Just Believe

 

I remember with absolute clarity my prayer to God as I lay on an emergency room examination table the night of my stroke—an entrance into the unknown darkness of chaos.  I remember it so well because I have repeated that same prayer throughout this journey through chaos.

My prayer had two requests for help—1) I asked God to help me understand and 2) I asked Him to help me know what I could do to help get through it into His new creation for my life.  My condition seemed a good bit impossible to me as I lay there.

My mind was prompted to remember the time when Jesus was asked from a frustrated and desperate father whose son was afflicted with uncontrollable seizures which threatened his whole life.  His father had heard of Jesus’ healing miracles and had brought his son to a gathering of Jesus and His disciples.

Mark 9:14-24 NASB says,

When they came back to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. 15 Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. 16 And He asked them, “What are you discussing with them?” 17 And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; 18 and [a]whenever it seizes him, it [b]slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and [c]stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.” 19 And He *answered them and *said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” 20 They brought [d]the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. 21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

Jesus was saying, “Just believe,” but the father was pushing for more information about how to carry that out.

On another occasion, Jesus met with a well-known Jewish rabbi named Nicodemus who came to visit with Jesus at night—a time when it would be more difficult to be spotted by others.  He was seeking to be taught by this carpenter’s Son who was from, of all places, a rural town of Nazareth.

John 3:3-4 NASB

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these [a]signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born [b]again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”

There is that same attitude of frustration and desperation we saw in the father of the epileptic boy.

John 3:5-11 NASB

“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born [c]again.’The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.”

Notice, how many times Jesus said the word believe.  The answer—is that He is showing the rabbi to ‘just believe.’

Here is the answer as to how to believe. It begins with realizing how much love God already possesses for the one seeking Him.

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His [e]only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 NASB

Believing begins with our realizing that God is bent in our direction to begin with.  Therefore, we can depend on His love and count on His action to do what only He can do in those times of darkness, doubt and desperation.  The word for ‘believe’ in Greek is an action verb—pisteuo—and the literal meaning is ‘to count on, to be confident in and to trust.’  That is a choice we can make ourselves which puts us immediately into a relationship of oneness with and confidence in our Heavenly Father.

The father of the epileptic son had already demonstrated that choice by coming to Jesus and not giving up when His disciples were not successful in healing the boy.  No wonder Jesus was disappointed by their ineffectiveness and stepped in immediately on the basis of the father’s persistence to count on divine intervention—believing, and the miracle victory over evil occurred.

On the cross, Jesus Himself chose to believe and count on the love of the Father, and the atoning death happened and was followed by His resurrection on behalf of all believers.

In the midst of the dark chaos of imprisonment, Paul and Silas were approached by their jailer who had seen God’s intervention.

Acts 16:25-33 NASB

“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!”29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of [n]the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.”

There it is again—just believe.  That, we can do and no one can do it for us.  The moment we do believe, we are instantly united with God, in Christ, and ready for the revelation of His hand, which is the biblical definition of miracle.  Over and over, He has shown His children that He can be trusted, counted on to meet us in whatever dark circumstances and dispel the darkness and overcome the evil one.  What always follows that chaos is the peace Paul recommends in Philippians.

Philippians 4:6-7 NASB

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all [d]comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

No matter what our condition, know that the Great Physician has arrived and will lead us into abundant life.  Our part is to ‘just believe’ and just do it.

And keep doing it,

Bill

Who’s in Charge ?

When I get frustrated with the way things are going in our lives and they are moving too slowly and not seeming to make the progress that would keep us encouraged, the question comes to mind that I need consider who’s in charge.  Before I develop my own strategy for making progress in those areas that don’t seem to yield to my will and effort and the first thing that comes to mind is the answer, “Well, of course, God is in charge.”  But, that answer does not seem to satisfy because sometimes even with much prayer the progress I seek does not happen and my prayer becomes the words—”Why not, Lord?”  He points me back to His Word for an answer in the book of Genesis which means beginnings,

In Genesis 1:27-28, we pick up the story of God creating the universe with all of its different manifestations including human life.

27 So God created humankind[e] in his image,
In the image of God he created them;[f]
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 

Genesis 1:27-28 NRSV

 

This is a covenant God offers to all human beings, to join with Him in being in charge of life on earth including our own life.  We are commissioned by God Himself to have dominion (charge) over our lives and the rest of natural life and to do so as His images, we are to be in charge of all of it as He is in charge of us.  In fact, it’s better than that—we are to share being in charge with Him, to lead our circumstances as He leads the world, yet, be in touch with Him and under His authority and with His Spirit leading us.  God limits His own dominion by including us this way.  He does so because what He seeks from us is loving intimacy and reverence for His love, wisdom and presence.

C.S. Lewis reminds us that God woos His children but never forces them.  He loves working beside His children for their well-being, but He does not cause everything we experience and He remains available to help us with managing those experiences.

