DISCOVERING THE BENEFITS OF WEAKNESS

weakness“Just before he was murdered a few years ago, designer Gianni Versace was asked about his religious opinions. He replied, ‘I believe in God, but I’m not the kind of religious person who goes to church, who believes in the fairy tale of Jesus born in the stable with the donkey. That’s not—I’m not stupid. I can’t believe that God, with all the power that he has, had to have himself born in a stable. It wouldn’t have been comfortable!’ …

But that is exactly the kind of God we do know and worship. He gave up his comfort in order to gain eternal glory. To miss that is to miss the point. Likewise, God has purposed for all those areas of your life where you experience pain and suffering to be the very places where he displays his sufficiency and so brings glory to Himself. And not just so you can see it, but so that the people around you can see it.” – Mark Dever, “The Message of the New Testament, Promises Kept”, P.204.

Dear Friends, I wanted to share this quote and message that our pastor gave last Sunday, because it addresses the problem of suffering. It seems that this subject more than any other raises up doubt in a god that seems to stand at an uncaring distance. I, myself have been guilty of losing perspective of who I know God to be when I suffer. What brings me back? I have no argument against the cross. We can’t say that God doesn’t know pain, or grief, or suffering, or discomfort (as Versace discredited), because He offered  the ultimate sacrifice, that is, He didn’t even spare His own Son from the cross in order to demonstrate His love for us, so that we can be reconciled back to Him.

But God has also made good of our weaknesses and suffering. Taken from Dever’s quote, the main idea here is  “not just so you can see it, [His  sufficiency and glory], but so that the people around you can see it”. How? Taken from (mostly) our pastor’s words, there are four ways:

1) Our weakness leads to deeper ministry to others.

Have you ever lived through a crisis that later put you in a position to help someone else going through the same thing? How many of us have turned to a friend who could say “I know exactly how you feel” because they have been there themselves? Sooner or later,  there will come a time when we will all have the opportunity to give and receive  needed comfort and support in difficult times

2) Our weakness leads to greater glory

The Apostle Paul once stated that not many of us are wise by human standards, nor influential, nor of noble birth. (1 Corinthians 1:26). In fact, he compared all of us as “jars of clay”, meaning  that we  are all ordinary, fallible human beings, living imperfect lives.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) Treasure in earthen vessels

We are “jars of clay” for a reason…that is, so that we can show God’s greatness in bringing us through. In our ordinary, earth-muddy weakness, it is obvious that He is the only One that can and has brought us through. If we were ornate, display- only type vessels, all the attention would be on us, and not to God. However, when we are honest in our sufferings, we point towards God for His provision, and He gets the credit and all the glory.

3) Our weakness leads to a broader outreach

If my greatest testimony is “God made me rich”, then how great is my god, really? However,   everyone acknowledges pain. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, bring up the subject of heartache, loss, illness and death and you’ll find you won’t be at a loss for sympathy.  Maybe that’s why suffering demonstrates a living out of faith like nothing else can. It’s one thing to “talk the talk”, but I guarantee that when someone who claims faith is suffering, people are watching. The question I ask myself is “Will I be faithful?” Will I be able to show that God can be trusted when I am at my weakest?”

And therein is the whole point: Our weakness is a pathway to reflect Jesus’s suffering for us. Just as He reconciled us through weakness, our own weakness is a pathway to bring others to faith.

4) Our weakness leads to deeper hope

Suffering has a way of taking our eyes off of trivial matters, doesn’t it? As our pastor said, “the easier life is, the deeper our roots can dig into our present existence”. Suffering says “do not mistake this for home.” When it strikes, it has a way of averting our attention to a deeper longing for heaven. The glorious thing is that this is an indestructible hope, a promise that guarantees that all the suffering in the world will end for those who are in Christ…and that’s something that cannot be taken away.

I’ve often heard believers say that suffering was the best and worst thing that ever happened to them. What do you suppose they mean by that? Do you have your own testimony? Can you add to the list on this blog concerning the benefits of weakness?

 

 

WHERE CREDIT IS DUE

Prayer and HealingWant to ruffle some feathers? Just call a press conference and thank God publicly for your healing. That’s what happened when both Nina Pham and Dr. Kent Brantly expressed gratitude to God and acknowledged the power of prayer for their recent recovery from the Ebola virus.

