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Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” This was a major problem in Jesus’ day. Those in authority were heaping more on the people than they could bear. Instead of being compassionate helpers, they were harsh. Their actions were harassing and as a result the people felt helpless.

 Though Deuteronomy 8:1 does say, “Be careful to follow every command that I am giving you today”, the problem was they kept adding. Thinking they were helping and clarifying, they instead were making it so difficult, nobody could measure up.

 Jesus slams them for missing the part of being the merciful shepherd. Focusing entirely on the phrase in Deuteronomy, they overlooked the compassion God showed them over thousands of years when they forgot God’s commands completely. They missed his original intent.

 Our rulers today are doing the same thing to us. By focusing on a phrase or two in the Constitution, they squeeze out meanings that our founders clearly did not intend. They create more and more laws, more and more regulations; the result of which is this same harassing. It is becoming more than we can bear.

 Our government is out of line. They do more to protect a tadpole that will one day turn into a frog than they do to protect a fetus that will one day turn into a baby. The list could go on.

 

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How much is our usefulness to God dependent on our own faith and spiritual sensitivity? How about the God sized breakthroughs? When Jesus went back home and into the familiar synagogue, there was very little faith present. As a result, Jesus did very few miracles there.

To this same group of people he makes the point, “There were many widows, yet Elijah was not sent to any of them; but to a widow in Zarephath” and “Many in Israel had leprosy, yet not one of them was cleansed, only Naaman”.

I believe much is on us to position ourselves as a proven faithful servant. God used this story this morning, as the never ending “follow me”, to draw me to himself. He is a gracious God.

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In this letter to Sardis I saw a difference in what he wrote to Pergamum. The people of Pergamum, for the most part, “remained true”, but there were some among them “who held to the teaching of Balam”. But with the church of Sardis, they, for the most part, “were dead”, and yet had some who were very much alive. One was a batch of good apples with a few bad ones and the other a batch of bad apples with a few good ones.

How is He described and what are the words He has to say to this predominately bad batch of Christians? First, He is described as the One who is “holding” them. He specifically is “holding” the leaders. He who could have written them off and let them go; instead, He “holds” them.

His word to them . . . “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die. Remember what you have received and heard; obey it and repent.” In the same way that we might hold in our hands an apple with some bad spots in it, deciding whether to pitch it or cut the bad spots out and keep it, similarly He, with this church is in effect holding it and choosing to keep it. He is willing to cut the bad spots out; the question is . . . will they let Him? And His final words: “He who has an ear, let him hear.” We who have the spots . . . will we see it?

To the church of Philadelphia, He is described as, “holy and true”. It is a similar description as to the church of Laodicea – the last of the seven churches. To them He is the “faithful and true witness”.

What’s interesting is that the church of Philadelphia is “holy and true” right along with Him, while the church of Laodicea is not the same “faithful and true witness”. To church of Philadelphia, though they had “little strength, yet they had kept his word and had not denied his name”. While others advanced, they on the other hand remained in relative obscurity. To the so called religious who had looked down on them . . . and worse, “I will make them acknowledge that I have loved you”.

To this group of “holy and true” believers – who probably struggled with whether or not He was even mindful of them – He lets them know that their day is coming. He is encouraging them to “hold on” and to “overcome” – to remain “holy and true”.

To the church of Laodicea though, the “faithful and true witness” has a bone to pick with this group who has not been. They are lukewarm; they have no passion. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich.”

To this church in particular – but I think really to all – He has these life changing words. And for any “who have an ear to hear them” – for any who will “overcome, just as He overcame, he will give the right to sit with him in heaven”.

It is popular today to think that we are covered by grace regardless of how we live. But when you are really familiar with His words to us, there is a bit of a different picture painted. Jude refers to “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality”. That is not a popular message today. “Who do you think you are to tell us how to live?” But these are His words . . . not ours.

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I have to keep reminding myself . . . write what you see. Part of me, when I decided to read through Revelation again, wanted to figure it all out. But the other part reminds me . . . just write what you see.

First of all, when John addresses each of these letters to “the angel of the church”, it makes sense to me that he is referring to the human leader. I don’t see that there would be any reason for him to write to a literal angel.

Too, I see a clear continuity in each letter. For example, in this first letter to the church of Ephesus, “the words of him who walks among them” and “they have forsaken their first love”. To me, I see the clear image of a couple just enjoying walking together – being together. I see the image of the passion that a young couple has for one another.

In spite of the fact that they were doing some things right – working hard and enduring hardships together – they had lost this passion they had at first. His words to them, shows a side of Himself that longs for us to have that. A couple can get so mechanical – so taking care of business – and yet ending up losing the passion they once had. We can get that way with Him.

