THE RIGHT QUESTION

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On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  (Mark 4:35)

And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.  (36)

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  (37)

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  (38)

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  (39)

He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  (40)

And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  (41)

The storm arouse suddenly, causing waves to crash into the crashing. How could the Teacher sleep at a time like this?

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” the boatman screamed against the wind.

The Teacher arose, raising his voice against the sea, “Peace! Be still!”

The sea fell into a dead calm while the boat ceased its rocking. The Teachers challenged them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Should the disciples have let the boat sink? What would the Teacher have said then?

The issue with the disciples wasn’t what they asked, but how they asked it. They asked if Jesus “cared.” This was the same “caring” that caused Him to healing the sick, give sight to the blind, and raise dead. Is that the same “caring” that made him plan to quiet the storm? Of course it was. Jesus cares for any big thing, or little thing, that threatens to swamp believers.

Just ask the right question.

Resistant

Image result for secure drug bottle

Do you have a package that absolutely forbids entry for all those goodies concealed inside? Do you have a kiddy forbidding medicine bottle that needs an engineering degree to open?

My brain is similarly resistant to penetrating today. I couldn’t reason myself out of a soaked paper bag today.

Fortunately my faith is still intact without having to reason God’s love for me today. I just trust Him, no matter what comes my way.

Don’t Be a Mastermind

God doesn’t need masterminds, people who are always the smartest person in the room. He is the only Mastermind that the world needs.

God does need mind-masters, or people for whom God’s Spirit leads their thought life. After Apostle James dealt with our need for patience in trials, he summed up the idea of mental integrity:

James 1:5-8 NKJV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (6) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (7) For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; (8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

He may as well have said, “If any of you thinks that he is wise, think again, and let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (JT’s paraphrase)

How Should We Behave Toward One Another?

Regarding the way we are to treat one another in the church, Apostle Paul wrote:

Romans 12:10-18 NKJV Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; (11) not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; (12) rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; (13) distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. (14) Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (15) Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (16) Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. (17) Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. (18) If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

While I included the whole passage, the second part of verse sixteen speaks directly to those who would be masterminds: “Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” 

Verses seventeen and eighteen build on that command—and it is a command:

  • We are not to seek retribution!
    Don’t we prize our grudges, though? Someone offends us and we assume it was deliberate, so even though we may wear a Sunday smile and shake the offender’s hand, in the back of our minds we seek payback. We all know that’s wrong, “But, this is different!” Instead, …

  • We are to regard what is good!
    Even if we don’t like someone, Jesus commands us to love them. Often that takes the form of burying the hatchet, but not in their backs. Bury it in the deepest part of the sea. If we do that, the last command will take care of itself.

  • We are to live peaceably with all people!
    That doesn’t mean we must live peaceably with all our friends, but even with those we don’t like.
    Here’s a sure tip: Pray for the unlovable, sincerely, passionately, and consistently. We can be sure that if God placed a difficult person in our way, it is to gain our attention; they need prayer more than all our Christ-following friends.

My advice? Pray through James’ letter to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (Christ-followers are descendants of Abraham by faith). Make those principles and commands your passion, and God will use you like never before. But don’t stop there; take the time to pray and meditate your way through the whole of God’s Word, and through His Spirit you will be the master of your own mind, rather thinking of yourself as a mastermind.

THE WIDOWER’S MITE

Today during the church’s worship service they passed the dreaded, green pouches for the offering. I had, and still have, $20 in my wallet, with no bank reserve (overdrawn, I’m ashamed to say), one and-a-half weeks to go until my Social Security hits the bank, and a quickly thinning larder.

I agonized during that part of the Lord’s Day service, and afterward, on Jesus’ story of the widow’s mites. I almost pulled that evil tender out of my wallet a couple of times, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I’m telling you this as a call for help—no, you can keep your money, unless you know God is calling you to give—for the wisdom to know what God expects of me in this, and all situations. I feel like I would give God more glory by setting a match to that accursed $20 bill, than keeping it for the groceries I need. I want desperately to give God a chance to bless me, but fear keeps my hand in a death-grip on that money.

I feel like that bill has turned into an impenetrable barrier between God and me, yet I still can’t bring myself to either give it or burn it. Please lift me up in prayer for the faith to do whatever will glorify my Lord and Savior. Thanks.

Again, please don’t think of this as a plea for funds. God will provide even though I am the least in faith. This is, rather, a plea for prayer that I will grow in faith and glorify Him in my decisions.

