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Category Archives: Encouragement

Lamentation – An acceptable response to life’s difficulties?


grief-927099_640Dictionary.com defines lament as “an expression of grief or sorrow. A formal expression of sorrow or mourning, especially in verse or song; an elegy or dirge.”

Lament is a Biblical concept often ignored by Christians…and looked upon as a negative in our spiritual walk. I wonder why? 

Is it because some of us are just too comfortable that we run away from cries of anguish. Is it because we have forgotten the Biblical injunction to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep?

Mostly we avoid it, given a choice. At best we might sometimes pluck out of its context Lamentations 2: 22- 23: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Are we shocked by the way Biblical laments point the finger of blame towards God? Is that why we find the topic of lamenting uncomfortable? 

Jesus: Hebrews 5:7-9 (NIV) During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9  and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him

He quoted from Psalm 22, showing His aloneness from God: Psalm 22:1-2(NIV)  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2  O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.

David in Psalm 13:1-6 (NIV) How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? 3  Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; 4  my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my does will rejoice when I fall. 5  But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6  I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.

Wess Daniels has a helpful reflection on Psalm 13: “The important thing about Lament is that our suffering, our darkness, and disorientation is “brought to speech” in relationship with God. There is nothing you experience, no pain too deep, no sense of loss so tragic that you ought not to just take it to God but to make it God’s business to transform the situation.”

Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:8 (NIV) Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV) But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong

So even if we think the problem is God’s fault we should take it to God. And if we think the problem is an enemy’s fault we should take it to God. And if we think it’s our corporate or personal fault we should take that too to God and cry for restoration.
Let’s go to the book of JOB and see what we can learn there: What are we told about Job?

Job’s Prosperity: Job 1:1-5 (NIV) 1  In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2  He had seven sons and three daughters, 3  and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. 4  His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5  When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.

The heavenly ‘discussion:’ Job 1:6-12 (NIV) One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7  The LORD said thto Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” 8  Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” 9  “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10  “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11  But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12  The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

Job’s first adversity: 1: Job 1:13-19 (NIV) One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14  a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15  and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 16  While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 17  While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” 18  While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19  when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

Job’s response: Job 1:20-21 (NIV) 20  At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21  and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

Notice what he did: first, he looked back to his birth. Then he looked ahead to his death.

Finally, Job looked up and uttered a magnificent statement of faith “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.“ (vs. 21).

“In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (vs. 22).

We see a good explanation of God’s sovereignty: He gives and He takes away. God either causes or allows all events in our life. I believe much of it falls into the category of “allows.” He allows nature to reign. He allows natural law to reign..explaining hurricanes, floods, sickness and disease.

Job’s second adversity: The voice of the accuser: Job 2:1-8 (NIV) On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. 2  And the LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” 3  Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” 4  “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5  But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 6  The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” 7  So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. 8  Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

The voice of the quitter (2:9).  His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”

This was exactly what Satan wanted Job to do, and Job’s wife put the temptation before her husband.

Job 2:10 (NIV) “He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. “

With God’s permission, Satan afflicted Job with a disease we cannot identify. Whatever it was, the symptoms were terrible: severe itching (Job 2:8), insomnia (v. 4), running sores and scabs (v. 5), nightmares (vv. 13-14), bad breath (19:17), weight loss (v. 20), chills and fever (21:6), diarrhea (30:27), and blackened skin (v. 30).

When his three friends first saw Job, they did not recognize him! Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to offer comfort and they spend most of their time telling Job that he is a terrible sinner due to this pain he is going through. Elihu, the younger of the four, grows impatient near the end of the book because they do not do a very good Job convicting Job.

In this marvelous book, we see Job in a variety of postures with very specific words being said:

Job 3:1-3 (NIV) After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2  He said: 3  “May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’

 

Job 3:11 (NIV) “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?

Job 3:16 (NIV) Or why was I not hidden in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day?

Job 23:1-5 (NIV)  Then Job replied: 2  “Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. 3  If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! 4  I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. 5  I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say.

Job 23:10 (NIV) But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

God speaks: Job 38:1-3 (NIV) Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2  “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

jobheadingJob 40:1-2 (NIV) The LORD said to Job: 2  “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”

Job 40:8 (NIV) “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

Job 42:1-17 (NIV) Then Job replied to the LORD: 2  “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3  You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4  “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5  My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

 7  After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8  So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves.

