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In John 5:36 John quotes Jesus as saying, “the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me”. It made me wonder about myself; does the work I am doing for God have evidence which testifies that He has sent me – that He is with me?

He was talking with some Pharisees. Though they were very familiar with scripture, they did not recognize that the scripture they were so familiar with testified of Jesus. They were not raised on Him like we were, so it is at least understandable that they could miss Him. But we who have been raised on Him, though we may not be guilty of not recognizing Him, have we missed recognizing the truth of which He came to testify?

I know I have. Seven years ago when I decided to start over in my Christianity, it was this very thing that caused me to start over. What had I missed? My life didn’t reflect the type of life I read about in the scripture. There was far too little evidence that He was with me.

And so still, I am wrestling this out. In this series, which I am calling ‘A Journey of Faith’, this evidence – His testimony of my life – is my focus right now. He is good to confirm along the way that I am on the right track. This passage in John is confirmation.

Awhile back, in a comment from a fellow blogger, was part of a poem:

“Because my heart
Has thus agreed
My mind believes
It has obeyed”

I’m convinced that we are all guilty to some degree of being familiar with scripture and the Jesus of which it speaks, and have settled that that is enough. But I still say there is a wrestling we must do to really get it . . . and until we have God’s testimony on our lives, we haven’t yet got it.

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You expect to see results quickly when you bring a dozer in to move a pile of dirt. But what if you bring a shovel and wheelbarrow? The results will still come; they just come a little slower.

And so it is with our believing. If we’re not taking a dozer into a situation we are believing for – if we’re just taking a shovel and wheelbarrow – we can still have results . . . it will just take a little longer to see them and to get the job done.

In the story of the centurion servant who was suffering from seizures (the one that the disciples could not heal) Jesus said to His disciples, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

We expect the mountain to move all at once, like it did for Jesus. But Jesus had faith the size of a dozer. We on the other hand come with a shovel and wheelbarrow? Our faith is small in comparison to His; but . . . we can still move the mountain if we stay with it. The evidence may be a little slower to come and a little harder to see, but nevertheless there will be evidence if we stay with it.

We need to see evidence when we pray. Evidence says ‘You are on the right track. Just stay with it.’ We are bad to quit when the whole mountain does not move at once. That is what the disciples did. They couldn’t drive the seizures out with one try so they quit. But faith, even if it is small, it can be sure. Faith, because it knows something, refuses to quit until there is evidence; and then once there is evidence, faith continues to press until the mountain is moved.

Prayer is work. And like with any work, we need to see that the effort of our labor is accomplishing something. It is no different with prayer. We need to see that the effort of our praying is accomplishing something. We need to see evidence. Lately I have seen just enough to know that I am on the right track and that if I will just stay with it – wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow – I will see this mountain moved.

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Maybe the disciples had hoped that Jesus wouldn’t know that they had not been able to heal the boy of his seizures. Maybe they were a little like us, not understanding why, and just deciding to let it go.

Oh He knew. He didn’t say anything, but He knew. When the father of the boy spilled the beans, I can see the disciples head drop a little – maybe positioning themselves behind someone hoping to not be seen. Jesus is not happy; and after a little scolding, they finally ask Him what they have wondered to themselves, “Why couldn’t we drive it out”?

It is clear that Jesus expected them to be able to. He had told them to. I wonder when He stirs us to do the same – to believe for the same – if He doesn’t expect us to be able to. Somewhere along the line we have given in to the belief that He doesn’t. Surely Jesus wouldn’t say to us, “O unbelieving and perverse generation” – would He? . . . surely not! . . . would He?

We console ourselves by thinking He wouldn’t – by thinking it must not have been His will. I believe there is more to it than that. With the disciples, if it had not been His will, what reason would He have had to be frustrated with them? The reason He was frustrated is that they had the ability themselves and didn’t know it.

And so He makes the point; ‘Hey, I know you don’t know all that I know – that you are not as sure of things as I am; but even if you just understand it a little, you can do the same things that I do’. Because of all that He knows and understands, He walks up like a wrecking ball and says ‘Satan, hit the road’ . . . and he hits it. We tell him to hit the road and he just stands there with his arms crossed; ‘Make me’ he says.

And that’s the deal. It’s not so much praying and asking God, as it is telling Satan. When he stands with arms crossed, it’s standing right back at him. That’s what Jesus meant. ‘Even if you have faith the size of a sledgehammer, you can stand there delivering blow after repeated blow until he moves on.’

Faith is not hoping he will leave. It is not hoping God will make him leave. When God has initiated the faith, it is knowing and understanding that he has to leave. We have given in to him not leaving so long and his heals are dug in so deep that it will take quite a stand – a much needed stand – to drive him out. He really has no option . . . unless we give him one.

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In Acts 19 Paul decides to go to Jerusalem and in passing he adds, “I must visit Rome also”. I have learned one thing about Paul; he does what he says he will do. It takes him 5 months, but he eventually ends up in Jerusalem. And little did he know when he mentioned visiting Rome that he would arrive there in chains, but again, in another 2 ½ years, he finally arrives in Rome.

