The last straw is important…

Sometime during October 2008 Kathe and I were sitting at red light waiting for the light to change at this busy intersection in Pretoria South Africa.  Suddenly the car just died.  It was like someone had yanked out the battery.  I checked under the hood and yes everything was still there…and it should be OK since the battery was only a year and a half old.  This seemed to be the last straw for us in our woes with this 1994 Toyota Camry.  God had provided the car for us but during the last eight months it had been draining our bank account in repairs.  Now the car was dead and our bank account empty.  Needless to say, Kathe and I were not ‘happy campers’ as we called for a tow truck.

The tow truck operator got there and while he was busy getting the car onto his flatbed we did the paper work.  When we filled in the paperwork he noted that we were missionaries with an international organization, telling us that he too was a Christian.  I was giving him a litany of woes about not having any resources to fix the car and we were on limited income as volunteers and we really wanted to blow up the car.    He nodded and smiled not saying anything as he drove us to the compound where we work and there is a repair shop.  As he unloaded the car, I continued to list out my frustrations.  After he was finished he stopped and turning to both of us he asked us if he could pray for the car…specifically laying hands on it.  We were surprised and said yes…neither one of us thought that it would do any good…but hey…we were desperate!

The next day the mechanic told me that batteries here in South Africa last less than two years and so that was an easy fix.  And guess what?  God had prompted someone to add some extra to their giving and it was enough to pay for the battery.  But that is not the end of the story.

The car was still unreliable and full of noises that sounded like parts falling out.  On the mission field these cars are commonly called P&P…push and pray!  As we thought about the incident we talked about how we had done a lot of pushing but almost no praying.  As I thought about Philippians 4:6 that says: “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I was stuck with the fact that I had qualified needs to bring to the Lord: Important or Not so Important.  This was one of those divine appointments that God arranged not to help us with the car but to shift our paradigm as to the meaning of everything! Was it coincidence that of the hundreds of the tow truck drivers available in this large city that this one was a man of God?

You would think that we as missionaries would be experts regarding this whole area of pray.  When the man of God prayed for our car, it did not take long for us to realize that this was one particular area in our life that we were clinging on to with tight fists.  The result was that our attitude regarding the car was causing large amounts of stress, worry and unfaithfulness to our Sovereign Lord.  What changed for us for us?  The car is still the same.  But now we get into the car and ask God to keep it going.  We also remind Him on occasion [particularly when a new noise appears] that He provided the car for us and that we have given it back to Him to care for.  We also acknowledge [and this is the faith leap] that should He allow the car to quit again, we are going to trust Him to sort it out and not rely on our strategy.  We remind Him occasionally that He is the one that brought us to South Africa and has faithfully consistently provided for our every need…and this is just one of them.

That incident happened during October 2008.  Today is August 20, 2009.  The car has not so much as hiccupped.  It still sounds like a tin can full of nuts and bolts and it is scary to drive with steering that wanders on the road.  Ed Noble [teaching pastor at Journey Church in San Diego] made this observation about the human need for control:  “Not knowing makes us feel out of control and helpless.  Prayer helps us to remember and causes us to embrace that our good and all-wise God is always the one in control.” And the really cool thing is that once again God has demonstrated to us the truth of John 14:27 when Jesus made this promise “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let it be afraid“. God is so good!  Before coming on furlough Kathe and I were taking about what we have learned during these two years.  The thought occurred to me that if the Lord were to give us a new vehicle, I would miss the old bucket of bolts.  You see, we learned a new thing about trusting God.  Would we give our new and better car back to the Lord?  The choice would be up to us.

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When God rejoices…

Are there angels around us watching us work out our salvation?  When we get it right and follow the Lord in faith do they rejoice with singing?  Consider:  Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

I am finding that God has made life quite simple.  When Jesus said that even a little child can understand salvation, it is true.  Life is made up of a series of choices.  The choices come to us in pairs.  The follower of Christ is not faced with multiple choice but a choice of ‘either’ ‘or.’  That is what makes it so simple.  When I find myself in a situation I have the opportunity to put feet to my claims of trusting in the Lord.  I will do one of two things.  Either I can choose my prideful way or I will live by faith.

