Friday, August 23, 2013

The Path of Greatest Resistance Yields the Greatest Reward


A man named Fred inherited a huge land grant, but the will provided that he could choose land in either Chile or Brazil. He chose Brazil. This turned out to be an unhappy decision, because if he had chosen Chile, he would have received his inheritance in land on which they had recently discovered uranium, gold and silver. When he arrived in Brazil he had to choose between receiving his inheritance in a coffee plantation or land with Brazil nut trees. He chose the nut trees, and immediately the bottom fell out of the nut market, but coffee futures went up two dollars a pound. The government took control of the nut farm for back taxes, and Fred was left destitute. Fred pawned his Rolex watch for the money he needed to fly either to New York or Boston. He chose Boston. When the plane for New York taxied up, he noticed it was a brand new jet with red carpets. After several hours delay, the plane for Boston arrived. It was a twin engine plane that seemed to be held together with bailing wire…and on top of this, it was filled with annoying people and crying babies. Over the mountains one of the engines quit working, and Fred, frightened by his earlier bad choices and fearing for his life, asked for two parachutes. He jumped. As he fell through the air, he tried to make up his mind which ripcord to pull. He pulled the cord on the left, but nothing happened. He pulled the cord on his right, but it broke. In desperation the poor fellow cried out, "St. Francis, save me!" A great hand from heaven reached down, seized him by the wrist, and left him dangling in mid-air. Then a gentle but inquisitive voice asked, "St. Francis, Xavier or St. Francis of Assisi?" (From Dick Meyer, An Anchor in a Sea of Change)

This is funny, but we get the point. Life is risky, because it’s full of choices where we don’t always know the outcome. Faith provides us with choices. We can choose the easy route and receive its reward, or the challenging route that yields the most to us. When we choose to follow Christ, there is risk involved, but in most cases the results are going to be significantly better than poor Fred’s. At least we know that the Lord can and will ultimately work all things out for our good (Romans 8:28)

Matthew 16:1ff, is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. He begins speaking openly about the cross and the church in an effort to grow the faith of his disciples…and for Jesus this is risky. The Pharisees and Sadducees may have been opposing Jewish religious groups, in many respects, but they now join together to try to silence Jesus. They challenge Jesus by asking for a sign…some miracle that would confirm who He is. This is the fourth time they have done this, (see also Matthew 12:38ff, John 2:12, 6:30). Jesus tells them that “Jews are always looking for a sign.” Yet, signs are only to confirm the faith of believers. They are not going to help those who engage in willful unbelief. These guys had no faith…this was their choice. True to form, Jesus responds to their testing by…talking about the weather. Why? (By the way, I love the way that Jesus communicates – He always makes His point). He seeks to reveal the Jewish leaders’ own dishonesty and stubborn blindness. They have plenty of evidence concerning Jesus in order to be able to accept him, but no humility in order to be able to do so. Their demands reveal their sad heart conditions – evil and spiritually adulterous, worshipping their own religiosity…which is a false god. Had they been worshipping the true God, they would have recognized His Son when He came. Still, there is a sign…the sign of Jonah that had been given (also seen in Matthew 12:38-41); it is a sign of the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which was actually a sign to Israel that Jesus was their Messiah!

Many other disciples are following Jesus at this time -- thousands of folks. Jesus uses the feeding of the 4000 and the feeding of the 5000 to teach some spiritual lessons. Among these lessons is -- the people need to beware of the Pharisees and Scribes’ false teaching, which Jesus describes as “leaven”. Jesus has already used the word “leaven” as a symbol for evil (Matthew 13). But, His close disciples…the twelve…misunderstand, thinking that he is using the word, physically, as in Wonder bread. They believe that Jesus is cautioning them not to buy unclean bread. Jesus calls them, literally, “little faith ones,” or as it translates in English, “you of little faith.” This “little faith” keeps them from understanding His teaching and depending upon His power to meet needs. Jesus truly wants them to see the subtle, evil effects of the Pharisees and Scribes.

