This is the 4th post on the 2018 Blog Tour. I first ran into Jonathan many moons ago when we were both involved in campus ministry. Now we both preach for churches in neighboring states. I hope you find his thoughts encouraging, and take a few moments to visit his blog.
As soon as I heard the theme for this year’s blog tour, my mind immediately went to a short passage in Matthew 6. I love this passage. First, I like it because the ancient conceptualization of the human eye as a “lamp” is intriguing to me. Second, the passage is really about the notion of focus and the idea that what you seek is ultimately what you find. So, let me share the passage with you, taking into consideration the overview provided by Matt in his post pertaining to the Sermon on the Mount.
6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
So, let’s have some fun! It only seems right to share some pictures with you and ask what it is that you see in the picture?
Here is the first one…
And the second…
And one more…
Now, to the passage. The eye was seen as the body’s lamp because just like lighting a lamp allowed you to see the room in the dark, so to opening the eye allowed you to see the world. So, if you had a healthy eye, you could see pretty well. However, if you have a “bad” eye, that is an eye that is unhealthy, then you can’t see very well. Blindness was a condition in which the eye couldn’t be “switched on” and so the body could not move about in the light…but stumbled around in the darkness.
In context, sandwiched between the warning not to store up materialistic treasures where moth and rust destroy, and thieves steal; and the reality check that a servant cannot serve two masters at the same time—our eye as the lamp passage serves to tell us that the ability to see and to focus on what is right in the sight of God is extremely important.
In the pictures above, there isn’t a right answer! Congrats! You saw a duck or a rabbit in the first picture based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on. In the second picture, you either saw a young woman or an elderly woman again based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on. In the third picture, you either saw a vase or two side profiles looking at each other depending on your eyes’ focus. It is a fun experiment to do, and perhaps you saw both options in each picture. (Or you can go back and try to see the other option)
When it comes to the eyes of faith that Jesus asks us to develop in his Sermon on the Mount, the aspects of life you focus on really do matter. Jesus asks us to focus on people and relationships instead of stuff and possessions…heavenly treasure that makes us rich in the ways of God. Jesus continues that we cannot serve money and God. Our eyes must be healthy, they must be focused, and they are a gateway to our, “shining before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
So, what are you seeking?
- If you were to evaluate what your eyes tend to watch, what would it be? Another way to say it, what catches your eye?
- Would you say that you have “blind-spots?” What are persons and things that you might fail to see?
- When people use you as a “lamp” to light up the darkness…what do they see from your good works?
- How healthy are our eyes of faith?
Your eyes may just reveal it all!
Jonathan Woodall is the minister for the GracePointe church of Christ in Elizabethtown, PA and blogs on the church website www.gracepointechurchofchrist.org and on his personal page at www.jonathanfwoodall.com. He is the spouse of Hayley and they have two children–Brynn and Aidric. Jonathan has also served as a worship minister, campus minister, and adjunct instructor of communication.
Modern Western Civilization has gifted its citizens a vision of life. The model life consists of a series of smooth transitions from one milestone to the next. We progress through school, find our soulmate and at the right time start a family, launch a career that has us in a senior management by age 50, and then then retire comfortably to travel and spend time with grandchildren.
Thanks to this gift, many of us evaluate our lives and come away with a sense of failure. We don’t measure up.
We can’t measure up.
The gift is an optical illusion.
We often talk of life as a journey. More accurately, life is a series of journeys. These journeys seldom form a straight line. We don’t journey ‘as the bird flies’. Our journeys consist of obstacles, contours, and changes of direction. They’re erratic rather than linear.
Like Abraham, we often think of Moses as seeking a land. Like Abraham, he never possessed the land he spent so much time seeking.
But Moses’ life didn’t have a singular focus.
Bible students often divide Moses life into approximately 40 years in Egypt, 40 years in Midian, and 40 years leading Israel. In the chart below I’ve divided his life into more stages based on the goal he pursued in each stage. Probably more stages could be added.
When you think of Moses, you may picture him at the burning bush, or before Pharaoh, or watching the Red Sea Part. You may picture Moses walking down Mt Sinai with the 10 Commandments, or smashing them over the golden calf. You might picture Moses as Charlton Heston, or as the cartoon Prince of Egypt. Most of us have an iconic image of Moses in our minds.