Choosing to live by faith means that I am going to choose to trust in, rely on and adhere to the Lord Jesus Christ.  By faith I am going to rejoice in the fact that God has plans for me because He takes great delight in me.  Choosing to go my own prideful way will cause me to view the circumstance from my perspective.  I immediately start the process of trying to sort out how to maybe avoid this altogether; or how to escape; or start trying to find the resources I can use; or trying to find any resources that might work; or just try to blame someone and become the ‘victim.’

Making the choice to live in faith or to live outside faith is difficult at first.  Choosing to trust God works like this.  I find myself in a circumstance that seems to be unbearable.  I make the choice to trust God.  I choose to believe God that He is not planning to harm me.  Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” In the face of all that is surrounding me, I choose to acknowledge that God is going to do what He says and give me hope by building my faith.  This could be through the loss of someone or the loss of my dreams or the loss of a job or the loss of my health or intense marital issues.  It matter not what the situation turns out to be each of us.  What matters is that I fix my eyes on Jesus.  He promises me a future.  He promises me He will quiet my troubled heart with His love…but I have to let go of my hearts’ desires.

The problem is as old as the human race.  Even though God created us we still think that we know better.  We think that God is not listening.  We think that God does not care about me…that I am too insignificant or not good enough.  These are all lies from the Accuser.  We fail to see things from God’s perspective.  We fail to lift our eyes and by faith hear God rejoicing with the angels when we grasp His ways.

Think about this quote from George MacDonald:  “Those who think their affairs too insignificant for God’s regard, will justify themselves in lying crushed under their seeming ruin.  Either we live in the heart of an eternal thought, or we are the product and sport of that which is lower than we.” Read that quote again.  Are you being the product and sport of that which is lower than you are?  Do you know who is lower than you are?

What do we do when tempted?

Here is the narrative about what Jesus did when He was tempted:

Matthew 4:1-11  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

Mat 4:5  Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”  Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Mat 4:8  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.   And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

The beginning of Jesus’ public ministry was marked by His baptism by John the Baptist.  But before He could be allowed to start, there was one more test from God His Father.  The Holy Spirit led [some translations will read “drove”] Jesus into the wilderness.  This was not a friendly place to be.  He was alone and there were wild animals that lived in the area.  Once the Holy Spirit had taken Jesus to the location picked by God, Jesus started a fast that lasted 40-days.  But the fasting was not the primary trial.  After 40-days, a malevolent angel approaches Him.

We are not given much data from the Scriptures as to the physical appearance of the devil after his fall.  But the words used in the Bible give some clues.  Devil means slanderer in the Greek.  In the language of Hebrew, it means “adversary.”  He is an arch-enemy of God and is determined to undermine man’s spiritual interest.  Matthew’s narrative is focused on what Jesus experienced and not on the evil one providing the temptations.  It is clear from the narrative that the devil wants Jesus to act on His own outside the will of His Father.  Jesus makes it clear by His responses that anyone can keep themselves from temptation if they focus on God and the Word that He has given us.  Every quote used by Jesus was well known by the Jewish people.  There is a clear lesson here for us today…but on with the narrative.

The devil thinks that Jesus will surely fail during one of three temptations.  First the accuser tries to get Jesus to take matters into His own hands by creating bread…40-days without food would make for a famished man [v.3].  Jesus responds with a God-principle and does not take the bait.

Next the accuser tries to tempt Jesus into manipulating God to respond to Jesus doing an act of suicide.  Again Jesus quotes another God-principle…reminding the devil that he was on dangerous ground.

Having failed twice, the devil now tries the temptation of power because he knows that power corrupts men because of their pride.  One can almost sense from the narrative that the devil feels sure that this is the temptation that means success for him.  But Jesus gives a command for Satan to immediately leave followed by a reminder of the 1st commandment…a command from God Himself.  Satan leaves on Jesus’ command but his pride causes him to wait for another opportunity.

There would be other opportunities.  Jesus walked and talked a life before God that was based on choice.  He did not let hunger which put Him into a weakened state to and dominate His thinking.  He kept His eyes on His Father.  We face choices all the time.  Do we think about where they might be coming from?  Satan wants to accuse us.  He wants to divide us.  He wants us to take our eyes off of Jesus and look elsewhere for help.  Everything about our life is a matter of choice.  Follow Jesus and keep your eyes on Him.