And may God glorify Himself in your everyday decisions.

It Seemed Significant At the Time

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve had a thought while reading or listening to the Bible, but because I wanted to finish the reading I failed to write it down. When I return to the spot that jumped out at me, it seems to just blend in with the rest of the passage, and I wonder why it seemed significant.

My memory has never been stellar, but as I age, what memory I had gradually seems to ebb away. Most of my contemporaries will answer my concern with, “Oh posh! You’ve got to expect that as you get older.” Maybe so, but it is none the less frustrating.

Now, what was my point with all this?

Ah, that’s right. I seem to be exchanging my marvelous powers of recall—yeah, right!—for a broader perspective on life. I have always, and still do, pray for my Father to give me His eyes (a nod to Amy Grant here).

So easily I fall into the fleshly trap of viewing people and circumstances through the eyes of carnality. What could be an occasion for growth and blessing, I turn into a thorny problem. Will I ever learn Job’s lesson?

Job 42:1-5
(1) Then Job answered the LORD and said:
(2) “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
(3) You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
(4) Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’
(5) “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.”

Before Job’s tribulations he knew of God, and that was enough for Him to be obedient, but his faithfulness during his trials matured his faith and brought him into a personal relationship with his heavenly Father. Job knew, and I’m learning, that my loving heavenly Father never allows trials without a purpose.

Praise God for His loving kindness toward us!

Public Enemy #1

How peaceful are they?

First, lets dismiss the gangsta rap group, Public Enemy, although their name gives an accurate picture of their value to society. History gives us a long list of people who were tagged with the label, “Public Enemy #1.” Back in the twentieth century that label belonged to gangsters and mafiosos. Today that dubious distinction is obsolete, replaced by the “most wanted” list that includes drug cartel kingpins, serial killers, and terrorists, both domestic and foreign.

All of that is consistent with the natural, human perspective, but there is something that the public perceives as an enemy that is more to be feared than all of the Ten Most Wanted combined. That public enemy is peace and quiet.

I tend to accuse young people of stimulation addiction, as so many of them live with earbuds permanently implanted, feeding a constant stream of loud, popular music, or video game audio into their consciousness. But young people aren’t alone in their addiction to constant stimulation. “Adults,” including myself, seek constant entertainment and news media saturation. My personal addiction is tech/military documentaries, movies and TV police procedurals. It seems I too am afraid of silence.

The prophet Elijah experienced the eternally existing One as a, “still, small voice,” and preachers admonish us to seek that sort of communication with God. Yet, how are we to hear His voice when our senses are constantly saturated with distractions?

We Christ-followers gripe about not hearing His voice, but do nothing about achieving the personal quietness necessary to hear our Lord and Savior. Even our corporate worship is often boisterous.

Habits die hard. Addictions, much harder. But are we to settle for less than God’s best for us? And His best for us is intimate communication with Himself. He made us for that purpose, and anything less promises only unfulfillment of God’s glorious promises, and frustration of our ultimate purpose.

Yes, but how?

How can we break our noise addiction? First, we must realize, and then confess, that it is quite real in our lives. Second, we must pray for God’s conviction, as to refuse to change makes it sin. Third, thank God for the infinite grace that He shows when we fail to seek His best for us. His love for us is unfathomable, and if we claim to love Him in return, yet willfully disobey Him, we reveal our hypocrisy. Apostle John wrote, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

Like all addictions, electronic media addiction is tough to crack. I don’t know of I could break its hold on me cold turkey, but I can try to cut down by substituting other activities that would strengthen me, rather than continuing to weaken myself by sitting mesmerized by Netflix and YouTube.

I want to honor God with my life, but I can’t do that by staying planted at home watching entertainment. Please pray for me, and the millions of other media-addicted Christians, for God to break us free, so we can love the lost to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter’s Stunning Affirmation

I confess to having questions about certain Biblical statements, and theologians’ opinions don’t help much. If said highly-educated theologians were to establish a consensus in their interpretations I would have little choice but to accept their analyses at face value. But they haven’t, so I keep questioning.

Speaking of difficult teachings, John 6 records one of Jesus’ most controversial statements, and debate about it continues to this day:

John 6:53-58 NKJV Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. (54) Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (55) For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. (56) He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (57) As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. (58) This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

This teaching was so misunderstood that when outsiders heard of it they accused Christians of cannibalism. When some of Jesus’ followers balked at His teaching and turned away from Him, He said to the rest of His disciples:

John 6:67-69 NKJV …, “Do you also want to go away?” (68) But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (69) Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Though Peter finally got it, his understanding was not his own. When I quoted excerpts from John 6 above, I omitted some crucial truths for the sake of continuity. Not only is this crucial, but it is the source of heated controversy even today.