However, all those images capture Moses at a moment in time. Moses’ life resembles many of ours. There was no steady career/family/education curve toward success. Whatever our snapshot it doesn’t define his life as a whole. Moses never achieved what many would consider his life goal: entering the Promised Land. But Moses succeeded in reaching many of the intermediate goals he sought.
If your life doesn’t seem to be following the path you expect, toward the goals you’re seeking, don’t panic. Don’t compare your life to culture’s curve. Remember that Moses, the great man of God, continually change his life course and never reached his ultimate goal. It’s more likely that the problem is with your expectations than with you. Trust God and He’ll accompany you wherever your journey takes you.
I believe Moses’ famous words in Deuteronomy 31 speak of his personal experience of walking with God through so many different stages of life.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” ~ Moses
The second stop on the 2017 Summer Blog Tour is in Timothy Archer’s Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts. Enjoy the read as Tim reminds us of Jesus intention when he talked about faith.
It was one of those moments. Jesus challenged his disciples to show forgiveness to others, even if it means forgiving them seven times in one day. The disciples saw the challenge and responded: “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5)
I’m not entirely sure what they hoped to get from Jesus, but I suspect they recognized the gap between Jesus’ teachings and their own abilities.
So Jesus responded by saying that faith doesn’t have to be huge; even a tiny amount can move mountains.
Then he told them a parable:
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’ Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:6-10)
I think he was saying, “You don’t need more faith; you need more faithfulness.”
In other words, theirs wasn’t a head problem. It wasn’t an intellectual need. It wasn’t even a lack of commitment. What they needed to do was put their faith into action. Or, more specifically, put their faith into obedience.
Hebrews 11 is the great chapter on faith. We read about Abel, Enoc, Noah, Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Jacob, and the rest. In almost every case, when we read about their faith, we read about something they did. We see their faith in their faithfulness.
Faith is more than an emotion. It’s more than an intellectual exercise. It’s something that you can observe. Faith is belief in action. Faith is being willing to listen to God and follow his lead, no matter what.
Faith leads to action. I can believe that a man is a doctor, yet still have no faith in him. But if I do have faith in a doctor, then I will follow his instructions. It is no special credit to me if I do what the doctor tells me to do; it is merely a symbol of the faith that I have in him.
If you’d like to have greater faith, then I believe the key is to take what faith you have and put it into action. Find ways to serve others. Tell people about what God is doing in this world. Meet needs and better your community.
Because you may not need more faith at all; you might just need a bit more faithfulness.
Timothy Archer has coordinated the Spanish-speaking Ministries for Hope For Life / Herald of Truth Ministries since 2006. Tim’s latest book, Church Inside Out, helps churches motivate their members to be actively ministering to the community around them. You can follow Tim’s personal blog at: http://www.timothyarcher.com/kitchen/.
My life’s goal is to guided as many people as possible into a loving relationship with God. A significant part of that mission is to help people appreciate, value and even love, the Bible: God’s message to us.
The Bible has been around for a long time.
The canon of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) was well established by the 3rd or 2nd century before Christ. The New Testament authors completed their writings by approximately the end of the first century AD. Then the early church reached a general consensus on which books to include in the biblical canon during the fourth century. All of that is a long time ago.
For centuries people have trusted the message the Bible contains for their eternal salvation. Because the Bible is so widely respected courts will ask people to swear on the Bible that they’re telling the truth. In popular vernacular the Bible has often been referred to as “The Good Book”.
Considering all the possible names the Bible could be given, the church should quite rightly feel proud that their sacred guide is called “The Good Book”. However, sometimes we may forget that not everything in the Bible is good. For instance in Luke 18:11 we have a prayer that begins, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people….” Jesus cites this “bad” prayer to demonstrate an ungodly attitude of pride. In addition to describing godliness for the people of God, the Bible also contains many examples of negative behaviour that Christians should avoid.
Although a little obscure, Psalm 6 is another passage that contains a negative example for us. The psalm seems to describe the emotional rollercoaster of a poet suffering a severe illness. In verse 2 he cries out, “heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.”