In addressing the church at Corinth, which was embroiled in serious disunity and sin because they had given in to the temptations of the fallen world, Paul, in trying to help them understand and overcome the power of temptation and find purity and community again, writes,

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way to escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. “    1 Corinthians 10:13-14 NASB

Once again, we see God sharing His being in control with His children while assuring them that He is there, giving them the power to take charge of themselves and partner with Him into His new creation of themselves and their circumstances.  He makes the point that the goal is to be able to endure painful and frustrating temptations.  The word for endure is hupomonè which means steadfast and is always seen in scripture as the key to the life of faith.

Back to our beginning question—Who’s in charge?  How can we do better in making progress over tough challenges?  We can realize that God has shared His power and authority with us to allow us to freely choose to follow His direction when we feel frustrated and discouraged.

Let’s honor our partnership with Him and move forward little by little, with patience, never giving up and never feeling alone in the midst of chaos. God does not cause everything that happens.  His will is not always done, but He is always available for partnering with His children.  That makes every circumstance a new possibility for His blessing and therefore cause for hope and rejoicing.

So, let’s take charge of our lives under His charge.

Hupomonè,

Bill

Theodicy

 Why? 

After hearing my story of that Christmas Eve in 2009, my friend said,  “Hey, Bill, I’ve got a question that has been gnawing on me since the night that happened—‘If you are a child of God whom God loves deeply, why did this happen or better said, why did God even allow that to happen to one of His ministers? How do you deal with that question yourself?’”

I replied, “I, too, have wrestled with that question with God asking for His light on the subject and as always I sense the answer from Him coming through promptings in scripture. After searching both Old and New Testaments, theologically, I have reached this conclusion—God allowed this chaos in my life because He knew He would meet me in its darkest moment and catch me from falling and lead me through the rest of life’s chaos into His new creation.

I have learned that these hardship situations can be tests of faith and at the same time be training for faith challenges to come.  When I was going through military training, with a potential of one day facing combat in Vietnam, some of the ranger training involved severely painful tests of my stamina and endurance.  But that testing was at the same time training for the chaos that would come on the battlefield of war.

Time and time again in the Bible, we see this testing—training—as a part of the faith journeys of many of God’s faithful children with the result being growth and depth of the relationship between Father and child.

When the early Christians in that first church were suffering the agony of life-threatening persecution, the letter of Hebrews was sent around to existing churches with a word of encouragement that was intended to help stem the tide of drop-outs from the faith.

Hebrews 12:7 NIV

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?”


This was not to suggest that God was causing the hardship, but that He was able to step in and use the hardship as an opportunity to not only rescue His beloved children, but develop them for other hardships which would come in the midst of a world that is many times a battlefield.

I personally know that I was not acting responsibly regarding my attention to health conditions and because I overlooked some detrimental habits, my heart naturally responded with a stroke.  But, God met me in it, continued to provide life and is still leading me day by day into His blessed future.  With God nothing is wasted, and I remain grateful throughout the journey as I seek to daily walk the road of gratitude which is the only road that leads through the valley of the shadow of death.

I learned once again that God loves to rescue His children and restore them to their faith journeys with Himself.  That gets rid of dreading the future and in its place leaves hope, joy and deeper faith.  So, that’s my answer to the question of theodicy as to why bad things happen to people of faith.

The book of Job was written to deal with this question and it contributed greatly to my understanding.  Job suffered ridicule and frustration which increased his pain, but he continued to seek for an answer.  The day finally arrived when God Himself allowed Job to be tested and met him in the midst of that testing.  It was in that sense of God’s presence that Job discovered he had encountered the living God.  That made all the difference in restoring his hope for he had thought he was all alone which added to his trauma.  He learned through the theological search that God could and would take His questions and complaints and still be with him.  I, too, made the same discovery and it turned the loss into victory.

All of us face such questions in this fragile life and world we live in.  I hope this helps.

Hang in there,

Bill

Faith and Light

Well, Father’s Day has come and gone.  It caused me to be sensitive to how our ultimate Father must feel on that day.  I know that the thing I look forward to most is hearing from my children.

My biblical studies on this topic indicate something very similar to the Father of us all.  What pleases Him most is to be able to be close to and in partnership with His children.  In one word, He loves to see faith in us because that happens only when we are in intimate connection with Him.  I began to focus in on the meeting point of faith itself.

Sometimes, some of us think about faith as taking a big leap into the unseen.  For some, that means real faith is being willing to have blind faith which would be jumping into what cannot be seen and, in that sense,—darkness.

But the Bible, especially focusing on Jesus, shows that is not the case.  Indeed, faith is not taking a leap from seeing into darkness, but just the opposite.  It is leaping from darkness into the light.  Thus, it does not require suspending our thinking process.  It is not a sacrifice of intellect; it is rather a focusing of intellect toward the light of God in the midst of a dark world.

