Overcoming Doubt – December 16, 2017

Do you think of yourself as a Doubting Thomas or a person of faith?  I know I like to believe I am a person of faith, but doubt creeps in before I even realize it sometimes, and I find myself slipping into negative thinking and neglecting my time with God, which for me often leads little by little to impatience, a quick temper, worry, and trying to do things in my own strength rather than trusting in Him.  Then I find myself worn out, tired with a stomach ache and a million worries going, “Lord, help!”

I know I’m not the only one.  When I was reading Matthew 16, it hit me right between the eyes.  Jesus spoke about this very thing.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees, it seemed, also had a problem with doubt.  Verse 1 begins with the Pharisees and Sadducees testing Jesus and asking Him to show them a sign from heaven.  I thought to myself as I read this, how often do I do the very same thing?  “God, show me a sign!”

But Jesus refused. “He answered and said to them, ‘When it is evening you say, ”It will be fair weather, for the sky is red”; and in the morning, “It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.”  Hypocrites!  You know how to discern the face of the sky but you cannot discern the sign of the times.  A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’  And He left them and departed (vv 1-4).”

The Pharisees were so caught up in following laws and traditions that when the One that they had been waiting for was right there in front of them, they refused to believe it.  There had already been healings. Mute people speaking, lame people now able to walk, blind people being able to see (Matt. 15:29-31).  The Pharisees saw this and couldn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  They couldn’t stomach the idea of a servant King.  In their minds,  He was supposed to solve the political problems of the day and establish an earthly rule.

The Sadducees on the other hand did not believe in an afterlife. Hence, they denied the resurrection.  From what I’ve read, they weren’t necessarily atheists, as they did believe in some tenets of the Torah with regard to the Law, but they largely denied the spiritual realm.  In essence, as they saw it, people are created, they’re born, then they die.  They too tested Jesus, asking for a sign.  Is it possible that deep down they were starting to doubt their own philosophy,  yet looking for a way to disprove it because it was easier to do that than to embrace change and the unknown?

Doesn’t it sometimes seem easier for us too to just try to reason things out on our own and “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” than to trust God, who we can’t see?  Or to keep our blinders on because it’s easier to remain comfortable than to step out of our comfort zone and embrace change?

See, when first reading this, it’s easy for me to say about the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Were they blind?  Did they not see the miracles that Jesus was doing all around them?”

But, I need to ask myself the same question in my life when I start to doubt.  “Am I blind?  Do I not see all the miracles and changed lives because of Jesus?  Has He not answered many prayers and saved me?  Not just my soul, but rescuing me time and time again from myself.

What Jesus is getting at here is that the sign He gave them was Himself.  The sign He gives us is Himself.  His trip up the hill to Calvary, being crushed by the weight of the cross, then being nailed to that cross after having been mocked, beaten and suffering, and giving up His final breath on earth as He said, “It is finished.”  Then, just when His haters thought they had won, He rose from the dead so that now you and I can have eternal life too.  His very presence a sign in neon lights for sure!

Jesus talked with the disciples after the exchange with the Pharisees and Sadducees and explained how a little bit of false belief or doubt (in this instance the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees) can become a huge problem.  He likened it to the way that yeast makes bread rise (vv 5-12).

When those thoughts of doubt, worries and stresses creep in, what I need most is more time with Jesus.  Somehow, when I talk to the One who is in charge of miracles, I find that He changes me.

“Thank You Father, for Your Word, and for exactly what I needed to read today.  Help me to remember You are more than enough, and that You are more than able.  Forgive me for many times trying to figure things out on my own, and sometimes acting like I don’t need You.  I do, Lord, I do need You desperately, every day, every hour.  Forgive me for the times when I doubt.  You proved Yourself faithful 2000 years ago, and You’re still faithful Lord.  I pray for anyone reading this who may not yet have trusted You.  I pray that they will ask You into their heart and life and that You will change them in a great way, that they will truly know Your precious gift of forgiveness and salvation by grace.  Change me too, Lord.  Make me more like You.  I love You, Father.  In Jesus name, Amen.