John 6:63-65 NKJV It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (64) But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. (65) And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

If you were hoping for my personal opinion regarding these profound truths, I’m afraid I must disappoint you. It is enough for me that Jesus preserved these truths and spoke them to me through His Holy Spirit. I pray for Him to wash our minds of preconceptions, to make them ready to receive His unadulterated Truth. And it’s all right there in black(or red)-and-white, waiting for open and pure minds to receive it.

It Comes Naturally

Even this couldn’t stop the people’s murmuring.

The greatest personal challenge I find in Scripture happens to have been authored by my namesake. Most Bible students would agree that Author James didn’t mince words when dealing with the essential issues of daily life in Christ. The coincidence of our given names has nothing to do with my interest in his letter to the scattered churches. Rather, it is the practical nature and authority of his instructions to God’s people.

And he leads with a powerful right cross to the mouth.”

James launches into his instructions like a boxer throwing a violent first punch to the enemy’s weakest point: his mouth. Satan relies on our natural human penchant for spreading negativity.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Satan sows discontentment when the church encounters opposition, “various trials,” or simply when some don’t get their own way. It begins with murmuring and griping, and progresses to outright rebellion, much like God’s people Israel in the wilderness.

Joy? Under trials? It just ain’t natural, and that’s the point. It separates God’s true children from the wannabes and pew-sitters who seek just enough religion to get that righteous feeling once a week.

Beware of brethren* who accost you after church with statements like, “Hey, what’d ya think about Pastor’s sermon today? I mean, …” Chances are what follows will be critical and mean-spirited.

And then a jab to the solar plexus.”

The next few verses never fail to knock the wind out of me.

James 1:5-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (6) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (7) For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; (8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Verse five qualifies the promise that follows. Fine and dandy, but the condition that follows the promise describes me perfectly. Yes, I ask in faith, or I at least summon all the faith I can muster. Unfortunately, I’m a “What I see is what I get,” kinda guy, so when I ask for godly wisdom but keep making the same bone-headed gaffes, I can only conclude one thing; my faith is either insufficient, or it isn’t true.

Yes, sometimes I am driven and tossed by the wind. And yes, sometimes I am double-minded and unstable. All this uncertainty grieves my spirit, and in my more depressed moments, causes me to wonder if I’m truly one of God’s people. Yet, that very grief tells me that I do belong to God. If I didn’t, wouldn’t all this be a non-issue?

Lord, I believe, …”

One of the most encouraging accounts of Jesus’ ministry is … click here and I’ll let author Mark tell it.

So verse 24 has inspired the desperate prayer of my life.
Lord Jesus, I know You want me to become like You, and for that to happen I must believe that it will. Like the possessed boy’s father, I believe. I know that You can transform me into Your image. But I need to know that you will transform me. Deal with my unbelief, Lord, so I can become truly like You. Thank You Jesus, by faith, for Your plan for my life.

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* “Brethren” is the archaic form of today’s “brothers.” It meant, “brothers and sisters,” but those with “sexist” issues take exception. Many modern translations render the word, “brothers and sisters,” but that seems awkward, so I’ve chosen to use the archaic form to include both male and female Christ-followers.

The Rich Young Guy

I’ve heard this story preached til I’m pink in the face, which is no big deal since that’s my natural complexion. I’ve heard that the poor camel trying to stuff itself through the needle’s eye was either hyperbole, or that there was a gate called the Needle’s Eye Gate in Jerusalem’s wall that was man-sized rather than camel-sized. I’ve heard that accumulating worldly possessions is sinful, and that those who treasure their wealth cannot enter God’s kingdom.

Then there’s the widow’s mite, where a poor widow dropped her last cent into the collection box. And Lazarus, whose dinner was the droppings from the rich man’s table. That’s the guy who stood at heaven’s edge where the rich man could look up from hell and beg for a drop of water for his scorched lips. If I’d been Lazarus I would have been seriously tempted to gloat, and feel shame for my stinkin’ thinkin’.

But that’s another issue.

Usually I’ve heard these sermons delivered during Stewardship Month which, by an odd coincidence, is when guys go hunt’n or fish’n. Gotta fill that freezer, don’t y’know.

