August 30, 2018- Pray for Wisdom and Repentance, and Trust God

 

apostle jamesCount it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:2-8 (ESV)

Sometimes the Book of James gets a bad rap because it challenges us to put the rubber to the road. James is so passionate about the actions that are the result of faith because he’s talking to early Christians who are going through all kinds of trials and persecution.

While at first glance it may seem he is emphasizing the importance of our behavior and our works, James really is telling us that our faith, which is a gift of God, is what gives us the ability to overcome and grow from trials.  We trust that God will get us through, that God will give us the wisdom and the strength to endure.

Godly wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit is available to us for the asking. There is precedent for believers to ask God for wisdom.  Solomon’s prayer before ascending his father David’s throne was a prayer for wisdom- wisdom rather than wealth or long life or earthly power- and God granted it to him.

In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said to God, “You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” So Solomon came from the high place at Gibeon, from before the tent of meeting, to Jerusalem. And he reigned over Israel. 2 Chronicles 1:7-13 (ESV)

The challenge of applying the wisdom God grants us is found in the paradox we all live  under. The brokenness and imperfection of this world is due to the effects of the Fall. In this world we still live under the curse of the garden.  Our suffering and our failures are magnified by the result of sin, both the collective sins of humanity and the individual sins we commit often without even realizing it.

Solomon may have been the wisest man who ever lived save for Jesus, but Solomon didn’t always apply the wisdom he was given.  In Solomon’s later years he fell into the worship of his foreign wives’ idols, which led to the division and disruption of the kingdom of Israel after his death.

Jesus has broken the curse of the garden.  Jesus walks with us through the valleys of shadow. He knows the way through them. We share in His death in this world, but we also will share in His resurrection.  We can trust Him for the wisdom and strength we need in this life, just as His earthly brother, the apostle James, teaches us.

 

 

January 11, 2018 Comfort and God’s Promise- Psalm 119:49-50, Matthew 6:34

SacredHeart

Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this:

Your promise preserves my life.  Psalm 119:49-50 (NIV)

Yesterday was one of those anniversaries that bring a great deal of sadness for me and my family. Every family has anniversaries like those. We remember the days when our worlds fell apart in the chaos and pain of tragic and unexpected loss. Everyone has those days that mark the points where life fell apart and from those points forward life is no longer the same.  We are reminded that life on this earth is not permanent and we are not guaranteed anything.

It is a comfort to know that doubt is part of faith. It is a comfort to know that God is big enough to handle our questions, our anger, our fear, and yes, even our doubts.

Those of us who are parents will remember when our children were toddlers, and they would rage against the boundaries- tantrums at bedtime, tantrums at bath time, tantrums when it’s time to get dressed. Toddlers are usually all about maintaining the status quo, with one curious exception- nobody looks forward to change more than a baby with a dirty diaper.

We get too comfortable in this world at times, but we shouldn’t be looking over our shoulder for bad things to happen. Jesus warns us about the worry wart attitude.

(Jesus said) :Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34 (NIV)

So what do we do when our world crashes down around us? We can become cynical and angry.  We can wallow about in doubt. We can try to run away.  The prophet Elijah feared for his life, freaked out, and ran away when Jezebel threatened to kill him (1 Kings 19:1-18.)

Yet God stayed with Elijah. God sent His angel to give Elijah food, comfort and rest. God spoke to Elijah- when the storm died down.

Our difficult anniversary days can be hard to face, especially when we relive pain or sorrow or loss- or a combination of all three. God is with us when we freak out, when we run, when we scream in anger, and when the storm is raging on, even though we may not feel His presence then.  And when the storm is over He speaks to us with comfort and solace and peace.

God’s promise preserves our lives, no matter what this world may throw at us.

April 24, 2017- Unless I See For Myself- John 20:24-29

Doubting_Thomas

But Thomas (who was called the Twin) one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:24-25 (NRSV)

“Doubting Thomas” gets a bad rap.  After all, he wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared to the rest of the apostles in the Upper Room.  Maybe Thomas thought the rest of the guys were playing a joke on him, or maybe he thought they had some sort of mass delusion, and they were claiming to have seen Jesus arisen because they wanted to see Jesus alive again so badly.

