Profound

Progress in our journey of faith is made public in the testing.

Sometimes things stare at us in the face and we are too busy to take notice. Listen to the following quote: “[Jesus is] my rock and my fortress and for Your name’s sake You lead and guide me. … My times are in Your hand.” [Psalm 31:3,15] These are not questions of faith. These are statements considered fact from those who knew firsthand what life-threatening trouble was like. David was not hopeful that what he prayed was true. He knew from first-hand experience the truth. Jesus prayed this prayer often not because he was hopeful but because he demonstrated trust that God was his only rock and fortress during the times of profound duress.

Resolute trust. That is what it takes to turn head knowledge into experiential faith. It is the essence of wisdom. It is a process revealing progress as we learn through each new trial that Jesus has in fact redeemed and restored us and therefore we can commit ourselves into His hands. Progress in our journey of faith is made public in the testing. When trouble comes do we first blame God? Do we question ‘why’ and turn away from God? Christ followers the world over will testify to the fact that when ‘life goes south’ it is here that they have the opportunity to discover with each new faith-challenging circumstance that God has not delivered them into the hand of their enemies. But we have to be willing to look at the rock and not at the waves. We have to be willing to step out of the boat and follow Jesus wherever He leads.

Most of the time profound truth lies in the areas where we do not want to relinquish control. We see life from an finite, not an infinite position. Knowing this we still resist wanting to surrender control of our lives. We have trouble seeing the “image of God” in others. Just listen to the rhetoric being slung around from leaders who claim to be Christian this year.

“My times are in Your hand.” [David]

“What God does in time, He planned from eternity. All that He planned from eternity, Jesus carried out in time.” [J.I.Packer]

Crossroads

FAITH (strong, confident belief in God)

What does faith look like? Over the years I have found that faith is built at the crossroads of doubt and fear.

My wife and I spent three and a half years as missionaries in South Africa. During the first six months we were part of a Mission Development Team located on a primitive base. We left sunny southern California at the onset of warm summer and the next day arrived in Pretoria, greeted by the southern hemisphere’s starting of cold winter. The base amenities’ consisted of cold showers, poorly prepared food, cockroaches and no heat in any rooms. Everyday everyone got up when it is dark and we sat collectively in a freezing room wrapped in blankets while one of us led devotions. Then we each went back to our rooms to spend another hour in personal devotions; all before having coffee. Two months after arriving, I was standing early one bitterly cold morning with a hot bowl of oatmeal. Icy blasts of wind were blowing through the room like a sieve. My hands were wrapped around the bowl and I had my head over it to catch the hot steam. There just was not enough heat. I remember distinctly questioning myself “What on earth I was doing here?” This was not my picture of serving the Lord. This is not what I had in mind coming to South Africa. “Lord, did I make a mistake?” That was the first time I really started to examine my faith.

On any day in the year, somewhere in the world there is tragedy. The most common question asked is “Where is God?” People from assorted faiths were asking this question last year when 200,000 lives were extinguished in several minutes from a tidal wave and when an entire village of men, women and children were wiped off the face of the earth in less than a minute by a mudslide. My wife and I struggled with the same question two years ago when within seven months of being diagnosed with cancer, our oldest daughter who was an ardent Christ-follower, was dead. Where was God?

It is easy to say that I am going to step out in faith and trust God. It is not so easy to have my faith stretched. Walking in faith means that maybe I am going to be asked to do things outside of my comfort zone. Living in another culture means that I may have to worship with other Christians in ways that may be uncomfortable, or work with other nationalities who do not share my ways work should be accomplished or eating graciously food that is very different from what I like or expect, or doing ministry that seems meaningless in order to reach a people who show no appreciation.

I learned quickly the “knots” of faith: faith does not just drop out of the sky; faith does not just happen like magic; faith is not a result of my effort to believe.

It took more time to learn the “mean’s” of faith: faith means experiencing God under difficult times; faith means learning to go where you have never been before; faith means trusting God for the things that you cannot see, much less understand; faith means trusting God’s intentions [Is He always for me or is He out to get something from me?] and finally faith means that I believe that God is capable of producing results from things I cannot see.

