Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Expectations and Hope – Ultimate Hope

Expectations have a tension that is caused be either hope or fear. Hope that is based on God’s Word is a confidence in God and we can expect God to be true to His Word. Expectations that are based on misinterpreting God’s Word can create an anxiety and fear. Expectations are usually things we want so bad that we convince ourselves that it is based on God’s Word.

When people are in a chronic ailment situation there are times that they want healing so bad that they will believe anything that promises healing. Some will place all their faith in medical science while others will put their faith in misinterpretations. Let’s take a look at how misinterpreting the scriptures can create a false expectation.

Jesus Christ was the “expected one” in the Old Testament. The Jewish people hoped for the Christ to come and that hope had a confidence in God’s Word. After they interpreted that Word they developed expectations concerning His coming. They expected Him to come in royalty. They expected Him to be physically outstanding. They expected Him to be a great military leader. They expected Him to establish His physical kingdom on earth right then. They expected Him to be what they had interpreted Him to be.

When the Christ came the expectations had been so integrated with the hope of His coming that most Israelites missed seeing Christ for who He was. Those who missed by the largest margin were those who were responsible for the interpretations, the religious establishment.

Our interpretations of the Bible can create expectations that cause tension between true hope and interpreted expectations. For instance, the hope of the New Testament believer is the confidence that the Scripture says that Christ will come again. Commonly, this is called the second coming of Christ. The New Testament even ends with a statement about this coming.

Concerning this hope of the second coming there are many different interpretations that create numerous different expectations. There are views that are called Amillennialism, Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Preterism, to name a few. In each of these views there are various interpretations that create different expectations concerning the second coming of Christ.

As you can see, certain interpretations create certain expectations. It is no different with healing. Jesus Christ healed people when he was walking on the earth. Some of His disciples preformed healings as recorded in the New Testament. During the years of the church there are recorded testimonies of people who have experienced physical healings. Yet, did Jesus heal everyone who was sick in Israel? Did His disciples wipe out sickness in the New Testament? Has everyone who was sick over the past 2000 years been healed by His church? No, no and no!

So, what in the scriptures is it that gives us hope and confidence as we suffer through our physical ailments?

James 5:7-20 (NASB)

7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.

8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.

10 As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.

12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.

14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;

15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.

16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.

18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back,

20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

The truth of hope tells me that God is much more concerned over my spiritual health than He is my physical health. He is more concerned with my character than He is with my comfort. Patience is a work of the Spirit upon my impatient nature.

The truth of hope tells me that God has the ability to heal me if He chooses to do so. Every time I hear of God healing someone reminds me of His ability and assures me of His power to heal. Yet, physical healing is useless without the power to forgive. Forgiveness of sin is the ultimate healing.

The truth of hope tells me that my life is not defined by my physical ailment. It may limit my physical abilities but it doesn’t identify who I am. Christ does that. My righteousness is not of self but the imputed righteousness of Christ.

The truth of hope tells me that all physical healing is at best temporary. The course of all physical life ends in death. Consider the prophets, Job, or Elijah. None are still with us. If I am healed of this ailment I will still ultimately experience death. It may come in a sudden moment or it may come through failing physical health.

The truth of hope tells me that my physical existence on this earth is brief compared to eternity. In heaven I will not have physical ailments. Physical existence on this earth is test of endurance, a marathon of faith. As a believer in Christ, heaven is my ultimate hope.

Expectation is impatient. Hope is patient.

Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
(Is 40:31)

(This is the end of looking at the difference between expectations and hope as they relate to suffering. I hope it has been helpful.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Expectations and Hope – Hope’s Fuel

The prophet Ezekiel warned the generation who were into Babylonian captivity. He laid out a constant warning to Isreal who was in a foreign land and susceptible to being converted to pagan beliefs. But he also warned about the false prophets of Israel. I like Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of 13:1, 6 in The Message.

“Preach against the prophets of Israel who are making things up out of their own heads and calling it ‘prophesying.’
“All they do is fantasize comforting illusions and preach lying sermons. They say ‘GOD says …’ when GOD hasn’t so much as breathed in their direction. And yet they stand around thinking that something they said is going to happen.”

In my opinion, those who proclaim the health, wealth, and prosperity message are like those false prophets Ezekiel preached against. “All they do is fantasize comforting illusions.” They create an illusion of belief on things that they have either been deceived in believing or are flat out deceiving others for personal gain. They create a situation where the power of suggestion can bring about a healing of some but most go away unhealed. The power of suggestion is a “standing around thinking that something they said is going to happen.”