God With Us – November 4, 2017

Wow, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve written here.  I tend to be a slacker when it comes to my writing, but am trying to be more disciplined about it since writing is something I’ve loved to do since I learned how.  Anyhow, I had a baby last year, and have had such a busy time with family illness and issues to take care of that I’ve neglected my writing, and my Bible studies have not been what they should be either.  Neither is my house, it’s always a mess these days.  What can I say, I’m just grateful that God doesn’t judge based on merit! 🙂

Do you ever wonder why things happen the way they do?  Or where is God when all the craziness is going on all around us?  I confess, there have been times in my life when God has seemed silent. Like, I know in my heart that He’s there somewhere, but I can’t feel him.  Like being in a large darkened room (think living room or rec room) and feeling around for the light switch, only to find yourself walking around like you’re playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey and still can’t find it, even though you know it’s there somewhere.

Well, with all the troubling stuff in life, be it on the news or things that happen on a personal level, I think those questions are easy to ask and wonder about from a human standpoint, and God knows we have those questions too.  He doesn’t always answer the why, but He promises never to leave us.

I was reading the book of Acts and in Chapter 14, beginning with verse 8, there is an account of where Paul and Barnabas are preaching at a city called Lystra.  God gave Paul the power to heal a man who had been crippled since birth.  When people saw it, they called Paul and Barnabas “Zeus” and “Hermes,” saying, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men! (v.11)”

The passage goes on to say that when Paul and Barnabas heard this, they rushed in to the multitude and “crying out, saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways (vv. 14-16)”

Not always by any means, but could it be that sometimes God is allowing us to “walk in our own ways” while tugging at our hearts to “turn from these useless things to worship the living God”?

But I love this next part that says, “Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness (v.17).”

Wow, what an awesome verse to remind us what Thanksgiving is all about.  Even though I can’t see him, He provides for me.  He provides the food that I eat, the rain that waters the ground, the air that I breathe.  That’s one way I can know He’s there.

But the best news of all, is that He gave us Himself in His Son Jesus who is called Immanuel, literally meaning “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

In Hebrews 13:5-6, we are reminded of God’s promise.  “…For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say:  ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?'”

Because of Jesus, we have the hope that He walks with us in every trial, in every season, in every storm of our lives.  Sometimes when it feels like He is silent, we can reach out in faith and find that the One who can calm our fears is always there.

“…and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Thank You Father, for the security we have that You will never leave us, Lord.  Thank You for Jesus, for His precious gift of salvation, for the fact that He is Immanuel, God with us.  I thank You that even when it feels dark and scary in this world, like you’re not here,  for reminding us that You are, and that You are walking beside us every step of the way.  Take my hand, Lord, and lead me in the path of righteousness, that I will follow you all of the days of my life.  Wrap your arms around us Lord and help us to be all that You intended us to be, without fear of the unknown.  Thank You for all you have provided for us, and for giving us life.  In Jesus name, Amen.

 

Hope in the Midst of Trouble – December 3, 2015

It’s easy to get discouraged with everything going on in the world today.  I’ve often asked myself, “Is it that crime is worse today, or just that we are more aware of it, thanks to satellites and 24-hour news coverage?”  I think it’s a little (or a lot) of both.

To an extent, I’ve always been aware of crime, as I didn’t grow up in the days where people could leave their doors unlocked, and where you didn’t have to watch your back to some degree.  As a kid, we were taught of “stranger danger,” and even had our parents check our Halloween candy because of news reports of candy being tampered with.   So, I can’t say that I was ever really naive of the realities of crime, but today, when I hear about the horrific realities of what happened yesterday in San Bernardino, I never fail to be saddened and wonder how people could be so cruel.