Paul had just finished a meeting with the leaders of the church at Ephesus. The ship he caught had a layover in Tyre. I like what Luke says; “Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them for seven days”. It made me realize . . . who we look up when we go out of town, says a lot about us. In another town, they “stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven”. What a cool reunion that must have been.

So, Paul is now on a ship heading for Rome. While in a severe storm, he hears these words, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar”. How often do the words we hear from God go so contrary to the situation we are in.

The next line is a little hard to write. “Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” It is so like life to have to run aground a while before seeing what God said we would see; and the test of faith while we are run aground to still believe what He said.

Paul does reach Rome, and “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ”.

How cool that God gave him a period of time ‘without hindrance’. Everywhere he went, he tried to convince people to believe that Jesus was the One they were looking for. Some believed and some didn’t. Those that didn’t caused him a lot of trouble. God finally gave him a break from that trouble, and for a while he enjoyed a time ‘without hindrance’.

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I was working on this a few nights ago, and developed a bad case of writer’s block. I couldn’t get past the first line which at times I thought was perfect and other times I just wasn’t sure. When I went to bed, I prayed as I drifted off to sleep, asking God to help me with the thought I was trying to convey. I had a dream, and when I woke up I realized the Lord had answered my prayer.

In the dream I was on a farm, walking along a hillside toward a barn. I noticed a few dogs that had surrounded and was barking at an injured bird. I shooed the dogs away and picked up the bird. It had been burned on one side. I held it up to eye level. Our eyes locked just long enough for me to sense that it was hoping I would help it – long enough for me to feel that if I did, it would get better.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself . . . and the Lord knew it. It’s a fitting story for the text that had caught my attention. In Acts 20, listen to what Paul tells the leaders of the church at Ephesus.

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard.”

It’s not a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality. It is a ‘fittest keep watch and be shepherds’ mentality. Paul just happens to be talking to leaders here; he called a special meeting for them. He was encouraging them to do what he did himself. As he traveled about, this is a big part of what he did.

As much as he did to point people in the right direction, there were always those who came in behind him to point them in the wrong direction; not too terribly different than how it is today. How many go into church on Sunday and here a good representation of the gospel and by Monday or Tuesday it is neutralized? By the end of the week, at least spiritually, they are like the injured bird surrounded by barking dogs.

We may not have as many to care for as Paul did, but we can all at least keep watch over ourselves. We must keep watch over ourselves. And then, whether over 2, 20 or 200, we are to be shepherds. This, at every level, is our mission.

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You’ve seen the bag of liquid hanging by the hospital bed. It is set to dispense – drip by drip – the fluids a body needs while being cared for. I thought of this in relation to a blogging friend of mine. Every day, she posts something simple that she gets from reading God’s word. Drip by drip, day by day she is getting the vital nutrients which her spirit needs. Little by little, as she stays connected to this source of life, His life – His nature – flows into and becomes her life – her nature.

It is exactly what Jesus was saying in John 15. He is the vine; we are the branches. Apart from Him we can do nothing. When we remain connected, drip by drip, His life flows into ours.

Below is part of her post – the one I was reading when I had this thought. (My favorite, which I printed and read from time to time, is ‘Wind and Wave Obey’)

“And they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.” Mark 3:2

“How could the amazing truth that Jesus would restore this man’s withered hand completely escape their notice? How much do I miss when I get into critical mode?”

Drip . . . drip . . . drip, and over time we are changed.

Post-script: I have developed a habit of looking up the proper definitions to words that come to mind when I write. This morning, after having looked over this piece I had written the day before, I wrote the following line in my journal. ‘You have instilled in me, not only an appreciation for Your word, but an awareness that little by little, drip by drip, we are changed by it’.

Webster’s definition of the word ‘instill’ is, ‘to infuse slowly into the mind or feelings; to put in drop by drop’.

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Personally, I would much rather go around them. Wouldn’t we all? But then there is this thing called ‘life’. Every where I turn lately, there seems to be . . . ‘life’. There is good, but bad just seems to not be willing to let go – to not get out of the way.

Paul’s comment to the believers in Antioch struck me. Not just that we must go ‘through’ hardships, but that we must go through them ‘to enter the kingdom of God’. I like the part of God’s kingdom that is free of hardships. They are like front door blessings – blessings that everybody sees and associates as ‘God’s blessings’. But Paul is talking about another kind of blessing – another part of the kingdom of God that is not seen. They are more like ‘back door’ blessings.

These blessings and part of the kingdom of God are found when we, with the help of God, go through our hardships. It is like a trailer I was pulling one time. One of the 4 wheels was a little too low on grease and burned up. The wheel was still there – it endured the haul – but the hub was burned out. The other 3, with the right amount of grease, didn’t even get warm.

It is possible in our hardships to enter the kingdom of God and relatively speaking, not even get warm. (Well maybe a little) But that is what Paul is referring to; and in chapter 16 he demonstrates it. Amidst all the good that happened in the chapter, he also experiences the bad of being thrown in prison. He was put in the inner cell and his feet were fastened with stocks. (Hardships are like that; they can lock you up.)