Rather than trying to create a power of suggestion why not just establish an environment where real faith results in an optimistic positive outlook. After all, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. (Heb 11:1) The Message

The best healing agent for someone who is chronically ill is an optimistic positive attitude. It is a proven fact that maintaining a positive outlook on life will release the natural healing benefits of the body. Consider the following verses that illustrate the hope of faith:

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Ro 15:13)

“we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Rom 8:25)

“according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Phil 1:20)

“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.” (2 Thes 2:16-17)

“we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.” (Heb 6:18)

Faith is hope’s sustenance. Yet, our faith and hope are not in things that fail. “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.” (Gal 5:5) The “hope of righteousness” is obviously Jesus Christ. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” (Heb 10:23) Our hope is unwavering not because of our faithfulness but because of His faithfulness. We have placed our hope in Him “who raised Him(Jesus) from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Pt 1:21)

Hope produces an optimistic positive outlook on life, even if we face chronic ailments, because our hope is not fueled by the fleeting health of physical life. Our hope is fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of our hope gives us joy and hope in this life. In fact, it goes beyond this life and looks toward eternal life in heaven.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Expectations and Hope – Biblical Hope

In my opinion, nowhere in the scriptures are we promised physical healing. “By His stripes we are healed” is an absolute when applied to salvation. But never in scripture and definitely not in real life experience is healing an absolute promise when applied to physical healing. If this text was meant to be taken as physical healing then every believer should be healed of every physical ailment. Heart diseases, asthma, allergies, deformities, poor eyesight, hearing loss, stroke, toenail fungus, etc. and it doesn’t say healing is possible if the individual has enough faith. It says “by His stripes.”

It is true, I believe, that the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made. Before sin had its accumulative effect on the universe man might live over nine hundred years. As our environment became more and more devastated by sin the life span of man declined. At some point it seems that God stopped the utter destructional force of sin and limited the life span of man. A Psalm of Moses is Psalm 90. In it Moses indicates this decline and limit. Verse 10 says, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years.” God is not promising that every human will live to 70 years or only 70-80 years. Moses’ Psalm is to instruct us of God’s eternal existence and man’s temporary existence. Very few people live to be over 100 years old. It appears that God halted the decline and limited the span of human life to an average of 70-80 years. I am glad that in my suffering God has limited my days and it won’t be 900 years!

When the body is treated well and taken care of in a proper way it has a better chance of being what God created it to be. When fed the right nutrients, minerals, and vitamins the immune system will probably be stronger and be more effective in fighting off infection and disease. Still, there are genetics that are part of our lives that have an effect on our health. There is the fact that sin has corrupted our universe and the whole world awaits its redemption. Since we live in this fallen environment it is only reasonable that we will be physically affected by its corruption. It is unreasonable to expect that God would shield all Christians from the fallen environment that man caused to be fallen.

It is a foolish and false expectation to believe that God will always keep the Christian with faith well or heal him if he is sick and assure him of at least 70 years. That’s the kind of expectation that leads to disappointment and disillusionment. That’s the kind of expectation that produces confusion in the Christian community as well as for the non-believer.

Okay, be that as it may, what do we have to hope for? Hope, as I have claimed, is different than expectation. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. Our hope is in the truth of the Word of God. Here are just three of the things chronically ill believers, as well as all believers, can hope for:

1. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) The very presence of Christ is always with me and wherever I am He is present. He is as present in me and with me when I am unable to get out of bed because of illness as He is when I am preaching. His presence is a reality of hope not an existential experience of emotions. The hope of His presence is promised over and over again. “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” (Heb 13:5) Jesus said “I am with you always.” (Matt 28:20) Sick or well the miracle of the New Covenant is not a physical covenant but a spiritual one. The miracle and mystery of Christianity is Emmanuel, God with us. The hope of His presence is an assurance the scriptures give us. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11)

2. Psalm 39:7 says “My hope is in Thee.” The “Thee” is our Almighty Sovereign God. His sovereignty assures me that all my life is in His control. The Psalm before is a Psalm of David about the fleetingness and vanity of our lives. In God’s eternal sovereignty our lives are transient, temporary, “a mere breath.” Yet, in His sovereignty we are absolutely assured that whatever happens in our lives He can sovereignly use it for good because in His sovereignty He has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ. In his sovereignty we can trust that He deals with His children through a sovereign hand of love, grace, and mercy. We are not left to suffer without hope as the world suffers. If my suffering is in His plan to conform me to the image of Jesus then my suffering has purpose. I can hold on to His sovereign purpose. I can live with hope in His purpose. “We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb 6:18-20)

3. Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The hope that we have is not the fairy tales of expectations but the reality of those that that have gone before us. They proved the faithfulness of God even in the lives of those who suffer. The Hall of Faith is highlighted with real people who suffered. People like Abel who was murdered, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, and many others. “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” (Heb 11:37-38) “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises.” (Heb 11:13) These great men and women of faith hoped and “gained approval through their faith.” (11:39) God said through the Prophet Jeremiah “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (29:11) Our hope is nothing less. Did you catch that word towards the end of verse 37, “Afflicted?” Some of these were people just like you and me who suffer from ailments. The most important thing is not whether they received physical healing or not BUT that they “died in the faith!” “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom 15:4)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Expectations and Hope -- Hope Does Not Disappoint

When we have unfounded expectations for healing we will ultimately have to reconcile our false beliefs with the truth of God’s Word. Sometimes when expectation meets truth we don’t chose either one but turn our back on both. The one (expectation) has let us down and we don’t really like the truth that faces us. So, we turn our back on both.

Most of the time, this happens because we hid in the shame that accompanies the unmet expectations. Expectations hid in shame. Biblical hope lives in joy.

For the sufferer this distinction is the difference between life and death, peace and turmoil, contentment and confusion, anger and joy. Failed expectations will ultimately produce anger. When we are shame filled believers we are experts at hiding that anger from others and even ourselves. Yet, down deep inside and sometimes not so deep there is a turbulent of anger at the injustice of unmet expectations. A sufferer hears of God healing others and wonders, “Why not me?” Some well meaning Christian friend (like Job’s friends) will blame and shame with a prescription for deeper prayers and more faith. Anger grows. Since, in most Christian circles, anger is considered unspiritual we try our best to hid it while feeling shame because it is there. Expectations are coping mechanisms that prescribe false hope and leaves devastation in their wake. As you can see a vicious cycle is the result of this belief system.

Biblical hope, on the other hand, will ultimately produce real joy. Peter wrote that we are to “fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pe 1:13) Hope is an absolute confidence in a personal relationship with the sovereign God Almighty and His ability to love me unconditionally and completely, to always be moving toward me in His goodness, and promises to me eternal life. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of our hope. “Christ Jesus, our hope,. (1 Tim 1:1) Paul’s salutation to the church at Rome was “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Ro 15:13) Now remember that there is a huge difference between joy and happiness. Happiness depends on circumstances. It comes and goes with moments that bring an emotional reaction to certain types of events. Joy is the deep seated reality of the presence and peace of Jesus. Jesus said that He came that we might share in His joy and thus our joy be made full.

In suffering, the scriptures describe Jesus as knowing “the joy set before Him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) A courageous endurance is a virtue born out of a hope that focuses on the future and a steadfast hope that endures the present. Joy is a deep-rooted attitude of the heart and since it lives in reality it can co-exist with physical suffering. “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh 8:10)

While suffering physically a sufferer may go through a gamut of emotions. Feelings of a loss of control (as if we ever have control), feelings of helplessness, rejection, anger, disappointment, depression, etc. are all normal emotions of the chronic ill. Expectations can co-exist with physical suffering until they are not met. Then the feelings are left to exist in the disillusion that is left.

Since hope is based on truth and truth will always set you free, it (hope) can co-exist with normal feelings of the sufferer. Job said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (13:15) Hope does not fail even when facing death. Paul set a sequence in Romans 5: justification by faith equals peace with God; we now stand in grace; knowledge of justification, faith, peace, and grace gives us the ability to exult in our tribulations because we know that they bring about in us a perseverance that produces a proven character; proven character is based in hope. Unlike expectations, “hope does not disappoint.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Expectations and Hope -- Expectations Produce Confusion

If there is a belief system that projects a God who always wants His children to be healthy then it is reasonable to have an expectation for healing when ill. Although this belief system is very much propagated in large Christian circles today, we all know cases where healing has not come. In these cases we have two options: either God has failed or there is something wrong with the person (which leads back to shame).