My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

9  So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer. 10  After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11  All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought [allowed] upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

12  The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.

Some closing thoughts: have we in our relative comfort concentrated our worship too much on the language of praise and thanksgiving? Is that because we are influenced by the language of success and the cultural pursuit of happiness?

Therefore, we equate unhappiness with failure or lack of faith? And in individual and corporate prayer, when we happen to feel OK, we avoid the language of sorrow, confusion and anger? 

Laments use pain, anguish, anger and confusion in a passionate search for some answering comfort or sense of hope. We have to learn to lament and to do it in community, whether that is on our own behalf or as a way of speaking for others in much worse situations.

It isn’t about how things ought to be. It’s about how things are. It’s about people shot by terrorists in Paris. It’s about people living in fear. It’s about situations so dreadful that only God can change things and people and bring hope.

Lament yells deep from an anguished heart – a raw wail that in itself is a prayer (story of family that had a stillborn child just weeks before its birth…it hurt…I told them to stop on an empty road as they drove home…yells at God…express whatever emotion they were feeling at the time…and then trust in God to be with them every second of their life from that moment forward as they would deal with the hurt, pain, sorrow the rest of their life.)

If we care at all about the depths of other people’s suffering around the world, what other language can we use except that of lament? Do we really think that it’s not OK to yell out at God with feelings like that? That God somehow isn’t strong enough to cope with our anger?

Let’s allow Lamentations 3: 31-33 to have the last word: “For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes [allows] grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”

 

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2017 in counsel, Encouragement, God

 

Defeating the Goliath in your life  – 1 Samuel 17


Have you met your Goliath? Goliath is that great big giant of an obstacle that seems unbeatable, and impossible to defeat.  It is that one huge problem that you think just might be your undoing — a difficulty so great that it has you entertaining the thought that you are close to throwing in the towel.

Perhaps you have met him in the past.  Or maybe Goliath is troubling you even now.  Most of us have a Goliath or two in our lives. I want to encourage you to confront Goliath today — to deal with this enemy that robs your life of hope and joy.

King Saul of Israel had been fighting tooth and nail for most of his life for every inch of the Promised Land. Even though the land was “Promised,” it did not come easy. (Most promised lands are that way – we have to work and struggle for them.)  Ever since the day Joshua took over the leadership of Israel from Moses, there had been a struggle.  On that very first day when they crossed the Jordan River to head westward to their promised homeland, there was no welcome sign saying, Welcome to the Promised Land!”

Lately, the Philistines had been gaining the upper hand. King Saul was getting older and very weary. Now things had really taken a turn for the worse. The Philistines unveiled their “secret weapon” – a nine foot nine giant named Goliath. This powerful, fearsome creature was out daily taunting the Israelites, issuing a challenge that had King Saul’s army cringing behind their shields. There wasn’t a soldier in the camp who wanted to take on Goliath. Fear and despair took hold in the camp and ate away the courage of every last man. Each day Goliath looked bigger and the soldiers of Saul felt smaller.

You and I probably have times when our Goliaths seem to grow as we seem to shrink. On one particular day, Goliath began shouting insults to the soldiers of Israel and he challenged them to a fight. 

Let’s read 1 Samuel 17:8-11 (NIV) Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9  If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10  Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11  On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

After hearing these threats, an adolescent shepherd boy named David looked around and asked “Who is this person who is insulting the armies of God?” You see, David wasn’t afraid of the Philistine giant. King Saul sent for David and this is the conversation they had: 1 Samuel 17:32-37 (NIV) David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” 33  Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.” 34  But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35  I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36  Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37  The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.” .

So David, instead of putting on armor and a sword, chose to dress casually…carrying only a sling in his hand…with five smooth stones that he collected from the stream.  He was ready for war.  Listen to what David said when he confronted Goliath: (vs. 45-47). David took out a stone, and slung it and it struck Goliath on the forehead and killed him.  The young, weak boy defeated his Goliath.

WE NEED TO TRUST GOD. When David went to fight Goliath, it was not the standard resources that David was trusting in. It was not the armor of Saul or the strength of the whole Israelite army, but it was GOD…David believed that God would defeat Goliath.  If David had bought into the standard thinking, he would have been killed.  He thought outside the box!  God was his strength and the battle was the Lord’s — not his.

