Category: DEVOTION


GETTING FAITH

A member of my distant family recently commented that he had not been given the gift of faith. This to him is the end of the matter-he clearly expects to live the rest of his life without it.

gift-wrapping-paperSome Christians think that faith is only given to a select few. God chooses some while the rest get left out. That flies in the face of the words of Jesus Christ himself, who said:

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:32 ESV)

and:

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16 NIV).

Faith is elusive for someone who thinks it’s a blind conviction or a feeling. It’s difficult for people to find where they’re kept in the dark: where mention of the Christian faith is shunned or forbidden, or even put down with violence. Many voices in the West are working to silence the faith of their fathers, and instead to welcome a faith which will enslave them and the nations they live in.

Jesus said “whoever believes…” The Christian gospel offers salvation as a free gift to anyone who will respond. We have to turn from our un-Godly ways, and accept the sacrifice of God’s only Son, and his resurrection. I’ve written before about this*

I explained to my family member that getting faith isn’t a difficult thing. We don’t have to first deny reality, or strain to convince ourselves of everything in the Bible, or work up a feeling or an emotion. Instead, I said, having faith is a little like getting on a plane. The pilot and his airline guarantee that they can get us to our destination. All we have to do is trust them to do it, and get on board.

God built the “plane” of salvation, and Jesus Christ is the pilot: just get on board.

* https://nickyfisher.com/2013/08/13/what-is-the-gospel-of-jesus-christ-2/

 

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I’ve lived long enough to be carrying an extensive series of regrets, lurking and lowering in the back of my mind, and occasionally smashing into my consciousness…

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I’ve done and said far too many stupid things. I’ve turned aside from far too many potentially fruitful situations, and I’ve neglected far too many lovely, precious people. Too many times I’ve said to myself, “Why did I…?” or “Why didn’t I?”
Before you start fretting on my behalf and attempting to hook me up with your favorite counselor or your own, proven, positive-thinking techniques, let me make it clear that my life is not commanded or ruined by past mistakes. I’m not depressed or obsessed over any of them. Whatever I did wrong in the past, and whatever I didn’t do that I should have done, I’ve forgiven myself for (though I’ve had to do it many times) just as my heavenly Father has forgiven me.
No, I don’t dwell on the past in any unhealthy fashion. But sometimes the memories just pop into my mind, and I can’t help cringing and metaphorically kicking myself. Yes, it is also possible to kick yourself literally-I’ve done it.

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After having one of those “Why did I?” moments today, I realized that not one of my failures can be blamed on anything I’ve done in faith. Here I exclude those notions some believers have that “The Lord told me” to do or to say such-and-such: that can lead to calamity unless that’s where the concept really came from. Instead I’m referring to steps I’ve taken in response to what I’ve learned about the Biblical, Godly way to life.

I could not put one of my mistakes or failures down to keeping a commandment, or to following some Biblical advice, or putting into practice a principle from the eternal Word. All those things have given me nothing but blessing, and they’ve only put me on a straighter path in life. This to me is one more evidence that what I have in my Bible is the Word of the living God.
Most importantly, with God every day is a new day. He doesn’t dangle our failures in front of our eyes, or prod us with our neglect, because:
…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12 NIV).

It wasn’t God’s fault, it wasn’t the devil’s fault, and it wasn’t the fault of anyone around me: it was all my own failure and stupidity. If, in those times when I jumped into the wrong situation, or ejected people from my life, or turned away from a genuinely open door… if I had been walking in the Word as I should have been, I surely wouldn’t have made so many stupid mistakes…
As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless (Psalm 18:30 NIV).
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119:105).
If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32 ESV).

History consists of a long series of attempts to achieve what seemed to someone’s imagination and plans to be a “better world”, but which often involved revolution, war and mayhem…

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Mankind never actually succeeds in achieving perpetual happiness for anyone, let alone everyone. But with human nature being as it is, many people are certain that they can lead us to that magical and mythical utopia.

Twenty and twenty-first century radicalism as studied by the likes of President Obama and Hillary Clinton* aspires to something seductively labelled “fundamental change”, among other things. The radicalism of such groups as Antifa aims to achieve its ends in any way possible including violence if necessary, in order to eventually end up with the kind of world radicals desire. Millions of those flocking to Western shores with the aid of globalists and radicals seeking upheaval, and well-meaning but blinkered politicians, are bringing with them their own distinct and extreme idea of utopia which is in total opposition to the founding ideas of freedom they’re invading.

