Tag Archives: Faith

More Bite

I was being the good husband. There were tree branches and limbs that needed to be cut down and cut up. While I’m not the handiest handyman around the house, this is something I’ve done and can do. So I readied our chainsaw and got to work. Things rolled along smoothly for a while – until the chain got stuck and came off the blade. Still no problem – I’ve put the chain on before. I had to loosen everything, take the chain off completely, and then put it back on and tighten it. So I did that – and began to cut away again – except that the saw wasn’t cutting. After some looking I discovered that the teeth of the chain were facing the wrong direction; therefore they had no bite. Thus my lesson for that day: when it comes to chain saws, “If you want more bite, face forward.”  It would be nice to tell you that once I removed the chain again and put it back on everything was fine – but I kept getting it wrong and it took several efforts – and a great deal of time – to get it right. (Remember I said I wasn’t the handiest handyman!) I suppose there are some lessons there as well but I do not want to digress.

So back to the direction of the teeth. The principle, “If you want more bite, face forward,” is not limited to saws. If I want to have more bite in my witness, more bite in my testimony, more bite in confronting the darkness of our world I must face forward. I cannot turn my back or assume that “If I live right the world will notice.”  The letter to the Hebrews is both instructive and inspiring. Hebrews 12:2 states (NLT), “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”  The chapter follows the great ‘Hall of Heroes’ in chapter 11. After offering this long list of inspirational Christian witnesses, the author is ready to make his application. I think Eugene Peterson put it well in The Message: “Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (Hebrews 12:1-3) “If you want more bite, face forward.”

Such living, exemplified in Hebrews 11 & 12, will take a big bite into our world.

 

 

 

 

Such living will cut down the rotten limbs, clear away the sinful brush, and make room for the good healthy branches to grow and produce richer fruit. So how is it with you?  How big is your bite? How great is your impact? Which way are you facing? Is it time to strip down, face forward, and start running – no spiritual fat or parasitic sins?  Is it time to focus your eyes on Jesus? Is it time to go over His story again? After all, “That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” “If you want more bite, face forward.”

 

 

The End

The trips were long and not always easy – certainly not relaxing. It’s not that I had to take them – so why did I? It was my sophomore year of college. I had met the most wonderful woman during the previous summer. I didn’t want to go far without her, but because of her job she stayed behind in Kalamazoo, Michigan when I returned to college in Pella, Iowa. I knew there would be several trips back home to see her – and there were. And not one of them was smooth or easy.

If I rode with someone for the holiday weekends (I had no car), there were huge traffic jams getting out of Michigan (the interstate system was not yet complete). If I took the train, it was crammed with people, I had to wait in and pass through Chicago, and someone had to pick me up in a very small town in Iowa, not near Pella. If I flew, it was stand-by since I couldn’t afford full price and there was no Orbitz or Travelocity or Price Line. And stand-by was always risky and arriving with my luggage even riskier. Not once during that year was it a smooth, easy trip.

So why did I persist and keep making the trips? Because Barb was at the other end! I quickly learned that when the journey is difficult, remember who’s at the end. It’s the same lesson I’m learning from Jesus. He knows the faith journey is not an easy one, that it’s seldom smooth and trouble-free. Think about His disciples; as Jesus neared the time of the cross they were having a difficult time and would face even tougher times. So, on the night of His betrayal He addressed His disciples about their troubled hearts: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:1-3)When the journey is difficult, remember who’s at the end.

Nothing has really changed. The faith journey is not easy; the road is rough. And often it’s long. At times we wonder if we’ll make it. We get tired, worn out, beaten down. The tragedies, the pain, the sorrow, the opposition overwhelm us. And sometimes we may even wonder if it’s worth it. Can we really be sure of how and where it will end? It seems so hopeless; it’s hard to rely on what we cannot see. Faith may well mean being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see – but sometimes we don’t feel so sure and certain. At such times it is important to remember that when the journey is difficult, remember who’s at the end.

