because their friends had faith. Others were bound up by demonic spirits and healed by exorcism, even against their wills.

The truth is that God heals. The myth is that God always heals now at the initiative of our faith.

Faith teacher Frederick K.C. Price has asserted: “The seventh method of receiving healing–[which] I believe is the highest kind of faith–is the highest way to receive healing…If you believe you receive it, you will confess that: ‘Bless God, I believe I am healed. I believe I have received my healing…I believe that it is so. I believe that I can walk in divine health all the days of my life.’ You are reading after one man who will never be sick, and I’m not being presumptuous.”

Myth is mixed here with truth. The highest kind of faith is, “I believe in Jesus,” not just, “I believe.”

It is true that faith must be our initiative. But even our initiative comes through the prompting of the Holy Spirit: “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Our faith helps us receive healing, just as the lack of faith hinders healing. But healing does not depend on faith. Healing depends on the Healer.

Healing is the will of God. Canadian evangelist Peter Youngren wrote: “Jesus clearly shows us God’s will in healing…the Word of God declares that ‘great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all’ (Matt. 12:15). When Jesus healed all, He was obviously doing the will of His Father, because He only did that which the Father wanted Him to do.”

Youngren adds: “This is why you can come with boldness asking God for healing. God is on your side. He wants the best for you. He is good.”

So, if God wills all to be healed, then can your faith move His hand to heal you? In the words of the Hertz rental car commercial: “Not exactly!”

Your faith moves Him to save you (see Rom. 10:9-13; Eph. 2:8). And in your salvation is your healing: “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses'” (Matt. 8:17; Is. 53:4-6).

But your faith does not effect your healing now. When you are healed rests entirely on what the sovereign purposes of the Healer are.

Consider this biblical example. In John 5 Jesus healed one paralytic at the pool of Bethesda though a multitude thronged that place daily to be healed. Why was one man healed at that moment while others were not?

John 5:19 gives the answer when Jesus confessed, “‘Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.'”

Bible scholar Jack Deere correctly observes that the initiative for the miraculous in Jesus’ ministry did not begin with Him but with the Father. “He healed only the people He saw His Father healing,” Deere writes. “The only firm reason for the healing of the paralytic that we can derive from the context of John 5 is that the Father willed it, and Jesus executed His Father’s will…We are ultimately faced with the conclusion that sometimes the Lord works miracles for His own sovereign purposes without giving any explanation for His actions to His followers.”

The second myth about healing is that if you stand fast in faith, you will be physically healed in time and space. Ken and Gloria Copeland have declared that healing will come if we have faith in our hearts and God’s Word in our mouths. But, they add: “It may take time for it to manifest in your body. So stand fast in faith, giving thanks to God until it does. Focus on God’s Word, not on physical symptoms.”

In what do we “stand fast”? The “rock” on which we stand isn’t faith or healing but Christ alone–the Healer. In Hebrews 10:23 we are admonished to hold fast to the profession of our faith. But in what is our profession of faith? Certainly, it is not in faith or in healing.

Be careful that your faith is not in faith itself–or, worse yet, in a faith teacher! Just believing hard enough, long enough or strong enough will not strengthen you or prompt your healing. Doing mental gymnastics to “hold on to your miracle” will not cause your healing to manifest now.

So what is faith? It is more than believing in your heart that God heals. The truth is that God is the God who heals. Faith is trusting the God who heals. Faith is a radical, absolute surrender to the God who heals. Faith is not holding on for your healing but holding on to the God who can do the impossible.

The truth is that your healing may manifest in eternity, not in time. If your trust is in God who heals, then when He heals you is secondary to belonging to the Healer. Certainly you will thank Him if He heals you today. But if your healing comes beyond death in eternity, will you praise Him now for that?

Paul did just that: “‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:55-58).

The third myth about healing is that if you just confess your healing, you will be healed right now. But you should confess the Healer, not your healing.

In his best-selling book, The Bible Cure, Dr. Reginald B. Cherry encourages us to “speak to the mountain” of our illness when we pray. That is important in prayer. But praying it and saying it won’t make physical healing manifest now.

Positive confession does not effect healing. If that were true, anyone who believes in mind-over-matter mental exercises could heal people. Only Jesus heals.

Our confession should be in Him, not in being healed now. Jesus sternly warned: “‘Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven'” (Matt. 10:32-33).

It’s time we throw out the lies that cloud the truth about faith and healing. It’s time we embrace the scriptural truths that shatter shallow myths and bring us freedom to confidently trust God.

Freedom in the Truth

When God doesn’t heal now, you can apply essential truths about faith and healing that are anchored in Scripture. I’ve identified four key actions we should take when we face a serious illness:

1. Have others join their faith to yours in bringing your infirmity to Jesus. “When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4:40; Matt. 8:16; Mark 1:32-34; 2:3-12).

Don’t try to face sickness alone. An essential key to healing in the New Testament is the power of corporate faith and praying in agreement with others (see Matt. 18:19-20). When you gather with others to pray, the presence of Christ dwells in your midst. Because He is the Great Physician, with His presence comes healing power.

Throughout the healing miracle accounts in the Gospels, we observe that friends brought the sick to Jesus. In Mark 2, a paralytic man was brought by his friends to Jesus. The Syro-Phoenician woman brought her daughter to Jesus (see Matt. 15:22; Mark 7:24-30). A father brought his demonized child to Jesus (see Matt 17:14-18; Mark 9:17-27; Luke 9:38-42).

Join your faith with others to seek the Great Physician. When sickness has weakened, fatigued and discouraged you, seek out others who will pray in faith.

2. Seek to receive a touch from God. The woman with an issue of blood exercised her faith by going outside and searching for the Healer. She did all she knew to do to reach out through a crowd and touch Jesus (see Matt. 9:20; Mark 5:25-27; Luke 8:43-44).

When you are sick, you might be tempted to isolate yourself from settings in which you can touch and be touched by the presence of Christ. At times, you may not feel like going to worship services. You may feel too weak to sing and praise God. You may be too tired and discouraged to call the elders of your church to anoint you with oil and pray in faith for you.

Resist this temptation to stay at home in isolation. Healing flows through the body of Christ. His body is the church. Break out of your loneliness and seek the Healer.

3. Submit yourself to the authority and will of Christ, trusting Him as your Healer. The centurion’s faith in Christ opened a door for his servant to be healed (see Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Likewise, the authority for your healing does not rest in you or your faith. Claiming your healing and speaking the right words do not guarantee your healing now or at any future time. Your faith opens a door for you to receive your healing from Christ.

I prayed with a woman who demanded that God heal her. When I questioned her attitude, she exclaimed, “I have the authority as a child of God to command God to fulfill His promise of healing for me.” She believed a common myth that has been spread by some faith teachers, who believe that we can command God to do our bidding.

Our authority isn’t over Christ but in Christ. We reign with Him in heavenly places (see Eph. 2:4-7). The sons of Sceva presumed to have healing authority but quickly learned that authority rested in the person of Jesus, not simply in the repetitious use of His name (see Acts 19:13-16).

The truth is that all authority for every matter, including healing, rests in Jesus: “‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth'” (Matt. 28:18). From Christ we receive imparted authority to say what He says and to do what He does. Submit to His authority for your healing.

4. Believe on His Word, not someone else’s advice or counsel. Whenever Jesus spoke the Word, people were healed (see Matt. 8:8, 16; Luke 7:7). The psalmist said, “He [the Lord] sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions” (Ps. 107:20). Listen to the Word of the Lord for your healing. No one else’s word, faith or assurance will do. When God doesn’t heal now, trust His voice and believe His Word.

Proverbs 4:20-22 reads: “My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh.”

When God doesn’t heal now, trust His Word–not your circumstances or human advice. God has not abandoned you. He’s not taking a vacation. He is right there by your side as you put your trust in His tender care.

 

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Dr. Larry Keefauver is a former editor of Ministries Today magazine and founder of Your Ministries Counseling Services and PowerHouse Families. He is the author of Lord, I Wish My Teenager Would Talk With Me(Creation House).

Hanging on to Faith When the Miracle Doesn’t Come

SOURCE:  Karen Woodall/InTouch Ministry

Sundown

The sun sank low on the horizon beyond the hill out behind our house. As the blazing orange orb melted into the distance, red, pink, and purple clouds seemed to ascend into a deepening blue sky. As I paused to behold the glorious display, a story that I’d recently read in the book of Joshua came to mind.

A lesser-known miracle recorded in chapter 10 (vv. 1-14) occurs during Israel’s battle with the Amorites. The writer of Joshua tells us that five kings of the surrounding area planned to attack the Gibeonites because they had signed a treaty with Israel. Coming to the defense of their new ally, Joshua and the Israelite army executed a surprise attack on the camp of their common enemies.

In verse 8, God assured Joshua of the outcome, saying, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; not one of them shall stand before you.” Not surprisingly, Israel beat the Amorites and drove them from the city. But, as the Israelite army pursued the Amorites to seal their victory, the sun began to set. Seeing this, Joshua prayed a bold prayer, “O Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and O moon, in the Valley of Aijalon” (v. 12). And the amazing thing is, the sun actually stood still in the sky!

I love that story because it’s a dramatic picture of our miracle-working God responding to bold prayers of faith that are centered on His promises.

But as I stood there in the overgrown grass surrounding our house observing that evening’s sunset, it occurred to me that sometimes—maybe a lot of times—believers trust, pray, and believe as best as they know how, and the sun doesn’t stop in the sky. Even while clinging to the last scrap of faith, daylight disappears and is soon replaced by the long shadows of night.

It’s difficult to find answers that satisfy during times when our desires go unfulfilled, our prayers appear to be unanswered, and hope and confidence seem hard to find. I won’t attempt to gloss over real pain and frustration with fluffy platitudes and easy fix-all solutions that do little to repair dreams dashed into pieces on the ground.

What I will say is this: You can still trust God.

That doesn’t mean that if you hang on long enough, you’ll always get what you are hoping for, because the reality of our fallen world is that sometimes miracles don’t come according to our timetable. Or they don’t look like we thought they would when they finally arrive. But no matter what happens, our trust should never be placed in external circumstances. We must anchor our hope in God who, by His very nature, is trustworthy.

Beyond any doubt, the Lord has already proven His love and care for you in a tangible and concrete way. Romans 5:8 says it like this: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” You don’t have to lean on warm feelings, or on skewed assessments of what, in our view, seems to be the best outcome. The cross is an objective and enduring exhibition of the love of God. On that, you can place your full trust without question.