Those seeking fundamental change have no regard for traditional views of right or wrong, or any fixed notion of such things. In fact, they work to dismantle or destroy traditional views of right or wrong. Since we evolved out of the slime, most radical adherents believe, there is no God to answer to, or if there is, he/ she is such a cool dude that he wants us to do what we want to do anyway. We determine what’s right or wrong, in their minds. When I say “we” I mean those who agree with radical ideology get to choose. The rest of us-those who disagree-don’t deserve to choose, because we’re “bigoted”, “racist”, “ignorant”, “homophobic” and so on, ad-nauseam. Please don’t think I mean to say that only leftist radicals are guilty and the rest of us innocent: we all hold to some degree of faulty thinking.

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In that above series of accusations which we’ve all heard many times in recent months, and in other similar derogatory labels, are attempts to blame someone-anyone- for the fact that we as a nation, as a race and as individuals haven’t arrived at the desired place of bliss and wholeness. And even if we aren’t among those who stoop to such attacks in blind hypocrisy, we all indulge in the same blame game. Husbands blame wives, wives blame husbands, kids blame parents, parents blame kids, voters blame politicians, politicians blame each other…and so it goes on. Someone else is always to blame, and in the dark world of politics there’s always someone at or near the top to blame for our problems.

Every politician attempts to ride to glory on the promise of “change”. Why is the idea of change so appealing to so many people when it comes to election time? The nicest, most constructive answer, and the ultimate answer to that question is that we as humans, having strayed far from our Creator and his ways, are attempting to bring happiness and fulfillment to our lives without Him.

Have you ever taken a wrong turn in your car somewhere, and continuing on, you find that the road you’re on gets smaller, bumpier, more remote, and more distant from your destination? That’s where the human race is now. We’re all on roads which lead the wrong way: away from our God. I’m not talking about failing to be “religious”, I’m talking about failing to seek our Almighty, Holy God.

For many people the contrary route is the chosen and preferred route. People are intentionally heading away from God, because they’re certain they’ll be better off. But  the road gets rougher, and narrower, and dirtier. It begins to wind around some tricky ledges and over some rocky passes, further into the uncertain and uncharted wilds, while the sky gets darker and darker. At the end of the road is…the end of the road.

“There is no peace,” says the LORD, “for the wicked.” (Isaiah 48:22 ESV).

‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14).

But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud (Isaiah 57:20 NIV).

* BARACK OBAMA’S RULES FOR REVOLUTION: THE ALINSKY MODEL by David Horowitz.

 

Who won the cup final in 1957? All correct answers will receive a…well…they won’t receive anything (except perhaps a big smile).

Welcome to all you fine people out there who are brave enough to consider the causes of suffering rather than trying to ignore them. Part six of my up-dated series on suffering (first published in 2011) concerns the subject of testing…

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Like it or not, we’re all tested at different times in our lives-perhaps throughout our lives-believers and non-believers. Our faith, our character and our motives are tested by the circumstances we face in life, by temptation to sin and to do wrong, and (this one is difficult for many believers to accept) by God himself. Our enemy the devil also tests us, inasmuch as God allows him to.

Original Greek and Hebrew words in the Bible translated ‘test’, ‘trial’ and ‘tempt’ can be used interchangeably: they have related meanings. They’re often only selected by the motive of the source.

Mankind has been tested from the beginning of creation. I’ve already discussed in part four how Adam and Eve failed the simplest test they could have had- that of resisting the temptation to eat the one forbidden fruit compared to the many that they were allowed to enjoy freely. Remember that God intentionally placed that tree of forbidden fruit in the garden where they lived. He could have left it out, if he wanted: see part two of the series.

Later in scripture we see the struggles of the Israelites, as they wandered in the desert after failing to enter the promised land by faith. Over and over we’re told that they were being tested:

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert, to humble you and to test you, in order to know what was in your heart” (Deuteronomy 8:2).

When God provided Manna, he said, “In this way I will test them and see if they will follow my instructions” (Exodus 16:4).

Once they were finally in the promised land, God used other nations “…to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it…” (Judges 2: 22).

David was aware of testing. He said “I know, my God, that you test the heart…” (1 Chronicles 29:17) and he even invited the Lord to test him:

Test me. O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind (Psalm 26:2).

Testing was not just an Old Testament phenomenon. James said:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:2, 3,12).

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Even Jesus Christ himself was led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).

It’s during the hard times that God, and others, and perhaps we ourselves, see what’s really inside us, and the true condition of our hearts. I’m not trying to say that every hardship we face is sent by God, or that he’s going around like some malevolent, hateful ogre. We need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit so that we can hope to discern the reason for our problems, and then we need to have the correct, godly attitude towards our situation, as Job did.

Sometimes God doesn’t have to do anything to test us: our real character is shown in the way we respond to everyday trials which come to us by the laws of nature and the nature of man. Whether our trials are expressly sent from God or not, He allows them to happen, and all trials can reveal our true character!

