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Hope in the Lord!

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Isaiah 40:31 “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

     This is one of my most favourite verses in the Bible. It spoke to me at a time when the only friends I had were my immediate family who loved me.   At that time, I had broken away from the powerful group that I belonged to and refused to do something that I believed to be wrong. I was very vocal and public about my opposition to their schemes. The leaders at the time told me that I would have to pay a price for my breaking away; maybe not right away but in time they would make me pay for my actions. My hot headed anger flung the threat back into the urbane faces of those who uttered it but in my heart I knew that it would come to pass. A few years later, I did pay the price for following my beliefs. Although enduring the ‘payback’ hurt ‘big time’, God delivered me from the worst of it. Praise the Lord!

      I admit that even at the  time while doing the right thing my heart was prideful. I rode a high horse through the whole thing and my motives were not pure.  Anger and pride drove my actions just as much as any notion of doing the right thing for His sake. ‘Tony is not pleased’ was more operative than ‘God is not pleased’ as to the inner motives of my heart. I didn’t think about how my actions might affect my family or those I worked with.  When you ride a high horse you end up trampling on those around you.  I hurt people who felt as I did but chose another path for their own reasons and I judged them. Through this difficult time I was not always faithful to God.  God was (and is) always faithful to me; ” . . . for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)

     I had to work through more than a few of my own resentments over the battles I fought going through this.   I have learned to do this using  AA’s Step 4.  Doing this process, I  discovered  my part in the circumstances; “Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame?” (AA’s Big Book Chapter 5)  I realized my pride and arrogance were working overtime through the whole situation. Much of what happened would have been mitigated had I chosen a less judgemental response to the whole thing.  That would not have required any change in my personal convictions.  Even though I’m not an alcoholic, applying the 4th step in AA’s program to my own resentments has always helped me understand my character flaws.  Our job as Christians is to dig deep into ourselves and cry out to God to heal us; “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

     So where was the Word of God in my life at this time?  Where was my hope in the Lord?  My hope in the Lord was where it is now – in me, along with all the other contending anxieties, resentments and prideful attitudes.  Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that our hearts are wicked and deceitful – who can know it?  And the next verse in Jeremiah tells us that God knows our hearts and rewards each according to what they do about it; “I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”  Like all humans my life is complicated and impure.  Yes I hurt my friends and yes I stood up for what was right.  I am sorry for hurting those who cared for me. I’m not sorry for sticking up for what I believe is right.  That being said,  I could have expressed my deeply held convictions in a more Christ like way.  Spiritual growth occurs when you realize that even when you’re right you can be wrong.  Self righteous pride is exposed in that realization.  Healing and restoration of friendships are possible when a person comes to see this and repents of it.

    When you’re making your way through a tough time, hope in the Lord.  We can count on God; “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”  (Phil 1:6)  We aren’t perfect.  If you’re like me often you’ll be wrong even when you’re right.  Even in my brokenness, I hope in the Lord.  I don’t have to be perfect to receive His love and help.  His work in me proceeds;  “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” (Ecc. 7:8)  After many years, I have been able to let go of my resentments and realize that in everything that happens to us, we have a part in it.  Reflection and prayer leads to  repentance and healing.  The Bible tells us; “When men are cast down, then thou shalt say, There is lifting up; and He shall save the humble person.”  (Job 22:29)  The healing journey just begins when the arrogance ends!

     My wife who was a nurse used to take care of a wonderful old person who always prayed; “Oh Lord, please make me humble.”   What wisdom!

     Praise the Lord!

    

    

Enemy within

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Galations 1:6,7 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

A few days ago a man came to the drug and alcohol rehabilitation residence that I work at to enter the program. His life had been a hard one of drinking and drugging. Recent tragedy and crisis had brought him to the point where he was ready to change his life. In speaking with his family I came to learn that although he had no beliefs in God or Jesus he was open to the possibility. One of the few times that he had encountered clergy and church, he had been told that everyone is saved no matter what they have done or will do. Accepting Jesus and His Word or not made no difference to whether a person would go to heaven. This according to the clergyman was due to the salvation of all humanity by Jesus Christ. Fortunately the man didn’t believe it.