I do not know why some miracles come in such grand fashion, nor do I understand why so many times the sun silently sinks away.

What I do know is that even when the light retreats and night falls, with its all-encompassing blackness, you can still believe in the unending love and compassion of our God. When the sun sets, and disappointment settles over you like an evening mist, you can still choose to hang on to your trust in Him. And when, in the face of sorrow and heartbreak, you do remain faithful, perhaps it’s then the Lord will set ablaze His greatest miracle deep within your heart to ultimately shine brighter than the sun.

“Your sun will no longer set nor will your moon wane;

for you will have the Lord for an everlasting light,

and the days of your mourning will be over.”

Isaiah 60:20

 

Articles: “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” and “Jesus, The Perfect Man”

Source:  Bill Bellican

Article_ CA_Yes Virginia_Jesus Perfect Man

The linked articles (above) have run in the Memphis Commericial Appeal in years past.  I don’t know if that still is the case.

“Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” originally was first printed in 1897; “Jesus, The Perfect Man” was first printed in 1912.

I cut these out of the paper a number of years ago and still enjoy them.  I hope you enjoy them, too.

Blessings in Christ……

When It’s Not “Okay”

SOURCE: Kasey Van Norman, M.A.

Discovering Raw Faith in the Midst of Tragedy

The truth is, no matter the condition of our faith, we all have bad days. And when I’m having a bad day—you know, like barfing for twenty-some hours straight as a result of a toxin that’s flowing through my veins and killing off every cell in hopes of catching the one or two bad ones that could kill me—on those days, I don’t need someone to come along and tell me that it’s all going to be okay.

My experience with cancer is not the first time I’ve encountered this phenomenon.

When I watched my mom spiral into depression after my parents’ divorce, she would say, “It’s going to be okay.”

When I was with my dad every other weekend as a child and watched him take drink after drink, he would say, “It’s going to be okay.”

The day I ended up in the hospital after sticking my finger down my throat one too many times and had literally burned holes in my esophagus and weighed a good eighty-five pounds soaking wet, a nurse told me, “It’s going to be okay.”

After my miscarriage when I was twelve weeks pregnant, my friends told me, “It’s going to be okay.”

As I stood in front of my mother’s corpse at the funeral home, amid sobbing people and a slew of flowers, people came through the line and said, “It’s going to be okay.”

And then, when I shared the news of my cancer diagnosis, I received e-mails and shoulder pats with those dreaded words once again; “It’s going to be okay.”

There have been countless times when I want to stand up and shout, “NO! IT IS NOT GOING TO BE OKAY!”

We live in a broken, messed-up world, and there are some things that are never going to be okay.

Embracing raw faith means understanding that the Christian life also means accepting pain, suffering, and trials. Genuine faith means accepting the reality that life is a continual movement to become more like Jesus. Man-made religion wants to lull us into a place of rules and being just okay, but Jesus rocks our world and calls us to live deeply, whether in times of joy or struggle.

In other words, it’s okay to not be okay.

Better than Okay

God doesn’t guarantee us deliverance from hardship, and following him doesn’t mean we’ll never go through the fire. But he does promise us something better: he doesn’t waste anything we go through. And no matter what happens, he will go through it with us.

God’s grace runs deeper than any heartbreak we will experience in this life. His love goes beyond than any unanswered questions we might have. And God’s purpose and plan for our future can trump any sin, any obstacle, and any defeat we might experience.  He can use the very things that plague us—our most difficult trials—to chisel us into the character of his Son.

That’s something we can’t experience if we settle for okay.

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Excerpted from Raw Faith: What Happens When God Picks a Fight by Kasey Van Norman. Available at www.raw-faith.com.

Handling Your Personal “Jericho”

Source:  Taken from an article by Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Rae Lee

“For I hold you by your right hand—I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.'” (Isaiah 41:13 NLT)

It takes tremendous courage to persevere in the face of overwhelming problems.  And faith in God is the only thing that makes that kind of courage possible.

Joshua, a godly hero in the Old Testament, persevered by holding on, standing firm, keeping his course, and being patient. His persistence was based on his faith in God’s promises.

The city of Jericho blocked the entrance to the Promised Land for the children of Israel. This land belonged to God’s chosen people. He had promised it was theirs. However, there was an obstacle: the daunting fortified city of Jericho.

Joshua turned to God for guidance. What did God tell him to do? March around Jericho for seven days, then shout and blow horns! This may have seemed strange to Joshua, but it was God’s plan. God’s wisdom versus human wisdom.

Joshua chose God’s plan . . . and the Israelites won the victory.

Every Christian has to deal with a personal Jericho from time to time. Sometimes these obstacles seem impossible to overcome from a human perspective. But with God . . . all things are possible.

Are you facing an obstacle? It could be anything. Debt. Health. Relationship. A habit or addiction. The list of possibilities is endless, but the answer is always the same: Jesus.

[The above] scripture, God says not to be afraid. He is here to help you.

Turn to God. Turn to his Word. Place your faith in him. He will give you the strength to persist. As you trust in him and him alone, be persistent as you wait for the walls of your Jericho to fall. In his way. In his time.

Father, I feel overwhelmed by this problem in my life. Thank you for reminding me that you are with me. Help me stop focusing on the problem and turn my focus to Jesus. To your Word. Help me overcome fear by trusting you. In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …


Godly Heroes: A Small Group Study of Hebrews 11 by Jimmy Ray Lee, D.Min. 

A Prayer for Worshiping God Before, In and After the Fire

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Dan. 3:16-18

Heavenly Father, I am convicted, stretched and encouraged, by the way Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego honored you in this story. How refreshing to behold such God-centered, non-utilitarian, heart-engaged, authentic and fearless love for you.

These three friends didn’t worship you because of the gifts you give them, but because of the God that you are. They were firmly convinced that you could rescue them from the fiery furnace; but even if you didn’t rescue them, it would have no effect on their love for you, and trust in you. They would rather be delivered into your presence through the fire, than worship some other false god just to escape the fire.

Father, forgive me when my worship of you varies in response to my perceptions of how well and quick you answer my prayers—how fully you “bless” me, protect me, and grant me relief. As cynical as I am about the “name it and claim it” and prosperity theologies, I’m quite capable of doubting your love when life gets complicated and painful—when I have to wait on you and trust you in the dark and silence. I want to worship you beforethere’s a fire, when I’m in the fire, when the fire’s extinguished, or if you should choose to take me home through the fire.

Lord Jesus, you alone can give me such freedom and love; passion and delight; faithfulness and courage. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fire, you were the fourth man King Nebuchadnezzar saw walking around in the fiery furnace—so great is your faithfulness to us. And you were the one who endured the “fiery trial” of the cross—so great is your grace for us. You will never leave us or forsake us—at any time or in any trial. Because of the gospel, “fire” is less about out destruction and more about our purification. You make all things new, including fiery trials

Because of you, Lord Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid to die; and we don’t have to be afraid to live, either. By your grace, stoke the fire of affection in our hearts for you, so that at the very moment we’re tempted to turn to some false god deliverance or relief, we won’t. So very Amen we pray, in your beautiful and strong name.

 

Should Christians Have Doubts?

SOURCE:  Jonathan Morrow/Think Christianly

Real Christians don’t doubt. 

Or at least that’s the unspoken message you’ll find in many churches today.

Well, if that’s true then I guess I’m not a real Christian because I’ve had (and still have) my share of doubts at times. By the way, your parents, youth pastors, and parents have them too!

Pastor Tim Keller offers helpful insight:

A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.

As humans, we all have limitations. We all experience doubts simply because we cannot know everything about everything. So be encouraged, you are not alone. But in order to live with our doubts in a spiritually healthy and faith-building way, we need to be clear about what doubt is and isn’t.

First, as J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler point out, there is a difference between unbelief, doubt, and lack of belief.

Unbelief – someone willfully sets themselves against a biblical teaching (e.g., Jesus is not the Son of God).

Doubt – someone has an intellectual, emotional, or psychological barrier to a more secure confidence in a biblical teaching or in God Himself (e.g., I believe God is always there for me, but when bad stuff happens I struggle to believe this).

Lack of belief – someone doesn’t believe a biblical teaching or idea, but wants to (e.g., I need some help to believe).

Also, all doubts aren’t created equal; there are different flavors.

The two most common are intellectual and emotional doubts. Given a Christian understanding of faith as “confidence or trust in what we have reason to believe is true”—as opposed to ‘blind faith’ or wishing—the recipe for overcoming your doubts is not to somehow dig deep and crank out more faith by holding your breath and concentrating really hard. What you need to do is have the courage to “doubt your doubts.” Investigate. Seek the truth.

Here’s a place to start:

(1) be specific about what your doubts are—write them out and list reasons for / against

(2) start your investigation by reading the articles in this study Bible

(3) remind yourself that you are not the only one who has ever asked this question, and that 99.9% of the time a reasonable answer exists.

Sometimes emotional doubts look like intellectual ones. But the root cause turns out not to be unanswered questions at all. Some sources of emotional doubts:

(1) experiencing disappointment, failure, pain, or loss

(2) having unresolved conflict or wounds from our past that need to be addressed

(3) letting unruly emotions carry us away for no good reason

(4) being spiritually dry

(5) fearing to really commit to someone.

Also, it is crucial to remember that emotions are good and normal but they aren’t always right. They need to be examined.

I may be emotionally down, but that may have nothing whatsoever to do with my confidence that the New Testament is reliable, Jesus was who he claimed to be or that God really exists. When encountering emotional doubts, the best thing to do is to (repeatedly) tell ourselves the truth from God’s Word, invite God in to this by prayer, and then tell a trusted friend that we are emotionally struggling.

If you find yourself with doubts, you’re in good company (cf. Mk 9:24). But having the courage to doubt your doubts in the context of a thoughtful and caring community and investigating the root of these issues over time will lead to greater confidence as a follower of Jesus. That is what the journey of faith is all about.

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*A form of this article first appeared in a contribution I made to the Apologetics Study Bible for Students, published by B&H.

My Relationship With Christ: Lip Service or Heart Obedience?

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC)

Rabboni

Mary Magdalene.

A woman whose entire life and persona had been controlled and dominated by demonic activity. She battled not just one spirit of evil. She was consumed with seven.