It is easy to say “I trust You God” when things look good. But when I get into heart-racing situations those words can melt like butter. I think that faith may be one of the greatest human achievements possible. The test of my faith comes when I have lost control of the situation and am powerless to do anything.

The test of your faith will be when you encounter something beyond your ability to control. Will you suddenly have “spiritual forgetfulness”? Will you lose sight of what God has done for you in the past? Faith is really nothing more than a practice of choosing to trust God at the crossroads of doubt and fear.

Seeds

where birds can come and find shelter’ [Mark 4:32 NIV] The mustard seed starts out as a very tiny seed. It is basically bird feed. But if it is given the chance to grow, it becomes a nesting place. It grows from insignificant to huge. That was the point that Jesus was making about the Good News He brings. It might seem small, almost inconsequential at first. A small step; a small seed of faith is all that is required to respond. This seemingly insignificant step, this seed, if watered grows huge in our lives. It grows into a place where we can find shelter. Do not worry if the steps you take at first in responding to Jesus’ message seem like nothing. You have not seen the end of the story about you and Jesus.

The seed knows nothing about growth. It knows nothing about mustard trees. It knows nothing about how big it can get. It knows nothing about birds of the air. It know nothing about what it will provide for some of God’s creatures. It just knows it is a seed. As long as it is sitting in a sack with thousands of other seeds it has no special worth. It is just one of the crowd. It does know that it needs to get alone, away from the crowds of other seeds. It has work to do for the Creator but what is it? One day it feels itself being lifted and flung into the air. Daylight at last! It lands on some soft soil. Something covers the little seed up and now he is in the dark. It feels right. He is in the right place. Then the little seed becomes thirsty. Moisture soaks down to the little seed. He pushes out a few tiny roots and he drinks it in thirstily. He is getting just a little bit bigger now but time passes so slowly. He wants change. The little seed is getting impatient. When am I going to be what the Creator made me to be? Then one day the little seed notices that he is changing. Something big is happening. His roots are getting bigger and stronger. One sunshiny day he suddenly see some light. His leaf that he had been pushing with all his might up through the soil suddenly breaks into the sunlight. “At last, I am on the way to being what God created me to be!”

Faith is a powerful gift from God. It is vital to being able to live as God intended us to live. It is impossible to please God without faith. Faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. That is what Jesus told his disciples. “By using the uncommonly small mustard seed as an example, Jesus is speaking figuratively about the incalculable power of God when unleashed in the lives of those with true faith.” “… little is much when it comes from God. The mustard seed in the parable grows to be a huge tree, representing the tiny beginnings of [Christ being formed in us] when just a few disciples began to preach and teach the gospel. Eventually the kingdom grew to huge proportions, encompassing the entire world and spreading over centuries.” [S. Michael Houdmann, http://www.gotquestions.org/mustard-seed-faith.htm/

Faith or Unbelief

Have you ever been offended by what God tells us. Jesus stopped into his home town and ‘They were greatly offended’ Not just offended, but greatly offended. They were offended by the miracles. They did not like the fact that he could do them. Jesus offended their mindset, upsetting how they thought things ought to be. [Read Mark 6:1-13 about Jesus’ hometown visit.]

Due to their pride and expectations, they could not discern the divine in the human. Instead of looking to see the connection to God, the town elders made it a point to study to debunk his wisdom and miracles. They purposely raised prejudices in the minds of the town’s people. Their reasoning was simple. How could anyone with a home-education, who had never traveled, had never been to any university or even been tutored at the feet of one of Israel’s learned doctors, be what he claimed to be? In spite of the overwhelming evidence, they could not get past the question: “Is not this the Carpenter?” They even contradicted themselves in looking for excuses to not believe in Jesus. They said: “He is the son of Mary; his brethren and sisters are here with us.” In other words, we know his family and kindred. And then they turn around and say: “As for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.” [John 9:29 KJV and the controversy of the blind man healed.]