Apparently some people are upset, even downright hostile because the credit wasn’t given solely to their medical teams, even though they both thanked the doctors and nurses involved in their care. (Click on their names for the videos).

Now I’m no theologian, but I can see misconceptions about the whole subject of prayer and healing (or the lack thereof) scattered across social media like a virus itself. Here are just a couple:

Misconception #1 – Christians believe that all healing is due to prayer alone.

While there are some that hang on to this potentially dangerous theology, there’s nothing in the bible that supports it. In fact, there are many places in the Bible that illustrate using resources and people in healing:

  • Jesus healed the blind man with mud directly to his eyes. (John 9:6-7 )
  • Naaman, who suffered with leprosy, was healed after washing himself 7 times in the Jordan (2 Kings 5).
  • Paul tells Timothy to “drink a little wine” to help his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23)
  • Luke himself was a physician (Colossians 4:14)

Now here’s an important point: While He doesn’t do so as often, I believe that God can and does still heal miraculously, without the help of modern medicine. We’ve all heard of miracle recoveries…now I’m not talking about the out of control, faith healers on TV, but rather the cases that show lasting medical evidence that we see from time to time. Tumors have been known to disappear with no explanation. People who aren’t expected to live six months have been known to live for years, defying the odds.

Even so, God usually chooses to work through man and through natural means in healing. In fact, more often than not, this is God’s way of working His will in general. He gives ordinary (or very gifted) men and women the privilege to be the means of His work.

  • He doesn’t command angels to fly down and sing His praise; He gives musicians and singers the talent to create beautiful music to His glory.
  • He created the weather but decrees the farmer to till the harvest
  • He doesn’t shout from heaven for all to believe, but commissions His own to share the gospel.

And He gives doctors and nurses the special medical skill and wisdom to understand illness and bring patients to health.

Misconception #2 – All healing comes from science and medicine alone.

In a recent Facebook comment, someone said, “I was in a motorcycle accident, and not once did I pray, but here I am, completely healed”. My response to this is that there is such a thing as common grace, which is the overriding and unbiased grace of God poured out on everyone, whether they are righteous or not. Jesus expressed this when He said that God causes “his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45) and that God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). The very fact that He does heal at all is cause for praise to Him. The very fact that we have one more day to draw breath is due to His grace. We don’t start with a sense of entitlement and strength, we start first with an understanding that He isn’t obligated to help or heal us, but in His love, He does choose to heal many.

You know, I look around me and I’m amazed at the ingenuity of man. Really, what we’ve been able to do in the areas of science and technology is staggering. It’s so easy to take the credit when we forget that we are the created, not the Creator. God has already created the depths of what we can discover. With as much as we’ve done, we cannot add one iota to a life that is fading–we find that our abilities alone will always have a limit.

Conclusion – God heals as he sees fit

I don’t believe that God and modern medicine are incompatible. God heals as He sees fit. He is sovereign for the outcome. In other words, we do all we know to do medically but God knows the outcome of each illness.

Application

There is a comfort in knowing that life and death aren’t ultimately in our hands. Can you imagine the burden upon us if it was? Caregivers have such a burden upon them as it is, with so many decisions to make for the patient. If you cared for a loved one that passed away, the second-guessing can be overwhelming. This subject came up at a Bible Study I attended this last week. That’s when all kinds of questions came up:

“Should I have tried harder?”

“Should I have pursued another type of treatment?”

“Was there something I could have done differently to extend his/her life?”

Knowing that God is sovereign in healing releases us from any of this anxiety. His word clearly states that there’s an assigned time for each person to die. (Hebrews 9:27). This means that if someone is meant to recover, then God will bring about the circumstances of that healing, whatever that may be. This is in spite of any well-meaning, yet limited wisdom we may have. By the same token, if someone’s time on Earth is up, no human effort can stop that either. We don’t have to beat ourselves up for our shortcomings. We can pray continually and care for them to the best of our ability but we can also take comfort in knowing that life and death aren’t ultimately in our hands. Yet another reason to thank God.

Brantly quote

 

Why do you think that some people criticize prayer in healing?

Do you believe God uses man to accomplish His purpose? If so, where’s the balance?

WHO CAN YOU REALLY TRUST?