Until one day, when she had a divine appointment with Jesus — “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out…” (Luke 8:2 ESV)

After that encounter, she became a committed follower of Christ. Her story had become His story. Perhaps that is why she was the first person to visit the tomb on that Resurrection morning — even while it was still dark. When she found the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty, she ran to find Peter and John, who ran back to the tomb to see for themselves.

And Mary?

She “stood weeping outside the tomb” (John 20:11 ESV).

Weeping with the pain and grief that is only felt when mourning the death of someone deeply loved. Through her tears, Mary stoops to look inside of the place where her Savior had been laid just a few days before. Two angels tell her that Jesus is not there. When she turns around to leave, she runs right into Jesus. Perhaps because she was in such deep anguish, Mary did not recognize Him. In fact, she thought He was the gardener. After a brief discussion she turns to walk away. Jesus says one word — “Mary!” She “turned and said to Him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni‘” (vs. 16) The meaning of the word is Teacher or Master. Can you imagine how she must have felt? Relief and joy certainly flooded her heart.

Rewind the story a few days, back to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus had just finished agonizing in prayer, and was now speaking with Peter, James and John. Suddenly, “Judas came… and with him a crowd with swords and clubs… and when he came, he went up to Him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ And he kissed him.” (Mark 14:43-46 ESV)

Two followers of Christ. Both have life changing personal encounters with Him. Both spoke directly to Him, using the same basic word. A word that means teacher or master. However, when Judas uses the word, the meaning is simply that — Master — as a title of honor, which is how Judas viewed Him. When Mary calls Jesus “Rabboni”, the added emphasis deepens the word to express who He really was to her — Lord.

What’s interesting is that some early Christian writings portray Mary Magdalene as a visionary who became a leader in the early church. We know without a doubt from scripture that Judas went out in remorse and hung himself. The difference? Judas had years of head knowledge. Mary’s heart had been changed. Judas was a trusted disciple (he kept the money bag) who “honored God with His lips… but his heart was far from Him” (Matthew 15:8 ESV). Judas said the right things. He believed the wrong things. On the other hand, Mary “believed with her heart and was justified” (Romans 10:10 ESV). Jesus knew her name — Mary. Mary knew His saving power — Lord.

Coming to grips with this difference personally — honoring God with your lips or believing in your heart — will turn your life around. Not just today, but for eternity.

Rachel Weeping for Her Children — How should Christians think and pray in the aftermath of such a colossal crime?

SOURCE:  Albert Mohler

Rachel Weeping for Her Children — The Massacre in Connecticut

Thus says the LORD:  “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”[Jeremiah 31:15]

It has happened again.

This time tragedy came to Connecticut, where a lone gunman entered two classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and opened fire, killing at least twenty children and six adults, before turning his weapons of death upon himself. The young victims, still to be officially identified, ranged in age from five to ten years. The murderer was himself young, reported to be twenty years old. According to press reports, he murdered his mother, a teacher at Sandy Hook, in her home before the rampage at the school.

Apparently, matricide preceded mass murder. Some of the children were in kindergarten, not even able to tie their own shoes. The word kindergarten comes from the German, meaning a garden for children. Sandy Hook Elementary School was no garden today. It was a place of murder, mayhem, and undisguised evil.

The calculated and premeditated nature of this crime, combined with the horror of at least twenty murdered children, makes the news almost unspeakable and unbearable. The grief of parents and loved ones in Newtown is beyond words. Yet, even in the face of such a tragedy, Christians must speak. We will have to speak in public about this evil, and we will have to speak in private about this horrible crime.

How should Christians think and pray in the aftermath of such a colossal crime?

We Affirm the Sinfulness of Sin, and the Full Reality of Human Evil

First, we must recognize that this tragedy is just as evil, horrible, and ugly as it appears.

Christianity does not deny the reality and power of evil, but instead calls evil by its necessary names — murder, massacre, killing, homicide, slaughter. The closer we look at this tragedy, the more it will appear unfathomable and more grotesque than the human imagination can take in.

What else can we say about the murder of children and their teachers? How can we understand the evil of killing little children one by one, forcing them to watch their little friends die and realizing that they were to be next? How can we bear this?

Resisting our instinct toward a coping mechanism, we cannot accept the inevitable claims that this young murderer is to be understood as merely sick. His heinous acts will be dismissed and minimized by some as the result of psychiatric or psychological causation, or mitigated by cultural, economic, political, or emotional factors. His crimes were sick beyond words, and he was undoubtedly unbalanced, but he pulled off a cold, calculated, and premeditated crime, monstrous in its design and accomplishment.

Christians know that this is the result of sin and the horrifying effects of The Fall. Every answer for this evil must affirm the reality and power of sin. The sinfulness of sin is never more clearly revealed than when we look into the heart of a crime like this and see the hatred toward God that precedes the murderous hatred he poured out on his little victims.

The twentieth century forced us to see the ovens of the Nazi death camps, the killing fields of Cambodia, the inhumanity of the Soviet gulags, and the failure of the world to stop such atrocities before they happened. We cannot talk of our times without reference to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, Pol Pot and Charles Manson, Idi Amin and Ted Bundy. More recently, we see evil in the impassive faces of Osama bin Laden and Anders Behring Brevik. We will now add yet another name to the roll call of mass murderers. His will not be the last.

The prophet Jeremiah knew the wickedness and deceit of the sinful human heart and asked the right question — who can understand it?

Beyond this, the Christian must affirm the grace of moral restraint, knowing that the real question is not why some isolated persons commit such crimes, but why such massacres are not more common. We must be thankful for the restraint of the law, operating on the human conscience. Such a crime serves to warn us that putting a curve in the law will inevitably produce a curve in the conscience. We must be thankful for the restraining grace of God that limits human evil and, rightly understood, keeps us all from killing each other.

Christians call evil what it is, never deny its horror and power, and remain ever thankful that evil will not have its full sway, or the last word.

We Affirm the Cross of Christ as the Only Adequate Remedy for Evil

There is one and only one reason that evil does not have the last word, and that is the fact that evil, sin, death, and the devil were defeated at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. There they were defeated conclusively, comprehensively, and publicly.

On the cross, Christ bore our sins, dying in our place, offering himself freely as the perfect sacrifice for sin. The devil delighted in Christ’s agony and death on the cross, realizing too late that Christ’s substitutionary atonement spelled the devil’s own defeat and utter destruction.

Christ’s victory over sin, evil, and death was declared by the Father in raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the ground of our hope and the assurance of the final and total victory of Christ over all powers, principalities, and perpetrators.

A tragedy like this cannot be answered with superficial and sentimental Christian emotivism, nor with glib dismissals of the enormity and transience of this crime. Such a tragedy calls for the most Gospel-centered Christian thinking, for the substance of biblical theology, and the solace that only the full wealth of Christian conviction can provide.

In the face of such horror, we are driven again and again to the cross and resurrection of Christ, knowing that the reconciling power of God in Christ is the only adequate answer to such a depraved and diabolical power.

We Acknowledge the Necessity of Justice, Knowing that Perfect Justice Awaits the Day of the Lord

Charles Manson sits in a California prison, even now — decades after his murderous crimes were committed. Ted Bundy was executed by the State of Florida for multiple murders, but escaped both conviction and punishment for others he is suspected of having committed. Anders Behring Brevik shot and killed scores of young people in Norway, but he was sentenced to less than thirty years in prison. Adolf Hitler took his own life, robbing human courts of their justice, and Vladimir Lenin died of natural causes.

The young murderer in Connecticut took his own life after murdering almost thirty people, most of them children. He will never face a human court, never have to face a human accuser, never stand convicted of his crimes, and never know the justice of a human sentence.

But, even as human society was robbed of the satisfaction of that justice, it would never be enough. Even if executed for his crimes, he could die only once. Even if sentenced to scores of life sentences to prison, he could forfeit only one human lifespan.

Human justice is necessary, but it is woefully incomplete. No human court can hand down an adequate sentence for such a crime, and no human judge can restore life to those who were murdered.

Crimes such as these remind us that we just yearn for the total satisfaction that will come only on the Day of the Lord, when all flesh will be judged by the only Judge who will rule with perfect righteousness and justice. On that day, the only escape will be refuge in Christ, for those who knew and confessed him as Savior and Lord. On that day, those who are in Christ will know the promise that full justice and restoration will mean that every eye is dry and tears are nevermore.

We Grieve with Those Who Grieve

For now, even as we yearn for the Day of the Lord, we grieve with those who grieve. We sit with them and pray for them and acknowledge that their loss is truly unspeakable and that their tears are unspeakably true. We pray and look for openings for grace and the hope of the gospel. We do our best to speak words of truth, love, grace, and comfort.

What of the eternal destiny of these sweet children? There is no specific text of Scripture that gives us a clear and direct answer. We must affirm with the Bible that we are conceived in sin and, as sons and daughters of Adam, will face eternal damnation unless we are found in Christ. So many of these little victims died before reaching any real knowledge of their own sinfulness and need for Christ. They, like those who die in infancy and those who suffer severe mental incapacitation, never really have the opportunity to know their need as sinners and the provision of Christ as Savior.

They are in a categorically different position than that of the person of adult consciousness who never responds in faith to the message of the Gospel. In the book of Deuteronomy, God tells the adults among the Children of Israel that, due to their sin and rebellion, they would not enter the land of promise. But the Lord then said this: “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” [Deuteronomy 1:39]

Many, if not all, of the little children who died in Newtown were so young that they certainly would be included among those who, like the little Israelites, “have no knowledge of good or evil.” God is sovereign, and he was not surprised that these little ones died so soon. There is biblical precedent for believing that the Lord made provision for them in the atonement accomplished by Christ, and that they are safe with Jesus.

Rachel Weeping for Her Children

The prophet Jeremiah’s reference to Rachel and her lost children is heart-breaking. “Thus says the LORD:  ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’” Like Rachel, many parents, grandparents, and loved ones are weeping inconsolably even now, refusing to be comforted for their children, because they are no more.

This tragedy is compounded in emotional force by the fact that it comes in such close proximity to Christmas, but let us never forget that there was the mass murder of children in the Christmas story as well. King Herod’s murderous decree that all baby boys under two years of age should be killed prompted Matthew to cite this very verse from Jeremiah. Rachel again was weeping for her children.

But this is not where either Jeremiah or Matthew leaves us. By God’s mercy, there is hope and the promise of full restoration in Christ.

