Month: August 2022

A Roadway in the Wilderness

Behold, I will do a new thing…I will even make a roadway in the wilderness.” Isaiah 43: 18-19 KJV

PRAYER: Thank you, Father that you reveal things about yourself throughout your creation; and thank you that in nature there are no language barriers. May we have eyes and ears to receive the beauty and majesty of your creation in a way that strengthens our faith and renews our spirits, so that we can better praise you. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Narrow Is the Way

It should not be surprising that all creation speaks of the nature and truth of God, its Creator:

NARROW IS THE WAY THAT LEADS TO LIFE

BROAD IS THE WAY THAT LEADS TO DESTRUCTION

Rivers of Living Water

John 7: 37-39, “On the last day of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow RIVERS OF LIVING WATER.'”

Rest For Your Souls

Matthew 11: 28-29, Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.”

While hiking the Pearson’s Falls trail, the tranquility of this spot beckoned me to rest after a long climb back down from the waterfall. While I was able to find rest for my weary physical body in this wonderful little spot, I realized that the presence of the Holy Spirit was truly the source of refreshment for my soul.

The word “rest” in Matthew 11 literally means “to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labor in order to recover and collect his strength”– the brief respite on the bench definitely helped me in this manner. However, “rest” also literally means, “to keep quiet; of calm and patient expectation.” Christ offers rest for our souls— our mind, will, and emotions. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, my body and soul rested…I left with a quiet calmness and an expectation of God’s goodness towards me.

The Rock of Our Salvation

Psalm 62:2, “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”

Psalm 18:46, “The Lord liveth, and blessed be the Rock and let the God of my salvation be exalted.”

1 Corinthians 10:4, “…for they drank of that Spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

Pearson’s Falls is a fascinating and well preserved waterfall in western North Carolina. On our recent visit, the natural beauty and inspiration of the area brought scriptures to my heart at every turn. This gigantic rock struck me immediately with its solidity, firmness, immovability, and strength; nothing was going to move that rock- it (therefore, we) “will not be greatly shaken!” And so, it is fitting that the Rock is a name given to our Savior, who is far beyond the strength of any bolder- the Rock of our Salvation.

If I Had Not Suffered

Psalm 117:19, “If I had not suffered, I would not have sought the Lord.”

The question, “Why does a loving God allow so much suffering?” is a complicated question to answer; and although this verse does not answer the “why” of suffering, it demonstrates a positive outcome of suffering. The psalmist seemed to have no doubt that he would not have sought out (learned to rely on) the Lord if he had not endured trial and suffering. Likewise, through the course of various trials, I have come to realize that I could not solve certain problems; and often, I did not even understand what the true nature of the problem was. Suffering has been a humbling experience– I’ve come to realize just how inadequate my strength and abilities can be; and so, this verse has become an increasing source of encouragement to me. It demonstrates that my weakness is not the deciding factor in success or failure whenever I trust in God’s ability to supply all that I lack.

It is a great comfort to know that the Lord will provide His strength when our own strength fails:

Doubt & Unbelief

Doubt– Undecided; inclined to distrust; to suspect; fear; consider unlikely

Unbelief– withholding of or lack of belief

Doubt and unbelief have often been equated together; but in fact, they are different. Many Christians, if they are like me, struggle with doubt at times.We read in the last post that even Peter began to doubt he could walk miraculously on the water when the wind began to cause him to fear; and, James 1:8 warns that, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” One definition of doubt is that a person is undecided–wavering between trusting and distrusting; between believing things will turn out for good or believing things are unlikely to result in good–they become double-minded. The irony is that our distrust often ensures that, in fact, things will not turn out well. As we begin to doubt what we already believe, we become more and more unstable in our ways; that is, we grow emotionally and spiritually weaker until we fluctuate in our resolve to act in faith. Doubt is a struggle with uncertainty regarding what we believe; while on the other hand, unbelief is a willful decision not to believe; a decision to withhold trust.

James 1:6-7 teaches that we must pray in unwavering faith to receive what we ask from the Lord; therefore when we are doubtful, we block or hinder receiving the very thing we are asking for. And, when we do not receive or have our prayers answered, it often leads to more doubt, creating a vicious cycle of reinforced doubting that results in wavering faith– double-mindedness. Jesus asked believers (His disciples for example) on more than one occasion why they doubted Him. Perhaps we should ask ourselves the same question when we are wavering with uncertainty: “Why am I having this doubt?” We might discover, if we are completely honest with ourselves, that our reasons are weak and unfounded.

