"Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."

Category: Inspirational

When the Path Isn’t Clear – Keep Going

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, (2) Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (3) And this will we do, if God permit.
Hebrews 6:1-3 

Every young child while visiting with aunts or uncles or other extended family is inevitably asked the question which he probably doesn’t have a clue as to the real answer. What do you want to be when you grow up? I had my definitive answer sometime around the year 1970. I was going to be a fighter pilot in the US Air Force. Now that decision may have been influenced by the odor of Testor’s plastic model glue while assembling my 1/64th scale model of the F14 Tomcat. I spent many hours in the library reading all I could find about my newly chosen career. But alas all my plans were soon dashed to pieces when I read that one of the requirements for fighter pilots was having 20/20 vision. And so it was that my half blind right eye crushed my dreams and pushed me back into the same position as the rest of the nine year old kids I knew; not a clue.

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

Eventually I did settle into a career path, one that I have enjoyed for the most part. Being a bit rebellious in my younger days while choosing the starting point of my path I encountered many twists and turns which probably made the journey more difficult than it needed to be. “Learn by doing” was my philosophy. With each step of the way I learned new things and found ways to use what I had learned from my experiences to boldly accept and conquer new challenges. The difficult experiences quickly gave me opportunities to lead and teach those coming up behind me. While leading and teaching presents its own set of challenges it is also provides the most satisfaction.

Our Christian journey, like our career path, can take many unexpected turns and run into difficulties. Those turns and difficulties, and the times we just don’t know which way to go, can stagnate us. We think God isn’t speaking or giving us direction so we just sit down and wait. At the end of the day how much reward, how much fruit, will be there if we just wait? Nothing. On our workplace job we are usually expected to keep doing what we are told until we are told to do something different. We can’t expect to clock in each morning and expect someone to come retrain us for some unknown task. Our Christian path is no different. “Learn by doing” should be the way of life for every Christian.

In chapter 6 of Hebrews the writer tells us to leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ and go on to perfection. That doesn’t mean abandon or turn from the doctrine of the gospel of Christ. It means we have all we need to serve Christ the moment we receive Him as our Lord and Savior. We cannot sit down to learn all we think we need before we put our hand to the task. The word perfection in verse 1 means equipped for duty. We are given that perfection the day the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. We still need a quiet time each day to read and meditate on God’s Word but waiting cannot be an option. Time is short and the fields are white unto harvest.

Learn by doing. “And this will we do, if God permit.”

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Honoring God Through Adversity – Part 2

Christine Gorman, a noted medical science writer said this in an article in Time Magazine, in the July 28, 2003 edition, Perhaps because their brains are wired differently, dyslexics are often skilled problem solvers, coming at solutions from novel or surprising angles and making conceptual leaps. … It may also be that their early struggle with reading better prepares them for dealing with adversity in a volatile, fast-changing world.”

Just as the dyslexic’s analytic skills are strengthened through his early struggles, the Christian’s faith is strengthened through adversities. God prepares us for the greater trials by teaching us to look to Him in the smaller problems. Can you name one biblical character that did not go through some sort of trial or adversity?

God uses His Word to prepare us for each day and for what lies ahead. The Bible is full of examples of people serving God through various trials. God simply calls us to obedience. Nowhere did God say “do this but wait until it’s safer” or “do this but wait until they stop the persecution” or “do this but wait for a more convenient time.”

Did God tell Moses to go bring His people out of Egypt, but first wait and watch for Pharaoh to be in a good mood? No, of course not. When God gives a commandment He means now–no matter what we have to face to accomplish it.

There are many important reasons to stay steadfast in honoring God through adversity but let us focus on the three primary ones based on different biblical scenarios.

Photo by Eyasu Etsub on Unsplash

1.) Faithfulness during an adversity prepares us for what lies ahead.