’because of their unbelief, he could not do any mighty miracles among them’ [Mark 6:5 NIV] In other words, they hardened their hearts and continued their prejudices against him. Because they knew his parentage, they had seen him grow up playing the same games they did, getting the same education and knew of his local professional career as a carpenter among them, they could not account for the proofs of Christ’s deity that were so plain and uncontestable. To Jesus, as a human, it was amazing that there should be any who would continue to be unbelievers. I wonder if Jesus concluded, when faced with the attitude of his ‘home boys’ and their overwhelming unbelief, that he thought that they were simply stupid. Their hardness of heart blinded their minds. When the disciples saw the reaction of Jesus’ hometown people, they had experiential knowledge of why Jesus told them as he sent them out “And if a village won’t welcome you or listen to you, shake off its dust from your feet as you leave. It is a sign that you have abandoned that village to its fate.”

So what does God see as the difference between faith and unbelief? I think that John Bunyan may be a help here. This is a partial list [there are 14 more] I have adapted of the differences that he saw in the Bible between faith and unbelief. It is very insightful.

Faith believes the Word of God; but unbelief questions it. When God had brought his people to the river that was the border at the edge of the land that He had promised them: Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise.[Psa 106:24] The psalmist goes on to say that they were just sitting in their tents grumbling about God’s treatment of them.

Faith brings us near to God when we are far from him; but unbelief puts us far from God when we are near to him. “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings” [Heb 10:22] And “see to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” [Heb 3:12]

Where faith reigns, it declares men to be the friends of God; but where unbelief reigns, it declares them to be his enemies. “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” [Rev 21:8).

I am not just saying. This is what God himself says. Believe it or not to your benefit or detriment.

Storms

The day was like any other day full of Jesus healing people and telling stories. And we were all tired. Jesus had told one story about a farmer and some seed that we were having trouble comprehending. But then Jesus said a lot of stuff to us that was difficult, sometimes just impossible to understand at the time. It was late afternoon when Jesus told us to go to the other side of the lake so we could get some rest form the pressing crowds. He had already secured a boat and was in it, waving to us to hurry up. Those of us who made our living on the water and could read the weather were nervous as we climbed in to this old fishing boat. All of us sailors have seen some sudden storms during our careers. A few of them, like these on the Sea of Galilee, can be violent and frightening and potentially destructive. This afternoon we can see that a storm is brewing and it would be dark very quickly. This trip did not seem like a wise thing to be doing.

Sure enough, we were not too far out in the lake when the storm moved over us. As with most storms on the lake they could increase suddenly and be life threatening. Our little boat with it sides low to the waterline was built for hauling in fish but not for keeping waves out. The wind picked up to gale force and high waves began to break into the boat until it was nearly full of water. The landlubbers among us immediately started losing their lunch over the side. It was difficult bailing and trying to hold on so that we were not tossed into the lake. And what was our fearless leader doing? Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. Nobody wanted to go wake him. So we bailed and bailed but we were losing the boat. Here is the thing that was galling those of us who were sailors. There is an unsaid rule that when the ship gets into trouble everyone pitches in to help. Some of us murmured irritation that Jesus was not be pulling his weight and help.

Finally out of desperation we made the decision and some of us when back to wake Jesus up. It seemed like the storm even more in the time it took to get to Jesus. Frantically we woke him up, shouting at the top of our lungs to be heard, “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are going to drown?” What happened next was, how can I put it, surreal! What we expected Jesus to do was wake up and see the mortal danger were in, jump up and help us. But no, this man did the opposite.
When he woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the water, “Quiet down!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. It was absolutely freaky. The silence was deafening. We were stunned. A great fear settled among us. We thought that we had been afraid for our lives during the storm, even the sailors among us, but this? The only sound was the water gently lapping against the boat.

He stood up and looking at each one of in the eye asked us, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still not have faith in me?” No one answered. There was a greater fear residing in our hearts. Jesus turned and stepped over to the side of the boat leaning over splashed water on his face. We turned to each other and were all whispering among ourselves, “Who is this man, that even the wind and waves obey him?”

A couple of days later, a fellow sailor I have known for many years asked me a question after I related what had happened a few days ago. He asked me “How did I know that Jesus was someone who cares for me?” What he was really asking was ‘why would I follow someone who put me into dangerous circumstances. I told him that it was a good question. We, his disciples had been wondering the same thing more than once. It was amazing to us, looking back at the night, that Jesus was sound asleep in the midst of a storm on a small fishing boat being swamped by the sea. We concluded that only someone who was completely confident of their abilities in their surroundings would be asleep in such a precarious situation. Further insight by Jesus as to his relationship with his Father helped us conclude that he trusted his Father implicitly. His being asleep in the midst of imminent danger contained the secret of something not readily apparent to us at first. He had no doubts or reservation as to his Father’s love for him. It was not something that he questioned. Frantically I and my shipmates had to yell at him over the noise of the storm to wake him up out of a sound sleep and instead of being annoyed he did our bidding.

