Wednesday, December 15, 2010

This is the perfect season for my faith to be tested by God.

I was emailing a friend this morning updating him on my job search.  After I gave him an update, I wrote this line, “This is the perfect season for my faith to be tested by God.”  I stopped and pondered what I had just written and it shocked me a bit.  First, I asked myself, is it theologically correct?  Second, I was taken back that if I recognize that this is the perfect season, will I live up to the challenge?

My Hebrew professor, John Sailhamer, has a fairly recent book out called, “The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation”.  I have just started it but his 600+ pages are built on the foundation of understanding the big idea of the Pentateuch, which he says is “the importance of living by faith” (p. 22).  A common theme (if not the over-arching theme) found throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  I have also been listening to lots of Piper and the theme has been joyous/happy/content/satisfied in God.  As Piper always says, "God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him."
 
John 6:35 says, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger; and whoever believes in my shall never thirst.’” The all satisfying God calls me (us) to believe, to have faith that He will satisfy.  You will never hunger, you will never thirst!  Those are incredible promises to the one who comes to the Bread of Life and believes...especially during a time when everything points to a time of great hunger and thirst. 

How will I spend this season?  Moping, complaining, worrying?  Or will I rest in hands of the Most High God who loves me (Ps. 57:2), promises that things are working for my good (Rom. 8:28), promises to clothe me, feed me, provide shelter (Matt. 6:33), tells me not to be anxious about anything (Phil. 4:6-7).

It is an easy thing to be in God’s corner when life is going good, it is another matter entirely to be satisfied in God when you are without work, when you only have enough money to last a few more weeks and when you have no signs of relief.  Will I trust God’s Word or will I let the circumstances around me dictate my attitude toward God?  I desperately want to trust God through this season of my life.  I want to be like Job when after all is said and done (before God restores his fortune) he says “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” Job 42:5 At the very toughest time in my life (which I think is now), I want to be so satisfied in God that He gets all the glory and that I would be able to help others that are yet to go through what I am experiencing...or about to experience.

Friday, November 26, 2010

30 days and Counting

Today is Black Friday, yesterday was Thanksgiving (American) which means in one month we celebrate Christmas.  For North America and much of the world, this season represents joy, festivities, yuletide cheer.  (What is "yuletide" anyway?  The dictionary defines it as "the season of yule", that helps!) 

For me, this season is a reality check, a slap in the face, a wake-up call.  Two months ago, I found out that even a pastor is not immune from being laid off.  I am without work, without prospects and I have 30 days and counting.  "30 days for what" you ask?  30 days for my severance pay to run out.  Merry Christmas, you're out of money, and a Happy New Year. 

Here's where that "FAITH" thing kicks in.  Just yesterday, a friend who I haven't spoken with in 20 years phoned.  It was great reminiscing with him, catching up on family and friends, and laughing a bit about the past.  Almost immediately I found  myself sharing the story that I was out of work.  (I have to admit, getting a call from an old "friend" you haven't spoken with in 20 years is normally a sign that they just signed up for some multi-level marketing scheme.  AND telling that person that you have just lost your job is like throwing chum to a very hungry pool of sharks.)  However, I let down my guard and let it all fly, total vulnerability.  After 30 minutes of sharing great memories and hearing about new ones, he said something to me that surprised me.  He said, "you sure seem to have a good attitude about losing your job and no prospects".  Without thinking and without hesitation I blurted out, "you either believe what you have been preaching or you don't".  In other words, I believe.  I believe in a God that says "all things" work together for good for those who love God (Rom. 8:28).  I believe what Job said, "I know that you can do "all things", and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2).  I believe what Paul said in 1 Cor. 10:31, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do "all" to the glory of God.  I believe the Holy Scriptures when they say, "in him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works "all things" according to the counsel of his will." (Eph. 1:11).  For by Him "all things" were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible..."all things" were created through him and for him. (Col. 1:16).

I believe my Lord, my Saviour, my King and my God created me in His image to bring Him glory.  I believe he has my next steps already planned and my job is to continue proclaiming His name, loving Him and loving others.  So, am I worried?  Oddly enough, as I get closer to D-Day, my faith seems to grow.  My hope rests in Him.  How about you?