In Randy Alcorn’s novel Edge of Eternity, Nick has been to the edge of heaven (Charis), but is being sent back to finish his life on earth (Skiathuros). God speaks to him: “Friday has passed,’ he said to me. ‘Tomorrow is Sunday. I send you back to the world’s Saturday. Know that the never-ending Sunday comes, and even until it does I am with you. I listen to you, and I weep with you that you may one day laugh with me.’ My eyes burned. ‘Listen carefully, Nick, for in a moment I send you back to the true Skiathuros. Before I do, I want you to look once more at Charis. I am preparing this world for you – and I’m also preparing you for it. Charis isn’t just a world I make for you, it is the world for which you were made. Every part of it resonates with who you are, who you really are, not the old Nick Seagrave, but the one I’ve made you to be. I have a new name for you. You’re not ready to hear it yet. But I will give it to you when we meet face to face in our home.” [i] When the journey is difficult, remember who’s at the end.

Whatever you’re facing right now, whatever you may face tomorrow, no matter what direction your life seems to be heading, you can make it to the end – because you know the way. Jesus continued speaking to His disciples: “And you know the way to where I am going.” “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:4-6) Set your compass on Jesus – He’s the due north. He will always guide you towards home. If necessary, in fact, He will send His angels to accompany you. Like the father of the prodigal son, Jesus is waiting for the day He can run to greet you, throw His arms around you and say, “Welcome home my child. Come, join the party – it’s for you!” When the journey is difficult, remember who’s at the end. Don’t let your heart be troubled – trust in Jesus.

[i] Edge of Eternity, Randy Alcorn, Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colorado, © 1998 by Eternal Perspective Ministries, p. 321

 

Sometimes Faith Doesn’t Make Sense

Sunday I had the joy of preaching on the life of the prophet Elijah from I Kings 17:1-16. It was a joy because I so identify with how God shaped and challenged him. Even as I prepared and preached the message, I relearned some significant truths. I’ve italicized those that spoke to me. Which ones speak to you?

God told Elijah to begin his ministry by proclaiming to the evil king Ahab and the evil queen Jezebel that there would be no more rain or dew until God sent it! From that moment on there was no rain or dew. To preserve and protect Elijah God sent him away to Brook Cherith where he would be out of Ahab’s jurisdiction, would have water from the brook and be fed by ravens.

Yet after a time the brook dried up. Sometimes faith just doesn’t make sense. Now what? Elijah thought he was safe. It just demonstrates that we’re never fully ready when a crisis arrives at our doorstep. But God is always prepared. When the brook dried up, He told Elijah what to do and where to go. Isn’t that just like God? His word comes at the time of crisis, not before. Seldom does God tell us His will before we need to know it. Don’t worry or panic about some crisis that may come to your doorstep sometime in the future; when it arrives, so will God.

So God told Elijah He had made a way. And what a way it was! He said, “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. There is a widow there who will feed you. I have given her my instructions.” God’s way does not always appear logical. Zarephath literally means, “A smelting furnace, a place of refining; a crucible.” It was the center of the area where the worship of Baal started. The people of Zarephath and the surrounding area were the ones responsible for God’s judgment in the drought. And now they had no water or food. And what was worse, a King lived there, named Ethbaal, who was the father of wicked Queen Jezebel. So God was telling Elijah to go from the security of a place where he at least had food and was safe from Ahab to a place of extreme drought and famine right into the jurisdiction of Ahab again. And that’s not all! God said He had talked to a widow to help him. A widow – someone with no social or economic standing, no husband, no relationship with her father’s family, no job, no means of support. Sometimes faith doesn’t make sense. This was really a challenge to trust God!