When we come to those times of confrontation with Goliath, our first line of defense is our relationship with God.  We must trust in His strength…no matter what others may consider the best way out of our difficulties. No matter what problem or Goliath we may be facing…God can deliver us. Our problems can be solved by trusting and relying upon God!

Most of us, like the Israelites hear the threats of Goliath and loose heart.  We would really like to have the courage of David and his trust in God, but we don’t quite get around to entering the field of battle.

So I would like to ask you for a verdict today. I would like to encourage you to decide to conquer Goliath.  If you will make that decision, surrender your resources – however small or meager – into the hands of God and trust the Lord to walk with you into the battle…You will make a wonderful discovery — a life changing discovery.

You will discover that Goliath is just a wee little man after all!

———————————-

They say there are not atheists in foxholes. It’s amazing how religious and how spiritual we get under pressure in a moment of bargaining.

It was that great American wit, Mark Twain, who once said, “Man is the only animal that blushes, and the only animal that needs to. We are ashamed, are we not, of things we’ve done in the past. Nobody is free who is unforgiven. Instead of being able to look God in the face or to look one another in the face, we want to run away and hide when our conscience troubles us.”

 

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2017 in counsel, Encouragement

 

From Doubt to Faith John 20:24-29


Why is it that some people believe the gospel and others do not? Perhaps the experience of Thomas can supply at least some of the answers to this question. From this text we can observe three barriers to faith that Thomas had to overcome in order to believe in the resurrected Lord.

Ignorance

One of the reasons Thomas was slow to believe in the resurrection of Christ is that he did not have all the evidence. The resurrected Christ had appeared to the disciples and gladdened their hearts with his presence (John 20:19-23). But, as our text reminds us (v. 24), Thomas had not been among them. He had spent a whole week in doubt and despair because he was absent from the place where he was most likely to meet Christ. He did not expose himself to all of the evidence.

Thomas is an example of a whole generation of doubters who have systematically detached themselves from the believing community. There are many people who seek to be good without God, a Christian without the church. Such people are ripe for doubt.

The honest searcher will seek faith where other people have found it. He will expose himself to the evidence of God’s reality—to the contagion of other people’s faith, to the preaching and teaching of the word of God. Why is it that people who doubt God the most are often the very ones who know the least about Him?

Cynicism

Thomas was from Missouri. “Show me,” was the motto of his life. Doubt was woven deep into the fabric of his life. He seems to have been cynical by nature. In the two other glimpses John gives us of Thomas he is consistently in the role of the skeptic, fearing the worst and slow to believe (John 11:16; 14:5). The cynicism and skepticism he displays in this third and final episode thus seem typical of his very disposition.

Like Thomas, it is harder for some people to believe today because they are cynical and skeptical in their basic approach to all of life. Sometimes the cruel and “unfair” blows of life make it difficult for people to profess any kind of faith in God. This is true of some of the more notable skeptics of recent history. There are many people reeling from life’s blows who have hardened their hearts to God and everybody else.

Empiricism

“Unless I see… touch… I will not believe.” (v. 25) Thomas was an empiricist. He was one of those people for whom “seeing is believing.” As such he is a fitting model for our times. Since God cannot be “seen” or “heard” or “touched,” some people are slow to acknowledge his existence. They have a tendency to trust only what their senses can confirm.

But so much of life is beyond that which can be perceived by our senses. We have never “smelled” an idea, “felt” a truth, put our “finger” on a thought. These realities are perceived in other ways. Such is the nature of “spiritual” realities. Our senses can take us to the edges of life, but they cannot take us beyond this life. Faith and faith alone can take us beyond this life.

It’s my greatest blessing in life to have known men and women who “lived their whole life for their death.” People who loved the Lord daily and longed for eternity moment by moment.

They understood that the most important things in life are things we cannot see.  They knew a faith that hasn’t been tested can’t be trusted. Their motto: without Christ, not one step; with him, anywhere!

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will!” Faith has never yet out-stripped the bounty of the Lord. Faith is a gift that we can ask for.