He and His disciples go on to Caesarea Philippi, a place where there are many different religions. Once He gets there, Jesus asks, “Who do others say that I am?” Now, if anyone else asks this question, he would come across as arrogant or crazy! The irony is that, concerning Jesus, a right confession is the beginning of salvation’s road. One thing is clear – no one can ever make a true decision about Jesus Christ by taking a poll of the people…though some might try. Peter steps out in and speaks from the heart -- “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” His response is truly a response to the revelation the Father has given him. It is not some emotional response, but the studied, sincere statement of a man who has been taught by God. Jesus accepts this confession and builds upon it to teach His listeners a new truth…Jesus will build His church, and He Himself will be the foundation. It can be a bit confusing, but the Rock, Petra, here, is not Peter, although this is his name, but it is Peter’s bold confession that is the true foundation for faith. Peter and his fellow disciples soon be given the keys, that is, have they will have authority and charge to build upon this foundation…and nothing will overcome it ‘til Jesus comes again. This is Good News! We see Peter and the other disciples being stretched and grow, because Jesus wants them not to settle for a faith in Him that is not really going to make a difference. They are going to meet some resistance, but this, in turn, should help their faith to grow.

Ian was telling me about how they do some of their weight training over the summer (which I remember from my own football days). But, I was just a lowly option quarterback. I did not do the things that these linemen do, and this involves moving large tires, pushing against sleds and other things that provide a significant amount of resistance. Why is this? It is in order that they will build muscles and gain strength. It is the same with the Christian walk. We need to some resistance in order to gains some great spiritual strength. Some people are content to exercise just enough faith to idle by, but not enough to make any real difference. The reward for little faith may be little place in heaven -- I don’t know. But, I do know that there are some who are willing to exercise great faith, like that experienced by the Gentile centurion and Syro-Phoenician woman. Such people are not afraid to grow and develop their faith as the Lord desires. The challenge and goal to all of us in the Christian walk is to continue on the better path…on the way to exercising great faith in your life. This requires putting aside the weights and distractions that so easily entangle us, as the Hebrews writer shares, trusting the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in paths of grace and service. Jesus tells his disciples in John 10:10 that they have the ability “to live life abundantly.” Remember, the decisions that you and I make from day to day determine and reveal where we are in our faith.” I close with this thought from Oswald Chambers in Run Today's Race – “Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.”

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Little Things That Matter


It is amazing how "little things" can make a big difference in our lives. At every level of soccer that I coached, I spent a significant amount of time on drills, especially the first two weeks. We would work on foot controlling the ball, passing, trapping or stopping the ball, moving up and down the field in a tight formation, and many more. On every team, there were always certain ones, whether two or twelve, who would say, "why are we wasting our time on these things - let's just play!" I would encourage patience and persistence, saying "the drills are going to make you better individual players, and therefore, a better team." As we would move past the first few weeks of practice containing the many drills, all of the players would begin to understand the value of what we had done. "Things are coming much more easily now," they would say. And in return, I would say smile and say -- "drills." :-)

It is really no different in any other sport, or even in life itself really. Every day, God gives us little exercises -- spreading some good cheer to someone, giving an extra $10 to some ministry, helping out a needy neighbor, not to mention fellowship, prayer and Bible study. We may not think that things make a difference, but they do. God uses the little exercises...which grows into greater order to impact people and further His kingdom.

Blessings, Don

Friday, August 9, 2013

Shots from Saturn

Friends, speaking of the Creator of the universe, it has been awhile since I have posted anything related to "space", but these shots of the Earth from Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft fascinated me. It is definitely blue, but not the big blue marble shots that we are accustomed to seeing from the moon. Blessings, Don