But Elijah headed off to Zarephath. He realized that God was calling him to more than just a place – He was calling him to an attitude of persistent obedience. Not only was Zarephath a tough place but just getting there took persistence! It meant a journey of about 90-100 miles – on foot – through drought-stricken land. Obedience can be painful and confusing. There are no five or ten-year plans in the Bible. God simply asks His people to follow Him, and then He points out the next step. I have learned, along with Elijah, that obedience comes one step at a time, one day at a time. Not once, when answering a call to a new location, did I know the next step. I only knew I was to go. But I also discovered, as did Elijah, that as our day is – as our steps are – so shall our strength be. We can never know the future significance of our current obedience to God. If God is asking, right now, for obedience in some area of your life, just do it. God knows why He needs it; God knows the influence of it. So just do it.

In that spirit and with that attitude, Elijah made the long journey to Zarephath. There, just as he arrived at the gate of the city, was the widow gathering up sticks. This wasn’t a coincidence; it was a God thing! Who else but God could have arranged this? As he was told to do Elijah asked her for a cup of water. And as she left to get it, he added, “Bring me a bite of bread too!” She turned to him and said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.” Elijah knew he was asking her for what she did not have. What could she possibly offer him? Faith sometimes doesn’t make sense. But, then, isn’t that just like God? He often demands from us what we think we do not have. But God never asks from us what He will not also give to us in the first place. He had told Elijah the widow could provide. God knew she could provide; Elijah knew she could provide; she just needed to know she could provide. It makes me wonder: What is God asking from you right now?

Whatever it is, remember the rest of the story. Elijah told her: “Don’t be afraid. Go ahead and cook that ‘last meal,’ but bake me a little loaf of bread first. Afterward there will still be enough food for you and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘There will always be plenty of flour and oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!” There’s the key – God is bigger than our need. God is bigger than our desires, our plans, our lack of knowledge, our lack of time or money; bigger than our circumstances or our limitations. So don’t be afraid. Work with God. Elijah challenged the widow to first give away – for in giving there is blessing!

Think about it. Elijah told her that God would provide oil and flour. Well, if God would provide oil and flour, couldn’t He also have simply provided the bread? But that’s just like God, isn’t it? He’s always partnering with us, to grow us. He wanted to flood the earth, but He first had Noah build the ark. God was going to part the Red Sea, but He first had Moses hold out his rod. God was prepared to destroy Jericho, but first the Jews had to march around it. Similarly God wanted the widow to be part of His miracle. God can use anyone and anything at any time. He can use any one – even you. He can use anything – even your circumstances and situation. He can do it at any time – even right now! God is bigger than any of your needs. So whatever your situation, work with Him – even if faith doesn’t make sense.***

***This is a portion of an adaptation of one sermon from a series  entitled “Getting Into Shape.” The series was composed of 1st person portrayals of  some of God’s key leaders. If interested in an ebook format of the series – or a hard copy – pleaser contact me.

The Mountains Along the Way

I’ve never climbed a mountain, which is a good thing. I still remember having to ride my bike up a steep hill – a mini-mountain – on the way to school.

It left me breathless (and not because of the scenery) and my legs all but exploded. And it happened every time – it never got any easier! I can’t imagine what climbing a mountain would be like! But I do know this about mountains – they can make for some beautiful scenery, and the view from the top is breath-taking; but when they are in the middle of the road upon which we’re walking, they’re anything but beautiful. In fact, they’re downright ugly, standing there blocking our path. They’re nothing but a huge obstacle that keeps us from enjoying our walk and slows our progress.

Often the issues with which we deal are like huge mountains that block our road into what we thought was a glorious adventure or future. We are stunned when they first appear on the horizon; so we stir up our positive juices and claim we’ll make it to the other side all right. Then we begin to climb. Soon we are breathless, and at times we feel we’ll explode. Suddenly we aren’t so sure we’ll be able to continue the walk. After all, the mountain is too high, too broad, too imposing. The next thing we know, we are in the valley, looking up, not sure we’ll make it to the other side.

This is precisely when the music of our faith kicks in to remind us of at least two truths. First, we are not alone.

Life is easy, when you’re up on the mountain And you’ve got peace of mind, like you’ve never known. But things change, when you’re down in the valley. Don’t lose faith, for you’re never alone.                               