In the book of Daniel, chapter 6 we find the familiar story of Daniel and the lion’s den.Daniel was held captive in Babylon. He no longer had the freedom he enjoyed in Israel. He, no doubt, was in adverse circumstances, through no fault of his own. But Daniel never gave up what God had called him to do. He still prayed three times per day just as he did before he was taken prisoner, and he made no secret of it. God blessed him for his faithfulness by moving him to the highest position in Babylon, just below the king. That didn’t sit too well with the Babylonian princes and governors who were under his authority. They conspired together to trick king Darius into signing a decree which would certainly have Daniel sentenced to death for simply continuing in his faith.

Daniel 6:10
“Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.”

 Continuing to serve through adverse or even dangerous circumstances requires us to spend more time in prayer and meditation in God’s word. We need to allow our Father to draw us into a closer relationship with Him. That’s where we find peace and contentment that only He can give us, and the greater level of faith we need to be a steadfast servant in times of trials. That greater faith gave Daniel the boldness to remain unwavering even in the face of almost certain death. God rewarded Daniel’s persevering faith by keeping the lion’s mouths closed that night. His endurance not only kept him safe that night, but God also used Daniel’s faithfulness to turn the heart of King Darius.

Daniel 6:25-27
“Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.”

2.)Faithfulness during the trial gives confidence to other Christians around us.

Simply put, we need each other. We need God to watch over us, we need Jesus to save us, we need the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us, but we also need our church body to encourage and build us up. God’s word tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11; “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”
What better way is there to encourage one another than by being a steadfast example of faith during our adversities?

Paul wrote in Philippians 1:13-14 “So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Young’s Literal Translation says it this way; “more abundantly bold—fearlessly to speak the word”

Paul was in prison when he wrote this, preaching to whoever he came in contact with. He was writing letters to the churches he started, to give them encouragement, instruction, and even admonishment. Wherever he was, he committed himself to be a godly example to those that looked to him for guidance.

One example that I can look back on was a Sunday School teacher I had years ago. He made a powerful impact on me by his faithfulness during a difficult time. His infant grandson had passed away unexpectedly and the funeral was on a Saturday afternoon. It was certainly a heart-breaking circumstance for him and his daughter. He would not have been questioned by anyone in the class if had asked someone to fill in and teach for him the next morning. But no, he was there, and delivered a well prepared lesson as always. My respect for him was greatly multiplied that day. I was challenged that day to strive for a higher level of steadfastness in my own faith.

3.) Faithfulness during the trial will manifest our trust in the sovereignty of God to unbelievers.

This one is the most critical reason to honor God during the adversity.

(Ezekiel 24:1-2) “Again in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, write thee the name of the day, even of this same day: the king of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem this same day.”

God set up King Nebuchadnezzar to put Jerusalem under siege as a punishment for their rebellion against Him. In verse three, the parable begins of the boiling pot to describe the state of Jerusalem and the impending judgment they were about to receive for their rebellion against God. At one point He compares them to the bloody scum that rises to the top of the boiling pot of meat that was not properly cleaned. The pot is then emptied of the good meat and set back in the fire to burn off the filthy scum, a way of cleansing the pot. The pot here represents the city of Jerusalem and the improperly prepared meat is the rebellious and sinful people.

As God prepares Ezekiel to deliver His message, He also puts him in a trial as well. The key verse in this chapter here though is verse 16 – “Son of man, lo, I am taking from thee the desire of thine eyes by a stroke, and thou dost not mourn, nor weep, nor let thy tear come.” (Ezekiel 24:16)

You may have lost a spouse or someone else very dear to you and know firsthand how difficult it would have been for Ezekiel to keep his emotions hidden. Ezekiel was to be an example to the people by showing his trust in God’s wisdom and sovereignty, no matter the circumstance.

Ezekiel 24:24-27 Thus Ezekiel is unto you a sign: according to all that he hath done shall ye do: and when this cometh, ye shall know that I am the Lord GOD. (25) Also, thou son of man, shall it not be in the day when I take from them their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and that whereupon they set their minds, their sons and their daughters, (26) That he that escapeth in that day shall come unto thee, to cause thee to hear it with thine ears? (27) In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him which is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: and thou shalt be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the LORD.

