Monday, July 30, 2012

I Called YOU!

Maybe you have had this experience: You call a friend to ask a question, but the minute she hears your voice she starts in sharing (or dumping) concerns of her own on you. After twenty or so minutes of conversation, you wonder if it’s worth bringing up your matter to her.

I’m wondering if this happens to God all the time. We come to meet with Him, but before He can share with us, we have dumped all our concerns on Him, and scarcely give Him a chance to speak. Yes, I believe He invites us to give Him our burdens, and cast our cares on Him, but to do this as our usual practice without listening poses a real problem.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 (NIV) says:
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
We learn from the story of Adam that God made us for fellowship with Himself. He has plenty He wants to teach us. In the midst of storming heaven with our prayers, we need to remember that what God says to us far outweighs what we have to say to Him! And maybe, just maybe, when we listen to Him, we will hear the answer to the deepest questions of our hearts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In the Wilderness

Maybe you feel like God has dropped you off at some remote location—alone—no friends that you know, and you don’t much like the place. It has unappealing plainness, devoid of excitement or happy companionship, and you have done nothing to deserve the exile. You may be experiencing a “wilderness” specifically for God’s purposes, and for no other reason.

Hear what the prophet Hosea (2:14-15, 23) has to say:

14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will sing[b] as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’;
and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

In his daily devotional, Faith’s Checkbook, Charles Spurgeon writes,

He promises to draw us apart, for there He can best deal with us, and this separated place is not to be a paradise, but a wilderness, since in such a place there will be nothing to take off our attention from our God. In the deserts of affliction the presence of the Lord becomes everything to us, and we prize His company beyond any value which we set upon it when we sat under our own vine and fig tree in the society of our fellows. Solitude and affliction bring more to themselves and to their heavenly Father than any other means.
When thus allured and secluded the Lord has choice things to say to us for our comfort. He “speaks to our heart,” as the original has it. Oh, that at this we may have this promise explained in our experience! Allured by love, separated by trial, and comforted by the Spirit of truth, may we know the Lord and sing for joy!

As He draws us into the wilderness, He speaks comfort and hope to us. Even though usually we hear the message of hope and comfort from Messiah by Handel at Christmas time, it speaks to us anytime we find ourselves in this wilderness place. Please watch and listen to this video:

(Note: If you cannot see the video, your browser does not have a Flash plug-in.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Faith-full Friends

We read the story in Matthew, Mark and Luke: the story of Jesus healing the paralytic.

1A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” ... 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
(Mark 2: 1-5, 11-12 NIV)

Recently I’ve heard two different ministers preach on this story. The first emphasized that we, as Christians, should—like the men in the story—seek out those whom we can help, no matter how inconvenient for us. This emphasis was about ministry to strangers.

The second minister who preached told how the paralytic man instructed the men who tended him to get him to Jesus, even suggesting to them that they lower him through the roof. In this rendition of the story, the emphasis was on the faith of the sick man.

In reading the story again for myself, and remembering other sermons I’ve heard about it, I disagree with both of these interpretations. I believe these four men who brought the paralytic man to see Jesus were friends, and I believe that Jesus saw THEIR faith and healed the man.

Often, after a drawn out period of suffering of one kind or another, a person has prayed and waited and prayed more, even with astounding faith, but nothing seems to happen. I remember many years ago now when my husband’s diabetic foot had become infected, he’d lost two toes, and the doctors told him all the bones in that foot were infected. The primary surgeon sent us to a specialized orthopedic surgeon. This second doctor looked at the x-rays and told us that he could see no hope for saving this foot except to take my husband’s leg off at the knee. We thought that recommendation would likely persuade our primary surgeon to take this drastic step.

During the same week as our next appointment with the primary surgeon, two friends of ours fasted and prayed three days for my husband. When we next saw the primary surgeon, he strongly disagreed with the orthopedist and, instead, sent us to an infectious disease specialist. This man put my husband on a strong regimen of antibiotics over a long period. My husband still has his leg today after thirteen years.

Yes, Jesus could have seen and acted in response to our faith. But, He also saw the faith of our praying friends and answered them dramatically. If God prompts us to pray for someone who has reached the end of his or her own resources, we can be sure He intends great wonders for him or her, just like He did for the paralytic.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Huddle

I’ve never played on a sports team, but I’ve watched enough basketball games on television to ponder what players do in a time-out huddle during those three minutes or so of “down” time. I see them reconnect on the sidelines with all the other members of the team whether or not they participate in the game.

Sometimes I see the coach scribbling directions for the next play on a hand-held chalk board. Sometimes he or she gets in the face of a player who seems to disappoint the coach by the way this particular player is handling the game. Sometimes I watch as assistant coaches put in their “two cents” by chewing out a player or patting them on the back.

Most often, at the end of the time-out, I see the players, all wearing the same uniform, relate to one another by putting arms around each other and cheering each other on for the next round of difficult play. They connect on a deep level and remind each other that they are all in this together.

In my opinion, the local church should operate as a sports team. Members “huddle” every week as they meet for worship. Some come to church needing exhortation or warning. Others need encouragement through the felt love of the Body of Christ. They recognize that they all wear the garments of salvation and belong to the same family. Though each has different gifts, it is the same Spirit by which they live.

The “coach” and other leaders must try to study the needs of the individuals within this local Body and provide for ways to exhort, encourage, and inspire a sense of belonging. In this way, all the “players” go away prepared to play the game with new vigor and understanding of their roles.

The harder the game, the more intense and important the huddle seems to be. As the days of our life become difficult and as the time comes closer to Christ’s return, we should heed the words of the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 10:23-25:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.