The Lord continued to speak through Jeremiah:

Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.”
[Jeremiah 31:16-17]

God, not the murderer, has the last word. For those in Christ, there is the promise of full restoration. Even in the face of such unmitigated horror, there is hope.“There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to your own country.”

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Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.,serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

Impossibilities

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors [AACC]

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as an impossible situation.” -Chuck Swindoll

“I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God: first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done.” -Hudson Taylor

“Triumphant prayer is almost impossible where there is neglect of the study of the Word of God.” -R. A. Torrey

The impossible…

Have you ever found yourself in a circumstance or situation that seemed impossible? Even for God? Those times where nothing made sense, and even trusting God and His Word was difficult.

Mary faced the impossible – in a double dose.

Gabriel came to her and proclaimed,“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:31 ESV)

No doubt she thought “no way.”  Mary had never known a man. Mary asked the angel,“How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34 ESV)

Gabriel responded, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.”

No doubt she was familiar with the prophecies, but still – the baby would be the promised Messiah? The Holy Son of God?  “Come on…”

What’s interesting is that in several places, the Bible tells us that Mary “pondered” the words she had heard in her heart.

As a young Jewish girl, she would have certainly been very familiar with Hebrew scripture and the stories of “impossibilities” —

Abraham believing God when he was called to go out to a place of promise…not knowing where he was going.

Sarah conceiving in her old age knowing the God who promised was faithful.

Moses and the parting of the Red Sea.

Joshua watching the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.

Rahab, a prostitute, entering into the lineage of the Messiah.

Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel. The stories must have flooded her mind and heart.

And of course the prophets foretelling that the Son of God would be born of a virgin.

As she pondered the recorded past of God’s power and presence, her heart must have come alive with what the angel Gabriel declared, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37 ESV)

Her response reflects the heart attitude imperative for God to work the impossible. She said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38 ESV)

What’s impossible in your life today?

Impossible that God can heal your body when the doctors give no hope?

Impossible that God can restore a broken marriage devastated with infidelity?

Impossible that God can bring the prodigal child back home?

Impossible that you will ever see your hearts desires realized?

God takes great pleasure in turning your “impossibilities” into “possibilities.”

Ponder what God has done in the past. “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me…” (Isaiah 46:9 NASB)

Reflect on the stories recorded in the Bible. Remember the good things God has done for you. For your family. For your friends.

What God has done before – He will do again.

Watch God turn the impossible into the possible. It may take a miracle. That’s ok – He specializes in those.

How will I know God’s answer to my prayer?

Source:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministries

 God often answers prayer in the following ways:

1.  “Yes, you may have it.”
2.  “No, that is not good for you.”
3.  “Wait, I have something better for you.”
4. “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9).

When He answers yes, it’s easy to say, “Praise the Lord!”

But when He says otherwise, we have a hard time finding reasons to praise Him.

Sometimes we don’t take “no” for an answer, and we keep praying!  Or we look for a reason why He didn’t answer our request.  But Scripture never says God will give us exactly what we ask for every time.  He is sovereign.  He has the right to say “no” according to His infinite wisdom.  Oftentimes, it’s for our protection.

Sometimes, God wants to answer our prayer, but the timing isn’t right.  As I reflect on my life, I realize that if God had answered certain prayers according to my schedule, I would have missed His best in every single case.  He may have been waiting for me to grow spiritually in some area so that I could more fully experience the blessings He had in store (Eph. 1:3).  Again, He is sovereign, and His timing is perfect.

God also answers “My grace is sufficient.”  We may pray for years, yet our circumstances remain unchanged.  God seems unresponsive and heaven is silent.  In many cases, the problem isn’t the length, intensity, or nature of our prayers. Oftentimes, God is up to something we don’t know about, something much bigger than we were expecting.  Something that may require a different answer than the one we anticipated.

But rest assured that if God isn’t removing your particular “thorn,” His grace is sufficient.  By an act of our will, we can decide to trust that God knows what He’s doing, even when there’s no logical or rational explanation for our circumstances.  The Father is not offended when we ask, “Why?”  But He’s overjoyed when we trust Him, even though He may choose not to explain.

God always answers the prayers of His children.  As we learn to pray, we will learn to discern His methods.

The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

SOURCE:  Gerald Sittser/Discipleship Journal

Sooner or later we all wrestle with God’s silence.

 

Stories of unanswered prayer wear down our defenses until we can no longer dismiss them as the rare exceptions we would like them to be.

Each stabs us with pain, reminding us of personal experiences we would like to forget and raising all the old questions about God’s trustworthiness.

Each makes us wonder if it is worth our while to pray to a God who doesn’t seem to hear our prayers or, even worse, doesn’t seem to want to answer them.

Recently our interim pastor, Bob Mitchell, a former president of Young Life, preached a sermon in which he quoted from a letter he received in May 1955. The letter was written by Jim Elliot, who had recently moved to Ecuador with his young wife and baby daughter to pioneer a new missionary outreach to the Auca Indians.

The Aucas lived in a remote area and were considered hostile to outsiders. Elliot expressed gladness that “the gospel is creeping a little farther out into this big no-man’s land of Amazonia.” He also mentioned that a mutual friend and partner in ministry, Ed, had already left to make contact with the tribe. With a sense of excitement and foreboding, Jim asked Bob to pray for them, especially for Ed: “There are rumors that the same tribe is scouting around there now, so don’t forget to pray for Ed—that the Lord will keep him alive as well as make him effective in declaring the truth about Christ.”

Bob prayed for his friends’ protection and for the success of their ministry. But several months later those courageous friends—Ed, Jim, and three others—were murdered by members of the very tribe they wanted to reach.

Bob’s prayer seemed to go unanswered.

Problematic promises

I have heard similar stories, less sensational perhaps but no less wrenching.

A young Christian prays for guidance but fails to receive any sense of direction.

A mother prays for a daughter’s healing but watches helplessly as she falls prey to the ravages of cancer.

An elderly couple prays for a neighbor’s salvation but sees no results.

It would be easy to discount such stories if these praying people were the peacetime equivalent of “foxhole Christians” who turned to God only in a panic and a pinch. But many people whose prayers go unanswered are sincere, mature believers.

Jesus’ outrageous promises appear to be part of the problem. He promised that if we ask, we will receive; if we seek, we will find; if we knock, the door will be opened (Lk. 11:9). He taught that if we ask anything in His name, He will do it (Jn. 14:14). Jesus’ promises awaken an expectation that our prayers will be answered. This leads to profound disappointment when our prayers go unanswered.

Ironically, the answers to prayer we do receive exacerbate the problem.

If God never answered our prayers, then we would surely stop praying, dismissing it as futile. But we have all had enough prayers answered to know that God is real, willing to meet our needs, and eager to respond to our pleas.

Why does He answer some of our prayers but refuse to answer others? Does God judge our motives, weighing each request according to its polish and purity? Or is He capricious, like a moody monarch? Is prayer simply a vain exercise, nothing more than the haunting cry of our own voice?

Is it our fault?

I do not ask these questions as a disinterested observer. I, too, have experienced the devastation and bewilderment of unanswered prayer.

My wife, Lynda, wanted to have a big family, but she was unable to conceive. Every day I prayed that God would grant us the gift of children. My prayers were finally answered when Lynda gave birth to four healthy children in six years. She was delirious with joy and embraced the calling of motherhood with enthusiasm and confidence.

Every morning I pleaded with God to protect and bless our family. I prayed such a prayer on the morning of September 27, 1991. But something went wrong that day. A drunk driver lost control and smashed into our minivan, killing Lynda; my daughter Diana Jane; and my mother, who was visiting us for the weekend.

To this day I have been unable to understand what made that day different. What prevented my prayers from getting through to God? Did I commit some unpardonable sin? Did I fail to say the right words? Did God suddenly turn against me?

Why, I have asked myself a thousand times, did my prayer go unanswered?

I have no answer to that question.

I have pondered the traditional and biblical reasons why God does not answer prayer: willful sin (Ps. 66:18), lack of persistence (Lk. 11:5–8), selfish motives (Jas. 4:3). All of these are valid. Unanswered prayer can be our own fault, as we all know. We are well advised to search our souls when God does not answer, daring to discover if we are shamelessly disobeying Him or praying foolishly.

Yet these explanations leave me cold. Sooner or later such introspection must stop. The problem of unanswered prayer is too complex to reduce it to the simple issue of personal sin.

I spent months in torment trying to figure out why God did not answer my prayer that morning. I finally gave up in frustration and exhaustion. Perhaps I deserved what happened. Then again, maybe I didn’t.

I will never know.

But I do know that prayer is intended for the weak, not the strong; for sinners, not the perfect. Jesus did not commend the self-righteous Pharisee who used prayer as a platform to exalt himself; instead, He embraced a sinful tax collector who cried out to God for mercy (Lk. 18:9–14).

Hints and clues

So I am left asking the same question: Why unanswered prayer?

It is a mystery to me.

I find hints here and there that point to an explanation, but I cannot find a definitive answer. The Bible boldly proclaims that God is near and wants to answer our prayers; it also tells us God can seem strangely distant at times (Psalm 88:102).

What clues, then, does God’s Word provide?

First, Scripture encourages us to express our frustrations and disappointments. Nearly half the psalms express lament, some with a great deal of emotion. Jesus had one such psalm on His lips as He died: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1, Mk. 15:34). Jesus did not silence Mary and Martha when they accused Him of failing them, nor did He shame them when they wept. Instead, He welcomed their complaints and wept with them (Jn. 11:1–44). Revelation promises that at the end of history God will wipe away every tear, which implies that we will shed many tears before the end comes (Rev. 21:4).

Second, however distant God seems to be, Jesus urges us to pray with boldness and persistence. He commands us to pray like the woman who approaches an unrighteous judge to settle her case, refusing to take no for an answer (Lk. 18:1–8). Somehow persistence itself builds faith in God, increases longing for God, focuses attention on God, and purifies motives before God. It affects us more than it affects Him. God does not have to be persuaded to answer our prayers; we have to be disciplined to keep asking.

We can see the importance of persistence by observing how children function with their parents. Most of their requests fade as suddenly as they appear. In those few cases when they want something really important to them, they cannot take no for an answer, no matter how long it takes to get their way.

Third, Jesus reassures us that God wants to answer our prayers.

Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

—Lk. 11:11–12

God is our Father. He delights in giving gifts. He is not abusive, turning our requests into occasions to torture us. He overflows with bounty and generosity.