When I saw the headline above, of course as a Christian I was saddened by the hopelessness of the statement, but I can empathize and relate to the disillusionment and the questions surrounding the whys and how to stop all of the violence.  It’s easy for you or I to say, “God’s in control,” when it isn’t our child, or our spouse, or mother or friend that is a victim of some senseless crime such as this.  I get that.

I also know, and this from years of working in Tribal politics, that we can’t legislate morality and that the law can’t force us to love our neighbor and be decent human beings to one another.  This is not to say that I think guns are necessarily a good idea by any means.  But the root of the problem is with the condition of the hearts of those who choose to commit such violence, and with man’s inhumanity to man.

Where then do we find hope?  Or comfort?  Or help?  Jesus is still here, and He knows what it’s like to feel sorrow, pain, suffering and even to feel alone and abandoned.

Jesus told the disciples in John 16 that they would experience suffering.  He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.  They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.  And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.  But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them (John 16:1-4 NKJV).”

The Pharisees called for Jesus’ crucifixion too, deluding themselves into believing that they were doing God a favor.  They accused Jesus of blasphemy, but it was really to retain their political favor and status.

When He finishes letting the disciples know of His impending death and resurrection, He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”

Sometimes we ask Him the question, “God why aren’t you fixing this?”  We’re not alone in that either.  The disciples were confused too.  They thought at first that when Jesus said He was going to establish a kingdom, that He was going to establish peace and prosperity for the Jews here on earth at that time.  So imagine how they felt when He was beaten, mocked and ultimately put to death by crucifixion.

Luke  24  tells of how two of Jesus’  followers were traveling on a road to a small village just outside of Jerusalem, when Jesus met them on the road and began walking with them.  Verse 16 says, “But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.”

In verse 17, Jesus asks them what they are talking about and why they are so sad.  They are surprised that this man they are speaking to hasn’t heard the news about the “things” everyone is talking about, so they tell Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.  But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.  Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.  Yes, and certain women of our company astonished us.  When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive (Luke 24:19-23).”

Yes, the people were disappointed that it appeared that Israel’s victory didn’t come as expected.  But they still had a glimmer of hope because of the empty tomb…

So I guess I have to ask myself when ask, “Why isn’t God fixing this?”, what if the victory and the solution is just different that I imagined?  What if I am looking at the wrong “this”?  When He says, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” He means that He, like us, had to walk through a lot of pain, but He overcame it.  Not only that, but He gives us hope that this life is not all there is.  We may suffer in the here and now, but not only does He promise to walk with us through it, He promises that it’s just a matter of time before we get to see the Promised Land (heaven), where things will be set right.

Now, I don’t claim to understand all of Revelation, but I believe that John is talking about Heaven when he says beginning in verse 3 of Revelation chapter 21, “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people.  God Himself will be with them and be their God.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

I look forward to a place like that.  Jesus has promised us that we aren’t alone now, in whatever the world and our enemy may throw at us, and that we will be with Him when we pass from this world.  He tells us in John 14:1-6, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  And where I go you know, and the way you know.”  Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

What a comfort it is to know that Jesus is the Way and the Truth that lights our troubled world, and that there is a greater world to come.  I pray that we would all be comforted with this Truth, and know that even though we have troubles now, He is with us, walking beside us and in front of us every step of the way.  If we believe that He died to save us and that He lives today, we can also be confident that He will never leave us nor forsake us.

“Father, I pray for our troubled world.  I pray that those who are plotting evil in their hearts would be convicted of their sin and stopped from committing such evil, and I pray that we would all seek to do good to one another, rather than harm.  I pray most of all that everyone would know the Truth that will set them free, Lord, the truth of Your great love and salvation.  I pray that we as Christians may abide in the hope of Your promises never to leave us and that You will one day deliver us out of this present world into a heaven where there is no more sorrow.  I pray that if someone reading this right now feels hopeless or despairing, that You would strengthen and encourage them and let them know that You are right by their side and that You love them and want to heal them.  I pray that You would lead us as a country and as individuals down the right path.  Show us Your will, Lord, and help us to look to You for guidance and for the answers.  I pray for comfort, peace, and most of all, hope for those who have lost loved ones due to the terrible tragedy yesterday.  I pray for healing too, Lord, for all involved, from the injured, to the families of those injured and killed.  Thank You for the hope that is found in You, Your grace and most of all, Jesus’ gift of salvation.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