If we are always complaining about our circumstances or what is going on in the world then we can’t be a believable witness for Christ. Our job is to manifest the hope we have in Christ, to let our light shine. We make Christ attractive to those around us by staying steadfast in our faith during the adversities and trials that most people would find hopeless. When we commit ourselves to honor God, He will use us to bring hope to a lost and dying world.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:16

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Honoring God Through Adversity – Part 1

Merriam Webster defines adversity this way;

“a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune” 

It is further derived then from the Middle English adversite, which means “opposition, hostility, misfortune, hardship”  

I think we all understand what adversity is after what we have seen in the world during the last few years. We have either lived it or felt it through someone we love. Adversities can either make us get serious about our prayer life or drive us further away from God depending on our attitude. We all go through trials sometime in our life. Some folks it seems have much more than others. But we can be assured that God is able to use each trial we go through to increase our faith and ultimately bring glory to His son, Jesus.  

“Why do we even have these trials?” you may ask. Adversity comes about in our life from three different sources.

 

Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

Firstly, God sometimes creates a trial to test our faith, such as when He commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. I can’t imagine placing any child on an altar to take its life as a willing sacrifice. Thankfully, God does not put trials on us greater than we are able to bear without providing a means of escape.1 God provided a substitute sacrifice for Abraham, a way to escape this trial, because he was obedient to God’s command. And because of Abraham’s faith and obedience during this trial, we are still blessed today.  

Genesis 22:17-18 (17) That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; (18) And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. 
“all the nations of the earth” That’s us today. When we get to heaven we need to tell Abraham how grateful we are that he was obedient in that trial.

Secondly, adversities can come our way from attacks by someone else or even Satan himself, through no fault of our own. Job is a well known example of this type of adversity. Poor old Job probably never knew while he was here on earth what caused his horrible trial. He also didn’t know that his story would be told for thousands of years to come. How often have we been comforted by Job’s story when we face things we don’t understand? Through his story we can see the sovereignty of God. He reminds us that God is not taken by surprise by the circumstances that so easily upset us. God is fully in control of the situation and already has a plan for how He will use it to strenghten our faith, if we simply stay steadfast in our obedience to Him. 

The third way that adversities attack us is where I think we see God’s great mercy and grace most clearly. Sometimes we just bring on the adversities ourselves. We know that disobedience or rebellion will get us in trouble. But sometimes, we get a little to comfortable with our abilities and start making decisions, big and small, without seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. We may be okay for a while, but eventually we’ll make a wrong decision that gets us in trouble.  Thankfully, God knew before the foundations of the world about our times of rebellion, our times of disobedience, our times of simply ignoring His divine guidance. Therefore He made a plan to bring us through those times of self-inflicted adversities and make something beautiful out of the messes we make. The story of Jonah is an example of God using a rebellious and disobedient servant to show His power over the sea and a big fish. Even with Jonah’s bad attitude God still used him to bring a wicked city to repentance.  

Adverse circumstances can sometimes make us want to throw up our hands and quit. If we allow them, struggles and trials can move us away from God. Many times when problems arise our instinct is to try to fix them. As Christians though, we know that we need to allow God to fix our problems. But then our sinful nature comes out  again,  and we tend to try to figure out how a problem should be fixed and then we pray for God to fix it our way. Anyone else besides me guilty on that one? That doesn’t ever really work out does it? The problem with that way of thinking is that when we can’t see any way to fix a problem then we don’t bother asking God because we don’t know how to tell Him how to fix it. That puts us in dangerous territory. Even if we do continue praying, we aren’t surrendering our all to Him and any prayer is hindered because we aren’t dealing with the trial. I know from painful experience that God will let us just wallow there until we’re ready to surrender the problem to Him and trust Him to do whatever He wants to with it. When we do finally surrender, God first works on our heart to root out our rebellious and prideful nature. Then He might change our circumstances, or more likely He makes us realize that we are safe with Him no matter what trial we are in. The size of our adversity is insignificant compared to the size of our God.  

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 

James 1:2-3 (English Standard Version)

Next week in Part 2 we will look at three benefits from the adversities we endure. 