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Something from Nothing


Elijah is instructed by the Lord in 1 Kings 17 to go to a certain place and wait.  But, his time is not spent in vain, the Lord continues to use him, providentially, to bless the lives of those around him.  After leaving King Ahab’s presence, Elijah…directed by the Lord…goes into hiding by the brook Cherith, where he lived for probably a year, and then God tells him to leave.  I am certain that the Lord’s instructions likely shock Elijah, but such should be the case when God is in the driver’s seat.  He commands Elijah to travel northwest about a hundred miles into Gentile territory to the Phoenician city of Zarephath.  Since Zarephath is not too far from Jezebel’s home city of Sidon, he will be living in enemy territory.  This would prove not to be too unusual for the Lord, as His own Son would travel to the same area to minister to a foreign woman.  Even more, Elijah is instructed to live with a widow whom God has selected to care for him, and widows are usually among the neediest people in the land.  And since Phoenicia depends upon Israel for much of its food supply, food would not be plentiful.  But, when God sends us, we must obey and leave the rest to Him.  As one has said, “We do not live on man’s explanations, but upon God’s promises.”  In accordance with this, when we consider the early days of the church in Jerusalem in Acts, the believers had all that they needed (Acts 4:34-35), as they all shared with one another in order that the blessings of the Lord could grow. 

It is likely that Elijah stays with her for two years (18:1).  The fact that this woman has been instructed by the Lord is by no means proof that she is a believer in the God of Israel -- this is not indicated.  In fact, the widow speaks of Jehovah as “the Lord your God.”  It is not the first time that God has used an outsider…as he used Rahab the harlot and Cyrus, king of Medo-Persia (among many others) in order to accomplish His purposes.  The woman has very few things of value – a little oil in a flask, a handful of barley in a large grain jar, and a few sticks to provide fuel for a fire.  But, Elijah’s resources are great, for the Lord Almighty has promised to take care of him, his hostess, and her son.  Elijah gives her God’s promise that neither the jar of grain nor the flask of oil will be used up before the end of the drought and famine.  This is sort of like winning gasoline for a year, but much better.  In our modern society with credit cards and convenience shopping, we need to remember that each meal that we eat is a blessing from the hand of God.  We may or may not live far from the farmers, orchardists who grow our food, but we cannot live without them.  “Give us this day our daily bread” should be more than just a line in a prayer.  Food for thought (no pun intended).

To help us to better understand the workings of the Lord in our everyday lives, Chris Appleby shares this -- It was Sunday morning and Harry was off. He pulled out of his driveway in his 2-seater convertible, with the roof closed because of typical Melbourne driving rain, and headed for church. But as he turned into the main road he saw ahead of him three bedraggled figures huddled under a single umbrella at the next bus stop. One was old Mrs. Fletcher. She still insisted on getting to church by herself, despite her arthritis which was always worse in wet weather. There was Dr. Jones, the local general practitioner. A year earlier Dr. Jones had diagnosed a rare and dangerous disease that Harry had contracted on an overseas holiday, so Harry virtually owed him his life. And the third person was Judith. Harry had had a crush on Judith for the past 6 months since she joined their church, but had never had the courage or the opportunity to ask her out. Harry had about 3 seconds to decide what to do. There was only one spare seat. Who should he offer a lift to? But 3 seconds was enough. He pulled to a halt, jumped out, passed the keys to Dr. Jones, helped Mrs. Fletcher into the passenger seat, and then modestly waved them good-bye as he huddled close to Judith under the umbrella. God’s sovereignty and our action so often go hand in hand. 

None of this really should be surprising, even though it still often does surprise us.  But, if the God of the universe could create the universe…something out of nothing…He really should be able to handle all of the matters in our daily lives that need to be taken care of -- and so He does.  I want to offer one final story to help us to understand that we really need to trust in Him.  James Brown shares this -- there is no situation I can get into that God cannot get me out of it. Some years ago when I was learning to fly, my instructor told me to put the plane into a steep and extended dive. I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen. After a brief time the engine stalled, and the plane began to plunge out-of-control. It soon became evident that the instructor was not going to help me at all. After a few seconds, which seemed like eternity, my mind began to function again. I quickly corrected the situation. Immediately I turned to the instructor and began to vent my fearful frustrations on him. He very calmly said to me, "There is no position you can get this airplane into that I cannot get you out of. If you want to learn to fly, go up there and do it again." At that moment God seemed to be saying to me, "Remember this. As you serve Me, there is no situation you can get yourself into that I cannot get you out of. If you trust me, you will be all right."  That lesson has been proven true in my ministry many times over the years.  And even better when we simply trust the Lord for His guidance first and foremost, as He will lead to where we need to be from day to day. 

Blessings, Don