I remember talking with my son about the need for salvation and the path to holiness many years ago when he was in his first few months of recovery. He started the conversation with; “This [recovery and giving up dope] had better be worth it. What’s the point of cleaning up your life if it all ends anyway? If all you end up is dead anyway then live hard and live wild – enjoy it while you can.”

“Well, that’s the problem, our bodies eventually die but we live eternally. When our body dies our spirit lives on – forever and ever and ever and ever and ever”, I replied.

“So what!”, my son countered, “At least you’ll have had your blast in this world when you could and then you get to live forever.”

I looked him right in the eyes and said; “That’s exactly right and exactly the horror of living like a selfish animal here on earth and dying in that state – the hell of leaving your flesh and spending eternity as a spirit of unquenchable selfish appetites. Even if you ended up in heaven you would not be able to satisfy yourself. Seeing others around you happy while you roasted in a stew of your own self pity, lust and cravings would be hell for you.”

My son was taken aback and asked; “What do you mean – what would that be like – you mean you’d still want a fix but not be able to get one?”

“Yes,” I replied, “You would exist like a quadriplegic unable to move any part of your spiritual body and just burn with desire for earthly pleasures that you would never be able to have or enjoy because they wouldn’t exist for you and you wouldn’t have a body of flesh to enjoy them with! This itching lust would increase more and more blotting out your awareness of everything else. For an eternity you would be consumed by lusts that would never and could never be satisfied! That would be your personal, eternal hell!”

“Jesus came to this world to show us how to live” I continued, “Not just in our bodies of flesh but to prepare us for life in the spirit when our physical bodies cease to exist. Jesus said; ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ (Matthew 4:4) and ‘It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.’ (John 6:63) Every time we let go of even a little bit of our selfishness for His sake and think about others or have faith in His Word for our lives we take some small steps in our spiritual walk. We learn something about how to get along in eternity.”

I finished up; “So is it worth it? You tell me?”

“I’ve got to tell the rest of the guys about this!” my son answered.

How easy it is to believe that heaven is going to be more of the best of this world. How easy it is to forget that preparing for eternity is a lifelong learning curve that doesn’t end after your ‘sinners’ prayer. This is just not a problem that ‘drunks and druggies’ face – we all face overcoming our addiction to self love and the love of this world. Recovery begins when we come to Jesus but it doesn’t stop there – recovery is a process not an event. Scripture tells us plainly that it is a process many reject; “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” (Phil 3:18,19)

Hell is a real place. Heaven is a real place. Not preparing for the latter will be to condemn yourself to the former. In a very real way, Jesus came to save us from ourselves and from clergy who preach a false gospel of ‘everyone goes to heaven’ no matter what they do. We have enemies within ourselves. We also have enemies within the church that tell us lies our flesh wants to believe. Only the Bible can teach us what the truth is and who to believe!

Read the Bible and do what Jesus tells you to do! And live by His Word!

Praise the Lord!

Test yourself, know your church

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2 Cor 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?”

     Paul was ‘giving it’ to the Corinthians, again!  They questioned if Christ was really speaking through him.  Much of what Paul had to say to the Corinthians was tough for them to hear.  The best way to ignore someone is to ‘pigeon hole’ them by denigrating their credibility.  Paul’s reply was simply to point to his integrity and fruit;  “For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you.” (v. 4)   Then Paul urges his readers to apply the same test to themselves and see how they measure up.