Verses 8-10 contain a rebuttal to the psalmist’s enemies that seem to have arrived at his bedside. The author counters his enemies by declaring that God does hear him.
the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
It seems reasonable to conclude that these assertions shame his enemies because, like Job’s friends, they were whispering in his ear that God had abandoned him.
- God fearers: They come to the psalmist and tell him that he’s sinned.
- Non-religious friends: They tell him that God isn’t listening.
- Pragmatists: They tell him to suck it up that this is just his path in life.
- Philosophers: They tell him that God wants him to suffer for some unknown reasons.
- Pessimists: They tell him to get used to a life of suffering because God’s decided not to heal him.
From the psalmist’s perspective, these aren’t good people. He describes them as “people who do evil!”
Rewriting Psalm 6
I pray that most of us will never experience the bones of agony that this psalm describes. So how does this psalm relate to us? Of course there’s more than one answer, but one choice we have is to rewrite the Bible.
Psalm 6 contains two human characters: the psalmist and his enemies. However, since we as readers don’t want to identify ourselves with either of these characters (although that may be necessary at times) we recognize that there’s a third possibility.
This psalm challenges us to change the story. When we see people suffering, how will we respond to them? Will we respond in a way that causes them to see us as the enemy, or in a way that lifts their spirits and points them to God?
If we found ourselves at the psalmist’s bedside, what would we say? What would we do? How could we affirm God’s faithful love in the midst of suffering? Can we speak in a way that challenges the enemies’ doubts and affirms God’s mercy? Do we have an alternative narrative to tell, a rewriting of the story?
These questions don’t have simple answers.
Does our relationship with God equip us to share stories of His faithfulness? Are we prepared to share reasons we trust God and demonstrate why others should also?
I’m not suggesting that the psalmist requires a Bible study as he agonises soaking his bed with his tears. Silence and presence may well provide the most appropriate response.
I am suggesting that we can’t waltz into that situation unprepared and expect to provide greater comfort than the evil companions already there.
Rewriting the Bible
What I have in mind when I speak of rewriting the Bible really isn’t as heretical as it sounds. Rather it’s a challenge to recognise that the Bible’s stories become our stories and each time they do we have an opportunity to write our own ending.
- Will I sink like Peter when waves seem about to crash upon me, or will I keep my footing and my eyes focused upon God?
- Will I cultivate gratitude in my life, or will my story reflect the 9 lepers Jesus healed who never said “Thanks”?
- Will I eat with Jesus each Sunday morning then walk out the doors and sell him short or will that meal solidify my commitment to follow him?
- Will I give in to peer pressure and deny Jesus as Peter did, or will I write a different conclusion to that story?
- Will I think like James and John and condemn everyone not quite like me, or can I live with diversity of thought as long Jesus is being honored?
The Bible contains many negative examples so that we can avoid the mistakes and failures of others. Our relationship with God will determine how we respond in those situations. It’s easy to see the shortcomings of others. Each of us must answer the question, “How are we preparing ourselves for a better conclusion to our story?”
Ordinary is an interesting word. It was a word once used for some of Christ’s disciples (see Acts 4:13). It usually denotes “nothing special,” “average,” “normal.” Nothing to see here, so just keep moving on.
An ordinary story? I’ll pass. Give me the extra-ordinary; the dramatic; the one filled with exciting special affects; the tearjerkers. Those move the needle. Those create blockbusters and best sellers. Ordinary is just not interesting.
Until it is.
Until ordinary reveals something else.
Those Jesus followers in Acts 4 certainly were ordinary guys without any special pedigree, but yet there was something quite different about them.
What was it?
It was noted that they “had been with Jesus.” Jesus has a way of making ordinary interesting.
I am not sure that LaVelle Travis (L.T.) Blevins would ever be considered just ordinary, but his story has ordinary beginnings. Born during the Great Depression in the small backwater Arkansas delta community of Gordneck, L.T. grew up like so many others of his era—poor but happily surrounded by a loving family.
