Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The  Flip Side of Faith

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." Prov. 13:12.

Faith's Hall of Fame is found in Hebrews 11. Abel's sacrifice was better and his blood still speaks today (verse 4). Enoch was so close to God that...poof, he was gone. God took him (verse 5). Noah built an ark even though it had never rained, and saved his family (verse 7). Abraham left everyone and everything secure to follow God (verse 8).  Childless, Sara conceived a son in her old age (verse 11). Commanded by God to offer up this long awaited promised child, both Abraham and Isaac accepted the challenge and passed the test (verse 17-19). The list continues on naming others who stood in faith triumphing over difficult circumstances.

Toward the end of the chapter we find another group whose journeys were neither exciting nor glamorous. Some experienced horrible physical abuse, torture and even death. They were impoverished, homeless and outcasts. They along with the others all share a single common denominator.

"These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised." Heb. 11:39 (emphasis mine).

Sobering thought.

As individuals, are we willing to  walk with God when it looks as if things will never change, improve or a desired objective achieved?

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Heb. 11:1.

How does faith prevent the heart sickness brought on by deferred hope?

"Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses." Heb. 12:1.

Those who have gone on before us are more alive than we who are still here. They are our living proof that we too can make it.

In addition, we need to lighten our loads.

"Let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Heb. 12:1.

Nothing beats crossing the finish line. Even if you finish last you've beaten those who never got started or quit along the way. The joy of accomplishing the goal outweighs the hardships and difficulties endured.


"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy before Him endured such opposition from sinful men,  so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Heb. 12: 2-3.

Jesus knows what its like to face impossible circumstances and to die without seeing the total fulfillment of the mission achieved in this lifetime. He had no guarantee that anyone would receive freely the salvation He died to procure. Eternity will reveal the final outcome of His sacrifice.

How about you? Which hopes deferred have made your heart sick? What difficulties/problems have you questioning just how much of a difference Christ is making in your life right now? What has you ready to quit, throw in the towel and walk away? Does it help to realize you're not the only one who has felt this way? If you choose to put your attention and focus onto Jesus and not your situation, what aspect of Him will you concentrate on? How will this help you gain fresh perspectives on your situation?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


"Behold, I come as a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake."                 Rev. 16:15.

How odd. Jesus is the last person I'd equate with a thief.

Because He's God, He has complete artistic license to do as He pleases. In what ways are Jesus and thieves comparable? Both employ the element of surprise. They can come at any time or place and certainly in ways one would never imagine. That email that showed up in your inbox unexpectedly from the Nigerian lotto winner who is more than willing to share the big payout with you for just a little bit of your hard earned cash...he's a thief. Like I said, they come in all kinds of disguises.

Jesus stressed our need to be watchful, to be vigilant. What is very important are the filters we use to observe things around us. Jesus has the propensity to show up in a manner we'll find offensive. Not a milquetoast, Jesus is a lightning rod of controversy.

"Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth, I did not come to bring peace but a sword" Matt. 10:34.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace who reconciled God and man. He does operate many times outside our boundaries of propriety. If not careful, we'll get tripped up just like John the Baptist.

Imprisoned by Herod, John's already self imposed declining ministry came to an abrupt halt. His whole life centered around being the Messiah's forerunner. Initially positive that Jesus was The Man, John now harbored serious doubts and some potentially very hurt feelings. He probably anticipated that Jesus would follow in his footsteps, but on steroids. Jesus had other plans.

John lived a lonely life in the wilderness. Jesus had a house in town surrounded by people. John's wardrobe was coarse and rough, Jesus' was expertly woven and tailored. John and his disciples fasted regularly. Jesus and his disciples didn't. John's personal diet was austere and bland. Jesus was accused of being, "a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" Matt. 11:19, some of the very people John avoided. To hear John one had to travel out into the desert. Jesus took his message directly to the people wherever they were.

In addition, despite all His kingdom rhetoric, Jesus wasn't busy building a grass roots support base (He was an equal opportunity offender), or raising up and training an army to overthrow Rome. Even worse...Jesus was doing nothing to get His cousin out of jail.

John's whole life revolved around watching for the promised Messiah and upon his arrival, pointing others to Him. The Anointed One came, but things weren't working out, at least not according to John's expectations.

"And blessed is he who is not offended because of me" Luke 7:23.

Jesus' response to John's questions concerning His behavior got right to the point. John felt duped. Jesus wasn't acting very messianic and John's faith in Him was wavering. We've all been there. If you haven't experience this sort of conflict with Jesus at least once in your life, take heart. You have a sacred cow or two He'll get around to tipping over.

Jesus' plan isn't to destroy our lives, just our ideas and expectations that prevent us from knowing Him as He really is. In those times we must decide if we'll release the offense we feel toward Him. The path we choose will dramatically impact our lives.

How about you? Has Jesus shown up like a thief and taken you by surprise? Has His appearance resulted in feelings of disappointment, anger, sorrow or betrayal? Do you have filters that obscure your vision and prevent you from seeing Him clearly?

Jesus understands your feelings just like He understood John's. Determine to avoid becoming offended. Be honest with Him about your doubts, frustrations and anger (He already knows). Make a concerted effort to be still and listen to what He says. Let Him sort things out for you. You'll be pleasantly surprised when you do.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Well Whatdaya Know!

"A new commandment I give you: Love one another, as I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:34-35 (NIV).