 

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The Consecrated Body – Part 2

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Last week we discussed the power we hold in one of our smallest body members, the tongue. We saw how dangerous it can be if left uncontrolled and ruled by our sinful nature. We also saw how profitable it can be for God’s kingdom if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide its use. This week we will look at the body member that has the most influence on our mind, the ears. In the King James Version of the Bible the word ear or ears is used 271 times. I’m pretty sure that means God wants to make sure we listen. Some of those are referring to ears of corn but most relate to hearing. As powerful as our tongue is, our ear is just as essential. Without hearing the tongue has no power.

My wife often tells me that I can’t hear, usually when she’s trying to tell me something. My hearing is not as acute as it once was due to years of working in noisy environments, however my hearing isn’t necessarily the problem. It’s the listening that I sometimes have trouble with. Listening to her requires that I focus on what she is saying. If I am reading or listening intently to a television program or simply lost in thought it can be difficult to instantly shift my focus to what she is saying and I have to ask her to repeat what she just said. Fortunately, asking her to repeat something is not normally a major problem, other than being a bit frustrating for her. But what if she is in trouble and needs my help? What if what she just said is a sensitive matter that she had to muster up the courage to say even once and can’t bear to repeat? Because she is my wife, there should always be at least a small part of my brain that is attentive to her and when a need arises should signal the rest of my being to fully focus on her and call me to action. The same goes for her. That’s the best part of a marriage, having contentment in knowing you have one person who will always be there for you.

In the same manner, Christians should always be ready to hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. God is always ready to hear us when we call on Him. By His amazing grace He allows us to be His voice, hands, and feet here in this world, but that can’t happen if we do not allow Him to consecrate our ears to hear Him. When we fail in our readiness to hear what He says there can be eternal consequences. I know I have failed in that regard many times but one instance in particular still haunts my memory from time to time. The Spirit once nudged me to call a former coworker that I hadn’t seen in a few years. Although I knew he was not a believer, that day I was “too busy”. Months went by and the thought of him never entered my mind. When I finally tried to call he didn’t answer. When I began tracking him down I discovered that he had committed suicide about the same time that I was urged to call him. Maybe I was the one who could have talked him out of that decision, maybe I could have led him to Jesus. Maybe not. I’ll never know for sure. I do know I am forgiven, but it was a harsh lesson to show me how crucial it is to keep my ears ready to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice. It’s a lesson that will stay with me the rest of my life.

As Christians we need to be careful what we allow our ears to hear. If we constantly listen to the ungodliness and hate that is prevalent in our world we will become bitter and callous and therefore useless to God. Our ears should be tuned to always hear the cries for help, knowing that sometimes, most times, those cries are not verbal. We can hear them clearly through the voice of urging from the Holy Spirit. Just as we should always have a part of our hearing attentive to our spouse, another part should always be listening for directions from God. We must spend time each day not only in reading and studying God’s word but in prayer. The Bible teaches us to “Pray without ceasing” (1Th. 5:17). When we abide in Christ then His voice becomes familiar to us and we can quickly respond when He calls. I can hear my wife’s voice across a crowded room because I am familiar with her voice from our daily communication. We must have that same familiarity with the voice of our Saviour.

This week, find someone who will listen and tell them about Jesus.

(Revelation 13:9) If any man have an ear, let him hear.
(Romans 10:17) So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

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The Consecrated Body – Part 1

What does the word “consecrated” mean? Webster’s defines it this way; “to declare to be sacred or holy : set apart for a sacred purpose”. When God saves us He declares us sacred and holy for His purposes. We are chosen to be His “peculiar people”. (1 Peter 2:9)

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

When we accept Christ as the Saviour of our soul our physical body also then belongs to Him. Jesus purchased us with His blood on the cross. Just as the church is the body of Christ and each member of the church body is consecrated to specific services for Christ, so should each member of our individual bodies be consecrated to the work of the Holy Spirit which lives within us. Over the next five weeks we will look at different parts of our body and see what God says about their specific use.