Oh yeah, and my friend that called, he was not selling anything, just being a friend.  Thanks Jim.
 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hebrew of Hebrews

My journey this week has led me to the book of Hebrews.  Quick, tell me a few key points about Hebrews?  Having trouble?  Maybe you said "faith", chapter 11 is famous for the Heroes of Faith and we get two very familiar verses, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  (Here it is in the Message: "The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.")  The other is verse 6, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him."  Clearly, faith is a key point of Hebrews.
 
I think I can safely say that "faith" is the biggest part of my journey right now.  Not that I have mastered it, but that my journey demands it, whether I heed or not.  It is like God saying to Abraham, pack your bags, start walking and I will tell you when to turn left or right (Gen. 12:1).  That's how our family feels, except we haven't packed our bags yet.  Just before this incredible chapter of faith, comes a warning that you seldom hear.  The author of Hebrews quotes the prophet Habakkuk (2:4) where he says "my righteous one shall live by faith" (also quoted by Paul in Rom. 1:17 and Gal. 3:11).  But then Hebrews 10:38 goes on to say, "buy my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him."  Ouch!  That hurts, because I know there are days that I retreat, I withdraw, I speculate in human wisdom and see an impossible situation before me.  Imagine doing something, that you can totally avoid, but you do it anyway knowing that it will hurt your spouse, your children or someone close to you.  Does your heart ache when you displease God? 

A CHALLENGE
This book is full of encouraging words to Christ-followers that are experiencing trials and suffering.  This is a fresh look back at the work of Christ that magnifies his absolute supremacy and sufficiency.   There are only 13 chapters, maybe read a chapter a day for the next two weeks or two chapters a day and spend the next week in Hebrews.  There are some hidden gems in this book and you won't walk away the same.  Here's just a few highlights that I found ultra-encouraging:

"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." 4:16

"In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence." 5:7

A TIP FOR PRAYER
As you bow in prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father remember to whom you are praying.  Approach the throne with reverence and don't be in a hurry.  Through the sacrifice of God's Son, we have incredible anytime/anywhere access to the one that created everything.  Hebrews 2:8, 10 says that God put everything in subjection to Jesus, he left nothing outside his control.  For whom and by whom all things exist.  Everything was created for His glory so come boldly, come often but come offering the right attitude before a holy and awesome God (even as Jesus did in the flesh).

GREAT QUOTE
Here's an excerpt from one of my favorite authors, A.W. Tozer:
"Most of us go through life praying a little, planning a little, jockeying for position, hoping but never being quite certain of anything, and always secretly afraid that we will miss the way. This is a tragic waste of truth and never gives rest to the heart.
There is a better way. It is to repudiate our own wisdom and take instead the infinite wisdom of God. Our insistence upon seeing ahead is natural enough, but it is a real hindrance to our spiritual progress. God has charged Himself with full responsibility for our eternal happiness and stands ready to take over the management of our lives the moment we turn in faith to Him....
With the goodness of God to desire our highest welfare, the wisdom of God to plan it, and the power of God to achieve it, what do we lack? Surely we are the most favored of all creatures."  The Knowledge of the Holy, 97, 99
 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Scared to Death

Have you ever felt on top of the world, only to find yourself in the gutter just a few hours later? It's like enjoying a beautiful warm sunny afternoon, only to wake up the next morning to freezing rain, slippery sidewalks and a miserable long drive to work. It's like looking forward to fall, moving your clock back one hour for that precious extra hour of sleep, only to wake up at your normal time, unable to fall back to sleep...or worse yet, forgetting to move the clock back and showing up at church an hour early. It's like getting a cheque in the mail you didn't expect, only to find a bill that was bigger than the cheque.

Mountaintop experiences; they are fantastic when you are on the mountain, but you always have to come down and sometimes, that hike down can be fraught with difficulties, pain and sorrow. I have read 1 Kings 19 hundreds of times but yesterday it took me by surprise. The prophet Elijah has just successfully shown that 1) The LORD, he is God (1 Kings 18:39) and 2) Elijah is his servant. You remember the story in 1 Kings 18. There is a challenge on Mt. Carmel against 850 false prophets and Elijah. God answers Elijah's prayer by sending fire to lick up the sacrifice, wood, stones, and water. The false prophets are killed and Elijah stands as the true prophet of the living God. If that wasn't enough, Elijah prays to God to cease the drought that has plagued the land for over 3 years and God answers. Then God supercharges Elijah, like Eric Liddell on heavenly steroids, so that he outruns a king's chariot and beats him back to town.