If anything, God is so gracious that He wants to give us the best gift of all. That gift is not some cheap toy that wears out after a week of hard play. God gives us the very best; He gives us what we really need (though not always what we think we need). He sends us the Holy Spirit, which is the answer to all our prayers, even the prayers we do not think to utter.

The Holy Spirit is God’s greatest gift because He enables us to live life well, though our outward circumstances would tempt us to think otherwise. The Holy Spirit transforms us from within.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

—Lk. 11:13

Finally, Jesus charges us to view life from a redemptive perspective. There is more to life than meets the eye when God gets involved. He works things out for good. Think about how the stories of Joseph, Esther, and Jesus turned out. Could anyone have imagined that Joseph would be reconciled with his brothers, that Esther would save her people from annihilation, that Jesus—who in the eyes of His followers seemed to fail miserably as the Messiah—would save the world from sin and death? We view unanswered prayer from the perspective of our immediate experience and our limited vision. But God is doing something so great that only faith can grasp it, wait for it, and pray for it.

An unlikely answer

There is more to Bob Mitchell’s story than that one ominous letter. Years later Bob attended an international conference for evangelists. He happened to meet an old friend who introduced Bob to a South American evangelist. Bob learned that the evangelist was one of the Auca Indians who had murdered Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries. Bob suddenly realized that his prayers had been answered. The Auca Indians had become Christians.

I refuse to offer trivial answers to the problem of unanswered prayer. No easy answer will mitigate the difficult questions.

The Apostle Paul prayed three times that God would remove some “thorn in [his] flesh” that had tormented him for years (2 Cor. 12:7). God did not answer Paul’s prayer. Instead, He did something even greater. He showed Paul that His grace was sufficient for Paul’s weakness, which seems to us an odd way to answer such a prayer (vv. 8–10).

It is all a mystery to me, both wonderful and terrifying. It is a mystery that draws us ever closer to God, who, in His glory and holiness and utter beauty, is the answer to all our prayers.

Faithfulness is not dependent upon an escape hatch

SOURCE:  D.A. Carson/Gospel Coalition/For the Love of God

Reference:  1 Kings 21; 1 Thessalonians 4; Daniel 3; Psalm 107

THE IMAGE NEBUCHADNEZZAR SET UP (DAN. 3) was doubtless designed to unify the empire. That is why he ordained that all “peoples, nations and men of every language … must fall down and worship the image of gold” (Dan. 3:4–5).

Living as he did in a pluralistic culture where people could with impunity add gods to their personal pantheon, Nebuchadnezzar saw no reason but rebellion or intransigent insubordination for anyone to refuse to worship the image. The threat of the furnace, from his perspective, guaranteed conformity, and the potential political gain was incalculable.

Furnaces in Babylon were primarily for the firing of bricks (cf. Gen. 11:3), widely used because suitable building stone was so scarce. Some large brick kilns have been dug up outside the ruins of ancient Babylon. Certainly Nebuchadnezzar would have had no scruples about burning people to death (Jer. 29:22).

The striking exchange in this chapter is between Nebuchadnezzar and the three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, after their first refusal to bow before the image (Dan. 3:13–18). The emperor’s final taunt almost dares any god to come forward: “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (Dan. 3:15).

Of course, as a pagan, he lived in a world of powerful but definitely finite gods, and in some instances, he certainly felt that he was their equal or even their superior. From the perspective of biblical theism, this is monstrous arrogance.

But it is the answer of the three men that deserves memorizing and pondering:  “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Dan. 3:16–18).

Observe:

(a) Their basic courtesy and respect are undiminished, however bold their words.

(b) They are completely unwilling to apologize for their stance. The wise believer never apologizes for God or for any of his attributes.

(c) They do not doubt God’s ability to save them, and they say so: God is not hostage to other gods, or to human beings, emperors or otherwise.

(d) But whether or not God will save them they cannot know—and the point is immaterial to their resolve.

Faithfulness is not dependent upon an escape hatch.

They choose faithfulness because it is the right thing to do, even if it costs them their lives.

The courage we need in this anti-Christian age is courteous and steadfast. It never apologizes for God. It joyfully believes that God can do anything, but it is prepared to suffer rather than compromise hearty obedience.

Drifting Away: One Thought, Choice, Doubt at a Time

SOURCE:  Joe Stowell/Strength for the Journey

Drifting Away

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” Genesis 3:1

On a recent vacation, Tom was casually bobbing around on a raft just offshore. He closed his eyes, basking in the warm sun. Before he realized it, he had drifted too far from shore. He hopped off the raft to get back to the security of the sand, but the water was now over his head. He didn’t know how to swim.

The drift of our lives away from God is just as subtle.

And just as dangerous.

We drift one thought at a time, one small choice at a time, and often one damaging doubt at a time.

In fact, our adversary is delighted to help our rafts drift from the protection and presence of God by casting doubt on God’s goodness to us. If you sense that your life has been set adrift—that God is not as close and precious as He used to be—then you may have just been in the riptide of an old trick of the enemy of your soul. The same trick he used to sever Eve’s heart from the joy of her relationship with her Creator.

Satan’s opening volley was not a blistering attack on God; it was a simply a question that he wanted Eve to think about. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1).

Actually, God had said that she could eat of every tree but one. But Satan twisted the facts to suit his purposes and to lead Eve’s mind to the conclusion that God was not the generous God she had known Him to be, but rather a stingy, restrictive, joy killer. Once she had let her heart drift to the wrong conclusion, it was easy for her to believe Satan’s lie that God just wanted to keep her from being as knowledgeable as He is and that the threat of them dying was just God’s way of scaring them into compliance with His stingy ways.

Satan still sets us adrift by planting doubt about God’s Word and spinning the facts to his own evil advantage.

Once we begin to suspect God instead of trusting Him, we inevitably drift away from Him.

So, beware!

Your life is full of scenarios where Satan can put his deceitful twist on your experiences. He is the spin-doctor of hell, and as Jesus said, “When [Satan] lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

With that in mind, keep a lookout for some of Satan’s favorite spins:

  • Lie #1: God is to blame for the evil that Satan has inflicted on our lives.
  • Lie #2: God has not rewarded me for being good. I’ve been used, not blessed!
  • Lie #3: God’s rules are restrictive and oppressive. He just wants to take the fun out of my life.
  • Lie #4: God is good to others but not to me. He must not love me!

And there are many other lies, all custom-made for your head and heart.

If you believe them, you have begun to drift away from the safe shores of God’s love and protecting provision. You’ll soon discover that you are adrift in the middle of nowhere, bobbing dangerously over your head. And count on it, as Eve was soon to learn, Satan won’t stay around to make you happy and fulfilled. He’ll be slithering off to more interesting company, leaving you in the deep waters of shame and regret.

YOUR JOURNEY…

  • Are you drifting in a sea of doubt? Make an appointment to talk to a trusted pastor or friend and ask that person to help you find your way back to God.
  • Pray and ask God to reveal the lies that Satan is using in your life. Find Bible verses that contradict the lies and recite them when you are tempted to believe what is not true.
  • Do you suspect God, or do you trust Him? How can faith shield you from the pitfall of suspecting and doubting God? Read Jeremiah 29:11Ephesians 6:16Galatians 2:201 Timothy 6:12; and Hebrews 11:1-40.

What Jesus Weeps Over

SOURCE:  John Eldredge

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

This is, without question, the Great Offense of Jesus Christ—his exclusivity.

To make sure we understand this, what he is saying is that he alone is the means to heaven. No one comes to the one true God except through him. Offensive as the claim may be, we still have to deal with it. Either it is arrogant, or it is true.

Not wanting any to perish. God does not want to lose a single human soul. In fact, those hellfires weren’t even created for man. They were created for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41). Jesus isn’t secretly hoping that you’ll go there.

Jesus’ heart of love is not diminished by the fact that some people will actually choose hell over surrendering to God. He weeps over it. He warns, urges, pleads, performs miracles. As they nail him to the timbers, he says, “Father, forgive them, for they know do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Because if they don’t find forgiveness, it is going to be a mighty black day of reckoning. Jesus prays for them, prays they will find mercy.

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(Beautiful Outlaw, 91, 92, 93)

‘ask in MY Name!’

SOURCE:  Paul E. Miller in a post by tollelege

“In Jesus’ name”

“Deep down, we just don’t believe God is as generous as He keeps saying He is. That’s why Jesus added the fine print– ‘ask in My name.’

Let me explain what that means.

Imagine that your prayer is a poorly dressed beggar reeking of alcohol and body odor, stumbling toward the palace of the great king. You have become your prayer. As you shuffle toward the barred gate, the guards stiffen.

Your smell has preceded you. You stammer out a message for the great king: ‘I want to see the king.’ Your words are barely intelligible, but you whisper one final word, ‘Jesus, I come in the name of Jesus.’

At the name of Jesus, as if by magic, the palace comes alive. The guards snap to attention, bowing low in front of you. Lights come on, and the door flies open. You are ushered into the palace and down a long hallway into the throne room of the great king, who comes running to you and wraps you in his arms.

The name of Jesus gives my prayers royal access. They get through.

Jesus isn’t just the Savior of my soul. He’s also the Savior of my prayers. My prayers come before the throne of God as the prayers of Jesus.

‘Asking in Jesus’ name’ isn’t another thing I have to get right so my prayers are perfect. Is it one more gift of God because my prayers are so imperfect.”

–Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2009), 135.

YOU are NOT the GOD I would have chosen!

SOURCE:  Michael Card

God’s Disturbing Faithfulness

What in the world is God up to?

“You are not the God we would have chosen,” Walter Brueggemann prays in his book Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth.

That troubling prayer resonates in my heart. For the truth is, most often I would have chosen (and indeed do choose) a god other than Him.

Most often, I would rather not learn the hard lessons the hard way. I would rather not have to worship in the wilderness, where God continuously calls me to find and be found by Him. I would rather God simply meet my expectations, fix my problems, heal my hurts, and be on His way.

I want a God who is faithful to me in ways I understand and expect, who expresses faithfulness in the ways I choose.

The good news is, there is such a god. In fact, there are many of them. Constructed of small snippets of Bible verses, glued together with human reason and need, these gods always move in expected ways, according to the given formula. Their faithfulness always feels good. It almost always ends in bankable results. That is the good news. The bad news? None of them represent the God of the Bible.

This is faithfulness?