By His Grace – November 20, 2015

Today it seems that we are inundated with a lot of craziness going on in the world, and we ask, “Why?” and struggle to understand for sure.  I’ve also found myself reading or watching a news story and asking, “How in the world can people be so mean to each other?” and then thinking to myself, “I’d never do something like that, that’s terrible!”  Uh, oh.  Here’s where pride subtly begins to creep in.

In studying this morning, I was reading in John 14:36-38 about an exchange between Jesus and the apostle Peter:

“Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’  Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.’

Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You now?  I will lay down my life for Your sake.’  Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down Your life for My sake?  Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.'”

Can you identify with Peter here?  I know I can.  There have been times in my life where I’ve said, “God, here I am.  Wherever You want me to go, and whatever You want me do, I’m willing to surrender all to You.”

And then life starts to happen, and maybe I lose a loved one, or lose a job, or things don’t work out in my family relationships that way that I want them to, or I have a wayward child who walks away from the faith, or a miscarriage.  Then what?  I’m saying, “No, no, no!  Lord, wait a minute!  Now, you know I love You, but anything but this!  I want a refund – this is not what I signed up for when I said wherever and whatever.  I was thinking more along the lines of doing missionary work overseas somewhere, I think I can do that.  Or maybe helping the poor or the homeless.  Or helping clean the church toilets.  But not this!

Reading this passage between Jesus and Peter is comforting in a way, because it lets me know that I’m not the only one who has overestimated my faith and underestimated my, well, my humanness and my tendency to be a big baby about any type of pain.  And my tendency to be proud of my efforts and to look with scorn at everything that is going on and in my pride think, “I’ll never be like one of those people!”

What I’m learning to say, and this is after a lot of things that I have done in my life that I said I’d never do, and then seeing how my actions at those times hurt the people I love, is to say, like the apostle Paul, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain…(1 Corinthians 15:10 NKJV).”

So how, then, do we follow Jesus, knowing that it is our human nature to want to chicken out?  (See Romans 7:19)

Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise, the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses.  For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

Then Paul goes on to say that “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28 NKJV).

I believe in essence what Paul is saying here is, “Yes, you [we] are weak, in and of ourselves and we don’t even know how to pray like we should, but we have the Holy Spirit helping us at all times.”

And for us as believers, God’s word tells us that He is able to bring about some good in every situation.  Not that all things that happen are good, by any means, but that God can bring good out of a bad situation somehow, someway.

Paul is telling us, “Yes, we will chicken out, we will get fed up, we will get discouraged trying to do things on our own, but by the Grace of God, we don’t have to!  When we become believers we are never alone anymore – ever!”

This has been encouraging to me to study and write this morning.  I needed to read and ponder these truths today.  Nothing can separate me from His love!  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phillipians 4:13 NKJV).”  I think that’s a reason to rejoice today!

“Father, I thank You for Your unending love, and Your amazing Grace.  I pray that everyone will know Your free gift of salvation and that the Truth shall set them free, Father.  I pray that we as believers may walk courageously and be free from fear, doubt, bitterness, and anything that would weigh us down and keep us from running a good race and finishing strong, Lord.  Help us through Your Holy Spirit not to be afraid to follow You, and not to turn our backs on You when trials come, but instead draw near to You and know that You are faithful to Your promises, and that You will walk with us through whatever we face, and can bring us peace and comfort during the hard times.  Help us to continue giving thanks and looking for the good, Lord, and draw us close to You, that by our lives You may be glorified.  In Jesus name I ask these things, Amen.”