The Hebrews were in a very dark world having seen their Temple and city of Jerusalem destroyed and their freedom denied by being taken into captivity once again, this time into Babylonia.  When they were about to lose all hope, one of the prophet Isaiah’s students, who was also in exile, shared the same prophetic spirit as his mentor. In keeping Isaiah’s message alive, he spoke to the Hebrew captives regarding God’s plans for their nation going forward and told them that God wanted them to be His suffering-servant (a message which Jesus knew and fulfilled completely in His own ministry).

“He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light to the nations…”
  Isaiah 49:6 NASB

 

Hundreds of years later, Jesus, as the suffering servant shared this same sentiment to those who were following Him in His great Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.”

So, faith ends up being not the rejecting of using our minds in our search for God, but rather using the minds He gave us to see His light and share that light with others living in darkness. When we do that, we become the light we were created to be, made incandescent by living in union with Christ.  This brings light to others and joy to our Father who is in heaven and brings heaven to us as we seek to share His light with others.  It pleases Him because it allows Him to be with and within us as He reaches out to the rest of His children.

Everyone wins in that experience of sharing good news.  So, let’s not choose to jump into darkness, but rather to walk celebratedly through the darkness leading the way for others into the fulfilling light of our Father.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.  Let’s do it together.

Blessings,

Bill

People of the Covenant

MSDLEOF EC091

From beginning to end, the Bible makes it totally clear that God is a covenant-seeking and –making God.  His involvement in His creation is to be in a covenant relationship with people He has created in His image to live in intimate communion and even union with Himself.  He does not simply tell us what we should do, He invites us to join with Him in carrying it out.  It all happens when His people respond to His covenant invitation.

From that covenant relationship came both the Old and New Testaments, also regarded as the old covenant and the new covenant.  All the heroes of both testaments lived out their covenants with God—Abraham, Noah, Moses and David and all the prophets of Israel spoke the authoritative words of God from their covenant consciousness and His son, Jesus, who carried on that covenant, even seeing His own death on the cross, producing the new covenant.

At His last supper, He told His disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”  1 Corinthians 11:25 NASB

He was letting His anxiety-filled followers, who feared being left without His actual presence, know that their covenant relationship could be fully accessed and would produce a union with Him which would make all things possible in Christ.

In the creation account of Genesis 1, we are told that after creating mankind in His own image, which required an expression of His image in the form of both man and woman (Genesis 1:26), He offered an opportunity for the first couple to lead and carry out His intention for the created, yet unfinished world.

God blessed them and God said to the them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves over the earth.”  Genesis 1:28 NASB

Their mission was to subdue and control, indicating that they faced chaos, even in the brand new world.

This sounded very much like some of the orders coming down from headquarters as I was being trained for combat duty in the army.   As I faced the chaos of my world after my stroke, I sensed an answer to my prayers and asked God what I could do to handle the anxieties of my new world. I felt God saying, “Subdue and control.”    The natural world is a combat zone, but in covenant together with God, we will see this new creation continue and be completed—for we will do it in union with Christ.  That provided both hope and confidence for the perilous journey forward. I was commanded to face up to the wildness of nature and a part of that was the wildness of the old sin nature, especially in myself.

As a boy, my favorite thing to do, for which I asked Mom and Dad every birthday and Christmas was horseback riding lessons.  I was glued to the television whenever the Lone Ranger came on—how I admired his noble steed ‘Silver’.  The day came when I visited my godparents at their weekend getaway retreat on which  sat a big barn with many stalls and its own corral.  They had bought a new horse.  It was a white Arabian and it even had a black leather with silver studded saddle—just like my TV hero.  I gazed into the stall and could tell immediately that the horse was not fully broken.  He was kicking the walls and snorting and digging up the floor of the stall.  The horse trainer saddled him for me, pointed at the left stirrup and said, “Bill, are you ready?”  He could see the excitement and trepidation on my face.

“Don’t worry, Son.  Just mount up, grab the reins, subdue and control.  He will respond to your leadership.  And I will be there to help you if needed.”  That was my covenant promise.  With that assurance, I struggled into the saddle and off we started cantering around the corral—what a ride!

The battle started with me having to confront my own fear.  I have returned to that moment many times as I have seen the wildness of nature and my own physical limitations snorting at me, but I have remembered that my Father God through His Son was there with me to assist me in being obedient to His orders in our covenant of life together.  And every now and then even in very tenuous painful darkness, I sense that I am being carried for the ride of my life.  How grateful for this subdue-and-control-covenant.  That covenant still stands for all of us.  Our Father never abandons His children, so mount up and enjoy the ride of your life.