The faithfulness of God is celebrated throughout the Bible, especially in Psalms. It is one of the psalmists’ favorite reasons for praising Him (36:5; 71:22; 86:15; 89:1-2, 5, 8; 100:5; 138:2). And why not praise God for His faithfulness? When we think of all the wonderful promises He has made and realize that because of His perfect faithfulness He will perfectly keep each and every one, how glorious! Who wouldn’t want to give their lives to such a God as this? Who would not choose Him to be their God?

Yet as we enter more deeply into a relationship with the God of Scripture, we increasingly discover—to our great annoyance—that, despite the reports to the contrary, most often God refuses to act in simple, easily understandable ways that coincide with our definition of what His faithfulness should look like.

We ask Him to be faithful by answering all our prayers for healing. Isn’t Ps. 103:3 crystal clear? He “heals all your diseases,” it says (emphasis mine). So we beg and plead, and yet the cancer rate among Christians remains virtually the same as among those outside the faith. We respectfully request financial help; after all, Phil. 4:19 explicitly promises that “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine). When the looked-for check does not appear, what are we to think? Either God is not being faithful to His promise (unthinkable!) or else we do not understand what that faithfulness means.

So what is the missing piece of the puzzle? What is God’s faithfulness supposed to look like?

This is surely the question that troubled Job.

The religious world he inhabited believed God’s faithfulness should look like doing, fixing, judging (even cursing), answering, healing, and ultimately providing. That, at least, was the point of view of Job’s friends. In return for their works-righteousness, they believed that God was obliged to make things right for His people.

Yet Job, whom God Himself declared righteous, is beset with every sort of suffering and loss. A thousand years or more before the man of sorrows, Job became acquainted with all our grief. In return for his righteousness, Job received unimaginable suffering. Where was God’s faithfulness? Had He forgotten His promises? Was He hiding? Was He asleep? As I spend more and more time in the book of Job, I begin to wonder if the deepest source of Job’s pain was not the murdered children or his wrecked health, but rather the terrifying prospect that the true God might indeed be nothing like the god of his old definition.

In Job’s world, God was a question-answering god who faithfully provided wisdom. Yet when the God of Job finally appears, He only asks more questions. How disappointing for Job’s friends. The God of Job clearly has more in mind than meting out justice. His faithfulness is expressed in a way that no one could ever have imagined: He showed up! Nothing could have been more disturbing for the lot of them.

“My ears had heard of you,” stammers Job, “but now my eyes have seen you” (42:5).

A God whose faithfulness is more a matter of presence than provision. A God whose faithfulness is made visible simply by showing up . . . sound familiar?

Faithfulness Incarnate

In His own time, as well as ours, many who came close to Jesus were disappointed by His disturbing revelation of the faithfulness of God.

There were those who wanted Jesus to judge and condemn. In John 8, the scribes and Pharisees hounded Jesus for a judgment against an adulterous woman. If Jesus were to be faithful to their notion of God and the law, they reasoned, He had no other choice but to pronounce her fate. After all, she was caught in the act.

Others wanted healing, and certainly Jesus healed people by the thousands. But faithfulness for Jesus didn’t always look like healing. In John 11, after hearing of the life-threatening illness of one of His closest friends, Jesus appears to loiter for two more frustrating days. As a result, Lazarus dies. Martha and Mary appear with the same disappointed accusation on their lips (though I believe in different tones of voice). “If you had only been here, he would not have died,” they both say. If only . . . you had fixed things, healed him, answered our prayers the way we wanted them answered.

But, like His Father, Jesus has come to show us that God is faithful to us in ways we never could have dreamed. Jesus refuses to condemn the woman caught in adultery because, as Frederick Buechner once said, He knew He would be condemned for her (Jn. 3:17, Ro. 8:1). “I pass judgment on no one,” Jesus will say to His critics (Jn. 8:15). Later, in the face of His hearers’ disbelief, He will declare, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it” (Jn. 12:47). The disturbing faithfulness of Jesus does not look like condemnation. Instead He showed up to save!

And before Jesus moves on to the tomb of his friend Lazarus to call forth the “dead man” from the grave, He enacts what most of us never regard as a miracle. But it may be the most miraculous miracle of the whole story. The miracle? Jesus wept.

He showed up and entered fully and painfully into the suffering of His friends. Moments later He would indeed provide the resurrection miracle none of them could even have imagined asking for. Yet Lazarus would eventually die once more, wouldn’t he? Death would remain a reality, even as it is for us today. But what had changed forever was the image of the face of faithfulness. Not judgmental; not with anger in its eyes but rather a tear. God incarnate enfleshed and gave form to faithfulness.

Faithfulness was Jesus fully present.

Present in their redemption and ours.

Present in their suffering and ours.

Present in their loneliness and ours.

Acquainted with their griefs and ours.

This was a faithfulness no one expected—so deeply personal, so fully satisfying. Jesus didn’t always faithfully give people answers or healing or judgments, but He did give them Himself.

The Promise of Presence

Who is God for you? What do you think His faithfulness should look like? Is He a predictable theological entity, frozen on the throne? Is your greatest hope for Him that He might appear someday and pass judgment on your enemies? Or could He possibly, unimaginably, be the God we meet in Job who descends from the throne room where He has been dealing with the accusations of Satan, the God who shows up, having been moved by Job’s tears.

Who is Jesus for you? How is faithfulness written on His face for you? Is He merely a caricature walking three inches off the ground? Or might He impossibly be the very image of the God whose disturbing faithfulness looks like simply showing up to make His name “Immanuel” true in the fullest way it could ever be true. Could it be that the best show of faithfulness is not the healing or the unexpected check that saves from bankruptcy, but the unthinkable truth that God has chosen to be “with us” through it all? Could it be that the miracle is not provision, but presence?

Faithfulness most resembles the God who showed up and, in the process, became acquainted with all our sorrows. His promise of faithfulness is heard in His parting words, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20, emphasis mine). It is the best promise any bridegroom can possibly make to his bride.

In our frustration we cry out to the heavens. We shake our fists at the sky, demanding that God act, move, fix, heal. We insist that He be faithful according to our expectations of faithfulness. My mentor, Dr. William Lane, used to say,

We want the God of the magic wand. The God who makes the cancer go away. But more remarkably, He is the God who comes alongside us and suffers with us. He is the God who never leaves us.

Ask yourself, how did God Himself speak of His faithfulness? What are the words He most often used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe what it would look like? How about:

Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.

—see Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5

Now the dwelling of God is with men and women, and He will live with them.

—see Ex. 25:8; Rev. 21:3

No doubt I will go on forgetting all this and doggedly keep demanding God to provide.

I need money.

I need health.

I need happiness.

And when the sky remains silent I will likely fume at Him in frustration, “Where are You?” I will doubt Him and His promised presence with and in me because what I think should be His provision has not shown up on time.

And He will continue to pursue—passionately and patiently—my foolish, forgetful self.

If, like me, you find yourself disturbed by what sometimes appears to be a lack of faithfulness on God’s part—if you, too, are beginning to feel that He is not the God you would have chosen—then perhaps it is time to wonder if God is up to something else, something other than trying to become our pie-in-the-sky god.

Just maybe He is working a more miraculous miracle than we ever could have asked for or imagined. He, the God of the universe, has determined to do a work in (not for) us. Paul declares in Phil. 1:6 that He has promised to do this interior, spiritual work until He is finally finished, and that will be on the day Jesus shows up fully, finally, and completely, once and for all time.

Brueggemann is right.

This is not the God we would have chosen.

But neither could we have dreamed up nor imagined such a God: a God the immediacy of whose presence is incarnate in us by His indwelling Spirit, a God who is committed to the throes of completing this labor of indwelling us, of being born in and through us. It is His deepest desire. It is the greatest of all His wordless miracles.

He is not the God any of us would have chosen but, as Brueggemann marvelously concludes, He is the God who has chosen us.

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MICHAEL CARD is an award-winning musician, performing artist, and songwriter. His many songs include “El Shaddai” and “Immanuel.” He has also written numerous books, including A Violent Grace, The Parable of Joy, and A Fragile Stone. A graduate of Western Kentucky University with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in biblical studies. Michael lives in Tennessee with his wife and four children.

We Are at War

The Counseling Moment Editor’s Notes:  Yes, as the author of the article below states, “We are at war.”  That is a fact of life this side of heaven.  At the same time, we, who have a personal faith in Christ, are aligned with and belong to the One who has overcome Satan, death, sin, and the world and is the Victor in the war (Rev 3:21). 

SOURCE:  John Eldredge

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Have you ever wondered why Jesus married those two statements? Did you even know he spoke them at the same time? I mean, he says them in one breath. And he has his reasons.

By all means, God intends life for you. But right now that life is opposed. It doesn’t just roll in on a tray. There is a thief. He comes to steal and kill and destroy. Why won’t we face this? I know so few people who will face this. The offer is life, but you’re going to have to fight for it, because there’s an Enemy in your life with a different agenda.

There is something set against us.

We are at war.

I don’t like that fact any more than you do, but the sooner we come to terms with it, the better hope we have of making it through to the life we do want.

This is not Eden.

You probably figured that out.

This is not Mayberry, this is not Seinfeld’s world, this is not Survivor.

The world in which we live is a combat zone, a violent clash of kingdoms, a bitter struggle unto the death.

I am sorry if I’m the one to break this news to you: you were born into a world at war, and you will live all your days in the midst of a great battle, involving all the forces of heaven and hell and played out here on earth.

Where did you think all this opposition was coming from?

(Waking the Dead , 12-13)

Things Are Never Quite As Good As They Might Be

SOURCE:  D. A. Carson

Exodus 17; Luke 20; Job 35; 2 Corinthians 5

THINGS ARE NEVER QUITE AS GOOD as they might be.

Or if for a brief moment they are as good as you can imagine them, if for a while you seem to suck in the nectar of life itself with every breath you breathe, you know as well as I do that such highs cannot last.

Tomorrow you go back to work. You may enjoy your job, but it has its pressures.

Your marriage may be well-nigh idyllic, but in a sour mood you may marvel at how much you cannot or will not share with your spouse.

The warm west wind that tousles your hair metamorphoses into a tornado that destroys your home.

One of your parents succumbs to Alzheimer’s; one of your children dies.

There is so much around you to enjoy, yet just as you begin to chew on a filet mignon that your children have bought for you for your birthday, you remember the millions who starve every day.

There is no escape from the brute reality that, however wonderful your experiences in this broken world, others suffer experiences far more corrosive, and you yourself cannot ever believe that what you are experiencing is utterly ideal.