The Consecrated Tongue

James had much to say about the importance of controlling our tongue in. In chapter three he compares the tongue to a horse’s bit and a ship’s rudder, each relatively small parts but when kept under vigilant care are able to turn about the whole body or ship. Likewise when the tongue is carefully guarded and directed by the power of the Holy Spirit it is capable of comforting, encouraging, enlightening, and convincing lost souls to surrender to Christ. James also compares the tongue to a little fire, which when under control gives warmth and comfort. However if left unencumbered to our sinful nature the tongue will kindle a fire that affects the course of nature and way of life for generations to come, fueled only by the forces of hell.

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
(Proverbs 21:23 ESV)
The Christian does well in keeping or guarding his words. Our natural tendency is to speak as quickly as we think. We know that seldom works to our advantage, especially in moments of anger. Our thoughts need to be weighed out, carefully meditated upon, scrutinized to make sure they align with God’s word. Even then we should take counsel of the Holy Spirit to know if our thoughts when turned into words will bring honor to God. Our quietness often brings more honor than volumes of our words. Therefore our daily prayer should be as Psalms 141:3 “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”

A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)
A wholesome tongue is one that edifies and benefits the hearer. The word wholesome here means healing. The speech of a wholesome or healing tongue gives truths and pardons. It gives instruction and counsel in the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the path of righteousness to the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of all nations. A perverse tongue however brings the opposite, corrupting the hearts of men bringing distress and despair and wounds that will never heal, grieving the spirit of God.

She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. (Proverbs 31:26)
Proverbs 31 is the well known description of a virtuous woman, one that fears the Lord. When she speaks it is with discretion and prudence. Her gentle words are given for instruction in the wisdom of godly living. With a heart of grace and mercy her kind words are spoken to exhort and edify those in her care.

By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone. (Proverbs 25:15)
Words spoken in anger and arrogance rarely accomplish anything but bitterness and contempt. A patient man however carefully considers not only his words but the timing of his speech. Having patience to wait for the right opportunity to present our thoughts may persuade the hearer to use sound reasoning in contemplating an idea that may be adverse to his beliefs. Harsh words usually are met strong resistance, a resistance that instinctively protects the bones from harm. Soft words however, find their way through the thinnest crevices to touch the heart of a man, breaking the strongholds of resistance to bring about peaceful resolutions.

If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. (James 1:26)
Probably the most dangerous and certainly unconsecrated use of the tongue is that of the man who seems to be religious, even to the point of believing he is righteous, but then is boastful of his own works. Rather than words of exhortation he inclines to criticize and tear down the character of others in order to appear righteous. He is the Pharisee, confident that his own works and words will bring about his salvation. The Christian can easily discern his godless character but to the unsaved his enticing words only lead them ever closer to hell. All his religion is useless. Jesus warned us that such men would arise and told us to take heed, (reference Mark 13:22).

In John 14:6 we read “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Allow God to consecrate your tongue to tell His truth today.

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Circle of Trust

My typical day begins at five A.M. I take a few pills which my doctor insists I need in order to stay healthy. I then sit down at my desk to enjoy my life sustaining daily bread from God’s word. After a few chapters and maybe a few notes it’s time to eat a light breakfast and get ready for work. My commute takes about thirty-five minutes and it’s mostly two lane roads with light traffic. During those thirty five minutes of relative quiet I have my morning talk with my Father. My mornings have become a series of routine habits. I like having a routine. Some would say I am a “creature of habit.” I am comfortable with that. It is my nature to dislike change. Any disruption of my routine tends to frustrate me. I’m no different from most people; I want to stay in my comfort zone.

A few weeks ago on my way to work I was praying to my Father as usual. My prayers always begin with praise and gratitude. I’m specific with what I am grateful for. I think it’s important to not just generalize “blessings”. God blesses each of us with so much that we can’t possibly name them all, but I believe it’s important to name a few things that are special to us, especially if it’s an answered prayer. From praise and gratitude I move to asking forgiveness for anything I’ve done wrong. Next is the intercessory portion of my prayer. I had confidence in intercessory prayer because I have seen those answered many times. I have family and loved ones that I name daily to God, for protection, guidance, or comfort as the need may be. But this particular morning the Holy Spirit threw up a giant stop sign, freezing me in the middle of my routine.