Again like thousands of his contemporaries, L.T. answered his nation’s call and served in the U.S. Navy during both WWII and the Korean conflict. He married his sweetheart, began a family, started a successful small business and worked diligently to provide and care for them.
On the surface—this describes an ordinary life. It was the kind lived all across America. Yes, he lost his first wife too soon. He retired early to care for her. Later he had serious health concerns of his own from which he was not expected to survive. But really that is all fairly common. It is normal. L.T. Blevins? Not much interesting to see here, so let’s just keep moving on.
But before you do, I ask you to look a little closer. There is more to this ordinary story. Remember how I stated that Jesus has a way of making the ordinary interesting? If you spend any time around L.T. Blevins it becomes obvious. He has “been with Jesus.”
He just turned eighty-eight years old. The ever-present twinkle in his eye reveals a joyful soul shaped through the years by his relationship with Christ. He has this wonderful adventurous side that once led him to wrangle horses on the back lots of Hollywood movie westerns after WWII; ride across the country on a Harley knucklehead motorcycle; fly (and crash) without lessons or licenses in small planes; and physically build a lake house with his second wife, Kathleen, while in his seventies. He has all kinds of extraordinary stories to share.
But his most extraordinary stories are about being with Jesus. They are about his beloved Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Arkansas; it’s beginnings; it’s growth; it’s ministry. He has been here through it all—serving as teacher, shepherd, cook, missionary, and everything in between.
Always here. Always faithful.
He reared his family here—now into their fourth generation. He carried the burden of leadership. He made personal and financial sacrifices for the Levy family. He mentored the current generation of leaders. He did not waver. He never created any drama. He is a peacemaker, a visionary and a great friend to preachers.
He has been with Jesus. Just an ordinary man in some ways, made extraordinary through faith in the Christ; just another boy from the Arkansas countryside, but one whose legacy of quiet dedication to God, family and church continues to shape and influence them.
He is a part of what has been tagged “the greatest generation.” Great—because of sacrifice, hard work and personal integrity. Once this was just considered ordinary and normal. It was simply how you were supposed to be.
It certainly does describe L.T. But that is not why this “ordinary” man is great. Rather:
The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. – Matthew 23:11-12
The power in this story really is found in the Christ and in the good, humble man who allowed Jesus to do the extraordinary within him.
L.T. inspires me. Throughout his life he just consistently did the right thing without any big fuss. It is an ordinary story, but it is not. It is a story of quiet and consistent faith lived out through the normal variations of life, but never wavering.
I remember one summer camp session where several people shared their faith stories with the campers. All were dramatic and meaningful. One brother showed the needle marks on his arm and gave God the glory for empowering him to overcome his addiction. It certainly was a powerful story.
But there is also the need to share the power in stories absent of all of this—a story of faith that never ventured away. That is the power I see in L.T. Blevin’s story and in his person and that is why it is so meaningful to me.
It is the kind of life I wish to live and for my children—just consistently being with Jesus everyday in a normal, ordinary, drama-free, yet incredible kind of way.
Danny Dodd is the preaching minister for the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, AR. He is originally from Greenville, MS. His wife is Terri, originally from Melbourne, AR. Their daughters are Taylor (13) and Jordan (9). Danny also has served at the Gateway church in Pensacola, FL; as a resident missionary in Vilnius, Lithuania; and in churches in Mississippi. He writes occasionally on his blog: https://dannydodd.wordpress.com/
I’m not a dancer. Around the age of 20 I enjoyed the wonderful experience of performing in several musicals. When the dancing started my primary responsibility was to stand still and let the pretty girls take the spotlight. Occasionally I got to move too, although mostly that was simply to get me out of the way. But through the hours of rehearsals I learned a few things.
A dance tells a story. No matter how chaotic the stage appears, the movements were designed with a purpose.
It’s all about movement. Sometimes the movement is toward each other. Other times it’s a movement away.
Everyone one has a role. It might not be difficult, but it’s important. Just ask left shark!
It has a destination. There’s a precise feeling it seeks to produce. An exact point on the stage to conclude. A dramatic pose to capture.