That restlessness is for our good. It is a design feature of our makeup, of our nature as creatures made in the image of God. We were made to inhabit eternity; by constitution we know that we belong to something better than a world (however beautiful at times) awash in sin.

Paul understands this point perfectly (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). He anticipates the time when “the earthly tent” (our present body) will be destroyed, and we will receive “an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Cor. 5:1)—our resurrection body. “Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor. 5:2). It is not that we wish to “shuffle off our mortal coil” and exist in naked immortality: that is not our ultimate hope, for “we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).

Then Paul adds: “Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 5:5). God made us for this purpose, i.e., for the purpose of resurrection life, secured for us by the death of his Son. Moreover, in anticipation of this glorious consummation of life, already God has given us his Spirit as a deposit, a kind of down payment on the ultimate inheritance.

Small wonder, then, that we groan in anticipation and find our souls restless in this temporary abode that is under sentence of death.

DEMONS HAVE FAITH!

SOURCE:  W. W. Wiersbe

It comes as a shock to people that demons have faith!

What do they believe?

For one thing, they believe in the existence of God; they are neither atheists nor agnostics. They also believe in the deity of Christ. Whenever they met Christ when He was on earth, they bore witness to His sonship (Mark 3:11–12). They believe in the existence of a place of punishment (Luke 8:31); and they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge (Mark 5:1–13). They submit to the power of His Word.

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord!” (Deut. 6:4) This was the daily affirmation of faith of the godly Jew. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19, NIV).

The man with dead faith was touched only in his intellect; but the demons are touched also in their emotions. They believe and tremble.

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Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Jas 2:18). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

God is our first, last, and only option

How to Pray in the Storm

Reaching out to God in turbulent times

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Jim Carpenter

What do you do when you’re suddenly in the path of a tornado?

I found out on June 29, 1998, as I huddled in the darkness of the basement, our house shuddering from the force of the wind as it cut a swath through the northern Des Moines metro area. In only minutes, the sky went from a serene blue to an angry charcoal. Rain, whipped by nearly 100-mile-an-hour winds, plastered shredded leaves to the sides of our house and poured through an open window. Broken glass sliced through my office as the window casement was wrenched away. Trees snapped off 15 feet above the ground or were torn out by their roots. My neighbor’s camper landed upside down in someone else’s backyard. Shingles sailed by like flocks of Frisbees.

As the thunder and lightning escalated, the power went out, and the entire house began to tremble. Sirens started to blare. I headed for the basement, and a scene from the movie Twister flashed through my mind—the scene where a man is ripped out of a storm shelter and sucked into the mouth of the monster wind.

What do you do when your house may be leveled by a storm, when you might die? You pray. And not a neat, textbook prayer. You pray in desperation and beg God to spare you and your family. You plead with Him to preserve your house and stay the force of the storm. You cry, “Have mercy! Have mercy!”

When Storms Threaten

Storms swirl into our lives in many forms: a doctor’s grim diagnosis, a financial disaster, a slick road on a dark street, a teenager’s tragic choice. Storms bring us to our knees, cowering in the dark basement of our fears. And so we pray.

When the tornado struck, I had been studying 2 Chronicles 20. Now my Bible falls open to that chapter, the pages permanently wrinkled from the ferocious rain that streamed into my office that day. I realized I had a lot in common with King Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah. They, too, were standing in the path of a storm.

An angry alliance of Judah’s enemies was marching inexorably toward Jerusalem, determined to destroy the nation. The word came to Jehoshaphat: “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea” (v. 2). The enemy horde was already on the west side of the Jordan, only 40 miles from Jerusalem!

Significantly, Jehoshaphat didn’t spend any time consulting with his generals. He knew that Judah had no military defense against such a foe. No, “Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast” (v. 3).

God’s response to Jehoshaphat’s desperate prayer was gracious and powerful. Looking at desperate times through the lens of the king’s example, I began to discover some principles of prayer for the storms that lie ahead.

Measure the storm by the character and promises of God.

Jehoshaphat brought his people together in grave recognition of the nation’s peril. But then he led them to focus on Almighty God, claiming His power and promises.

First, he focused on God’s attributes.

O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.

—v. 6

When we gauge the fury of the storm by the power of Almighty God, the storm is absolutely dwarfed!

Next, Jehoshaphat reminded God of His promises to His people.

O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, “If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.

—vv. 7–9

Jehoshaphat echoed the words of King Solomon, who prayed to dedicate the temple a century before. The night after that ceremony, the Lord appeared to Solomon and made a promise that His people have been claiming ever since. It must have been on Jehoshaphat’s heart in the middle of the storm:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

—2 Chron. 7:14

Centering our thoughts and emotions in the Scriptures will help us pray through the storm. For years, I have printed four-by-six-inch cards with passages about God’s wisdom, sovereignty, mercy, faithfulness, and goodness. His Word, hid in my heart, helps me ride out storms in confidence.

Our son Zach joined the army (right before the tornado) to finance his college education. At the time, the world seemed to be at peace. But in the months since, the U.S. military has been embroiled in one regional crisis after another.

At times I am overwhelmed with fear for my son. Often, the Lord brings Psalm 91 to my mind, a song of God’s protection. The familiar words quiet my heart: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. . . . For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (vv. 1, 11).

Then I am able to pray through the psalm, personalizing it for Zach, and once again entrusting my son to my faithful heavenly Father.

Demonstrate helpless dependence on God.

Judah’s assembly was an eloquent testimony to their dependence upon the Lord. Whole families stood together, babies in arms, praying and fasting (v. 13). They knew God was their only hope. If He didn’t intervene, they would be destroyed.

Jehoshaphat ended his prayer with this humble statement: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (v. 12).

The storm forces us to this place of dependence, confessing that nothing else has the slightest chance of saving us—not our possessions or our connections, not our personalities or our education. Not our religion or our luck. Letting God know we know that He is our first, last, and only option is a good thing.

While it is true that we can pray from any position, our posture can mirror the attitude of our hearts. Sometimes I feel the need to pray flat on my face. Other times I stand with hands raised to heaven. Similarly, when we say no to food or to sleep for a time, we remind ourselves—and God—that we are counting on Him and Him alone.

Corporate prayer, fasting, and confession allow us to say, while the storm rages around us, that our hope is in You, Lord. Only You.

Wait for God to communicate.

When Jehoshaphat finished his prayer, there was nothing more to say. While the enemy army drew nearer, “all the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord” (v.13). They simply waited.

And God spoke through a man named Jahaziel (v. 14).

The Lord’s communiqué matched their situation perfectly. They were fearful, so He comforted them.

Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s… Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.

—vv. 15, 17

They didn’t know what to do, so He gave them explicit instructions.

Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem.

—vv. 16–17

Prayer was never intended to be a monologue. Learning to practice “listening prayer” has transformed the lives of many of God’s children and prepared them for gathering storms ahead.

So how does God speak? Well, certainly through His Word. He might communicate through the counsel of a friend or through circumstances. Sometimes He even speaks to us through dreams. He might also bring impressions to a yielded mind. For years I have depended upon semi-annual prayer retreats, where I withdraw for a day or two to pray and to listen.

The night after the tornado, the Lord communicated with my wife, Dionne. While we were thankful that God had preserved our lives and home, we were still very discouraged. We had been trying to sell our home for months, and one disaster after another had prevented it.

In the aftermath of the storm, our property looked as if it had been shelled. A dozen of our huge trees were shattered, the remains littering every part of our acre lot and crushing our neighbor’s fence. Our roof was damaged, and the back wall of our garage hung by a few nails. Who would want to buy our house now? We went to bed very depressed.

That night Dionne could not sleep. She got up, grabbed a Bible, and headed for the living room. Desperate for a word from God, she prayed for God to speak.

The Lord led her to Is. 43:1–3:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

The next night, 24 hours after the tornado, we sold our house!

Respond with courageous obedience.

Obedience may not always require courage, but in this case it did.

“Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa” (v. 20).

Only hours before, the Israelites had been paralyzed with fear. Now, in obedience to the Lord, they rose early to meet an army bent on their destruction. But rather than lead with their best soldiers, “Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness” (v.21). They marched forward, praising God with triumphant words from Psalm 136: “Give thanks to the Lord… His love endures forever.”

Did you ever think of worship as an act of courage? In my first year of seminary, a student was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. One of our professors broke the news to us, and before he led in prayer, he said, “In times like this, I don’t know what to do but worship.”

Worship takes courage because it is the ultimate expression of trust. When you stand in the path of the storm, when circumstances are close to destroying you, when you look around and see nothing but chaos, to worship is to say, “My God is bigger than this. I trust Him and His promises more than my eyesight, more than my perception of reality.”

So we worshiped and prayed. Weeks later, we rejoiced that God had chosen to heal our friend.

The summer of our Iowa tornado, Paul and Jule Becker were in the middle of their own storm. Jule was fighting a battle with cancer that had lasted, to that point, seven long years.

As I prayed for Jule with a friend, we sensed God was leading us to organize an intense time of prayer and fasting for her. Her team of intercessors already numbered in the hundreds. In obedience to God’s leading, people all over the world determined to fast and pray, worship and wait. God preserved Jule’s life for another year. But in the end, with great grace and dignity, Jule went to be with Him.

The howl of the wind and the crash of the thunder may threaten to dislodge us from the habits of obedience we normally practice: worship, witness, stewardship. To keep our footing will take courage—the courage to obey even in the darkest hour of the storm.

Expect God’s best.

The Lord exploited the diverse factions of this conglomerate army. Some believe He also intervened with angelic warriors.

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men . . . who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men from Seir, they helped to destroy one another.

—vv. 22–23

The invaders were routed. The voluminous provisions they brought became an abundant overflow of God’s blessing. “There was so much plunder that it took three days to collect it” (v. 25).

And it all happened without a single weapon being raised in Judah! God’s people prayed a desperate prayer, and He delivered them through the storm.

Sometimes God’s best is victory over the enemy. For Jule, God’s best was not physical healing but homegoing. Either way, God carries us through the storm, connected to His love and buoyed by His faithfulness.

When my wife was a little girl, her parents were missionaries to Jordan. Violence permeated that part of the world then, just as it does today.

One frightening day the political climate turned stormier than usual, and a mob of angry men swirled together. They stood shoulder to shoulder, many men deep, locked arms, and began to march with murderous resolution toward the mission compound where Dionne’s family lived.