Contrast that with His words to the church of Smyrna. To them, He was the one “who is the First and Last, who died and came to life again”. This church was facing persecution – persecution “even to the point of death”. His words to them were assuring words. From His words to them, they could have the assurance, if indeed they did face death, that they had a “crown of life” on the other side of it. They could have firmly fixed in their minds that the One who died for and before them, came to life again. They could know that they would do the same.

His words to us are fitting. He knows what we need to hear. To the church at Pergamum, who had among them those “who held to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality”, to them He was “the sharp, double edged sword”. His word to them . . . “Repent”.

Similarly with Thyatira, they “tolerated that woman Jezebel”. “By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality”. His word to them was the same, “Repent”. And how is He described for them? Very similar to the way He was for the church of Pergamum. He was “the Son of God, whose eyes were like blazing fire”. Isn’t this the perfect image for a group of believers, many of whom had been enticed and misled. No matter how distant from Him we get, He is still able to pierce into our distracted hearts and minds and whisper steadily the words we desperately need to hear; “Repent . . . before it is too late”.

This call to repentance is in spite of the good. To Pergamum He acknowledged that “they remained true to his name”. And, when someone close to them had been killed for not renouncing their faith, “they did not renounce theirs”. They took their Christianity seriously. Nevertheless . . . He had these things against them and they needed to hear it. Similarly with Thyatira, “I know your deeds, that you are now doing more than you did at first”. Nevertheless . . .

I believe it is time we take a fresh look at the words He has for us today. It is time that we take inventory and realize that “He has a few things against us”. “We’re not as good as we once were.” But if we will hear His words, I believe “we can be as good again as we ever were.”

“He who has an ear, let him hear” the words He has for us today.

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I have put off reading John’s account of the Revelation, because quite frankly, there is just so much that I have never been able to understand. He is writing to show us “what must soon take place”, and with all that is taking place today, I thought it would be good to give it another try. I had hoped this time, I would understand more.

Well, after reading through it twice and now beginning my third time, I have concluded that there is still a lot that I may never understand, and I’ve had to adjust my thinking. Jesus told John to “write what he saw”, so I have decided to do the same – to not worry about what I don’t see – to write about what I do see.

Though John is writing this to the ‘seven churches’, we can read it today as it is to us. I like one of his introductory comments; “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins”. In times past, I would have interpreted the word “freed” as forgiven. It is one thing to believe that we have and will be forgiven for conduct that stems from our sin nature – quite another to understand that he has freed us from the power of that nature.

That is not to say that there will never be a slip now and then . . . but slipping now and then is a far cry from being bound. When Jesus cursed the fig tree . . . was that not a bit of a slip? He was hungry. The tree had no fruit. It wasn’t supposed to have fruit because it wasn’t the time of year for it to have fruit. Nevertheless He got agitated and cursed it.

When you’ve been bound by evil desires as long as I was bound by them, it is not a stretch for me to see that Jesus could have a flicker of anger without losing His sinless status. But that is just me. You may disagree; and that is fine. But like I said earlier, I will write what I see.

I had one other thought from this first chapter. John referred to himself as a “companion” to those to whom he was writing. He was a “companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus”. He was stuck on the island of Patmos. No tropical drinks by the beach there; it was a desolate, rocky place. And yet somehow, while he was suffering in this hard place, we find him “in the spirit”.

As I write this, Israel is in the beginning stages of what could escalate into an all out war. In our own nation, we are wrestling out our differences. Hard places are plentiful these days. It is more important than ever that we make sure that we are “in the spirit” as John was.

In this kingdom that is ours, we shouldn’t have the misconception that we are promised protection from suffering. We are promised the gift of patient endurance in our suffering. There is no promise of protection from the hard places in life; just the promise of peace in them. Lord give us peace in these hard places.

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The Gift of Grace

The party was just days away,
it would have been her first;
and now to us the gift of grace
helps us through the worst.

This ripping hole so few can know,
yet You who lost a Son;
will help us by the gift of grace
until our days are done.

We’ll long to see our little girl –
there’ll never be a day
that we won’t need the gift of grace
to help along the way.

Enjoy her Lord, as we sure did,
now she is in Your care.
Bestow in her the gift of grace
until we both get there.

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One of Webster’s definitions of the word ‘welfare’ is the ‘organized efforts to improve the living conditions of needy persons’. 2000 years ago there was one such effort. Matthew, in the 11th chapter and 36th verse of his gospel, records this about Jesus: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.