In this type of belief system expectations of healing are more times than not met with disappointment at best and disenfranchised at worse. If God does not heal, discouragement is your best results, disillusionment with God is next, and repugnance is just around the corner.

When healing is expected and doesn’t come shame is embedded deeper and a disappointment in God infects the spirit. When shame and disappointment are bred together the results is a lack of trust. If illness is caused by an attack of Satan and his demons and that person is not healed we are left with a God who is too weak to defeat Satan and demons. If illness is a result of personal sinfulness and upon repentance that person is not healed we are left with a God who does not forgive. No matter what causes illness if we always expect God to heal and He fails one time we cannot trust Him, totally.

Job’s friends were of the mindset that the reason Job was suffering was because he somehow had sinned against God. If you read their words of “comfort” to Job you will find blame and shame. The reason is because in their belief system either God was wrong in allowing Job to suffer in his righteousness (and God can’t be wrong) or Job was wrong somewhere in his relationship with God. Their belief system had boxed them in and there was no other way out.

When faced with this belief system some people will hold to the righteousness of God while others will “lose” their faith in God. Some spend a lifetime of suffering in shame while continuing to worship God. Others let the shame turn them away from worshiping God. Yet, in either case it is not God that they are holding on to or departing from. It is their belief system about God. Maybe their belief system is skewed.

The expectation belief system is probably injected into most, if not all, American Christian belief systems. Some are injected with massive doses of expectations and others with minute amounts. I say this because in all walks of Christianity, that I have been around, there is always the prayer and encouragement for healing for the one who is struggling with health issues. We seem to be uncomfortable with the reality that the physical body is an earthen vessel that fails. We are definitely uneasy with the fact “that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable….this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Cor 15:50, 53) If we could live perfectly healthy lives wouldn’t the same outcome of death still await us? And isn’t physical death an outcome of our earthen tent being torn down?

Now, I’m not saying that prayers and encouragement for healing are wrong. I pray for healing every day, for myself and others. But when our every prayer concerning physical health is healing it may indicate a default belief setting about health and healing that can create expectations. To illustrate my point: if the “thorn in the flesh” that Paul experienced in 2 Corinthians 12 was a physical ailment of some kind, he said he prayed for healing three times and God’s answer was to stop praying for healing because His grace was sufficient in Paul’s weakness. Can you imagine Paul in a typical prayer meeting today in America? He might share concerning his “thorn in the flesh” and then might say something like, “Please don’t pray for healing for that would be praying against what God’s desire is for me. Pray that I learn and live out how God’s grace is sufficient in my weakness.”

I think that would probably be a short prayer meeting. We would try to instruct Paul that surely God wants him to be healed so that he could testify of God’s miraculous healing power. Besides that, Paul, just think of how much more you could do for the Lord if you didn’t have this “thorn in the flesh” holding you back.

Since we almost always pray for physical healing might there be at least a subconscious belief system that would lead us to have an expectation of God that might not be of God at all? It seems to me that Biblical hope is totally different than human expectation. Biblical hope is based on the truth of God while human expectation is based on a belief system that has been formulated about God. In some cases, in my life, I have discovered that it is like the difference between the person of Jesus in the Gospels (truth) and the Pharisees (my belief system about God). The truth confronts my beliefs and hope confronts my expectations.

Biblical hope is a deep faith in Who God is regardless of what happens. Expectations live in a lie, make believe world, fantasy. Hope lives in reality and truth. Hope is founded on the assurance of truth. Expectation is founded on what I want to happen. Hope produces faith. Expectations produce confusion.

Hang with me on these thoughts. Comments are welcome.

More to come later.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Expectations and Hope -- Suffering is not Shameful

Over the next few post I will be looking at the difference between expectations and hope as they relate to suffering. This came out of a personal devotion time that turned into a group devotion time on the deck of Roger and Bonnie Hayslip’s in Golden, Colorado. Involved in the devotional think tank with me were Estela, Roger and Bonnie along with their son Brandon, and Dave and Luanne Hook. Since Bonnie and I suffer from chronic ailments this devotional time with lots of input really helped us both. I will not try to remember or give credit to who said what. Just know that all this came from all involved.

Proverbs 10:28 seems to be a good theme verse for this devotion. “The hope of the righteous is gladness, But the expectation of the wicked perishes.”