The compound was walled on all four sides, but that day the gate was open, and Dionne and her younger brother were playing in the courtyard.

As the mob came nearer, the children were hustled back onto the porch. The family watched in horror as the men marched in rank through the open gate, across the courtyard, and directly toward the front door.

Just as the first group of men reached the front step of the porch, Dionne remembers a dazed look coming over their faces. Suddenly the lead men veered left, marched to the side wall, and clambered to the street. All the men behind followed suit, scrambling over the wall like a stream of fire ants.

Weeks later they received a letter from my wife’s grandmother in Chicago. The Lord had awakened her in the middle of the night and told her to pray for her family in Jordan. Gripped by a sense of imminent danger, she dropped to her knees in earnest intercession. Finally the burden lifted. She was writing to discover what crisis the family might have faced.

The date and time of her prayer matched precisely the date and time of the threatening mob and their sudden detour away from the family.

There are storms coming—that much is certain. Christians have no special immunity from the fury of the tornado. But whether the storm passes us by or visits us with crushing force, prayer is our refuge under the darkening sky. In desperate times, prayer connects us to the God of the storm. The same Jesus who brought peace to a boatload of terrified disciples still reigns today. And the wind and the waves still do His bidding.

Unbelief is Ever Present

SOURCE:   J. C. Ryle

Unbelief is one of the most common spiritual diseases in these latter days.

It meets us at every turn, and in every company.

Like the Egyptian plague of frogs, it makes its way into every family and home, and there seems no keeping it out. Among high and low, and rich and poor, in town and in country, in universities and manufacturing towns, in castles and in cottages, you will continually find some form of unbelief.

It is no longer a pestilence which walks in darkness, but a destruction which wastes at noonday. Unbelief is even thought clever and intellectual, and a mark of a thoughtful mind. Society seems leavened with it.

He who avows his belief of everything contained in the Bible, must make up his mind in many companies to be smiled at contemptuously, and thought an ignorant and weak man.

~ J.C. Ryle

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John Charles Ryle [1816-1900] was a prolific writer, vigorous preacher, faithful pastor in England.

Should Christians Have To Face Adversity?

SOURCE:  Adpated from Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

One of my struggles in life had to do with the idea of adversity.

For a long time, I believed that when I became a believer in Christ, a follower of God, actually one of God’s own children, I would have special privileges. One of these perks was all-powerful protection. No harm would ever come to me because I have the special security or covering of the Ultimate King of the universe. An unconditional pardon. My own personal “Get out of Jail – Free” card.

This is a major lie Satan tricks most Christians into believing: that being a Christian or following God correctly will deliver you from all adversity.

Consequently, when hardships occur in life, either

1. God doesn’t love you;

2. God really isn’t the all-powerful sovereign King of the Multiverse;

3. You really aren’t saved or a child of God;

4. You are defective and not leading a Godly life;

5. There are better ways to an adversity-free life, so dump God and jump on another faith system.

Our me-centered, comfort driven heart easily buys into the misconception that life without adversity is possible. It’s important to remember that Jesus was perfect, yet endured extreme adversity.

You see, we are not delivered from adversity, in fact, we should expect adversity. But there is nothing to fear if you are a child of God. The strain of life draws us closer to Him, makes us more dependent on Him, and builds our strength as we access the power of the Holy Spirit. Facing the strain actually gives strength. God does not give us an overcoming life … He gives us life as we overcome. This is how we are refined, purified so that we see Him and ourselves way more clearly.

But through each tribulation, we need to focus on God and see our circumstances through His eyes. This brings a calm and peace that is simply beyond belief.

Today, give some thought to the adversity you are facing. Try to think if you ever got better or stronger at anything without putting in work and effort … or experiencing some pain or adversity. I know I haven’t. Read the scripture below and be mindful that Jesus told us that we would have trouble, but also to “take heart” for He has overcome the world.

When you face adversity, look at it as opportunity. This Godly perspective will dramatically empower your next steps. Your decision, choose well.

 Prayer           

Dear Father God, I know that Your Holy Spirit’s work in my life offers deep and lasting peace. Thank You, Lord. Unlike worldly peace, which is defined by lack of adversity, Your peace offers confident assurance in all situations. Fill me with more of Your Spirit, Father. Help me to restrain the hostile forces of sin, fear, doubt, and uncertainty. I pray in the name of the one You sent to deliver me IN my biggest and most dangerous adversity, eternal separation from You, Jesus Christ; – AMEN!

The Truth

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

 …to him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Revelation 2:7

 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6

Oppressed and Burdened — Ready to Give Up and Sink?

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow as posted by Deejay O’Flaherty 

Come All Ye Burdened Ones

Come, oppressed and burdened believer, ready to give up all and sink!

Behold Jesus, the Almighty God, omnipotent to transfer your burden to Himself, and give you rest!

It is well that you are sensible of the pressure — that you feel your weakness and insufficiency — and that you are brought to the end of all your own power. Now turn to your Almighty Friend, who is the Creator of the ends of the earth — the everlasting God, who does not faint, neither is weary.

Oh, what strength there is in Jesus for the weak, and faint, and drooping of His flock!

You are ready to succumb to your foes, and you think the battle of faith is lost. Cheer up! Jesus, your Savior, friend, and brother — is the Almighty God, and will perfect His strength in your weakness.

The battle is not yours, but His!

Jesus . . .
sustains our infirmities,
bears our burdens,
supplies our needs, and
encircles us with the shield of His Almightiness!

What a Divine spring of consolation and strength to the tired and afflicted saint, is the Almightiness of Jesus.

Your sorrow is too deep — your affliction too heavy — your difficulty too great for any mere human to resolve.  It distances in its intensity and magnitude, the sympathy and the power of man.

Come, you who are tempest-tossed and not comforted. Come, you whose spirit is wounded, whose heart is broken, whose mind is bowed down to the dust. Hide for a little while within Christ’s sheltering Almightiness! Jesus is equal to your condition.

His strength is almighty!
His love is almighty!
His grace is almighty!
His sympathy is almighty!
His arm is almighty!
His resources are infinite, fathomless, measureless!

And all this Almightiness is on your side, and will bring you through the fire and through the water.

Almighty to rescue — He is also your Brother and Friend to sympathize. And while His Divine arm encircles, upholds, and keeps you — His human soul, touched with the feeling of your infirmities, yearns over you with all the deep intensity of its compassionate tenderness!

“Yes, He is altogether lovely! This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend!”

Song of Songs 5:16

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Octavius Winslow (1808 – 1878), also known as “The Pilgrim’s Companion”, stood out as one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century in England and America.

It is a hard fight, BUT the victory is yours

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow

He Is Faithful To Forgive

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Deal much and closely with the fullness of grace that is in Jesus. All this grace in Christ is for the sanctification of the believer. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell,” for the necessities of His people; and what necessities so great and urgent as those which spring from indwelling sin?

Take the corruption, whatever be its nature, directly and simply to Jesus: the very act of taking it to Him weakens its power; yes, it is half the victory. The blessed state of mind, the holy impulse that leads you to your closet, there to fall prostrate before the Lord in lowliness of spirit and brokenness of heart—the humble confession of sin, with the hand of faith on the head of Jesus, the atoning sacrifice—is a mighty achievement of the indwelling Spirit over the power of indwelling sin.

Learn to take the guilt as it comes, and the corruption as it rises, directly and simply to Jesus. Suffer not the guilt of sin to remain long upon the conscience. The moment there is the slightest consciousness of a wound received, take it to the blood of Christ. The moment a mist dims the eye of faith, so that you can not see clearly the smile of your Father’s countenance, take it that instant to the blood of atonement.

Let there be no distance between God and your soul. Sin separates.

But sin immediately confessed, mourned over, and forsaken, brings God and the soul together in sweet, close, and holy fellowship.

Oh the oneness of God and the believer, in a sin-pardoning Christ! Who can know it?—He only who has experienced it. To cherish, then, the abiding sense of this holy, loving oneness, the believer must live near the fountain. He must wash daily in the brazen laver that is without; then, entering within the veil, he may “draw near” the mercy-seat, and ask what he will of Him that dwells between the cherubims.

Thank God for the smallest victory gained. Praise Him for any evidence that sin has not entire dominion. Every fresh triumph achieved over some strong and easy-besetting infirmity is a glorious battle won. No victory that ever flushed the cheek of an Alexander or a Caesar may once be compared with his, who, in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, overcomes a single corruption. If “he that rules his spirit is better than he that takes a city,” then, he who masters one corruption of his nature has more real glory than the greatest earthly conqueror that ever lived.

Oh, how God is glorified—how Jesus is honored—how the Spirit is magnified, in the slaying of one spiritual enemy at the foot of the cross!

Cheer up, precious soul!

You have every encouragement to persevere in the great business of sanctification. True, it is a hard fight—true, it is a severe and painful contest—but the victory is yours! The “Captain of your salvation” has fought and conquered for you, and now sits upon His throne of glory, cheering you on, and supplying you with all needed strength for the warfare in which you are engaged.

Then, “Fight the good fight of faith, be men of courage,””be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,”—for you shall at length “overcome through the blood of the Lamb,” and be “more than conquerors [triumphant] through Him that has loved us.”

Here, beneath the cross, would I breathe for you the desire and the prayer once offered by the apostle of the Gentiles, in behalf of the church of the Thessalonians: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus. Christ.”  Amen and amen.

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Octavius Winslow (1808 – 1878), also known as “The Pilgrim’s Companion”, stood out as one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century in England and America.

God’s Wisdom Shines In Darkness

SOURCE:  Deejay O’Flaherty/A Puritan At Heart  posting Thomas Watson

The wisdom of God is seen in helping in desperate cases.

God loves to show his wisdom when human help and wisdom fail.

Exquisite lawyers love to wrestle with niceties and difficulties in the law, to show their skill the more. God’s wisdom is never at a loss; but when providences are darkest, then the morning star of deliverance appears.

`Who remembered us in our low estate.’ Psa 136:63.

Sometimes God melts away the spirits of his enemies. Josh 2:24.  Sometimes he finds them other work to do, and sounds a retreat to them, as he did to Saul when he was pursuing David. `The Philistines are in the land.’ `In the mount will God be seen.’

When the church seems to be upon the altar, her peace and liberty ready to be sacrificed, then the angel comes.

–Thomas Watson–Body of Divinity page 75

[Thomas Watson (c. 1620—1686) was an English, non-conformist, Puritan preacher and author.]

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