Conclusion

For us, like Thomas, the key to overcoming doubt is a personal encounter with the risen Lord. For Thomas this happened when he “saw” the Savior. For us it happens as we chose to accept the testimony of the Scriptures concerning him and trust in him to save us. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2017 in Encouragement

 

Rest for the Weary — Matthew 11:28-30


 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. {29} Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus spoke to men desperately trying to find God and desperately trying to be good, who were finding the tasks impossible and who were driven to weariness and to despair.

Our age has produced a new malady. It is called “chronic fatigue syndrome.” There is a sense in which all of us suffer from it. If we are nothing else, we are tired. When we come to Christ, we come to One who can give us rest.

A Common Problem — We are all tired from something. Fatigue occasionally overtakes even the strongest among us.  We are tired physically and mentally from the everyday struggle to make ends meet. We are tired emotionally from wrestling with dysfunctional relationships, unrealized dreams, and heartbreaking loss.  Ironically, we are tired spiritually from trying to live up to our faith.

Fatigue can do strange things to us. Vince Lombardi, the great football coach, once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”  It can even affect an entire generation, like Israel in the wilderness, who began grumbling. It can break our resolve to go on.

A Comforting Promise—“I will give you rest.”  If just anyone made this promise, we might find it empty. If a politician or even a physician made this promise, we would take it with a grain of salt. There are some things other people just can’t do for us.  But when Jesus makes a promise, we stop and listen. His promises are anything but empty. He has both the integrity and power to deliver on His word. We stake our eternal destinies on the reliability of his promises. We must take this one seriously as well.

A Challenging Prescription—“take my yoke upon you and learn of me.” He says, “My yoke is easy.”  The word easy is in Greek chrestos, which can mean well-fitting.  In Palestine ox-yokes were made of wood; the ox was brought, and the measurements were taken.  The yoke was then roughed out, and the ox was brought back to have the yoke tried on.  The yoke was carefully adjusted, so that it would fit well, and not gall the neck of the patient beast.  The yoke was tailor-made to fit the ox.

Jesus’ next words are surprising. We often seek rest by escaping, getting away, relieving ourselves of responsibility. Instead Jesus calls us to a new task. While we are looking for a hammock, Jesus calls us to a yoke! He calls us to find rest by voluntarily placing ourselves under a new burden. Jesus’ words teach us the real cause of fatigue and the nature of true rest.

Jesus says, “My burden is light.”  As a Rabbi had it:  “My burden has become my song.”  It is not that the burden is easy to carry; but it is laid on us in love; it is meant to be carried in love; and love makes even the heaviest burden light.  When we remember the love of God, when we know that our burden is to love God and to love men, then the burden becomes a song. 

The problem with our lives is not that we must work, that we must serve some master, perform some task. The problem is really what “work” we choose to do and whom we choose to serve. The kind of rest Jesus offers is not relief from the tasks necessary to sustain us or even freedom from all of life’s trials. Those early disciples who took Him up on this promise still had to labor for bread and face life’s difficulties. The kind of rest Jesus offers is a peace of mind, a calmness of spirit that comes from knowing our lives are being lived within His will. It is the kind of rest that accompanies a life that is rescued from self-made anxieties and stresses. Even the unavoidable work of meeting basic needs is made less tiring by the reassurance that the Savior is looking after us.

Conclusion

People wear all kinds of “yokes.” Some are slaves to ambition, to greed, to materialism, to lust, to alcohol, to pride and all of its evils. These are the things that truly exhaust us. By placing ourselves under the yoke of the gentle, humble Savior our lives are liberated from the exhaustion of all these things and set free to work purposefully unto true satisfaction and fulfillment.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2017 in Encouragement

 

The value of faith


Faith is like love in that it, too, is always beginning. For example, in the Gospel of John, the disciples had already come to have faith in Jesus by the time we reach chapter 11.

Andrew believed on the day when he left John the Baptist to follow Jesus (1:41), Philip believed on the day when Jesus called him (1:45), and Nathanael believed when Jesus said He had seen him under the fig tree (1:49).

The disciples who attended the wedding feast in Cana believed when they saw that Jesus had turned the water into wine (2:11). We are told that Peter and the other disciples who witnessed the feeding of the five thousand and heard the Bread of Life discourse also believed (6:69). Even after all of these statements of faith, Jesus told His disciples that He was glad for the opportunity to raise Lazarus so that they might believe (11:15)!