Let's be honest, we have all had some type of mountaintop experience where we have been so elated, so overjoyed that we feel like we are floating on air. That has to be how Elijah feels at this moment. His job is to point the people to God and he has succeeded. Enter stage left - Jezebel, Queen of Israel. The Queen mother of evil upon learning of the fate of her false prophets fires off the equivalent of a threatening and raging email to Elijah.
---------------
To: Elijah@Prophetof GodMinistries.gov
From: Jezebel@DeceiveThePeople.gov

Subject: Till Death Do Us Part

"The gods will get you for this and I’ll get even with you! By this time tomorrow you’ll be as dead as any one of those prophets."

Love,

Jezebel

P.S. Thanks for the rain.
--------------------
Ok, time to put on Elijah's shoes. What would you do? A) Send a nasty "reply" and get into a virtual email fist fight. B) Consider the source, hit "delete" and resume what you were doing. C) Get out of Dodge, run for cover, save your bacon. D) A and C.

Verse 3 says "Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life." Wait a minute, this is Elijah the great prophet we are talking about. The man that just called down fire from heaven, made the heavens rain after 3 years, ran faster than a chariot, was fed by ravens and raised a boy from the dead. YUP, the very same man. If nothing else, it makes me feel a lot better about my failures and reveals my vulnerability right after those mountaintop experiences.

Have you ever stopped to think what it takes for your perspective to change? For most of us, it could be just a word or two from that person of influence in our life to take us from the mountaintop to the valley of death. It could be an email from that person in your life that continually hounds you and heaps negative outlooks into your life. Maybe an insecure boss that suppresses your creative ideas and positive influence in the workplace. A son or daughter that refuses to change thereby torturing the parent with guilt, turmoil and fear. The reality is, it normally doesn't take a 9/11 catastrophe to move us from joy to despair, just a sentence or two. It's amazing how in the face of calamity, our perspective becomes cloudy, jaded, and distorted.

What can we do?
1) Pray. Elijah should have hit the floor as soon as he received the message. Instead he responds without consulting God and as a result Jezebel wins. She can tell everyone that Elijah, the great prophet of God, ran away as soon as she threatened his life. The work done on Mt. Carmel is now ruined as soon as the people of Israel learn that Elijah ran. If the God who just rained down fire from heaven can't protect his prophet, then he must not be a God worth serving.

2) Seek godly Counsel. Call someone you trust (spouse, friend, co-worker) and get their advice. Someone who is not part of the same calamity can see things from a different perspective and offer guidance that you may not be able to see. Remember, many times your judgment is clouded. Elijah, when running from Jezebel, tells God that he is the only prophet left. Yet Obadiah has just told him that he has 100 prophets of God hidden in two caves (18:13) and God tells him he has 7,000 people that have not bowed to the false gods (19:18).

3) Find Comfort in the Word. Just over a week ago I was growing discouraged with the lack of response from God. I have been praying and praying for God's direction in my family's life and the heavens have been silent. I was to the point that I looked at the Bible sitting on the counter and didn't want to have my quiet time. I prayed and told God how I was feeling and I sensed that I should skip my daily reading plan and go directly to the Psalms. I started in at Psalm 4, "Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!" I devoured Psalms 4-7 and couldn't wait to share them with my wife. She calls me back in a few minutes elated as she read them in The Message and couldn't believe the impact they made in her life.
Here's the same verse from The Message:
"When I call, give me answers. God, take my side! Once, in a tight place, you gave me room; Now I'm in trouble again: grace me! hear me!"

Oh yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Don't wait, don't delay, grab your version of The Message or find it online (i.e. www.Biblegateway.com) and read Psalms 4-7, you will be so blessed that you will be sharing it someone within the hour (money back guarantee).

4) Finally, be on your guard. The enemy hates mountaintop experiences and will do everything they can to negate that experience. Don't drop your guard just because you are on the mountaintop. Can you imagine soldiers dropping their guard, putting away their guns just because they won the first round? Of course not, their commander is going to be barking orders, getting them mentally prepared for the next round that is sure to come. The latter part of Ephesians 6 is always a good reminder of what we are continually up against.

Text: 1 Kings 18:1 - 19:18