The question Jesus asked has haunted me, as well as all of us. Looking back on my fear of the storm as I frantically tried to save myself, one thing is apparent. Jesus took away the immediate fear by removing the storm. But that left another greater fear in my heart. If this man Jesus can do what no other man can do and control a storm, then what can he do to me. He did not just control the storm, he eradicated it completely. There is a part of me that keeps asking questions. Can he control me? If I make him angry will he annihilate me? What are his intentions? Are they good?

I think that I have discovered something. Jesus asked two questions: “Why are you so afraid?” And “Do you still not have faith in me?” And the answer is in the questions! I am finding that when I am afraid I am not trusting Jesus. He has proven himself over and over again. [Wait till I tell you the pig story.] He has the power. So I am learning that I just need to keep my eyes on Jesus and not what is going on around me. So simple to do when I chose to do so! From the storm I learned that Jesus is far greater and more powerful than the storm and he is willing to take me through the storm. All I have to do is trust him enough to ask.

Who is listening to whom?

There is a lot of dialogue among Christians of varied persuasions about the techniques, abilities, and theology of how to listen to God [or even if God speaks today]. A young man told a group of us last night that he has often wondered “Where do the words come from that are a benefit to others, when they are not in my head to begin with?!”

How often have you felt like you were being prompted to say something to someone and immediately the following thoughts ran through your mind? “They won’t trust me. They won’t listen to a word I say. They’re going to say, ‘GOD? Speaks to him? Hardly!’” Or this objection: “Lord, please, I don’t talk well. I’ve never been good with words, neither in the past or today. I stutter and stammer.” Or the ultimate objection: “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Sound familiar? Too often we think that we are not the right person for the job God has in mind for us. Of course, stopping to think our objection[s] through, we will see clearly it implies that God does not know what He is doing. It implies that He has randomly just picked me to go do or say something because I happen to be handily available.

I suspect that the real reason that we are resistant to following the prompting of God has to do with it taking us out of our comfort zone. We do not like being uncomfortable. And why are we uncomfortable? Because we have set boundaries around what we will do in obedience when God prompts us in some direction. The author of Hebrews quotes God writing: “… my righteous ones will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” And then he adds “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” [Hebrews 10:38-39 NIV] If we are to believe God, then shrinking back from doing what He wants us to do is to invite God’s displeasure in us.

God understands better than we do how uncomfortable it can be stepping outside of our ‘comfort boundaries.’ Jesus was there. He experienced that also. Our fear of stepping out be it to talk to a stranger or give a message really has to do with slavery. Who or what do we fear the most? Are we a slave to our fears; are we a slave to our individual preconceived boundaries of trust? Do we really believe it when God tells us, in writing, that “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear …” If we doubt that God really means what He says, than we will miss out on opportunities of receiving blessings from God’s hand by failing to minister to others that He Himself put in our way. We are a slave if we fail to obey, which is an oxymoron because being a slave has to do with unwavering obedience.

Essentials of Christian Living?

Abram moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent … And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. [Genesis 12:8 ESV]

These three things a man of God called Abram did that can sum up his life:

  1. He pitched his tent where God told him to,
  2. he build an Altar and
  3. he called on the Name of the Lord.

Abram was a man of faith living in a faithless country. He consistently did three things that are the hallmarks of his journey through life. He made mistakes. But he kept coming back to these three anchors that connected him to God via a life of faith. So I asked myself this morning just what the Spirit of God would want to say to me through the example of Abram.

 

He pitched his tent where God told him to.