I needed to pray for me first.

I don’t know if it was a few seconds or a few minutes, but I couldn’t speak, humbled into silence by the omniscient God. Finally, the realization was prodded into my mind. I needed to pray for me first. I rarely ask anyone to pray for me. Somehow I think it sounds selfish, especially since God has so richly blessed me with good health and provisions for life.

Let me be perfectly clear though, It is NEVER selfish to ask someone to pray for you. We survive by God’s grace alone and we absolutely should be praying for each other. At this particular moment, when God’s Holy Spirit stopped my “routine” prayer, I realized that I needed to make some changes.

My prayer life had always included asking for help in understanding God’s word, that I would glean something from it that would be a help to me in serving Him. I’ve asked for help in recognizing when God puts an opportunity in my path to serve in whatever capacity He chooses. I would be careful to ask that whatever is done by my hand would be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit, not by me. But the one thing that’s needed that I wasn’t asking for is that I would be counted as trustworthy by everyone I meet. People must trust you before they will accept anything you say or try to do for them.

We all have acquaintances, family and friends that, even though we may love them dearly, we know we can’t trust them. We can’t change that. What we can change however is to live our life in a manner that makes us known to be trustworthy, especially to those people that we do not trust. Although I’m sure those closest to me, those in my circle of trust, would know me as trustworthy, I realized that I was not making a conscious effort for those that I did not trust to know that. I was doing very little to make those people believe that they could safely confide in me. Without confidence in me how could anyone trust me enough to listen when I tell them about Jesus? That doesn’t sound very Christ-like does it?

When Jesus walked this earth He provided many examples of His trustworthiness. Sadly, His disciples and those close to Him were often the most forgetful of what He could accomplish for them. Nevertheless, the fame of the miracles He performed was widely known. Jesus made an intentional effort to seek out society’s least desirable people of the day in order to show the power of His Father. It was an effort that caused these people, the ones that were least trusted in society, to trust Him fully. Zacchaeus, the distrusted tax collector for example, showed no hesitation when Jesus called him down out of the sycamore tree, and because he trusted Jesus, he and his family were saved. The most moving story of compassion though I believe is that of the Greek woman, a Gentile, who came begging Jesus to cast out the devil that was in her daughter. Jesus’ first answer may seem cruel, but this woman knew she could fully trust Jesus to help her. Jesus was her last hope and because she was able to trust Him her daughter was healed. The compassionate, trustworthy character she saw in Jesus is the character that I need to strive for.

The Christian as an ambassador for Christ should have the same listening ear, the same helpful hand, the same compassionate heart, for the stranger as he does for the closest loved one. That is very difficult if not impossible for us to do on our own. It is simply not in our natural character. We must fully surrender to Christ and allow Him to change our character. Our character should, without any trace of doubt, show us trustworthy to whoever we meet, whether it be a hated tax collector or an outcast foreigner.

And now I humbly ask you to pray for me, that I would be considered trustworthy to anyone that crosses my path, so that I might be trusted to point someone to Jesus, whether a trusted loved one or an unknown stranger.

For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.”
(Mark 7:25-30)

Photo by Christopher Ott on Unsplash

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Treasures

As I get older I have less and less attraction for material possessions. Oh yes, there was a time that I sought after the faster cars, the finer house, antiquities with their decorative novelty, and many other treasures the world could offer. But there came a time when those things required just too much time and energy to maintain, not to mention space to display or store them. Maybe I just realized that none of those things really matter on the eternal scale.

There are some treasures though that we want to hang on to for some sentimental reason, ones that stir up memories of hopes and dreams of days gone by. One of my elementary school classmate friends is struggling through the burdensome task of cleaning out her parents house, the house she grew up in, to prepare to put it on the market. Both of her parents are in nursing care and with their declining health she knows they will never need that old house again. She made an interesting discovery while going through the various objects in the home. Her mother had written notes, some with markers directly on the object, and some with paper notes taped to the objects, describing in just a few words where they came from and what made them memorable. What foresight this dear mother had in making sure the precious memories she had would someday be passed along to her children so that maybe they would last just a little while longer.