As that point, we can do battle to overcome our distrust:

  • Gather scripture that addresses our areas of concern and meditate on its truth; then submit our doubt to biblical authority and truth by refuting the arguments for our doubt with scripture
  • Pray for help in fully believing in the perfect character of the Lord… His goodness, power and love
  • Reflect on God’s faithfulness and answered prayers throughout our past
  • Remember God’s promises regarding our trials
  • Do whatever the Holy Spirit counsels us to do to overcome distrust so that prayers are prayed in bold faith, so that we can confidently proceed

Stormy Trials Are Under the Feet of Jesus

Reference: Matthew 14: 22-33– A summary of this familiar account is in the paragraph below:

After Jesus fed the 5,000, He constrained his disciples to sail to the other side of the sea while He sent the multitudes away. The boat was tossed about due to high winds and when Jesus walked toward them on the water during the fourth watch (between 3:00 and 6:00 am) they were fearful. Thinking He was a spirit they cried out in fear, but Jesus reassured them that it was Him and they need not be afraid. Then Peter asked to come to Jesus if it was truly Him; and Jesus said, “Come.” Peter obeyed and actually walked on the water out to Jesus but began to sink when he took his eyes off of Him and focused on the stormy sea; immediately Jesus pulled Peter up. When they got to the ship, the wind ceased and the disciples began to worship Jesus as the true Son of God.

There are many wonderful aspects to the story whereby we could draw valuable spiritual lessons; however, this post will focus on a part that is not actually spelled out in the account: How did Peter and Jesus return to the boat? It does not seem reasonable that Jesus would have dragged Peter through the water- He had already lifted the disciple out of the water; nor does it seem likely that Jesus carried Peter back to the others. We read that upon their return to the ship, the wind ceased; after which, the rest of those in the boat affirmed and worshiped Jesus as the true Son of God.

Although it is not recorded (and therefore cannot be known with certainty), it seems likely that Peter remained on top of the water and walked back to the boat holding on to Jesus. I identify with Peter in the way his faith fluctuated: First, he enthusiastically stepped out in faith when his Teacher called to him- without any hesitation or pondering, he was momentarily sustained by faith. However, as the waves slapped at his feet and legs and the wind howled, his attention was drawn to his circumstances and away from the One who sustains us- he began to literally sink and succumb to circumstances due to increasing doubt. Finally in desperation, Peter called out to Jesus- weakened in faith, but looking again to his Savior. It is very possible that as he clung to Jesus, Peter was able to walk on the water, safely returning to the boat where the winds of calamity ceased.

The key lesson for me is found in the words Jesus spoke to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31). Jesus’s words remind me of two essential truths regarding faith:

It is comforting to know that if I can maintain even a tiny faith, such as the size of a mustard seed, it is powerful enough to move mountains when not weakened by doubt. Jesus will not let me drown in my circumstances despite my little faith when I call out to Him as Peter did…He is faithful and able to lead me through the winds of trial until they have ceased- Jesus is worthy of my praise!

Jesus: A Man of Self-control

Reference Scripture: Mark 3: 1-6

The above passage gives an account of how Jesus once again entered the synagogue, and this time, restored a man’s withered hand. Of course the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He would heal the man on the Sabbath, then they could accuse Him of breaking the law by doing work on that day (see Exodus 31:14). Jesus asked them one of His penetrating questions, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? (Mark 3:4). As was the repeatedly the case when Jesus asked them a question, the Pharisees could not effectively answer and had no good option but to remain silent. At this point, Jesus “looked all around them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts”; and then without hesitation, He healed the man’s hand. Immediately, the Pharisees (obviously greatly angered and offended) left to conspire with each other as to how they might destroy Him.

In a previous post- “Be Angry, Yet Do Not Sin”- an account was given about how Jesus did not act out of fleshly anger but instead accomplished God’s will in a way that was glorifying to the Lord. In this incident in Mark 3, we again see that Jesus displayed the same self-control: even as Jesus intently looked at the hypocritical Pharisees with anger, He refused to retaliate or lose control of His emotions. We clearly see that this was not the case with the Pharisees, who gave in to their fleshly and retaliatory anger to the point of conspiring to actually destroy Jesus.

In another post, “Not the Letter, But the Spirit”, we explored how the letter of the law (obeying it at all costs) was not life-giving or loving; instead, acting out of the spirit or true intent of the law better served others with the love of Christ. Here, Jesus again confronted the Pharisees’ legalistic keeping of the law, which was condemning to the very ones that they should have been serving. Keeping the letter would have been to do nothing that could be construed as “work”, but Jesus chose to do good on behalf of the man with the withered hand by healing him; thereby, keeping the spirit of the law which was life-giving and loving.

Too Wide and Too Deep?