How often do we ask God where we should live? Abram did not move until he was called out by God. And then he responded in unquestioned obedience even though he did not know where God was leading him. For most Christians today, we are too much in a hurry to be in a place to wait on God to call us to His purpose. We have to be willing to pause while “doing life” and seek God’s counsel. Due to a very recent family crisis, Kathe and I had to move out of one place and quickly find a new one. This crisis was going to put a huge change into our lives from what we were accustomed to. We looked all over for alternatives all the while asking God, in faith, to lead us. Then on the last day before the deadline for making a decision we someone told us of a place close to our daughter. As we walked through where we currently live, we paused in our spirits and asked God to show us why we should not live there as it seemed to good to be true.

 

He build an Altar.

When we do fine a place to reside, do we in effect build an altar: do we ask for God’s divine protection on our dwelling? Do we even think that is necessary? Wherever Abram went, it was his practice to worship God at the place where he lived.

 

He called on the Name of the Lord.

Since the beginning of time, men have cried out from the depths of their being to God. We call out whether we know God or not. We call out in times of trial or despair.  We call out in an attempt to draw near to and communicate with this One that we instinctively know as our Creator. Whatever the motive, this calling out to God is universal; it can be observed around the globe in every culture. Such a resonating cry is universal because it issues from the deepest part within man, his spirit. This practice of calling on the Lord began with the earliest generations of mankind recorded in the Bible.

We live, as did Abram, in a land full of idolatry. By calling on the Name of the Lord, Abram was renouncing all idolatry. Is there an applications here for you today? 

Thomas the Unbeliever – a different Easter story

The story of Thomas from John 20:19-25 & Luke 24:36-43   Sunday, March 24, 2013


The wind blew easily out of the north across the barren hilltop with still a biting winter chill lingering in it, whipping the heavy cloak Thomas clutched around him. He stood with tears tugging at the corners of his eyes as he looked across the Kidron Valley at Jerusalem. Today was the first day of the new week after the Passover. The last forty-eight hours had destroyed any hope he had in God being able to overthrow the barbarian hold of Rome on his country. His brothers were scattered. His hope in any changes in their lives was now shattered by the death of their leader. The Jews had won a major victory in killing off a man who did them no harm. Now he was hiding out pretending to be a shepherd.

One of the eleven, Andrew had sent a boy out early this morning to tell him that the rest of the disciples along with some friends would be meeting at John’s house in secret. None of the Jesus followers trusted their countrymen now. The Jews, the ones who held to the teachings of his fathers, could no longer be trusted. They had killed the One who promised so much from God. And now all their hopes lay decaying in a borrowed grave. And yet the twelve … no wait … now ten were going to meet in secret. He would not be going. He ran into the hills to his cousin after the Man had died on the cross. When the sky turned black fear gripped his heart. Some would probable call him a coward but he preferred to think of it as prudent. The Jews would be looking for further revenge. They had been vindicated by His death as a blasphemer. The religious leaders had pulled off the impossible through a mockery of a trial. So he ran.

Jacob his cousin, a shepherd, had assured him he would be safe with him. Nobody paid attention to shepherds. Nobody would come looking for him in the hills surrounding Jerusalem. And what was the big fuss anyway, Jacob had asked. Prophets come and go. This one came and went. He may have said and done some good things but in the end, the grave caught him just like it will catch us. He may have claimed to be God’s Son but where was the proof. It was lying in a grave. Another prophet has come and gone. God has forgotten His people.  

* * * *

The two men, Jacob a poor shepherd and Thomas a towns tradesman, were sitting around a small fire in the in the early morning a week later. The sheep were starting to stir. It had been a warmer night with a softer breeze blowing, hinting at spring just around the corner.

Jacob stirred his tea. “Did you sleep well Cousin?”

“You know I didn’t. My bed in town does not have rocks in it” snorted Thomas.

“Well, you invited yourself out here.”

“Jacob, you were not there to see the near riots caused by the Jews surrounding Jesus’ trial. Besides, you said that it would be safe here in the hills.”

“I did. Tell me Cousin, why do you keep talking about the ‘Jews’ as if you are not one also. I know that you are a son of Abraham. I was there at your bar mitzvah.” He paused as he took a sip of tea. “You know Thomas; you take this religion thing too seriously. Do your duty and leave it at that.”