I understand Thomas wanting to see Jesus alive for himself, and to really know the truth. As a rational and analytic type, it is really hard for me to take anything on faith unless I see it, touch it, and have something tangible to convince me it’s real. I understand the value of taking the pragmatic, realistic approach to the world around me.

Jesus did not expect people to follow Him mindlessly.  As followers of Jesus we are instructed to test the spirits, (1 John 4:1-2) and to be wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16).  Faith in false things is worthless.  All the belief in the world, if it is put into a lie, doesn’t make the lie true.  We only need to observe the actions taken in the names of the false religions and twisted cults of this world to see the damage that believing in a lie can do.  When Jesus spoke of teachers and leaders and movements, and of those claiming to be believers, He said, “You will know them by their fruits.”  (Matthew 7:16-20) He didn’t tell us to just jump on the bandwagon.

This being said, there is a fine line between being so cynical that there is no room for wonder or mystery or faith, and being open to everything that is said without any sort of filter or discretion being applied.

The Holy Spirit gives us the gifts of wisdom and discretion if we only ask for them. But Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus first revealed the Holy Spirit to the other disciples, so how was Thomas supposed to know?  He took the logical route, and given the options he could clearly see, that was not a bad thing to do.

We come to places in our lives as well where all we can do is come to faith like Thomas- only through what we can see and touch and experience for ourselves. It is a harder road than to simply be able to have the faith to follow those before us, but the lesson sticks harder as well.

Jesus didn’t scold Thomas, because Thomas came to Him the only way he knew how. There is no shame in needing hard evidence to believe, but Jesus also said to Thomas, ”Blessed are those who don’t see but still believe.” (John 20:29)

It is a blessing to be able to learn from the testimony of others. It is important for us to share our testimony so others may be blessed by it. Our stories can strengthen others’ faith, and if we ask, the Holy Spirit will help us find the courage to share them.  Sharing our stories may save another person the pain of having to have to go to the school of hard knocks to learn what our experience may teach him or her.

Lord, if we have to share in Your suffering, and walk in Your shoes, and feel Your scars, in order to believe in You and to walk in Your way, let it be so. Let us listen to the Holy Spirit so that we will have the discretion to test the spirits and reject what is false, but also the faith to trust Him to open our hearts to those things that are of You and therefore true. Make our love ever stronger and our faith ever deeper, so that we may believe You even when we can’t see.

March 21, 2017 – Trust Issues- Jeremiah 17:7-8

 

weak heart strong god

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.  Jeremiah 17:7-8 NRSV

Anxiety is one of the major scourges of modern life. All of us have been anxious to a degree- some of us only in certain trying times, and others of us have experienced anxiety on a daily basis, to the point of it becoming a debilitating condition.  Everyone has known and will know uncertainty, and everyone will have adversity in life.   God knows this, and as in all things, He has made a provision for us to deal with our anxiety.

Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NRSV)

It sounds easy to just let God have our anxiety, but before we can give away our anxiety and fears, we have to trust God.

Trust is easier for some people than for others. People who have been betrayed by others regularly or who have had a number of catastrophic events in life have a lot harder time trusting anyone, including God.  Yet the answer to suffering from anxiety remains the same: trust God.

Since we are not able to trust God fully and surrender to Him in our own strength, the Holy Spirit is always readily available to us to provide that strength. When we lack the strength and sentience to find the words for prayer, the Holy Spirit provides those as well.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8:26 (NRSV)

Trust is not something that is easy to give. The trust in God that is faith is not a blind trust, but a faith that is tested by adversity and struggle and doubt.  Doubt is a part of faith, not the opposite of it.  Doubt triggers us to ask questions and to seek the truth so that our faith and trust are strengthened, grounded and informed. God longs for us to surrender even our doubts to Him- as well as our anger, our fear, our frustration and our despair.  The Creator and the Master of creation can take it, and He invites us to come to Him exactly as we are, with all the baggage that entails.

There are many of us with heavy hearts and serious issues weighing on our hearts and minds today. Yet God is trustworthy. He is our Provision and our Strength, even when it’s hard for us to see it, even when we doubt, and even when we feel as if we are overwhelmed by anxiety.