Reference scripture: Joshua 3: 14-17

When the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land, the Jordan River was likely over 100 feet wide and over 10 Feet deep, according to many Bible scholars. The crossing took place at the time of harvest when the river would have been in flood stage, overflowing its banks and growing turbulent with the flooding. God had instructed Joshua to command the priests to carry the ark before them and assured him ahead of time that as soon as the soles of the priests’ feet rested in the river, the waters would be cut off and “stand up in a heap” (Joshua 3: 13). It is noteworthy that their whole foot would need to rest in the waters- no dipping their toes in to test if the waters would indeed part! God promised that He would move the water out of the way; therefore, they needed to literally step out in faith- faith that their God would keep His word and He was well able to do all that He intended (Joshua 21:45 & Ephesians 1:19).

Praise God that He does not change (see Hebrews 13:8); He is still and always will be trustworthy and powerful- the Almighty who never fails to keep His promises! No deep waters of our trials will ever be too much for our God; and just as with the ancient Israelites, God’s children today can confidently step out in faith while resting in the promise of Isaiah 43:2:

When you pass through the waters…

I will be with you.

An Unexpected Helper

When I was growing up, people did not believe they needed to lock their doors; in fact, I remember our front door being left wide open all day, sometimes unlocked all night. My siblings and I would wander all over town exploring and investigating whatever we were inclined to without any real fear of calamity. Our bicycles were of utmost importance to our freedom and we greatly treasured them; they enabled us to venture farther than we would ever dare if we were simply walking or skating.

To that end, one morning I decided to ride with our dog Hannibal far enough to see areas I had not visited before. It was a wonderfully sunny, cool day and I could not bring myself to turn around and go back home. I was full of energy as I continued to pedal out further and further until I had passed the edge of town; nevertheless, I determined to keep on enjoying my adventure. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a figure rapidly running towards me; instinctively I knew I was in danger, but Hannibal was already on the alert. Within seconds, the figure became clear: it appeared to have features of a pit bull, but what registered the most was that it had a thick white foam coming from its mouth.

Hannibal was a medium-sized mutt, far smaller than my attacker, yet he would not abandon me. Instead, he growled and barked at the dog while blocking him at every turn from reaching my bike. The pit bull was relentless and frenzied (most likely with rabies), but my dog simply would not give in. Finally, Hannibal seemed to strategize how to entice the aggressive dog away from me- he began to circle him and my bike until he drew his attention. Hannibal made wider and wider circles until finally, the attacker decided to target him instead of me, chasing my dog until both were out of sight. I was shaken and realized immediately how reckless I had been. I called repeatedly, but Hannibal did not return. As I rode back home, I began to sob and feel remorseful- regretful that my foolishness had probably cost Hannibal his life. I remember praying desperately for Hannibal to return; and out of God’s mercy hours later, he did.

Over the years I have learned that my help is ultimately from the Lord, and He is able to use whatever or whomever is most effective in delivering divine aid. Psalm 46: 1-3 assures us that God is a present (there when we need Him) help in our times of trouble and we need not fear; and Psalm 54:4 declares that, “God is my helper.” The brave heart of my little canine helper that God used that day taught me that the Lord is never very far away, and He knows what I need even before I ask Him (Matthew 6:8). It is a great comfort to know that my Father “watches over my coming and going forevermore” (Psalm 121:8).

The Law of Faith

Have you ever heard of the term “law of faith”? It is found several times in the book of Romans- for example, Romans 3:27 says, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” Paul was teaching that a right relationship with God (salvation) could not be achieved by way of a works-based law. The law of faith is essentially the opposite of a law of works (earning merit by doing “good” deeds). The fact is, a person cannot obtain salvation by doing anything to earn it; but instead, by trusting in and relying on the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

FAITH is taking God at his word, knowing that he will carry out his word and be faithful to his promises; furthermore, we believe this to the point that we act on it. Additionally, faith is trust and complete confidence in Jesus Christ and what He did for us, always thinking highly of Him. The law of this kind of faith is the mechanism by which we can be saved: “For by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). This verse is at the heart of Christianity because by God’s grace (divine favor; power and desire to do God’s will), through our unwavering trust in God, we not only receive our salvation or deliverance from sin, but also God’s promises, answered prayers, and the power/will to be obedient: Galatians 5:5 (salvation); Hebrews 11:6 (God’s promises); Ephesians 3:12 (answered prayers); and Hebrews, chapter 11- “Hall of Faith” (power and will to be obedient and to receive promises).

A critical principle to remember is that it is a law of faith, which makes genuine trust in and reliance on Jesus Christ essential for everything that has to do with our salvation; and thankfully, God provides the grace for us to have that kind of faith.