Suffering is not Shameful

Shame is the underlying foundational emotional motivator of humankind. It is my belief that shame is the first negative emotion spurned by sin in the Garden of Eden. Before sin, man and woman were naked and not ashamed. The first thing after sinning they saw their nakedness in a new knowledge and hid their nakedness with fig leaves. It seems to me that the new knowledge created a shameful feeling and a response to try to cover their shame in hiding. God covered their shame by sacrificing an innocent animal and making clothes out of the animal skin. Yet, shame is still skin deep in mankind.

When a Christian suffers, particularly from health issues, it is built into their sin nature to feel a sense of shame. Why am I suffering? What did I do that was so bad that I have to go through this suffering? Is this punishment? Am I being disciplined by God? I must be a bad seed. Somehow, I know I’m to blame for this.

The patron saint of suffering is Job. The Bible says “Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.” (Job 3:1) Job cried out, “Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, So that I am a burden to myself?” (7:20) “I loathe my own life.” (10:1) “I am a joke to my friends.” (12:4) “I am one at whom men spit.” (17:6)

Yes, Job stayed true and faithful but can you hear the shame in his voice. When suffering there is not only the battle of physical health, but also there is the battle of shame and faith. It’s as if shame and faith are the two sides of the same coin. Some days you flip it and it comes up shame. Other times it comes up faith.

The shame of sin was temporarily covered by God in the Garden with an animal skin. In Christ not only have we been clothed in an eternal covering but we have been “crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” (Rom 5:6) Shame is the result of sin and results in the death spoken of in Genesis 1-3. So, when Paul speaks of the believer continuing in sin he says “what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (Ro 6:21-22) Jesus’ word to the church at Laodicea is “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed” (Rev 3:18)

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1) The cause of shame has been eradicated on the Cross and, now, though there is still a battle within, shame is a lie of the Devil. We are to live our lives “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) He bore the shame so we don’t have to.

So, I’ll say it again, there is no shame in suffering for the Christian. Sometimes we do things that are shameful for a Christian to do but God does not shame us. God does not shame us because Christ died once for all and it was totally completely absolutely perfectly utterly sufficient. The scriptures say that if someone who has been saved were able to lose his salvation it would be “impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” (Heb 6:6) If that be the case, it seems to me, that if God shamed those who have already been saved from sin and shame He, too, would be saying that what Jesus did on the Cross was not sufficient to totally completely absolutely perfectly utterly save that person.

“Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:1) When there is peace there is no shame. If you’re a believer who is suffering and have a twinge of shame realize that feeling is not from God. There is a peace, contentment, in the presence of the Lord. Thus, peace in the midst of suffering can be experienced as we recognize the fact that the Lord is present in the suffering. He has not forsaken us. He has not left us to suffer without Him. There is no shame in suffering for the Christian.

Friday, August 14, 2009

In The Waiting Room

As I write this I’m setting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office. I hate to wait! When we go to a doctor’s office they have a waiting room. That should be our first indicator that we are here not to see the doctor but to wait. And wait we do. Why? Because we believe there is something of value worth waiting for.

Sometimes when we want something or trying to determine the outcome of something we say, “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.” There again we must wait. I hate waiting!

Life is full of waiting. We can’t wait to grow up. We can’t wait to get married. We can’t wait to go to college. We can’t wait to express to that special someone how much we love him/her. We can’t wait to get that big break that’s going to make us wealthy or famous. We can’t wait to retire. Yet, what we do is wait….wait…wait…and wait some more.

There are no fewer than eleven times that the psalmist instructs us to “wait on the Lord.” In the New Testament our waiting seems to be in relation to the return of Christ:

1 Cor 4:5
Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
Phil 3:20
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;
James 5:7
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.
Jude 21
keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

One of the things Jesus told His disciples while they waited in the Garden was to “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Watch for what? Pray for what? Like the disciples sometimes I sleep while I’m waiting. Other times I like to watch people while I’m waiting. People watching is a great non-exertion sport. Sometimes I watch TV while I’m waiting. Somehow I don’t think that is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He said “watch and pray.” Most of the time while I’m waiting I just grow increasingly impatient and agitated because of what I might be doing if I weren’t waiting.

Maybe one of the things Jesus meant is to watch and pray for an opportunity to benefit and bless others. Sometimes I think He means for me to watch my attitude and pray that I surrender all to Him in every situation. Other times it may be that He means for me to watch and pray as I look toward the future. Maybe I’m to wacth and pray for knowledge and wisdom to deal with whatever it is I’m waiting for.