There are a few things however that have come into my possession that I will cherish until the day that I leave this world. On the last Sunday in July of 2005 I taught my first Sunday School class lesson. The title of the lesson was “What is Hope?” and the scripture text was taken from Ezekiel chapter 43. Still today I tend to shy away from public speaking and I’m sure that day I was a basket case of nerves. But that afternoon whatever fears I had of knowing whether or not I was serving within God’s will were completely and utterly wiped away.

That Sunday afternoon we stopped in to visit my aunt, my dad’s youngest sister. I had not told her that I was teaching that morning for the first time and had not yet mentioned it when she told me she had something to give me. What she placed in my hands drove solidly home the lesson I taught just a few hours before. A little black Soul Winner’s New Testament. I had received several of the little Gideon Testaments in my life before then, but what made this one special was when I opened it to the presentation page. On that page, I saw my name written in a familiar handwriting style I will never forget, that of my Pa-Pa. He had intended to give me this Testament on February 5th, 1974, thirty one years earlier. I don’t know what happened that he was unable to give it to me then but I’m claiming that it was just God’s perfect timing.

Pa-Pa passed suddenly in 1977, just a few weeks after my fifteenth birthday. He was a man that showed unconditional love to all his grandchildren. He was a fair and honest man but sadly I don’t remember him ever going to church or saying anything that would give an indication of faith. I do remember the story of a couple men coming to invite my Pa-Pa to come to church. He gave them the same excuse that I’ve heard when I’ve witnessed to people and I’m sure many of you have, “I wouldn’t fit in with church people. I can’t give up my drinking.” And the answer they gave him still breaks my heart when I think about it. They told him that it was okay, they liked to drink a little too. Pa-Pa told them if that’s the kind of hypocritical church men they were that he wanted no part of it and promptly ran them out of his yard. Sad story, yes, but when my aunt placed that little book in my hand, on that particular day, and I read who scribbled my name on the presentation page, a hope gushed forth in me that could only come from my heavenly Father. Maybe my Pa-Pa had trusted Jesus, and he certainly had a desire for me to know Jesus. Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew chapter seven said this, “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” This treasure, this little black Soul Winner’s Testament with my name written on the first page, was my Pa-Pa’s “good fruit”. In this treasure I have hope.

Jesus taught in Matthew chapter 6, verses 19-21 that the treasures we collect on earth are only temporary, that decay would one day take them from us. He taught that we should put our efforts to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven”. We can do that by living our life in surrendered obedience to God. Earthly treasures, those material things we want to hold on to, can stir up a sense of ungodly pride if we’re not careful.

God does however ordain or allow earthly treasures in order to accomplish His divine plan and to provide peace and hope within the hearts of His children. The Ark of the Covenant for instance, taught Israel to reverence God by representing His presence in their midst. It was still a temporary treasure, crafted by man’s hands according to God’s instructions. God instructed Joshua to set up the twelve stones to be a reminder to future generations of how He heaped up the waters of the overflowing Jordan river to provide a safe passageway into the promised land. And I believe, God’s watchful eye and caring hands were on a tiny sprout which would one day grow into a towering tree to be cut down and used to make the paper on which a pocket-sized soul winner’s Testament would be printed; because He loved a filthy, wretched sinner like me so much that He wanted to give me assurance that I was in His will at that particular moment on that last Sunday afternoon in July of 2005.

The greatest treasure that we can possess here on earth however is not something made with hands. We cannot touch it, we cannot see it, but it provides a comfort and assurance that all the treasures of the world could never provide. That is the treasure of salvation, a gift from God, by His grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. I think Paul said it best in his second letter to the church in Corinth;

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Therefore take comfort in God’s boundless supply of the treasure of His salvation and grace through His Son, Jesus Christ.