Thomas was silence. He pulled his robe around himself tighter. He felt exposed. “How do I answer him” he thought. “I am a Jew. But I am not a Jew as they are. I believe that the Messiah was here. I lived with Him and ate with Him and saw Him do miracles and even went on outreaches for Him. But now what could we do? I skipped out when He was arrested. It all seemed to crumble so quickly. I still believe and yet there is a part of me that tells me that I don’t believe. I need proof. He told us that we would see Him again. But where is He now? He acted like we should change the world but how can we do that when He as our leader is dead? Oh God, I feel so confused. Have I believed all of this for nothing? And what are the others doing now? Peter is probably back fishing.”      

“Thomas” Jacob said sharply, “it has been a week now and the Jews have not rioted or caused any more arrests.” “Maybe you should go back into the city and see what is really going on.”

“Yeah … you are right I suppose. Curiosity is getting the best of me!” He stood up and started rolling up his blankets. “I have had enough of sleeping on hard ground.”

* * * * 

Hours later Thomas is walking through the streets of Jerusalem. He keeps his hood over his head and his eyes avoid contact with others. The crowds are moving in the streets as usual. The marketplace is full and nothing seems to be unusual. “This is not what I thought.” He rounds a corner and bumps into Nathanael. “Thomas! Long time no see! Where have you been hiding out?  Oh man, have you missed out on some excitement!”

“No, I do not think so! I stayed out of the city and the Jews way! What are you and the rest doing?”

“The Lord as risen!”

“I came back into the city to see what you guys were … What did you say?”

“I said” repeated Nathanael slowly, “that the Lord has risen. He is alive.”

“Get out of here. That is impossible!”

“Come on Thomas. I am heading to John’s place now. We are meeting to figure out what it is that the Lord wants us to do. I’ll tell you what happened as we walk.”

Thomas hurried after with Nathanael. He spoke first that the ten of them had met at John’s place a week ago, the first day of the week after Passover. They had met behind barred doors due to fear of further reprisals from the Jews. Together, they reminisced about how for about two years they had been a close knit band of brothers. Now they wanted to compare notes and talk over what to do now that their leader was dead. Each of them talked about what was on their minds and what to do at this critical juncture. They were afraid to be in the public eye especially as a group. They were criminals according to the religious Jews. By this time they had reached the door of John’s house. Nathanael stopped and turning to Thomas he said quietly: “But then the most amazing and startling thing happened. Jesus showed up in our midst, just like that.”

“What do you mean ‘just like that?”

“Just like that! He suddenly was standing in our midst. The doors were stilled barred. But there He stood as plain as day.”

“That was a ghost! You guys are fools” Thomas said in disgust as he reached for the door handle to open it.

“I do not think so Thomas. Too many of us have seen Him. Mary. Peter. And then were those two others traveling to Emmaus. And now us.”

“Hey you two!” shouted a man coming down the street hurrying toward them. “Why are you just standing here gabbing? Go inside before we raise too much attention!”

As the man got closer he saw it was Philip. “Hi Philip.” Thomas looked intently at him and asked: “Do you too really believe all of this insane talk about Jesus really being alive?”

Philip herded them through the door and closed the door after them. “Thomas, all I can say is that Jesus showed up in skin and bones just like you and I. He even asked for a …”

“Hey you guys. We are about read to start.” interrupted John as he greeted them in the hallway. “Come on my friends, the rest of us are already here.” He led the way down the hallway and through the inner courtyard to a door that opened into a room in the back of the house and stepped inside. Nathanael and Philip piled through the door but Thomas stayed back. From the doorway, he saw in the room the other ten disciples and some of the others who hung out with them. Suddenly he felt embarrassed. Everyone seemed too excited, so sure, so confident.

“Come on in” shouted Levi over the loud talk of the group from the other side of the room. He shouldered his way across the room to the door. “Come on Thomas, come in and hear the latest news.”

Thomas stepped through the door reluctantly. Not wanting to be in any new conversation he turned to Philip and said: “So what were you saying in the hallway about Jesus? What did the Lord … I mean what did the ghost, do or say next …?”

Philip scratched his beard thinking and then said: “Oh yes, I remember. Jesus was standing in our midst showing us his hands and feet with the blood encrusted holes where the nails had been driven through. We were in a confusion of joy, amazement and just not believing our eyes! Then He asked us if we had anything to eat. One of us, not sure who, grabbed a piece of boiled fish off of the table and gave it to him.” Philip paused seeing one of the servants moving through the room with a tray of wine cups. Philip grabbed one and took a drink.