Please know that I’m not ridiculing sportsmen. Even though I’m not much for outdoor activities, I’m guilty of that same lousy attitude, and the stewardship preaching pricks my conscience such that I walk out of church feeling so small that I could pass through the needle’s eye with plenty of room to spare. I could list all my excuses for not giving freely, whether to the church or to the needy, but my list would be a carbon copy of most people’s. The real shame is that pastors have to beg and cajole us pew-sitters for enough funds to get by—barely.

Most of us respond to such appeals with something to the effect of, “If only I had a little extra at month’s end I’d be really generous. As it is, I give as much as the next guy.” Truth be told, that “little extra” would soon disappear into the coffers of some credit card company. And here’s another truth; if we spent less than we earned we would have no credit card debt, which for most families is the bulk of their “discretionary” spending. Most wage earners would be amazed at how easy it is to live on 90%, 70%, or even 50% of their income, just by being satisfied with that older model house, car, computer, TV, phone, or you name it. If the church(that’s you and me) lived that way, we’d have plenty to give to missions, evangelism, or any other need God would place before us.

All that’s easy for me to say, but my confession is that I lack the faith to give more than I think I can. If I trust God for my eternal destiny, why don’t I trust Him for the funds to give generously? My excuse is always the same, “I’m on a fixed income, and live in very basic circumstances.” Yet, God’s promise is to prosper those who put Him first in all things. Do I believe God, or not?

I mentioned shame earlier, and that shame lies squarely on my head. Please pray that God will fill me with the faith to live completely for Him. My abiding prayer is the same as the father who brought his son with the mute spirit to Jesus and said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”(Mark 9:24)

Many conscientious believers are up to their necks treading debt, and many of those are in that situation through no fault of their own. The problem with teaching stewardship is those who would profit from the message aren’t listening, but those who listen are already doing their best to obey God’s clear commands. I’ve already asked for prayer for me, but also pray for revival in God’s church. God has always told His people, “Look! We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. It’s your choice.”

If Thou Wilt

Jesus heals the leper

Mark 1:40-45 tells of a leper falling to his knees before Jesus, begging Him to cleanse his leprosy. Did Jesus shun the leper as was typical of the good religious folks? Did He flee from the ostracized leper so as not to become ceremonially unclean?

No! Jesus, in His compassion, not only dealt directly with the leper’s plea, but He even reached out to touch the man’s scaly flesh.

We typically hear this passage preached topically, stressing the leper’s faith and Jesus’ compassion, which are important lessons for us to grasp. Along with the leper’s faith, though, we need to recognize the attitude he displayed in begging for Jesus’ healing touch. While the unclean man obviously believed that Jesus could heal him, he didn’t demand it, or even expect it. Instead, he humbly yielded to Jesus’ sovereign choice of whether or not to honor his faith.

How does this teaching align with today’s “Word of Faith” and “positive confession” doctrines? According to those, the leper should have demanded the healing, certain that it was Jesus’ will. Maybe he should have not even bothered Jesus, but rather affirmed that he wasn’t sick at all.

I realize the Word of Faith teaching isn’t quite that simplistic, that Jesus’ Holy Spirit gives us His authority over sickness and other misfortunes of life. Yet, how can we presume to speak His will to such matters, simply because we have faith? 2 Corinthians 12:7 seems to indicate that God, in His perfect sovereignty, does not always answer our prayer of faith to our satisfaction.

2Co 12:7-9
(7) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. (8) Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. (9) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Even though the leper’s humility models the attitude with which we must approach our Savior God, where is the balance between expecting Him to fulfill His promises, and avoiding the presumption of demanding affirmative answers to prayer? Therein lies my personal struggle with prayer; though I believe with certainty that God can grant my pleas, I’m never sure that my will aligns with His.

One of my greatest fears is presuming upon God’s will, and thus bringing a reproach upon His holy Name. How often have I heard well-meaning brethren speak with a certainty that God will heal, or otherwise answer prayer according to their demands? And does such presumption escape the notice of unsaved observers? We often express dismay at most people’s gospel-resistance, but in view of so many believers’ religious antics, how can we expect otherwise?

If we simply know God’s Word and honestly proclaim Jesus’ gospel of grace, not what we want it to say, but only what it actually says, we can overcome much of the world’s hateful prejudice. But that requires that we love sinners more than our pet doctrines.

Lord, if Thou wilt, thou canst make us clean of our putrid attitudes.