Grateful

We have so very much to be thankful for to our heavenly Father. Exodus 34:6 says “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” Every once in a while I stop and look around. I marvel at the mercy and grace that God has showered on us. We did not deserve this. There is nothing in the world…no human energy, strategy or cleverness that can merit God’s unmerited favor on us. When I do take the time to pause and think about God’s blessing on our lives, it causes an overwhelming sense of gratitude. But here is the kicker…how does one thank God who blesses without reason? Maybe the more important question would be ‘How often do I stop and thank God for such a rich life?’

Mountain climbing perseverance…

Mountain climbing peaks such as Mount Everest is very much like getting to know God.  It takes committment, time, effort, training and equipment.  Not all that attempt the climb will succeed.  Many will turn back because it is too hard.  Many will fail and not try again.  Therefore, all will decide how much they want to reach the peak.  All will decide how much effort they will extend and that becomes their goal.

When it is hard going…

How I live around others is maybe the clearest indicator about what type of theology I ascribe to and practice. The acid test of this is this: Being a church member, do I help or hinder my brothers and sisters in Christ to increase or decrease their faith. In other words, do I add vinegar or honey when I am talking about others. Am I full of poison when in crisis or do I choose to allow God to bring “peace that passes human understanding…” I alone control and determine the level at which I will respond to God in crisis. Meditate on this: Psalms 32:10-11 Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! Rejoicing when times are difficult and God seems to have left the scene requires a trust in God that goes far deeper than mere feelings.

Is eternal poverty possible?

1Pe 1:4 “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you”

So once again the question remains: what is this inheritance that is above the law of physics? Is it not Jesus Himself? Is it not people who came to Christ because of our obedience to Christ? The only thing eternal in this world are people. People are the mission and inheritance of the His church. All Saints [and by that I mean those individuals that choose to humble themselves before God, repent of their sins and turn from sin to learning to obey the Lord Jesus] have an opportunity to build an inheritance that neither molds, rusts or rots.

We always have a choice. God created us to be people of choice. Concerning our inheritance, first, we have to make a conscious choice to be freed from the deception of riches, control and reputation. Second we have to recognize Saints that we are not citizens of this world and therefore we are not to try and build our inheritance here on earth. If we get this notion straight…that Jesus Christ is our inheritance, then it becomes easier to follow the Great Commission and Command to “Go into the world”…”Love one another…” If we get this notion straight we will become cheerful givers rather that hoarders.

People are the only things created to be eternal. We were created to be in fellowship with God. But God created us to be free agents meaning we can choose to spend this life apart from Him. It is a choice that all of us make. Refusal to consider carefully Jesus when He said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” is a clear refusal to the claim that Jesus has on our life. It is to make a choice for an eternity isolated from God’s love. We poo-poo the idea now at our peril. When we die sometime in the future, we will suddenly see the reality of our choices now. No one has the ability to control when our appointment with death will occur.

Unfading inheritance…

1Pe 1:4 “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you

Peter is going to great lengths to give us a clear word picture of what is in store in the future for the one who trusts the Lord Jesus Christ. Living in this world, we are accustomed to things that fade. In our world nothing retains its original beauty and newness. In our world everything is susceptible to some sort of decay. In our world everything living dies.

Imagine a world where the flowers that bloom will as rich in color and fragrance forever. Imagine a world were nothing dies. Imagine a world where nothing grows old…where decay is nonexistent. That is the world waiting for the one who is willing to relinquish control of something that they in reality have no control over in the first place…our lives. Consider…can you absolutely guarantee that you will live any certain amount of time? If not, then you are not in control of your life! If you are not in control…then WHO is?

Undefiled Inheritance…

1Pe 1:4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in for you

This is an interesting thought…our inheritance being undefiled. Being a person of inheritance we can be assured that we will not be tempted by it. We will not be tempted to waste it or misuse it as is the case with inheritance gained here on earth. We will not want to use it for sensuality or lust. Since there will be no ideas or even hints of sin in God’s Kingdom, there will be no deterioration of our inheritance. There will be no cheating out of our rightful place as heirs as evidenced here on earth.

This is an inheritance that will last for eternity and be for our enjoyment. And I believe that since we will not be just sitting around on clouds bored while playing harps [the Scriptures make it clear that we are going to rein with the King of Kings…meaning that we are going to be working] we can use our inheritance to continue to expand His Kingdom.