Faith is like that–always beginning.

Many of us already believe, at least to some degree. Then, one day, we face something that is so lifechanging that we never look at faith in the same way again. This encounter may be a blessing or a trial, the birth of a child or a fifty-foot fall. Suddenly, we see everything differently, and it seems that faith is beginning all over!

Today the Gospel of John calls us to believe (20:31). Many of us hear that call and think, “I already believe.” However, if we will listen and seek and follow, we may find that faith is only beginning in us!

FAITH IS FULL OF PROMISE

When Martha met Jesus outside of Bethany, her brother had been in the tomb for four days. She lamented that if Jesus had only been there, her brother would not have died.

In response to her grief, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (11:25, 26).

Jesus’ words provide a powerful motivation to believe. Faith is hard work, and a lazy person will simply not put forth the effort. We do not believe just because we want to believe, but we will never believe if we do not want to believe. Faith involves dedication, obedience, sacrifice, and, oftentimes, tears. However, a rich promise is made to all who will believe.

In this respect, faith is like hard work in college; the student does it because of the promised payoff of getting a good job. Working hard at one’s career is rewarded with a good paycheck or promotion. Make no mistake about this: Faith does not earn a reward, but God’s promises are what motivate us to continue down the long, difficult, sometimes trying road to faith.

FAITH IS FOCUSED ON JESUS

John’s faith moves us toward faith in Jesus. What we need is not faith in parents, faith in the apostles, faith in other Christians, faith in the church, or even faith in faith. Rather, we need faith in Jesus.

In Martha’s powerful statement of faith, she told Jesus, “… I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world” (11:27; emphasis mine). When Jesus, His disciples, Martha, Mary, and the crowd of mourners were later gathered outside Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus prayed to the Father, saying, “And I knew that Thou hearest Me always; but because of the people standing around I said it, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me” (11:42).

This is consistent with the rest of the Gospel of John, where the purpose is to produce faith “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31).gods-wisdom

John Paton was a missionary to Africa who taught and baptized a large number of people. Because the Bible was not available in the language of the people he was teaching, Paton began the long and difficult work of Bible translating.

The task went fairly smoothly until he began trying to translate the word “believe.” As strange as it may seem, there was no word in this language for “believe.” How could one possibly translate the Bible without a word for “believe”?

Then, one day as Paton was struggling with this linguistic problem, a Christian man from the village came to visit him. This man had been working hard all day and was exhausted.

When he sat down in a chair he gave a weary sigh of relief and said, “It is so good to lean your whole weight on something.” Paton realized that he had found an expression for “believe”: To believe is to “put your whole weight on Jesus.”‘ Faith is focused on Jesus and nothing less.

FAITH IS DIVISIVE

As the people stood outside Lazarus’ tomb and saw him walk out alive, they were presented with an unavoidable fork in the road. They had seen Lazarus dead, had prepared him for burial, had placed him in a tomb, and had placed a stone over the mouth of the cave.

They were eyewitnesses to these events. Then, because of Jesus’ miracle, these same people had become witnesses of Lazarus’ rising! Would they believe? They could not avoid making a decision.

John recorded the division that took place among the observers of the miracle that day:

 “Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done” (11:45, 46).

Amazingly, these people all witnessed the same events but reacted in opposite ways. Some saw that they were in the presence of the power of God, so they placed their faith in Jesus that day. Others only “saw” a juicy piece of gossip and scurried off to Jerusalem to tell the Jewish leaders about the stir created by Jesus.

The division among the people that day is no insignificant part of the story. On the contrary, division is the very nature of the story of Jesus: When people hear about Jesus, they are forced to make a decision, one way or the other, about His true identity. There is no neutral ground.

Jesus and the apostle John both push us relentlessly toward a decision. Is Jesus the Son of God, or was He a fraud? Either He is divine, or He was a blasphemer deserving death. What is your decision?

FAITH IS THREATENING

Some of those who had witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection went to the chief priests and the Pharisees in Jerusalem to tell them what the teacher from Nazareth had done.

As they made their report, they complained, “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (11:48).

They realized that faith in Jesus would change lives, change families, and even change a nation. They realized–perhaps better than most Christians today–· just how “dangerous” faith is.