To watch and pray while we wait means to stay alert and conscious of the presence and communication of God. We are to stay aware of the ever increasing imminent return of our Lord. “Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.” (Lk. 12:36-37)

In an awareness of His sovereignty we are to stay alert of His return. We are to watch and pray while we wait for our King to return. I don’t think that means don’t sleep, don’t watch tv, don’t read magazines, don’t people watch, etc. But I do think it means always have in mind that He is coming again and it could be now.

After Jesus returns there will be no more waiting. The waiting room will no longer exist. Some people are waiting for something before they turn to Jesus. They’re waiting until they get through sowing their wild oats. Maybe they’re waiting on a spouse to change before they surrender all to the Lord. Sometimes waiting is necessary and other times it is just foolish and stubborn. Waiting can sometimes be self-inflected by ignoring what is at hand.

Yet, the thing about waiting is that it can be over at any second. When your name is called the waiting time is finished. The waiting time is decision time. All of us will someday hear our name called and we will go the way of death. Not a single one of us will escape it. Waiting time is preparation time. Accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior is the only thing that will prepare you to face life after death. If you haven’t done that before your name is called it’s too late. Oh, wait, they just called my name. No more waiting.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Joy of Discovery

As I reflect back to Christmas morning, I think of the faces of our four grand kids as they unwrapped their presents. As is our family tradition, we gathered together on Christmas morning and read of the birth of our Savior from the Gospel of Luke. Then we turned the kids loose on their gifts.

Filled with anticipation and excitement they would tear the wrapping paper off to discover what’s inside. Their eyes would light up, their mouths and faces would be descriptive of their discovery. There was no fear of the wrapping. They were not afraid of what was inside. There was no hesitation in opening their gifts. Why? Because they knew that the hands that wrapped them were hands of love.

Christian growth in life is a little like that. Our lives are wrapped up with the wrappings of sin and self, hiding and protecting ourselves from being discovered. Sometimes the wrapping looks all pretty and admirable, and sometimes not so pretty.

Those who are afraid to unwrap their lives probably fear that inside they will find condemnation, punishment, and shame. Yet, the hands that wrapped us up into the person that we are were hands of love. As a believer, inside, we will always discover more of Jesus and more of His mercy, love, and grace.

Most of us, most of the time, just try to make the packages look nice. Wrap it all up and put a bow on it. Put new wrappings on ourselves so we look good and feel better about ourselves. Most of our lives are spent rearranging the packages under the tree but never having Christmas morning. Never opening the packages to find the gifts. How sad!

Every time I tear off another layer of wrapping in my life I find more of Jesus and His grace inside. Why do I fear the wrappings or fear tearing them off to discover the gift? Everyday is Christmas when we discover that the gift inside is always Jesus.

1 John 4:18 "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Are You Prepared

The National Weather Service tells us that the height of tornadoes season is March through June. Meteorologist recommend that every household have a plan and a preparedness kit in the case of tornado activity. "It doesn’t have to be springtime, you’ve got to be ready no matter what," one meteorologist said. The plan should entail where you will go if a tornado is coming your way. Will you go to a safe room, underground shelter, community shelter, or the most interior room in your house? Your preparedness kit should contain at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food, a battery operated radio or television, flashlights, blankets, shoes, and a set of car keys. These specialist recommend that the time to make your plan and prepare your kit is before the storm hits.

It probably is a good thing to be prepared for the storm even if the storm never hits home. You might live you whole life and never be the victim of a tornado (even in Oklahoma). Yet, better to be safe than sorry.

Though you may or may not experience a storm up close and personal, one thing for sure, you will experience the storms of life up close and personal. Most likely you will experience death and you will certainly experience some kind of life after. The Scriptures tell us that every person needs to have the plan and be prepared for life here and life after. Jesus tells us the plan, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me." Through His life we can be prepared for this life and the life after. Peter tells us the prophets of old looked into this salvation by grace. Now that it has been revealed to us we can get our preparedness kit ready. It is to consist of "gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

If the grace that has saved us and that we now live in is soooo amazing, . . . I guess words can not describe the next stage of grace we will encounter. Well, I guess there is one word. Heaven!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Keys To Not Losing Heart

Click on the title and you will be redirected to the video of my message from July 5, 2009.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Enjoying Sovereignty

Obviously, there are numerous things the Lord has taught me over the past 6 ½ years but I’ll share the 2 that seem to be renewing all the time. One is the foundation of His undeniable sovereignty. He is absolutely in control of our lives and regardless of what happens it is at the extending of His love and grace.