“And … then what happened” asked Thomas?

Philip looked at Thomas with a puzzled look. “What do you mean what happened? Well, of course He ate it.”

“Oh …” Thomas felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned and found John smiling at him.

“I overheard what Philip was telling you. Remember, Jesus often told us that we are like sheep. He also told us that when something happens to the shepherd, the sheep will scatter. But sheep are also social creatures and like to be together. Welcome home brother. We have missed you this week.”

“Thanks … I spent some time with my cousin.” His mind just seemed to be stopped as if by a wall. How his friends could be so taken in by this sudden appearance of a ghost was beyond him. How could they believe this to be real? What was going on here? Jesus came, they claimed though the doors that were not only shut but bolted. He frowned as he too grabbed a cup of wine off a passing servant’s tray. Taking a sip, he thought ‘how is it possible that they can say they have seen Him alive when just a week ago hundreds of people publically saw Jesus die. This is not rational thinking. Sitting down on a bench against the stone wall, his brow furrowed deeper as he stared down into his cup of red wine.

“You seem awfully quiet this evening Thomas.”

Looking up he saw James sitting down next to him. Ah, his best buddy James. Jesus’ brother. A like minded skeptic like him. A man of few words but very practical. “What on earth are you doing here? Did you fall down and hit your head and now you too believe this stuff” asked Thomas jokingly?

“Yup! All but the falling down part.”

“You’re kidding aren’t you?”

“Nope. Thomas, maybe you are justifying your lack of faith. Jesus said that God would raise Him up after three days. I remember Him saying it, although at the time I did not believe it.”

Thomas turned on the bench and said: “James, look at me. You and I have been friends a long time. I have been part of the ‘Twelve’ as folks like to call us. You on the other hand have always been on the outer fringes. You have voiced many times that you were not able to believe that your half-brother could possibly be the Son of God. And now you suddenly believe?”

“I do.”

“Well I am not just going to play along with this. This is really quite stupid. I have no evidence. I just can’t believe such rubbish. What I find incredibly disturbing is that a practical man like you does.” He angrily drained his cup. Jumping to his feet and raising his voice so that the room could hear “And let me tell you all this, unless I see with my own eyes the nail marks in His hands and put my fingers where the nails were driven into flesh …” There was an uneasy stirring in the room. Thomas looked around defiantly around the room “And put my hand into His side, I refuse to believe in ghost tales!” Muttering under his breath he said: ‘Well there, I have said my piece publically.’ He looked around the room. Some were staring into their cups of wine avoiding eye contact. Some ventured to look at him with astonishment in their eyes. Suddenly a man materialized in front of him. Thomas jumped back in shock.

The Man looked around the room. “Peace be with you” He said to them all. The voice was familiar.

Thomas quickly looked at the door to the room. The wood bars were still in place on the inside. In the back of his mind he realized that Jesus had come through lock doors. No screamed his mind. This is not the real Jesus. A ghost.

Turning to Thomas the ghost said: “Put your finger here right on the wound. Look carefully at my hands” he said as He held them out in front of Thomas to examine. “A ghost does not have flesh and bones Thomas!”

Thomas backed up a step and bumped into James. “Reach out your hand and put it into the wound in my side” as Jesus pulled back his robe to expose the ugly wound. Thomas could feel his legs weakening. This cannot be happening. Tears welled up in his eyes.

“Stop doubting Thomas and believe!” Thomas heard a command and not a request. Thomas the Unbeliever stared. Suddenly it became all too clear to him. His unbelief melted. Tears streamed down his face. All he could say in humble repentance was “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus, with compassion in His voice, said to him: “Have you believed because you have seen Me standing before you? Blessed are the people who have never seen Me physically and yet have believed.”

 * * * *

As you do life this year during 2013, are you a believer or unbeliever? 

Out Came This Calf

Date:  Friday, October 12, 2012             Subject:  Out Came This Calf

 

Chapter: Exodus 32

To understand this chapter we must clearly understand the concept of delay. It is a simple word and we use it fairly often in our normal conversation. But it also is a Kingdom Principle used effectively by God to make us more like Christ. Check out this key word.