As I prepared this week’s sermon from the book of Exodus I noticed four movements in God’s interaction with us. Sometimes it’s his move, sometimes it’s ours. The goal is always that we end up at the same place.I see these four movements recurring throughout God’s interaction with humanity. I’ll give a couple of illustrations below.
Move 1: God Graciously & Lovingly Moves Toward Us
- EXODUS: God hears the cries of the Hebrews in slavery and in response He calls Moses and sends the plagues on Egypt. Nothing about this particular group of slaves made them more worthy of rescue than others. They couldn’t demand God’s rescue. God chose to hear them and rescue them, out of His grace.
- PENTECOST: Dies on a cross and rises from the dead, graciously defeating death for us.
- US: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.“ Romans 5:8
Move 2: We Respond by Faith Toward God
- EXODUS: The Hebrews responded to God’s promise of rescue by following his instructions to paint their doorways with lamb’s blood. Perhaps an even greater demonstration of faith is when they walked between the walls of water. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t be nervous as you imagined the water collapsing on top of you. Although the Hebrews walked through the water, no one could realistically claim that they had saved themselves. They simply responded out of faith toward God.
- PENTECOST: After initial skepticism the apostles respond to Jesus’ resurrection with faith. Many Christian apologists point to their willingness to die for their faith as one of the strongest “proofs” of the reality of Christ’s resurrection. Perhaps no greater statement of faith exist than Thomas’ exclamation as his skepticism cracked, “My Lord and my God!”
- US: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8.
Move 3: We Lovingly Obey God
- EXODUS: The specific text for this sermon was Exodus 19-20 and the giving of the 10 Commandments. However, I chose to emphasise the larger setting within which the commands were given than the specific instructions given. I did this because we often label this section of the Pentateuch “law” like it’s a bad thing. This would no doubt puzzle the Israelites who were grateful for the laws God gave them. In fact, Deuteronomy 7:9 refers to God’s law as a “covenant of love”. Israel’s obedience to God was a loving response to a loving God. Remember also that Psalm 119 is basically a love song to their covenant with God.
- PENTECOST: The end of Luke’s Gospel Jesus explains to his disciples the implications of his death and resurrection. He then instructs them to remain in Jerusalem. This may not seem like a big deal, but Jerusalem represented a hostile environment for these disciples. The same people who killed Jesus would surely kill them if they felt a need and an ability to get away with it. Home and safety for the apostles was Galilee. Galilee was where their families lived and where they had travelled with Jesus for three years. But Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem… and they obeyed because they loved and trusted him.
- US: “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John 1:6
Move 4: God Moves Into Our Neighbourhood
- EXODUS: Chapters 25-30 and 36-39 contain very detailed instructions about the design and construction of the tabernacle. To our modern eyes we might question the relevance of this passage for us. But these chapters are important because Israel is preparing a place for God to dwell. He will not be their distant God ensconced upon a heavenly throne looking down upon them. He will be their God visibly living among them. I love how the book of Exodus concludes, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.” Ex. 40:34, 38.
- PENTECOST: As the apostles and other disciples waited in Jerusalem as Jesus had instructed them, God delivered the power he had promised them. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” He empowered them for the mission he had given them. Immediately Peter and the others begin sharing the Good News of Jesus. God was with them.
- US: “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
I know I’ve written a lot here, but I hope you can at least take away this thought: God always makes the first move toward us. We can’t compel Him to move. We can’t move on our own. God graciously initiates. How we respond determines the remaining movements of the dance.
Have you experienced these movements in your life?
I wrote a similar post from a slightly different perspective last year titled “God Initiates”. You can read it HERE.
Healthy Homes play a vital role in producing spiritually healthy hearts. We could define Healthy Homes in many different ways. For this Mothers Day sermon I chose to encourage spiritual conversation within the home. Do your conversations bring God’s presence into the consciousness of others?
I’m going to break this week’s discussion into two posts. Today I ‘ll talk about unstructured conversations, and tomorrow I’ll delve into formal Biblical instruction in the home.
I am a big proponent of “spiritual conversations”. My church upbringing occurred in a very logical environment. Emotions and feelings were typically criticised as “pentecostal” and had little/no place in discussion of Scripture. I never heard questions like, “How is your relationship with God?” or statements like “This morning’s worship service was inspirational.” Too much risk that one might be crossing over to the dark [hand-raising] side.