Contrary to the emphasis placed on end time events, the Book of Revelation isn't about that at all. It is, "The revelation of Jesus Christ..." Rev. 1:1.

Chapters two and three of Revelation contain messages to seven specific churches. Jesus as depicted here is very involved and well informed about each church's situation. He sent all of them this targeted message, "I know..."

Jesus knew all about their hard work. They'd tracked down and exposed heretics and suffered slanderous accusations leveled against them. He was not only aware of the opposition they faced, but also the sin that they tolerated. He was cognizant of their wishy-washy commitment too; hot or cold He found preferable to being lukewarm.

He considered the church as Sardis' vibrant life a facade...they were really dead. Only to the church at Thyatira did He mention their love, but it didn't top the list. The one key defining element of Christianity, love, wasn't the  first priority in any of the seven churches.

"...when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" Luke 18:8.

Silly Jesus! In the post-cataclysmic chaos of Rapture theology, He'd be sure to find a few stragglers (they have all the Left Behind books to figure out what happened and what to do) after the rest of us flew the coop. Find faith? Everybody believes something. Those who claim they don't really have faith that there's nothing to believe in.

In God's throne room is a sea that is so still it appears to be made of glass. When God looks down, He sees His refection on the surface. This sea is made up of believers around His throne. (In the bible, the sea is a symbol of humanity). I believe what Jesus was wondering in Luke 18 is whether or not, upon His return, would He find a reflection of Himself.

"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" 1 John 4:8.

When Jesus examined the seven churches, none had love as their defining characteristic. It's hard to know if He was more disappointed or heart broken. Did He still love them? Absolutely! Was He giving up on them? Never. He was one hundred percent behind them, expecting them to succeed. Once they shifted their emphasis back to love, everything would work out.

How about you? If Jesus showed up to share what He knows about you, what do you think He'd say? Where would love be on your list? Don't feel rejection or condemnation if it isn't Number One. Draw close to Jesus and ask for His help. Follow His directions and you will be a living reflection of your One True Love.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dealing With Terroristic Threats

Since its inception, the Church has experienced persecution on various levels, beginning with the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the faith.

"On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem..." Acts 8:1 (NIV).

A young up-and-coming Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus took the lead. With zeal and determination he sought to wipe out this growing sect of heretical Judaism.

"But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house he dragged off men and women and put them in prison." Acts 8:3 (NIV).

Judaism has always had it factions with divergent beliefs. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were split over the issues of the resurrection of the dead and the existence of angels and spirits. Paul used this to his advantage when brought before the Sanhedrin in Acts 23. Don't forget the Essenes who considered everyone apostates, except themselves. Diversity was normal, so why pick on those now labeled, "The Way"?

Peter (Acts 2:23) and Stephen (Acts 7:52) both referenced the illegal process that led to Christ's crucifixion. Blasphemy, in Judaism, was a capital offense, but not under the Roman judicial system. To involve the Romans, false charges of advocating tax evasion were concocted. The religious leaders probably realized that if their plan failed, and a riot ensued, it would be better for the crowd's rage to be directed at the soldiers and not at them. If Jesus was really risen and word of their questionable behavior that forced Pilate to execute an innocent man got back to him, the pro-consul's wrath toward the Jewish leaders for jeopardizing his position with the emperor could be severe. The solution - stamp out the sparks before a firestorm could erupt.

The church has contended in the past with its arch-enemies in the flesh, and will continue to do so going forward into the future.

"It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the anti-Christ." 1 John 2:22 (NIV).

For the fledgling Church, Saul of Tarsus was the anti-Christ du jour. Fortunately, they had an indefensible weapon which they effectively wielded...love.

Saul desired to expand his reign of terror and the leadership, happy to have someone else do the dirty work (and suffer any fall out from it), gladly sent the young zealot to Damascus. The Church's secret weapon ruined everything.

Hauled off to jail, believers lost everything: family, homes, possessions and even their lives. Never once did they mount either an offensive or a defensive campaign of resistance against Saul. We should be thankful they didn't.

What if they'd plotted to kill him or fervently prayed that God (or someone else) would wipe out this threat? If they had, the Church would have lost one of its greatest evangelists and the author of a large portion of the New Testament. Unbeknownst to them, their actions were having an impact on their persecutor. Despite his hate-filled public persona, Saul was internally conflicted. Acts 26 details Saul's encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road.

"And I heard a voice say in Aramaic, ' Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'"

Study notes in the NIV bible read that the phrase "to kick against the goads" was a Greek proverb describing useless resistance. Goads were used to keep oxen in line and on task. The ox that kicked against the goads only hurt himself.

I believe the Church prayed for Saul's conversion, not his death or removal. According to the book of Hebrews, when persecuted, believers offered no resistance.

"You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions." Heb. 10:34 (NIV).

Faced with terrorism on several fronts, perhaps we can learn from them. For their efforts, the early Church got back in return more than they could have ever imagined. That's God's modus operendi. Perhaps the next Saul of Tarsus is waiting in the wings for an encounter with Jesus. Praying for our enemies will open doors of opportunities for them that we might find hard to believe.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us," Eph. 3:20.

How about you? When reports of terror attacks come out, what's your first reaction? How should believers respond since history clearly demonstrates the transforming power of prayer in a person's life? Could the Church and the world as a whole benefit from another Apostle Paul?