 

Hi-yo, Silver,

Bill

Pain and Suffering

See the source image

Just completed my daily little exercise walk back and forth on my driveway.It’s about the only cardio exercise I can do these days.  It’s been nine and a half years since I entered my chaos journey following my stroke, and I am still in the process of trying to regain a semblance of walking.

However, my left foot which was seriously affected in the stroke has developed severe pain in it that covers the entire bottom circumference of my foot.  To walk at all, I must walk very gingerly, placing my foot down softly rather than striking the pavement or else the pain goes to even higher levels.

As I walk, I pray for two things—(1) for God to help me understand why the suffering continues and (2) for what course of action I should be taking in my part of the relationship with Him.  I sensed His direction and His answer which comes as a prompt to consult certain passages of scripture.  I sensed prompting to go back and study the passion of the Christ—the suffering of Jesus on His way to the cross.

I did so and delved deeply into how He must have felt in that severe and emotional suffering that was evoked by those He was giving His life for.   He chose, rather than to stop the pain, to go all the way with the plan that would set all humanity free to choose and receive the grace of God and have an intimate relationship with the Savior of the world.  He chose to steadfastly suffer for our atonement with God and it was His sacrifice that made it possible.

The meaning of that is almost beyond words, but the Apostle Paul attempted to describe the meaning of it in his letter to the Colossians.  He was trying to help the church at Colossi to reject some pagan heresy-thinking that had become a part of their culture. The cross is what made eternal life possible for all those who accept God’s grace.

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church. 25 I have become its servant, according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,” Colossians 1:24-25 CSB (Christian Standard Bible)

 

Paul came to that realization and belief because he recognized it was Jesus’ cross that still had room for those who followed Jesus, to join their sufferings with His sufferings which was the source of saving the entire world.  This spoke to me that my own suffering could derive meaning by being shared with Jesus.  Paul said he could rejoice in his own sufferings and rejoicing means to find God’s joy surprise even there.  It was a joy surprise for me to discover this way of embracing and overcoming the pain and suffering.

How grateful I am for this understanding—it has kept me going throughout this journey. That made my suffering no longer absurd, it was just good news—thatI could not just stand at the cross but join Him on the cross.  What an opportunity and what purpose that brings to our suffering and gives me the strength to follow Him in His steadfastness counting on Him with His ability to hang in there with emotions cringing all over His mind and body.

I must admit when this message hit my mind and heart, my pity party was over and I felt as we all feel when spiritual, emotional and even physical suffering comes to us in many circumstances, that we can remember He was there with us in our sins then and He is still there now.

That’s why I wear a cross necklace that still has Jesus on the cross (a crucifix)—to remind me that He was willing to suffer beyond imagination and left room for my suffering to become redeemed.  This gives me an intimacy with my Lord which probably only comes in such pain and suffering.

I still hurt and would like to be free from the pain and suffering but it no longer shuts me down and that’s the good news of being able to do this, not on our own power, but because we can begin with a life in union with Christ and the same miracle occurs in our walk.  So, there’s good news even when the going gets rough.  That’s what I wanted to share with you today.  God bless you as you hang in there.

In union with Christ,

Bill

 

Contentment

Jesus holding a sheep

I love the book of Philippians and return to it frequently when I am searching for God’s direction for handling problems.  As I continue on my daily journey through chaos, I find myself going back to chapter four in which Paul reveals what he learned from his own chaos journey.  He was in prison at the time of writing this letter to his favorite church, which he had himself founded as senior pastor.  In this chapter, Paul shares with his beloved church family a whole list of his greatest discoveries, which he derived from his chaos struggles.  Here is one that speaks to me at the very deepest level of searching for help in handling life’s challenges.  The great apostle writes,

“I have learned to be content with whatever I have…in any and all circumstances…”  Philippians 4:11-12 NRSV.

The word for content in the Greek manuscript is autarkes, which means “self-sufficient.”  Paul is telling his church that he is “just fine,” but not because he is strong or wise enough in himself to handle his tough challenges.  The surrounding verses make it totally clear that he is rejoicing in having discovered that God is with him always and continues to carry him through whatever chaos appears on his path.  In verse 13, Paul succinctly expresses the reason he is able to be content even as he exists on death row in his Roman imprisonment.

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:13 NRSV

When I remind myself in the experience of fear and trembling of the insight of Paul, and I claim my own relationship with God through Christ, which was the central teaching of Jesus to all of His followers, peace and hope replace the worry and weakness.  I feel nothing but gratitude for hearing the Father’s voice and feeling His smile, and a familiar whisper is heard, “Gotcha covered, Bill.”

Let’s keep on moving—more blessing ahead.  Rejoicing comes naturally in such moments.  Next time you hit a tough patch on your journey, find a little silence and let Philippians 4:13 be God’s presence and whisper to you.  That’s been its purpose from the moment Paul wrote it.

The Lord is our shepherd…We’re covered…Whatever happens…Rejoice and trust Him.

Bill