Then one day my world was turned upside down by a simple question. I was probably about 13 and on a family holiday to visit my parents old friends. Mr Hogden was an unusual bloke. He ran his own sawmill for years until the suburbs surrounded it and then he retired. He’d not seen me since I was a toddler. That didn’t prevent him catching me alone at one point in our visit and asking, “Are you a Christian?” Of course, I gave him the textbook answer, “Yes, I was baptised a couple of years ago.” To which he responded with the question, “Great, but are you a Christian?”
“Great, but are you a Christian?”
WOW!! My mind was blown.
Mr Hogden could have warmed up to this 13 year old by asking about my favorite subject at school. He could have tried to find common ground by discussing sports. He could have shown interest in me as a person by asking about my home town and personal interests. Instead, he challenged the commitment I’d made to follow Jesus. My head exploded. I’ve never been able to get that question out of my head.
I wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed since then to bring God’s presence into people’s lives because I choose to talk about the weather, sports or even church life.
In a passage of the Hebrew Scriptures known to the Jews as the Shema (Hebrew for “hear”) God has just gone through the formal process of giving the Israelite nation his laws: The Ten Commandments, and [what Jesus called] The Greatest Command. He next instructs the Israelites how to make this covenant part of their DNA,
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)
How can we pass on our faith to our children? Talk about it. Talk about what God means to you. Talk about what God wants for them. Discuss God’s presence in the world. Describe God’s likes and dislikes. Inspire them to make representing God one of their life priorities. Talk about Jesus when you sit at home. Talk about the Holy Spirit as you walk along the road. Talk about God at bedtime and over breakfast. Make God a natural part of their world.
The book of Proverbs provides a great demonstration of spiritual conversation. Sure, it contains sections of formal instruction. Proverbs also refers frequently to natural phenomena to reinforce godly wisdom. In chapter 30 a guy named Agur points to small animals that demonstrate wisdom (v24-28). He makes the point not to let size, or strength or the perceptions of others limit your accomplishments. He’s able to teach as he walks along the road because he observes his environment and seeks lessons that will benefit others.
I’ll close with a simple example of my own. I love the wind. I grew up on the coast and there’s always a breeze. I almost went crazy when I first moved from Australia to Memphis waiting for the wind to blow. So many days it’s just completely still. Interestingly, in the Greek and Hebrew languages the word for wind is the same as that for breath which is the same as that for spirit and Spirit. So often as I feel the wind blowing I like to think of the Spirit of God surrounding me, rustling my hair, pulling at my clothes. I breathe that Spirit into me and so God’s presence surrounds me and indwells me. I know tornadoes and hurricanes take the fuzzy edge off this imagery, but really they just open up another conversation: A Spiritual Conversation.
I also try to demonstrate a similar process starting with sports news and events over on this blog: www.GodMeetsBall.com.
I know these are broad questions, but that just gives you more scope to leave a comment. I value your contributions to this conversation.
- Have you ever been on the receiving end of spiritual “teachable moment”?
- What in nature, or in your daily walk inspires you to think on things of God?
- How do you pass on your faith to your children?
We live in a society that breeds fear. Our economy generates billions of dollars both promoting fear and then promising to protect us from our fears.
I’m not a big fan of Max Lucado’s books. I’m sure he’s a very competent Bible scholar, but I find that in his books he doesn’t let exegesis get in the way of telling a good story. I do find, however, that he knows how to connect with people, so I’m using his book Fearless as a guide for my current sermon series.
In the opening chapter Lucado points out that 20% of Jesus’ commands in the Gospels address his followers’ fears. Here’s the paragraph from the book:
“[Jesus] most common command emerges from the “fear not” genre. The Gospels list some 125 Christ-issued imperatives. Of these, 21 urge us to “not be afraid” or “not fear” or ” have courage” or “take heart” or “be of good cheer.” The second most common command, to love God and neighbor, appears on only eight occasions. If quantity is any indicator, Jesus takes our fears seriously. The one statement he made more than any other was this: don’t be afraid.” (p10-11)
I haven’t verified his numbers, but if they’re not exact I don’t expect they’re far off. The point is, “combating fear was a major component of Jesus’ ministry.” When we think about it this seems obvious because Jesus came to defeat sin and sin breeds fear. In Genesis 3 describes how the immediate response of Adam and Even after committing the inaugural sin was to FEAR.