My heart attack was a God thing. It’s interesting that in popular Christianity in America we always say something is a God thing when it looks to us to be a good thing. If God’s ways are not our ways then we have to learn to see things His way. I contend that my heart attack and resulting damage is a grace gift from God.

Actually, I would say that all of life is a grace gift from God. Life is a journey of all kinds of circumstances and, in His sovereignty, every one of them is a gracious gift of God that is predestined to conform us to the image of Christ. We may categorize them as good and bad and in our sight that may be so, but, in the sovereignty of Father, Son, and Spirit every one of them is a special gift particularly designed by God to use for good in our lives. That good is always in the direction of becoming more like Jesus.

That leads me to the second thing I’ve learned from the Lord’s hand of grace and love---Enjoy. Jesus shares His joy with us so that our joy may be full. As a child of the King, life is to be enjoyed. And if we can see that His gifts are being used in our lives to conform us to the image of His Son then WOW! we can live life to its fullest and enjoy His gift of life in every situation.

Life is hard and I go through times of depression and frustration and anger and all the things that go along with living in this fallen earth suit and universe. Yet, even all of those things are His gifts and I can enjoy them. I enjoy life because I’m learning to enjoy Him. If my enjoyment of Him is only experienced when things are going good then what does that say of my relationship with Him. I am to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. My heart is wavering, my soul weary, my mind weak, and my strength is wobbly. Nevertheless, I love Him with all that I am and learning to enjoy all my life with Him.

Thanks for letting me share His forever faithfulness.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Faith is the Victory

Isn’t it interesting how we pray for peace that passes all understanding and when He gives it to us we don’t usually question why. Yet, when we have problems we can’t understand we cry out – Why? Why? Why? Why? We think we could deal with the problem better if we could just understand it. Its reason. Its purpose. Its source. Its….

Our problem is not problems or peace. It is faith! “Without faith it is impossible to please Him.” (Heb 11:6) If we have faith in times of peace without understanding then the test is to have the same faith in times of problems without understanding. We think we want to know why we have problems. Why God, is this happening to me? Why God, am I suffering? Why God, are you allowing this or that to come upon me or my loved one?

We want to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We think if we could just know if what we’re going through is good or evil we could better deal with it. We suspect God is hiding something from us, something that would give us more control. If we just knew why then we could deal with it, or, at least, that is what we tell ourselves.

Or, are we listening to the Father of Lies. “Did God say you couldn’t know why, that you couldn’t even ask why? Did He tell you not to search for the why? God is keeping knowledge from you. Knowledge that will help you?”

Isn’t knowledge good for us? Wouldn’t knowing/understanding ‘why’ look better, sound better, and give us a sense of pride. When telling others about our problems wouldn’t it be better to be able to say, “God told me that I’m suffering because….” From the world’s perspective, there are shades of shame in not knowing why (Read the book of Job). There must be a reason for your suffering. Shame is placed on us when we suffer without knowing why. Especially as a Christian, we can feel a sense of shame when we go through problems.

Kernels of truth mixed with the lie. God never said it is wrong to search for the why. Still, we think we need knowledge/understanding but what we need is faith/trust. Seeking for knowledge/understanding of why is not a bad thing when the search is resting on faith.

How do we know if our search is resting in faith? If the search is void of answers, or an answer that satisfies you, is faith still there? Is there still a rest in faith? Or, is there a heart of doubt in God? The same question can be asked from either a heart of doubt or a heart of faith (Lk. 1:18, 34). Does the search for why drive us beyond faith? Peace is a product of faith. Do you have peace in the midst of the search for understanding? Do you have peace when the answer to ‘why?’ is no? You do know, don’t you, that ‘no’ is as legitimate an answer as ‘yes’? Is your peace dependent on gaining understanding? “God, if I just knew.” Can you live in peace if you stop the search? If you are being shamed for suffering can you rest in faith (Job 19:25)? Is shame driving the desire for knowledge/understanding?

When seconds of waiting, searching, waiting turns into minutes, minutes turn into hours, hours turn into days, days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into years, and years turn into decades does faith prevail over moments of doubt? Does peace fill moments of disillusions, disappointments, and despair? Does rest overpower moments of bitterness, anger, and distrust?

“This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (1 Jn 5:4)