Archive for July, 2017|Monthly archive page

Blind

Sometimes, I feel like a blind man feeling his way in the dark.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

Because that’s when I really have to trust God.

Like most people, I like certainty.  I like to look at the future and plot my way to a logical and satisfying conclusion.

But life doesn’t always work that way.  There are things in my life – and in the lives of my loved ones – that I can’t control.

The Bible is full of stories where things are completely out of control.  And people have to throw themselves on the mercy of God.

That’s when God’s children discover that their Father in heaven is the master of the unexpected.  And that’s when they learn that they are part of a much bigger plan.

Let me talk again about Daniel as I have before.  I’m fascinated by him.

The Book of Daniel tells us he was a slave, part of a conquered nation taken into captivity in Babylon.

Despite his helplessness, he remained true to God in the most threatening of circumstances.

God gave him the gift of wisdom and a supernatural understanding of dreams and visions.

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a bad dream and demanded his astrologers tell him what it meant – but there was a catch: They had to tell him first what the dream was. The penalty for not telling him his dream was death.

That was seemingly an impossible task, but God told him the dream and the interpretation.

Eventually, Daniel’s enemies tried to discredit him in front of a new king, Darius.  They accused him of not bowing in prayer solely to Darius, but rather worshiping God.

For that crime, he was thrown into a lion’s den – but the lions left him untouched as we was guarded by angels.

Daniel survived these and other perils because he put his trust in God.  He did not know what was coming in his life, but the Lord did.

God also gave Daniel some visions of the future, giving him a glimpse of the Lord’s plan for mankind and the kingdom of God.

Of course, there were other great men and women of the Bible who were killed because of their faith.  But, as we are told in Hebrews 11, they died still trusting in God’s ultimate triumph through Jesus.

The lesson for me is that it is good when I feel weak and helpless.

That’s when I turn to God and pray fervently, realizing that my situation is beyond my ability to solve.

That’s when I place my problem in the hands of a God who knows everything and can do anything.

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God can change us

I believe God can change me – and anyone else.

The key – as our pastor said this morning – is obedience.

He was talking about the miracle of filling Peter’s boat with fish – and James’ and John’s boat, too – after a night of fruitless fishing and despite Peter’s doubts (Luke 5:1-11).  Peter was awestruck and worshiped Jesus and confessed his sinfulness in the face of such holiness and godly power.

Then, Jesus commanded the three men to come follow him and he would make them fishers of men.  They obeyed, and left everything, and followed him.

Does it take a miracle to change you and me?

I don’t think so.  I can see that I am a different man than I was 57 years ago when I first became a follower of Christ.  But I have changed very slowly.

A large part of the change has come from small steps of obedience.  And the major reason for the mountain still to be climbed is disobedience.

Perhaps you believe you are a hopeless case.  Or, there is someone in your life that you think can never change.  I am convinced you are wrong.

The Bible is full of people with faults who were used by God.  In fact, none of the great men and women of the Bible were perfect.

For instance, Jacob was a deceiver who was always trying to pull a fast one on others, particularly his brother Esau.  But he learned through a life of problems that he needed God’s blessing and help before meeting his brother again after years apart.  He was a changed man, relying on someone greater than he.

The apostle Paul was a persecutor of Christians, jailing them and watching as Stephen was stoned to death.  But Jesus stepped in dramatically in a vision and Paul submitted and obeyed him and became a giant of the young church.

Tough times can force us to confront our disobedience.

But it is still up to me to choose to obey.  And the same is true for you and the people we think will never change.

God will change us if we react the way Peter did when Jesus commanded him to follow him.

Are you a Gideon?

Are you a  young Gideon?  Or a mature Gideon?

Like the young and fearful Gideon, do you feel defeated by the world around you?  Do you feel there is no way God can change your world and the broader world outside?

Or, are you the maturer Gideon that God coaxed into trusting the Lord and his great power?  Have you put your hand into God’s hand and done what he has asked of you?

I really like the story of Gideon in Judges 6-8. One reason I like Gideon is that I am naturally a fearful person, afraid of taking the large leaps in trust and obedience that other believers have.

But, in my heart of hearts, I do believe God can do the impossible and the unexpected.  I believe he has in the past and I believe he is changing the world today.

What inspires me about Gideon’s story is that God was patient with the young Israelite, taking him step-by-step past his fears and doubts into his role of valiant army commander.

When the story begins, Gideon is threshing wheat out of sight of the Midianites who dominate Israel.  An angel of the Lord appears and tells him that “the Lord is with you, mighty warrior”.

Gideon expresses doubts about what the angel has told him and demands proof.  The angel sets fire to Gideon’s offering and disappears.

God then asks Gideon to tear down the altars to the Midianite gods which the Israelites have erected – probably out of fear of the conquerors.  He does this at night, not wanting to be discovered by the townspeople.

After this step of obedience, Gideon rallies the people to oppose an army of Midianites and Amalekites.  But he still doubts that God will defeat the enemy and so asks for proofs which the Lord grants him.

Then, the Lord tells him to send only 300 men into battle against tens of thousands of enemy soldiers.  The reason?  To show that God will win the battle, not the Israelites.

Gideon and his men win a major victory at night as the confused enemy soldiers turn on each other.

In the end, it was not Gideon – but God – who won the victory over the Midianites. Gideon’s role was simply to obey God’s commands.

Gideon’s story suggests that there is hope for every one of us.

As the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6, our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the dark forces of Satan.  We are called to trust God, obey him, use the spiritual armour God has given us – and pray.

We can begin with small faith steps to do what God wants.  And he promises to grant our prayers if we pray according to his will.

Gideon did it.

The same path is open to me – and to every follower of Christ.

Joy in the morning

Many centuries ago, the psalmist David wrote: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

It is good to remember this when we are going through trials.

As David said in Psalm 30, we may go through rough spots – sometimes very rough – but God gives us times of great joy, too.

Sometimes, there can be joy even in the midst of sorrow and suffering.

There is the great example of Paul and Silas singing hymns to God while bound in chains in a Philippian jail (Acts 16).  They were singing praises to God even though they had just been savagely beaten.

God’s response was to send an earthquake, breaking the prisoners’ chains and leading to the salvation of the jailer and his family.  As David said in Psalm 8:2, praising God can silence Satan – the “foe and the avenger”.

Indeed, praising God can revive our spirits, bringing godly joy and strength.

I recall reading of a missionary woman in China fleeing Chinese rebels in the early 1900s, a rebellion targeting Christians as well as the Chinese imperial forces.  The missionary woman told her husband and a friend to go on without her because she had reached her limits and just wanted to lie down and die.

But her Christian friend knelt down beside her and began singing praises to God.  The exhausted and unhappy woman revived and was filled with a new strength and carried on.

The apostle Paul asks us to do something seemingly impossible in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

What is this joy?  Is it being happy that we are suffering?  I don’t believe so.  It is a deeper joy, a joy in belonging to God who is ultimately working out all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

Does this mean that we will be able to see a Hollywood ending to all our troubles in our lifetimes?  Again, I don’t think so.  We may see amazing God-given answers to certain problems, but there may be others that remain unresolved.

Yet, there are two things we can always count on.

First, Jesus has promised that he will always be with us through whatever struggles we face in this life.  As an old hymn says: “What a friend we have in Jesus!”

Second, Jesus has prepared a place for us with him in heaven, a place where there are neither sorrows nor tears.

Those are joys no one can take from us.