Sometimes I think it’s easier to trust God in situations that are most out of my control, because it is at those times that I simply have no other choice.

Stubborn as I am, I act like I don’t have to trust Him at ALL times anyway…it’s just that He has a way of using a crisis to remind me  of how fallible and frail we really are.

TrustFor Instance, I’ve seen a lot of uncertainty in light of this recent Ebola scare. Confidence in our protection was followed by either missteps and apologies, or media driven panic. As believers, we can’t put our trust solely on man, or as Psalm 146:3 puts it:

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save”. (Psalm 146:3)

When things go well, we praise ourselves for ingenuity while never acknowledging the God who gave it to us in the first place. We strive to cure the predicament of a mortality and vunerability we ultimately can’t escape. I often have a sense of being trapped on Earth, lamenting as the Psalmist who cried, “Oh that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest!” (Psalm 55:6) 

Consider the elements at play in our world today. The government has technology for surveillance and a healthcare system that can be manipulated. We are assaulted by madmen in the name of Islam. There are enemies outside of us and enemies within our own bodies that have the capacity towards the exact same end. Any combination of these gone amok or in the wrong hands could easily play out like a science fiction movie…except, I believe, for the grace of God.

Notice Colossians 1:17:

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Barnes Notes on the Bible comments on this passage, saying, “The meaning is, that they are kept in the present state; their existence, order, and arrangement are continued by his power. If unsupported by him, they would fall into disorder, or sink back to nothing. “

We may not understand the calamities that do happen, but if we give up on God’s sovereignty, where does that leave us?

It leaves us with no real answers, no eternal purpose for the sufferings of this world.

It leaves us with no comfort in knowing that His mercies are new every morning, that what He allows He will bring us through.

It leaves us with the burden of anxiety and helplessness.

Call me weak, but we all trust in something whether we admit it or not. I choose to believe in the God who is trustworthy to hear and answer prayer and who has shown Himself to be faithful time after time.

Perhaps He allows those times that are most out of our control to show us He is in control, and that’s a good thing.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)

Have any of you had the same thoughts or perhaps different spiritual insights during this national crisis? Have you ever had a time of hardship when you’ve had no where else  to look but up?

 

ANNOUNCEMENT: NEW DEVOTIONAL BY CHARLOTTE HOLT

Dear Friends,

One of the neat things about being a blogger/writer is that I’ve gotten to meet some really great people who also love putting words to paper.  There’s such a wonderful community of Christian authors that seek to encourage others by sharing their journey and insights. Although the message of the gospel is the same, they each share it with their own unique voice.

Pearls of WisdomI write today to announce a new devotional out by Charlotte Holt called “CH Writer’s Pearls of Wisdom: A Year of Devotions for Fishers of Men”. When I first read the devotionals in this book, I was immediately taken by Charlotte’s clean, down-to-earth style. She explains the meaning of scripture with a special sense of authenticity towards her readers. She writes of many of the issues we all face today, such as dealing with a critical heart, obedience to God, and courage, just to name a few.

 

She writes:

“Everyday life can be overwhelming. Sometimes the little things bother us the most. We often wrestle with life itself. My case manager nurse said the other day, “How would you rate your stress?”

After she gave me some measurements I said, “Moderate.”

What would you say stresses you?” she said.

“I suppose life itself.” I didn’t want to list any certain persons, like my husband, even though he can sometimes be a factor. I even tell him so at times. He’s really my greatest support, and the best man in the world! He’s my best friend on earth.

This book has helped me manage my stress, and I hope it will do the same for my readers. When we find life stressful, we need to turn to God and His Word for help and the answer to all of life’s problems. He is the only real way to do this. I hope my readers find help in the pages of this book, and the devotions will truly be pearls of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is truly the beginning of wisdom!” *

    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
    To him belongs eternal praise. (Psalm 111:10)

With a new year right around the corner, what better time could there be to start anew with a devotion for every day? Click this link to the devotional, or on her author page for a selection of her many writings.

 * CH Writer’s Pearls of Wisdom: A Year of Devotions for Fishers of Men, Introduction, P. 4

 

Charlotte HoltCharlotte Holt holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Education in Special Education.  A freelance writer, speaker, and Bible study leader, she resides in Kingwood, Texas with her husband, Charles. Multi-published in both articles and books, she professes, “A seed of faith; a stalk of victory.” She believes God has chosen her heart to write for him, thus the title CH Writer.