An old song says about love that “it will lift you up, never let you down, take your world and turn it all around. The same should be said about faith in Jesus.

The tendency today is to expect too little in regard to faith. Many Christians have made faith too easy, too soft, too undemanding.

Wilbur Pees expressed this tendency in the following sarcastic paragraph: I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please”

The faith to which Jesus invites us may well change our entire lives. John wanted to make sure that we understand the possible costs involved in following Jesus. We may suffer, we may be persecuted, and we may lose everything we own. Compared with the rich promises of faith, the costs seem strangely insignificant!

 

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2017 in Encouragement

 

Stressed spelled backwards is desserts


cropped-13417416_1089550607782925_630592262196408666_n.pngYou may have heard that stressed spelled backwards is desserts, but what does that really mean? Will eating a twinkie help you manage your kids better…should you eat ice cream right before a job interview… is there a way you can find time to have your cake and eat it too?

Before we can answer that question we need to define exactly what stress is. Simply put, stress is a bodily response to any change that occurs around you.

In many cases the change is a good thing (like buying a house or coming inside from a cold day) and your body makes the necessary adjustments to deal with the change. If the change is small you may not even notice these changes, but if it is significant you may feel your muscles getting tense, feel your heart pounding, get clammy hands or feel your stomach tighten.

Using this surge of energy to respond to the change and then letting your body relax is actually the way God planned it to be. It is this type of stress that helps you focus on an important goal and makes you very productive in coming up with a solution to a tough problem.

Using stress this way also leaves people with a real sense of accomplishment, especially when the task is done and you allow yourself to wind down. The problem comes though, of course, when there is more stress than you can handle and the chance to relax never comes.

When this state of constant stress happens, people begin to become anxious, worry and get ‘stressed-out’. As Americans, we also tend to push our bodies pretty hard. Trying to get all our work done on top of social and family commitments means that there is less time for our body to rest. As your body tries to stay healthy despite high levels of stress, you will probably begin to feel stress in one or more of the following ways.

  • Physically: you may experience fatigue, headaches, neck and back pains, sleeping problems, loss of appetite, ulcers, cramps and diarrhea, colitis, high blood pressure, skin rashes, abnormal heart beat and even heart attacks, strokes and seizures.
  • Emotionally: you may become depressed, irritable, moody, impatient, overly sensitive, anxious, or have trouble with memory and concentration.
  • Behaviorally you may suffer from repetitive thoughts, compulsive eating, avoidance of work, and we may turn more often to alcohol, drugs and coffee.

Although these symptoms are not very pleasant, these warning signs are necessary for your body to warn you so that the stress you feel now won’t leave any permanent damage later. To insure this damage does not occur, several practical techniques have been developed to first help you reduce and then manage the stress in your life.

First, researchers agree that you must identify the major stressors in your life. Whether it is the everyday demands of work and home, major life changes or simply the accumulation of several minor annoyances and irritations, it is important to determine which are problem areas of stress for you. The following is an incomplete list of some of the most common stressors people face:

  • Balancing multiple responsibilities (job, family, school, friends, etc.)
  • Change in job situation (promotion, demotion or unemployment)
  • Death or lengthy illness (either loved ones or self)
  • Divorce or Separation (either parent or self)
  • Financial instability
  • Lack of sleep or adequate relaxation
  • Life worries (death, meaning of life, etc.)
  • Moving
  • Peer pressure
  • Relational difficulties
  • Substance abuse (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, drugs etc.)
  • Unfinished tasks

Secondly, you must begin to reduce the amount of stress in your life. Recognize that there are things that you cannot change. Try setting aside less critical tasks until later and/or giving yourself a short break to gain a better perspective. Take control of your life by not allowing yourself to take on new commitments (even if they seem attractive), and work to reduce or finish your existing commitments.

Next, it is time to develop better coping skills; changes in life will cause less stress if you can be prepared for them. When dealing with a stressful time it is very important to get a sufficient amount of sleep, to keep a balanced diet and to take time for exercise and quiet times. Many people also try to deal with the demands of life by themselves. If you find yourself stressed out, ask for help. Often times just talking with friends, family and others can lessen the load.