 

Key word[s]                         Delay

definitions:    To cause to be later or lower than expected or desired; to act or move slowly.

synonyms:   postponement, wait, on hold, interruption, detain, linger

antonyms:   hurry, rush, urge, hasten, expedite, accelerate

 

We have all heard the old axiom “Seeing is believing.” This is a myth. No. Actually for the man or woman redeemed by God, it is more than that; it is a bold-faced lie. It is a deception promoted by Satan. He wants us to buy into the false thinking that if we just see God do something, some miracle or sign, we will have all of our doubts removed. Then we will be able to trust God better and we will improve our serving Him. But the evidence demands a verdict! Will we really trust God better after seeing Him do something up close and personal. The whole story of a people hand-picked by God to escape the clutches of Egypt reveals the truth.

 

Ponder:

How could a people, rescued by God’s personal intervention, utilizing awesome, previously unseen and unheard of signs and wonders, still not believe? Ask yourself: Have I fallen into the trap of consciously or subconsciously thinking that if I just see some evidence that God is near then I will trust God more?

 

Disadvantage[s]

One of the Israelites’ biggest mistakes was their lack of spiritual vision. We have just read about this exodus but let me recap for you. God heard the cries of the Israelites and sent Moses to lead them out of bondage. Not wanting to lose all of this free labor, Pharaoh resisted and God convinced him otherwise with the 10 Plagues. A cloud by daylight and a pillar of fire by night guided and guarded them on this journey out of Egypt and into the desert. God leads them to the Red Sea and they find themselves trapped. Fear accompanied by grumbling and suddenly an escape route of dry land appears across the Red Sea opens up. Now the “believers” are safely on the other side and over the horizon comes the army of Egyptians madder than hornets. Again fear and complaining by the people who have seen God at work. They watch as the Egyptians try to use God crossing but they perish as the sea closes over them.

 

For three months they travel through the desert. There is much complaining. God patiently supplies them with manna, quail for meat, water from a rock, victory over an aggressive army of Amelekites and finally they arrive at Mt. Sinai. All of the miracles that God provided for them they could either see, hear, taste, smell or feel. You would think that the story would take a turn for good. Here the people of God have seen and experienced first-hand God’s care and protection. Then we read: “Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” [Ex 24:18] What follows is an amazing teaching about our hearts. God has lots to tell Moses and this delays Moses return. The people of God get restless this throws a monkey wrench into their sight-based faith [actually this is an oxy-moron].  

 

Advantage / Benefit:

It was electrifying news circulating amongst the disheartened disciples. Jesus Christ has come out of the tomb. He is risen from the dead! He told us that He would and He has done it. Just as he had said he would. They were excited. “We have seen the Lord!” [John 20:25] all of the disciples excitedly confirmed … all that is but one. Thomas hear them but could not bring himself to believe it. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side,” he exclaimed, “I will not believe it” (John 20:25). “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side” he explained to the others, “I will not believe.” A few day later, saw by sight what he refused to believe by faith, when Jesus provided the opportunity for him to see in person and examine His wounds. Then “Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.

 

We are all on a journey of faith. Want to learn how not to make the journey? Learn from the people of God on that long ago journey. They lacked faith. Because they lacked faith, doubt caused disobedience which kept an entire generation of God’s people from their inheritance — “So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. [Hebrews 3:19] Pastor Ralph has been carefully laying the frame work in these last few Sunday sermons so we can avoid the outcome that the people of the Exodus experienced. They perished in the wilderness. God wants us to be warned today. Living by faith is essential to living as pleasing to God. [Hebrews 4:1-3] “So we fix our eyes,” Paul wrote, “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal…. We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 4:18; 5:7).

 

THREE Applications:

A1:     “Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control…” [v.25]Don’t let yourself get out of control in the dark by rejecting what God has shown you in the light.

 

A2:      Rebellion makes us do crazy things. Rejecting God, no matter how small the matter, causes us to believe our own lies even when we know someone will not believe what we are saying.  “… and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” [v.24] Really? Surely Aaron did not think Moses would believe such a story?

 

A3:      “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” [Heb 12:3]