For the God on the mountain, is the God in the valley. When things go wrong, He’ll make them right. And the God of the good times is still God in the bad times. The God of the day is still God in the night.

We talk of faith way up on the mountain. Talk comes so easy when life’s at its best. Now down in the valleys, of trials and temptations That’s where your faith is really put to the test.

For the God on the mountain is the God in the valley. When things go wrong, He’ll make them right. And the God of the good times is still God in the bad times. The God of the day, is still God in the night. The God of the day, is still God in the night. (1)

The second truth is that God is in control. Israel knew all about mountains. So Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 49:11): “I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up.” Or as the New Living Translation puts it:  “And I will make my mountains into level paths for them. The highways will be raised above the valleys.” Mountains don’t stand in the way – they are the way.  If we believe that the mountains and the hills are God’s, then we can believe He knows the way through and will be faithful as we walk together. God will either raise us up or lower the mountain – but one way or another He’ll get us out of the valley and make a straight way.

God will make a way when there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see; He will make a way for me.                         

He will be my guide, hold me closely to His side. With love and strength for each new day; He will make a way, He will make a way. (2)

I even have a sneaky feeling that because of the mountain, we’ll appreciate the beauty on the other side even more. So walk on.

(1) ‘God on the Mountain’ by Lynda Randle
(2) ‘God Will Make a Way’ by Don Moen

A Word About Syndromes

There is a new syndrome affecting many people. It’s called the Trump Anxiety Disorder (TAD). I get it, and somewhat understand it. And while I can get very political and biased I will resist the temptation to do so here – that’s not the purpose of my blogs.

Rather I am more inclined to reflect on how this new syndrome strikes me. As a Christian, what is my response? How do I react to the root causes of this syndrome? I look at the apostles and early Christians – they lived under the rule of the likes of Herod and Nero who gruesomely persecuted and killed Christians. I think about the Jews who lived under (and the many who died under) the horrific reign of Hitler. I read about the persecuted Christians of today who face inhuman punishment and execution daily. How is it that so many of them live each day without panic and overwhelming fear?

It’s because they’re affected by another syndrome – the Foundational Faith Syndrome (FFS). In my book A Nation Under God (1) I wrote about the core of this syndrome.

“The God who rules is sovereign. Jeremiah was disappointed that his message and ministry were not being followed by Judah. He felt he had done all he could with Judah and his heart was broken that she was still as wayward as ever. So God spoke to Jeremiah and told him to go to the potter’s house…Jeremiah observed the master potter at work. Using two wheels connected by an axle, the potter rotated and controlled the speed of the wheel with his foot and molded the clay with his hands. So adept was the potter that beautiful pottery was formed as if by magic. Mesmerized by what he saw, Jeremiah was jolted back to reality when the potter felt a flaw in the clay and stopped his work. Jeremiah anticipated he would throw out the clay and start with a fresh batch. But he was fascinated to discover the potter simply took the same clay and started over again to form a different pot. “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”

God’s sovereignty is part of the fabric of Scripture. The Psalmist affirms it: “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart throughout all generations.” (Psalm 33:10-11) “Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. (Psalm 66:8-12)

Even the pagan kings of Daniel’s day understood. “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”” (Daniel 4:34-35)

“Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: “May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. “For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”” (Daniel 6:25-27)…

So God will have his way with nations. God puts them on His divine wheel and never lets up – He is continually molding, shaping, sculpturing. No matter how independent nations think they are, no matter how much control they think they have over their destinies, the truth is they are clay. They are being shaped, molded, controlled by hands other than theirs. They are being formed by God’s hands.
We also learn, however, that because God holds nations accountable, nations can influence God’s ways. Consider God’s explanation to Jeremiah: “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.”

Therein is our hope; therein is our peace.

No wonder the Psalmist could say: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!…The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress… “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.”” (Psalm 46:1-3,7,10) That’s why Jesus, just prior to his excruciating trial and death could say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) It’s my prayer that you will be affected not by TAD but by FFS.

(1) NOTE: To read more about the book follow the link. To order at a discount go here.