Jesus didn’t just have compassion on them; He did something to make their living conditions better. When a person finds themselves in a helpless state, assistance can give them hope that they will see better days. And so this is what He did; He offered assistance.

In the movie, ‘Cinderella Man’, much of which takes place during the depression, we see, maybe for the first time, government assistance. People who lived through that period of our nation’s history, were definitely a needy people. They were used to working, but work ran out. And when work ran out, food ran out. Heat ran out. The organized efforts of our government to improve the living conditions of our people, was much needed.

But what began as a much needed effort to temporarily assist a needy people, has now grown to an ever expanding group of people who believe it is our governments duty to provide assistance perpetually. What began as the organized temporary assistance to help a needy people through to better days, and to a people who gratefully, yet with reluctance accepted it, has now spread to a much larger group who insists they are entitled.

Have we as Christians, to some extent, done the same thing? Have we who were provided the much needed assistance of forgiveness – given to help us through to better days – settled instead for the assistance?

Are we as stuck in a Christian welfare state as many today are with our government? Some undoubtedly are. It is really no different today than it was in the days when the disciples and apostles were preaching and writing to the believers of their day. The writer of the letter which we know today as ‘Hebrews’, was making this same point when he said the following:

“Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death.” The writers point is that we should not become dependent on the assistance of forgiveness. Instead we are expected in time to move on to maturity, able to ‘distinguish’ and choose ‘between good and evil’.

It was never intended for us to be stuck there. It was intended that after this initial assistance that we should go on to maturity. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he gives a clue as to how this is to happen. The same power that God used to raise Jesus from His physical death, he said God will use to ‘transform our lowly bodies’.

I especially like the way Peter puts it in his second letter. ‘He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world caused by evil desires.’

Like with people today who receive government assistance, some really need it. But some just choose it. Some have the ability to work their way into better days but instead they choose the easier path of assistance. Likewise with some Christians, some really need the assistance of forgiveness. But some who have received it continue to choose its easier path. They have not taken advantage of what the assistance was intended to do for them.

It is at least a little like the nation of Israel when God brought them out of Egypt. He gave them assistance to help them on to better days. It would require that they believe and follow as He led into battle. Instead they doubted and followed as He led them through 40 years of wandering.

He didn’t lead them into something they could do themselves; He led them into something they couldn’t do without Him. Similarly today, He did not offer us something that we could do for ourselves; He offered us something that we could not do – that we could not have – without Him and His help

There’s some fighting that has to be done. After 40 years of wandering, Israel was ready to do some fighting. They had had enough wandering. I was a lot smarter than they were; I only wandered for 30 years. For any today who have had enough – who are ready to do a little spiritual fighting – there are some improved living conditions to be gained.

It is not easy breaking out of a pattern that has developed over years; what takes years to do, takes a little while to undo. His forgiveness doesn’t wipe away all that our bad choices have caused, it is an invitation to follow Him out of all they have caused. There may be a fair amount to undo, but if we engage in the following He will lead us to the better living He intended for us to have. No matter how bad the pattern or how deep the hole, He knows how to lead us out. He wants to lead us out.

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A friend of ours owns a nursing home. Her main job is finding workers to fill the schedule that is necessary to meet the needs of the facility. To begin with, there is an overall shortage of qualified workers. So from the beginning, her work is cut out for her. From a limited number of workers, she must fill the shifts.

It would be one thing if the arranged schedule could be reliable; but it really isn’t even expected to be. For an endless number of reasons workers will call in to say they can’t make it. With an already short list of available workers, you can imagine the logistical strain this creates.

You would think that with the economy being the way it is that there would be more workers than necessary for the available work. But for some reason, it is just the opposite. There is much work but few who want to do it.

Sometime in the night last night – during one of my awake times – I made the connection. Isn’t that exactly the strain that Jesus must be under? There is much work and many are actually on an arranged schedule. But for an endless number of reasons, many who are scheduled call in to say they can’t make it.

In relation to these thoughts, I thought of a verse that many are familiar with. “The harvest is indeed plentiful but the workers are few”. There was a time when I questioned that. “Everybody has heard”, I thought. “There is no need of me telling them again”. So that became my excuse for not working – the reason I gave for not being able to make it.

But the truth is there is a need of telling them again. We all will get distracted from what we know to be true if we are not reminded of what is true. A patient in a nursing home doesn’t receive care once; they receive it on a regular basis. They must receive it on a regular basis. And so it is with people and their believing. They must be reminded on a regular basis of what they are supposed to be believing; otherwise they will get sidetracked in their believing.