But through prayer, Paul entered the kingdom of God. Before his hub got hot he added the grease of prayer. He wrestled with God until he gained God’s perspective. Once he did, he was able to sing. Afterwards, the doors and chains that locked him up opened and fell off.

The Lord may not always cause the doors and chains of our lives to open and fall off as He did with Paul; but, at a minimum, He can keep our hub from burning up. As I am learning about most things lately, it is not just all or none; we can enter a little, or a little more, or a lot. We can keep from burning up. We can keep from getting warm. In some cases . . . we can enter enough to sing.

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You would think there would be more to the beginning of what we now know as one of Paul’s missionary journeys, but it really seems like Paul and Barnabas were sitting around one day and Paul said: “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing”. And with that, a missionary journey was born.

I guess I’ve always thought of these journeys as something bigger than life. But really it is just the record of what Paul did. He went about encouraging and strengthening the churches. He was an evangelist. It’s what he did. It’s what he was good at.

But right after Paul’s ‘good’ idea, comes a ‘bad’ one. He didn’t want to take Mark but Barnabas did; and from there things got really ‘ugly’ fast. In Acts, Luke tells us that “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.”

How often do our good ideas get sidetracked before they ever get off the ground? This exchange could have resulted in one less missionary journey; but in spite of how ugly it got, neither Paul nor Barnabas let it keep them from the good they had thought to do.

There will forever be an enemy to any good idea that God gives us. As much as God tries to initiate them for the purpose of encouraging and strengthening other believers, Satan does his best to stifle them.

Lord help me to see the ‘good’ ideas You give me, through to their end; to not let the ‘bad’ or even the ‘ugly’ keep me from what I think to do; to more and more use what I am good at for this purpose.

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Chances are you might hear a few kids say that today. It’s cute when they do. But in Acts 14 there is real ‘tricking’ and ‘treating’ going on and it is not so cute. Coupled with the rare occurrence of today being both Halloween and Sunday, it seemed too fitting not to tie them all together.

Our spiritual lives are in constant jeopardy of being ‘tricked’ or ‘treated’. We are susceptible to both. For those who are strong, they need ‘treats’ to keep them strong. For those who are weak, a ‘trick’ can cause them to do a 180.

Paul and Barnabus were strong; they spoke to persuade those who were not. Their ‘treats’ (seeing large numbers of people believe their message, plus seeing the wonders God worked through them confirming that He was with them) kept them strong.

Those who believed their message were not yet so strong. In one verse they were so excited they wanted to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabus. But they were easily persuaded by non believers and were soon willing to stone them. They were ‘tricked’.

Paul understood this ‘tricking’ and ‘treating’. It is for this very reason that he went back to those he had shared with to encourage and strengthen them. He knew that as soon as he ‘treated’, some would come behind him to ‘trick’.

And so with us today, as we go into our respective churches, we will likely be ‘treated’. Be assured that not too far behind, there will be some attempt to ‘trick’. Whether to weaken those who have been strengthened or to completely destroy those who are weak, ‘tricking’ and ‘treating’ will both occur today.

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We Must Be Born Again

 

John 3:3, ‘No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’

 

I have been stuck for several days with thoughts on this verse.  I fully intended to write them yesterday but got sidetracked.  Another topic has been on my mind so as I sat at my computer, I found myself in a struggle over which one to write about.

 

Recently I have seen several quotes from our founding fathers that convey their humility before God, their dependence on Him and their recognition of His ways as the only basis on which governing principals could be derived that would stand the test of time, life and man’s propensity to assert his own interests in it.

 

The more I sat and thought about the two topics, the topic of needing to be born again began to seem flat.  So I began writing about the other.  Last night, after watching Osteen at Yankee Stadium, I noticed a Billy Graham Classic was on next.  Having only heard him in his later years, I have never understood why he drew such crowds.  Now I know.

 

I think the title of the message was ‘What is Wrong with the World’.   It was 1958 in Charlotte, NC – the town he grew up in – in what was then the largest domed structure in the world.  It was filled to capacity with 13,000 people. 

 

Sin is what is wrong with the world and unless you are born again, man’s propensity is to assert his own interests.  It was a dynamic message.  As I heard it, my heart was gripped by the truth, the simplicity and the fact that I had allowed myself to be sidetracked – that I had allowed myself to see the need to be born again as flat.

 

To a member of the Jewish ruling council – Nicodemus – a teacher of God’s people, Jesus would say, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’.  Unless you are born again, you cannot see that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Son’.  Unless you are born again you cannot see that ‘God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved’.  Unless you are born again, ‘you will love darkness instead of light’. 

 

If we do not first get that right, all else is irrelevant.  But from that we have His light to light our way.  Our founding fathers, at least some of them, had this light.  It affected the way they lived, the way they believed and the way they governed.  They tried to elevate His ways.

 

It is sick today (sorry, I can’t think of a better word) to see how far we have come.  Unless more people literally get ‘born again’, from the common people to the leaders of our nation and churches, this nation, which was formed by men who did see His kingdom, will be stolen by men who do not.  We must be born again.    

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