 

 

 

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY? (PART 3)

Dear Friends,

Are we constantly being shaped by the forces of our own society? I mean, how many times are we enticed or pushed by the masses to compromise on our principles or beliefs to protect our status or popularity?

Last week we read about three men who stood strong in the face of a much greater threat than just social acceptance. Their names were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three Hebrew young men who were threatened with losing their lives if they didn’t bow down to an idol. However, they never abandoned their convictions and obedience to God. They refused to bend their knee to none other than Him alone. Their story is found in Daniel 3:1-30, and we’ll continue to the conclusion today.

FireYou may recall that King Nebuchadnezzar ordered everyone in Babylon to bow down to an idol he made of himself or be thrown into a furnace. Everyone in his kingdom were all willing to do whatever they had to do to be in favor of the king, (and keep their lives), except these three.  When it came time for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to bow, I don’t believe that their courageous decision was made in a vacuum. Character like that just doesn’t happen overnight. I believe it was a result of an already ingrained commitment to uncompromising principle. If you look at the opening chapter of Daniel, (Daniel 1:8-21), we see them already living out a life of discipline and honor in terms of their diet, refusing to eat food that was offered to idols. So by the time their feet were at the edge of the furnace, their minds and hearts were already made up. A question I ask myself and propose to you today is the same: If we are found in a similar situation, can you and I say that we have built a level of authenticity, love, and devotion to our Lord that we, too, would stand strong in our faith?

Are we alert enough to see the subtle (at least for now) distractions and sin that chips away at our faith on a daily basis?

Do we hold on loosely to this world or is it with a clinched fist?

Are we aware or oblivious to the persecution of brothers and sisters that experience physical threats every day?

As the story goes, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were indeed tied up and thrown into the fire (Daniel 3:21). When the furnace door closes behind them, King Nebuchadnezzar sees not three, but what appeared to be four men within the flames.

Then Nebuchadnezzar, the king, was astounded and rose up in a hurry and spoke and said unto his counselors, did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men, not bound but loose, walking around in the midst of the fire and they have no hurt. And the form of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:25).

None of them were bound; none of them seemed afraid or looking for the exit. They were all just walking around, unscathed. Many believe that fourth man was Christ Himself, in a pre-incarnate appearance. Others believe it was an angelic being. Either way, they were comforted and protected.

In reference to God’s presence, John MacArthur says,

“How wonderful to know that we go through no experiences where God is not there in divine companionship and the hotter the fire the sweeter the fellowship. I can tell you…in my own experience, that whenever I get into a situation where I decide to take a stand for something and it’s the unpopular thing to do and you start getting flack, you have this tremendous sense of divine companionship. It’s what Peter talked about when he talked about the fact that when we go through persecution, the spirit of grace and glory rests on us.”

He articulates a thought I’ve had often, and that is that I have to believe that God gives a special strength, a greater sense of His peace and presence to those who suffer these unimaginable assaults.  It is the peace that passes understanding that He has promised (Philippians 4:7).

They are taken out of the fire not even smelling of smoke! (Daniel 3:27). They went into the fire resolved of one thing: God could deliver them if it was His will, and they would praise Him whether they got a miracle or not. I love that. They were confident in God’s sovereignty. They didn’t think that if they just prayed hard enough and believed enough that God would have to do their bidding. He was still God no matter what happened… and it was God who got the glory that day, not them or the strength of their faith. After witnessing this miraculous deliverance, the King himself said,

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon. (Daniel 3:28-30)

We may never have to choose between life or death, but we can take a lesson from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, right where we are today.

Are there any ways we can demonstrate uncompromising principle in our lives, in our workplace or homes?

Is there an area of compromise right now that the Lord has been nudging you to change?

How can we prepare for opportunities to express our faith in a loving yet confident manner?

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY? (PART 2)

The pressure must have been tremendous. Three young men, bound in chains, had a decision to make. They could either renounce their faith or be put to death within the flames of a blazing furnace…

FireLast week we looked at the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, (Daniel 3:1-30). It’s the story of three Jewish young men who refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. If you recall, we tried to put ourselves in their sandals while remembering that there are Christians who are living (and dying) under that same kind of persecution today. We asked ourselves what we would say if we found ourselves in a similar situation.