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Seed Sowing

As a child in the sixties almost everyone I knew had a vegetable garden. Gardens were a lot of work and Dad always assigned some garden chores to me. Dad always took care of the more difficult labor of clearing new plots and tilling the ground. The weeding and hoeing tasks usually fell on me. I was also called on when the harvest time came. Picking green beans, corn and tomatoes wasn’t that bad, but things like squash and okra with their prickly vines and stalks always left my hands and arms itching. Although I did enjoy the fruits of our labor garden chores were not really wasn’t what a young boy wanted to do. Especially since there were nearby woods to explore not to mention all the creatures to find and catch out the creeks. You know an eight year old boy just has to have a pet salamander or crawdad that he caught himself.

When I was a little older we moved to a small farm and gardening chores became much more intense. You would think that move would strike dread in the eyes of young boy with all the extra labor involved. But instead I found a new attraction for the ancient vocation when I was allowed to drive the tractor. Nothing could compare to being in control of such a powerful machine to change the shape and texture of the earth itself. Aah the delightful smell of morning dew and diesel fuel. The aroma of fresh plowed earth in spring or fields of summer cut hay still stirs up fond memories of a simpler time. It also reminds me of the life lessons that the never-ending hard work taught me. Painstaking preparation is essential for a life-sustaining harvest.

Jesus used our age old knowledge of gardening and farming when he recited the parable of the sower, (see Matthew chapter 13 and Luke chapter 8). He compared seeds to the word of God. We can understand that only the seeds sown in good ground, that ground which has been painstakingly prepared, can produce a bountiful harvest. Jesus gave three more scenarios in which the seed cannot produce any harvest at all. Those seeds seemingly were just wasted. But we know from the book of Isaiah, chapter 55 that God said His word would not return void but would accomplish His purpose and would indeed prosper.

How can we say seeds prosper if there is no harvest? Let’s look again at Matthew chapter 13 verse 4. The Bible tells us that “some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up”. This one is easy. The purpose of those seeds was to provide nourishment for the birds. Birds might even be considered detrimental to the harvest but they are also part of God’s creation and serve their own purpose. Aren’t we instructed to feed our enemies? If we are preaching, teaching, or simply telling God’s word like we’re supposed to be doing then it will be spilling out to all those around us. Just because His word doesn’t always find a lodging place in the heart doesn’t mean it won’t find a place in the mind. Who knows when some circumstance or situation will come that will bring that word back to remembrance and finish it’s purpose? The Father knows.

Verses five and six tells us about the seeds that fell in stony ground and though they sprouted up they were unable to take root so they died. Then in verse seven we read about the seeds that fell among thorns which took away all the nourishment the seeds needed to survive. These two scenarios I believe Jesus intended us to see how we can make a difference, with His help of course. If we want a bigger harvest on the farm that generally means we have to clear some land. It means hard work. Trees might need to be cut and stumps dug out. Shrubs and thorny bushes might need to be cut down and rooted out. Rocks might need to be broken up and carried out. The land is then plowed and harrowed to create the best possible environment for bringing forth and nourishing life from the seeds.

If our prayer is as it should be, to enlarge God’s kingdom by bringing in a greater harvest, then we need to follow the lessons Jesus taught us in His parables. Just as I was given simple tasks as a young boy in the garden, new Christians have opportunities to work and learn within the body of Christ and have a part in the benefits of an eternal harvest. Like the old farmer with his storm weathered wiry frame setting his mind and putting his hand to the task of expanding his fields in order to provide a lifetime of sustaining work for his ever-increasing family, the mature Christian must set his mind to expanding the reach of the gospel of Christ. A rugged expanse of sinful brier bushes and hardened stony hearts lie all around us waiting to be rooted out and cultivated into fertile fields bringing forth a bountiful harvest for our King. As the old saying goes, it will take blood, sweat, and tears to complete the job successfully. Jesus provided the blood when he sacrificed His life for ours on an old rugged cross. The Holy Spirit gives us the strength to work which will likely make us sweat. And God says that one day He will wipe away all our tears.

So my brothers and sisters in Christ, I challenge you with this question. Are you ready to climb up on the tractor and plow some ground? Remember, painstaking preparation is essential for a life-sustaining harvest.

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