Some people make the mistake of blaming the devil for all their problems. Everything pleasant is from God, and everything unpleasant is from Satan, they think. Even when they sin they blame the devil. This is the “devil made me do it” mentality, and it’s not scriptural. The devil can’t make true believers do anything, and very often our problems are our own fault. That’s not to say that our enemy doesn’t ever test us: he does. Sometimes he’s the one to put that proverbial spanner/wrench in the works of our life. Satan tested Job with severe suffering. However, it’s important to remember that he had to get God’s permission to do it (Job 1: 6-12).

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Job was severely tested when Satan decided he should be, and though Job was a righteous man God allowed Satan to inflict all kinds of horrors on him. Satan had claimed that Job only had faith because things were going well for him (Job 1: 9-11).

Jesus said to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31). Jesus didn’t say that he refused Satan’s request, but that he was defending Peter’s faith.

We’re all being “shaken” and sifted like wheat. The good grain is kept, the weeds disposed of. In the future all of humanity is going to face a time of severe trial, known commonly as ‘the time of Tribulation’. Jesus said that this “trial is going to come upon the whole world, to test those who live on the earth” (Revelation 3:10), We can see in other scripture passages that this ‘hour of trial’ is not sent by Satan (although he certainly plays a leading role) but by God himself, because He has said:

“Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (Hebrews 12:26).

Alright, I admit, nobody wants to hear about discipline, or about suffering! I know I don’t. In this age of me-ism we all want to be positive and forget our problems and weaknesses, and our tendency to displease God. However, for the few “realists” out there, here’s part 5…

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It’s very human to think that God smiles and winks at everything we do, except perhaps certain types of murder and the things those awful people next door get up to. But like it or not, the God of the Bible punishes and disciplines even his own people. This explains a lot of what we go through in life. It’s not as though we haven’t been warned: there’s abundant warning in the Bible of not only the consequences of our actions, but punishment for them. We may not even have done anything very wrong: God uses discipline to shape us and make us grow.

We don’t necessarily get ‘zapped’ the moment we do something wrong. God is patient and wants us to come to the point where we change our ways. But he doesn’t give us limitless license to trash or ignore his standards, especially if we know better. We try to blame someone else or bad luck when things go wrong for us, but the source of trouble may be God himself. The apostle Paul said, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows…” (Galatians 6:7).HAZEDISCIPLINE OF THE BELIEVER

Jesus made it clear that he isn’t always “soft” on the believer. He said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline” (Revelation3: 19). The writer of Hebrews, quoting from a Proverb which states that the Lord disciplines those he loves, wrote, “…and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12: 5,6). The Greek verb translated “punishes” here means “to whip”. This is not speaking of a little word in the ear or a knowing wink, but something much stronger which will or should gain our attention and bring us to repentance, if we’re wise enough to avoid more trouble.

The author of Hebrews goes on to explain that “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (verse 10). He says “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (verse 11). He also encourages us to “Endure hardship as discipline” (verse 7). So we can safely say that according to Scripture, God not only allows hardship into our lives, but sometimes introduces it.

What might be the nature of that hardship? Perhaps you can fill in your own blanks, but be careful not to ascribe all suffering to God’s discipline: don’t forget the other causes of suffering which this series is all about. Remember that God loves you – he isn’t cruel or uncaring. A repentant spirit is far more valuable than a comfortable trouble-free life without depth of character or control, though it doesn’t seem that way to us.

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DOES GOD PUNISH US PHYSICALLY?

If it’s hard for you to accept that a loving God would allow or cause suffering in our lives, look at another example from the Bible. Paul confronted the Corinthians on several issues which were giving the church in Corinth a bad name (1 Corinthians chapter 11). Because of their abuse of the Lord’s supper, Paul said, “…many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (died) verse 30. He went on to clarify this kind of discipline:

“When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined, so that we will not be condemned with the world” (verse 32).

There’s another rather extreme example of discipline in the book of Acts, in which a couple associated with the church – professing Christians – lie about their giving. When confronted by the apostles, who accuse them of lying to the Holy Spirit, both drop dead on the spot (Acts 5:1-11).

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Sometimes only suffering or trouble break our pride or guard against it. Paul was given a “thorn in the flesh”-some kind of physical ailment or condition, in order to ensure his humility. He prayed three times for it to be removed, but God essentially said “no”. It would be unwise of us to think that God doesn’t occasionally treat us in a similar way, for his own reasons.

How do we know we’re being disciplined? If we really prayerfully search our souls, there’s a good chance we’ll know why we might be receiving discipline and what it is we’re being disciplined for. If we’re suffering greatly, and we know there’s nothing of such equal size to repent of, perhaps we should consider a different cause or source of our problem.

It’s important for us to examine our own reactions to God’s discipline. If we harden ourselves to God’s discipline we’re heading in completely the wrong direction and we’re not helping ourselves at all. It’s time instead to humble ourselves while we still can, and to allow our God to change us for the better.

 

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