     The Forerunner Commentary makes a crucial point; “This verse applies at all times, . . .  [not just on Sunday for one hour]. Here, ‘faith’ is used in the sense of the truth. Those who are in the truth live by faith. They live according to their beliefs in God. The truth is the center of their lives, and by it they direct and choose the course of their lives.”     Living an authentic Christian life is walking in His promises and according to His Word.  This test cuts through appearances and pretence.  If we don’t have the courage to apply it to ourselves we can be sure our children, our spouses and our neighbours see when we don’t measure up (even if we may not be to concerned about what God sees).  The Forerunner Commentary concludes; “We can easily make the acceptance of Christian faith a substitute for living it. Jesus says, ‘But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?’ (Luke 6:46). Each person must do his own examination.”

     God healed me of  heart disease.  No more pain; I can work in my garden and around the house with no problems.  I walk five kilometres five days a week.  My cardiologist was at a loss to explain how it all happened and said; “People don’t often get a second chance.”   Even so, if I have a little muscle ache or twinge I can get scared –  ITS BACK!  Doubt and fear are always lurking, waiting to rob the quality of my life.  My walk is to be a good steward of my healing;  follow a good diet, get lots of exercise, get a check up once a year and use common sense.  My walk is to live in accordance with God’s promise and Word; “Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.”  (Mark 10:52) 

     Healings can be in many forms and sometimes they don’t happen the way we want or when we want.  Paul asked to have a thorn removed but God told him; ” . . . , My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  Paul realized; “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Wholeness isn’t in the healing – it’s in the walk.  What is the point of being healed if I won’t live a ‘whole’ life?  To give in to fear, to give in to doubt is to fail the test.  To acknowledge doubt and fear and overcome by faith in Jesus (Phil 4:13) is to pass the test!  At the end of the day we walk into Jesus’ arms.

     To say ‘God healed me’ and to live ‘God healed me’ are two different things.  The former is a matter of the tongue and the latter is a matter of faith.   When the two are aligned we live authentic Christian lives.  Honesty allows us to say what a challenge it can be to live aligned with our faith.  Greed, anger, lust, envy and pride  operate in my life to  rob me of an authentic life.    So often, I say ‘God is an awesome God!  He’s so good’.  But does my faith, my trust in Him bear witness to my words every time?  No, I fall short.   Try living ‘God loves you’ when your dealing with a neighbour who throws garbage on your lawn.  Try living ‘God protects me’ when people are lying about you and others believe them.  Try living ‘I’m delivered’ when fears gnaw at your guts.  How do you fight these tendencies? Admit them, confess them, and rely on Jesus to overcome them!

     The Good News in all of this is that failure is a fact of my life as a Christian.  God has standards – VERY HOLY STANDARDS – and I will never be able to measure up.  God knows this and that is why He sent Jesus.  The Pharisees wouldn’t agree.  They claimed a righteousness that entitled them to God’s acceptance.  They believed that they didn’t need Jesus.  But I do!  I fail the test every day.  Being honest about it, bearing witness to it and giving testimony about how God makes up the difference in my life brings change in me.  Honest words of brokenness and struggle spoken among people who understand because they share the same walk creates a fellowship that is focused on Jesus as the ‘author and perfector’ of our faith.  “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  (James 5:16)

       Paul urged those in the  Corinthian church to test themselves.  We would do well to do the same in our churches and share the results in our times of testimony.  James knew that humility comes with confession.  Humility brings us closer to God; “Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.” (Psalm 138:6)  When we admit and confront our own inadequacies among those we trust and love, God draws closer to us and we draw closer to each other in true fellowship.  Our eyes; “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:2)

     And by testing yourself and giving testimony about it you will come to know your church.  Are you afraid of sharing like this?  Would you judge others who let you know that they were not as good on the inside as they appeared on the outside?  Would you be judged by those in your church?  Do you belong to a church that shares real issues and struggles?  This is dangerous stuff.  A church given over to confession, repentance would be terribly shaken up by the Holy Spirit.  A revival fire would start that couldn’t be put out and it would purify the fellowship.  What would be left?

     Scripture testifies:  “And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.  Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”  (Hebrews 12:27-29)

     It all starts with a simple test!

     Praise the Lord!

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