You can also change your response to a stressful situation. Sometimes we need to take the pressure off ourselves. Try leaving intentional downtime in your schedule next week and use the time to have some fun. Spend more time doing the things you enjoy, laugh more, indulge yourself with a bath ” or do nothing at all. Remember to live in the present. If you are the type of person that regrets past actions, work towards letting them go; the past is history. On the flip side, realize that worrying or fearing the future won’t change the outcome. Lastly, learn to relax. There are many good books that describe techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2017 in Encouragement

 

Only ones going to heaven?


 

Sometimes, unfortunate misunderstandings prevent great good from being done. One of these is the misconception that members of particular congregations believe others must keep their rules to go to heaven.

This article is given with the writer’s fervent hope it will help open doors of opportunity to study about Jesus together. Isaiah said: “Come, now let us reason together, saith the Lord…” (Isa. 1:18). Therefore, let us reason about the true source of authority. 

It does not matter what the churches believe. Whatever these churches believe had better be what the Lord Jesus commands! Peter said: “if any man speaketh, speaking as it were the oracles of God…” (I Peter.4:11).

The church must be subject to Christ and His authority. Paul said: “And he is the head of the body, the church…that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18).

There must never be church rules or creeds! One must never be required to satisfy the member of a local church. While some religious groups vote members in, the Bible teaches: “And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved” (Acts 2:47). If the Lord does the adding, no man must ever dare to do the subtracting (III Jn. 9, 10)! Therefore, whatever churches believe must be handed down to them by King Jesus in His word (Jn. 16:13, 14). We must never render our opinions as if we are God! We must present the Bible as the message of God (Deut. 4:2; 2 Pet. 1:21).

Again, the statement: “do certain churches believe,” indicates the wrong people are being asked! Jesus will judge us all by His word (Jn. 12:48). Jesus, not an elder, preacher, or member, “…is the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6).

“It Is The Only One Going To Heaven?”
Who is going to heaven?  Must one keep a church’s rules to be saved? Must one join a particular denomination to enjoy salvation? What if he/she is determined to be ‘non-denominational?’

Is one group better than another? Perhaps some of the difficulty with these questions is a misunderstanding of terms. The word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia which means “those called out.” Remember Acts 2:47: “…And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved.”

In other words, those that responded to the gospel message (Acts 2:38, 41) were “called out” of the world and into Christ. They became a part of the church because the church is that body of saved believers.  When one is baptized into Christ, he becomes part of His bride (Eph. 5:22-33, body (Eph. 1:22, 23; 4:4), or church (Matt. 16:18). Paul said: “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body…” (I Cor. 12:13).

Our Lord never wanted the religious division so prevalent in the world today. He prayed that we might be one (Jn. 17:17, 20-21). It grieves our  Lord to see rules of men divide us. Why can’t we simply forget the rules of men, open our Bibles, and obey the Lord? When we do, He will add us to His church, not a denomination (Acts 2:47).

In fact, which ‘group were the Christians in the book of Acts added to? No denomination came into being until hundreds of years later!

There are various scriptural names for this church. “churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16), “Church of God” (I Cor. 1:1), “pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15), “my church” (Matt. 16:18), “one body” (Eph. 4:4), “the bride” (Rev. 22:7), and on and on we could go. These are all descriptive names for the same church built by Jesus (Matt. 16:18; I Cor. 3:11).

Also, this body of believers will obey the Lord without compromising His will (Gal. 1:6-9). People who obey Jesus (Heb. 5:8, 9) and become His by being called out of the world into the “called out ones” are saved (Gal. 3:26-27).

What Do You Believe?
Long ago, Solomon warned: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). It may sound good, feel good, look good, but is it what Jesus said?  The apostle John gave this acid test: “And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (I Jn. 2:3, 4).

How do you know Jesus? Has some man guided you with creeds, tradition, or extra-biblical “revelations?” Come to know Him the way King Jesus through the apostle John commanded. Let’s open our Bibles, and hear right from Jesus ourselves (Jn. 16:13, 14). Let’s “reason together.”

Conclusion
It does not matter what different churches believe nor any of their members. All that matters is the will of our blessed Lord.  Jesus and His word are always right. In the very words of God Himself at the Mount of Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt. 17:5).

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2017 in Church, Encouragement

 
 
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