What would you say if you were in any one of these present day scenarios?

  • You are one of these Christians that faced a number of tortures and even death for their faith?

I love Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response:

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you O king that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” – Daniel 3:17-18

They said, “We do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.” Just like that. They didn’t protest or preach. They didn’t feel any obligation to explain, apologize, dialogue, or defend themselves or God. The lesson here? Sometimes we are called to speak up, and sometimes we are simply called to quiet resolve. In this case, they knew that any lengthy explanation to King Nebuchadnezzar would be useless. Christ also didn’t say a word as He was lead to the cross, knowing that His death was the will of God.

Notice a very important phrase: “If it be so”, they said, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king, But even if He does not…we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image.

Did they show a lack of faith by not “claiming their miracle” as some may profess? No. Did they have a fit loud enough to reach heaven to get God to act on their behalf? No, I don’t see that either.

What I do see is three believers who stood firm in the object of their faith, not in faith itself. There’s a difference. The first is centered on trust in God, the second is centered on man’s ability in himself. Even more so, I see three believers who loved and worshiped God for who He is and not what He does for them. They did not withdraw their love or faith in God based on what happened that day. They believed God could save them, but they did not presume He would. They believed the greater audacity was not standing up to an idol when others fell, but rather to stand up before God and tell Him what to do!

I’m sure that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego prayed for deliverance. Who wouldn’t? They may have begged and pleaded to God to save them. Look at Jesus himself. He cried and pleaded to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, (Matt. 26:36-46). He didn’t stand up and “claim” deliverance from the cross. At the end of the day, He resigned that it not be His will, but the Father’s.

This passage is a clear message that God is not a power to be put to use for whatever the believer wishes.

Dear believer, if they had this attitude about their very lives, why would we “name and claim”, assume and demand of something of God for so much less?

 

 

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

We’ve all read the headlines and heard it on the news. Present day Muslim terrorist like ISIS shout “renounce your faith or die” to the “infidel” (anyone who isn’t a Muslim), and they are following through on their threat. As I thought about what I might write this week, I considered the fact that this threat is the same spirit of evil that has been expressed throughout history. In fact, there’s a story in the Old Testament that describes a very similar scenario.

It’s found in Daniel 3:1-30, the story of three Jewish young men by the name of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men were taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar after he besieged Jerusalem in 600 B.C. Even though captive, the King favored them and hand-picked them as administrators in his court. He saw their wisdom and trusted them enough to put them in positions that carried great popularity and prestige.

The day came when King Nebuchadnezzar created a golden image of himself, and demanded that everyone under his reign to bow down to it. If anyone refused, they would be thrown into a blazing furnace.

Fire“Now if you are ready, [he said] at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15)

 

In other words, “Renounce your faith or die”

Now Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had a lot to lose, that is, besides their very lives. You would think that they would want to support their leader…guard their own popularity, you know, be politically correct. A number of thoughts could have run through their minds:

  • “It’s just an idol. All we have to do is bow. We can just go ahead and bow physically, but we’ll be praying to God instead.” 
  • “God wouldn’t have taken us so far in life only to die this way. It’s not in His plan. We need to comply in order to reach people in the long run.” 
  • The king is an authority figure and we need to be compliant to the demands”.

 Instead, what was their response? They said,

“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you O king that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” – Daniel 3:17-18

They didn’t rationalize in any number of ways that they could have. They didn’t even want to have the appearance of evil. They didn’t presume upon God but saw the circumstance for what it was. They also knew that no authority is to be obeyed if they are in conflict with God. They wanted to live, but their desire to worship the one true God was even greater.

I am amazed at the courage these three men had to answer so boldly, and yet what amazes me even more is that thousands of Christians have responded to this same threat in the same way over the last 2,000 years. There are many who are facing it right now. God dramatically rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but for many others, He has given strength to see them on to Heaven.

If you and I were told to renounce our faith or die, what would we say? Are we girded with a strong and focused faith that can stand strong in the face of evil? Is our relationship with God so close and abiding that we long to see the far greater eternal reward?

My hope is that you and I as believers would be strong and ready if and when a time of decision comes, that we are always ready to give an account for our faith.