I like the other part of that verse; “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest”. I think it is good for us to ask God to show us what we can do. Not just once or twice, but to ask until He shows us. We’re already on the schedule. He wants to show us where we fit in. But at the same time He wants us to be dependable.

I know the owner is thankful for a few who are very dependable. They have settled the issue. They know there is work that needs to be done. They understand their role. And I think that is part of it. We need to understand our role. We need to know the work He has called us to. And then we simply need to become faithful in doing it.

So ask and don’t quit asking. If you ask and don’t quit asking, you prove your determination to work; and why, when ‘the harvest is indeed plentiful’, would He not be all over you to show you where He has you scheduled.

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Have you ever wondered if there was another reason that God had to forsake Jesus during His final hours?  I’ve wondered lately if He simply couldn’t bear to watch what was happening to His Son.  If it had been my son, I couldn’t have watched.   

 

I wondered at what point God had to ‘forsake’ Him; at what point He could no longer bear to watch.  Was it while Jesus was being beaten?  Was it while He was carrying His cross?  While He fell beneath the weight of it?  Was it when they laid Him out on it?  Did He make it all the way to the nails? 

 

I’ve heard preachers over the years say the reason God had to ‘forsake’ Jesus, was that He could not look on the sin that Jesus had taken on Himself.  Maybe that was part of it, but I also believe God might have had to ‘forsake’ Him for the same reason I would have; He just simply could not bear to watch.

 

Sin effects people in varying degrees; some slip now and then while others are consumed, driven and destroyed by it.  Jesus could have stopped everything after a few lashes of the whip.  That would have been good enough for those who slip up now and then, but He went all the way to the nails.  He made sure He covered those who were destroyed by it.

 

Jesus knows how destructive sin can be – how it can beat on you till you can’t take it any more.  He knows what it’s like to be laid out by it . . . just laying there waiting on the nails to finish you off.  God didn’t bring Jesus back to life after a few lashes of the whip; He brought Him back from the worst.  By going all the way to the nails, He proved that no matter how far down sin has beat you, He can bring you back to life.

 

There was a point when Jesus was hanging on the cross that He said, “Enough! It is finished.”  I think part of what He was saying was that the price has been paid, but I also think He was saying, “I have covered the worst”. 

 

You have to reach the point where you say ‘enough’.  Whether you have just felt the sting of sin’s whip, or it has beat you down, or laid you out.  Maybe you’ve even seen the nails coming to finish you off and you’re just laying there waiting.  At any point you can say, ‘Enough!  It is finished.  That is all I will let sin do to me’.  Say it and He will forgive you.  Mean it and He will bring you back to life.   

 

  

 

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For Aubrey

 

After a year and a half, I am back at the same story that began a stirring in me to pray for someone.  And once again this morning, the same story has stirred me.  I have learned some things since that initial stirring . . . and this morning, the things I have learned have been reinforced. 

 

The story is about a boy who had seizures.  He had had them all his life.  Naturally, the boy’s dad was encouraged when he heard about the healings that were taking place.  He did what any dad would do; he brought his boy out to those who were responsible in hopes of seeing his own son healed.

 

Well, they tried but no healing took place.  Isn’t that the way it often is?  Good things happen to others but not to us.  We hear of stories and would like to have one of our own but we don’t. 

 

Fortunately this dad didn’t give up.  He appealed to One who had more authority.  And again fortunately, this One with the more authority got this man and his son there own story. 

 

This One with more authority was a little perturbed at the others; His exact words to them . . .  “How long shall I put up with you?”   

 

I’m not sure what the others did exactly – or didn’t do exactly – but maybe they do a little like we do today.  In our churches, when people come who need healing, we pray right then and there for God to heal them.  Now I know we’re told to pray for the sick, and even in this story that Mark tells, this One with authority said, “This kind can only come out by prayer”. 

 

But notice that this One with authority didn’t come up like we do and start praying to God; He came up, having already prayed – having already secured this authority by praying – and commanded the evil spirit that was causing the boy to have seizures, to come out.

 

I am a builder.  I know how to build because I have done it.  I don’t hope I can build; I know I can build.  I have faith that I can build.  Spiritually, when we refer to having faith, we can think of it more in terms of hoping.  It would be like me 20 years ago, before I had ever built my first house, hoping that I could build one.  It would be like me saying, ‘If you just hope enough, you’ll be able to do it’.

 

Faith is more a knowing which comes with time as we learn.  This One with authority had learned in His praying time that He had authority.  He didn’t approach it hoping; He approached it knowing.

 

And so this morning, my knowing – my faith – has been moved a little further along.  And with this knowing – this faith – I approached the enemy and commanded.  Afterwards, I asked God to restore.  

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