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:10)
Before sin humanity had nothing to fear. So when Jesus died to defeat sin, he also defeated fear.
In a powerful statement (John 16:33) Jesus reassured his followers prior to his death, saying “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (NLT)
Jesus doesn’t sugar-coat his call to discipleship, but he reminds his followers of the grand scale of his mission. He’s not just making a book tour, or even promoting a new ethic. Jesus overcomes the world. Whatever fear the world may throw at us. However it may seek to intimidate us. Jesus has already overcome it.
We will still experience trials and sorrows, but ultimately our fears will disappear and only God’s peace and love will remain.
I feel that I need to include a disclaimer at this point. Some people in our churches and society suffer from various degrees of depression and anxiety. These are mental health issues. Too often Christians have regarded these struggles as a lack of faith. In fact, these people yearn for faith and wish intensely that their outlook on life was different.
Jesus was not addressing the issue of brain chemicals, hormones, balances and imbalances. Jesus was talking to people who generally handle life well, but when they encounter unpredicted and unpredictable circumstances resort to fear rather than faith. Jesus’ words of reassurance may help those battling anxiety on occasion, but the big question is, “How do they impact your life?”
Jesus has overcome the world. What scares you?
- Do you feel it’s accurate to describe eradicating fear as a primary purpose of Jesus’ ministry?
- Do you agree that there’s a strong connection between sin and fear? Where else do you see this connection in Scripture?
- Some fears are healthy as they prevent us taking unnecessary risks. How can we distinguish between healthy and unhealthy fear?
- Which of these questions would you like me to blog about in the future?
Today’s post is the third in a series of guest posts centered around my church’s annual theme of “Healthy Hearts”. This month’s contributor is K. Rex Butts. His full bio is at the bottom of the post, but here’s a brief intro…
I first met Rex just months after the loss of his son. I came to know him better as we tackled grad school together. Although for the last few years geography has separated us, I stalk Rex through his blog. I respect that Rex is willing to serve God in difficult circumstances. I also admire his willingness to ask questions that challenge the status quo. Most of all, I value his love for God, and for those seeking God. I appreciate Rex writing this article and sharing his heart with you and pray that you find it encouraging.
I was asked to write on the question of whether or not God can heal the heart. That’s a great question and especially a great question to ask around Easter Sunday. Easter among Christians means hearing a lot of talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s the story of Jesus dying on the cross on that Good Friday and then rising from the empty tomb on that Resurrection Sunday.
I love the story and as one who believes in Jesus Christ and follows him, I want this story to shape my life…and yours too. But sometimes that’s hard. Sometimes, very hard!
This summer will mark eleven years since my wife and I buried our oldest child, Kenneth James Butts. His death was crushing! All of the prayers for a healthy child… Every hope and dream we had for our son growing up to serve God…
The most difficult thing about such suffering is the way it paralyzes life. Time stops in a way. While the rest of the world continues on, oblivious to horror, the pause button on life has not only been pushed but seems stuck. As a believer, the question is whether or not God can heal the broken heart, restore hope, and give a reason for continuing on in faith.
Struggling With Faith
Catastrophic suffering, which comes in many forms, may be something that a person never “gets over” so to speak. I don’t think I have overcome the death of my son but I have learned how to live with it. That’s what I tell others too. The question is how?
I want to suggest that it’s a choice of learning to have faith in God again. However, I don’t mean a faith that suppresses all questions in exchange for absolute certainty. How could such certainty ever exist again when suffering has opened the door to so many unanswered questions. What I mean by faith is the choice to trust in God and the promise he makes in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ (even when many unanswered questions that remain).
In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (v. 28, NRSV). I don’t believe that this verse is meant to eliminate all faith questions. Rather, given the context in which Paul describes the Christian life as having “present sufferings” (v. 18) and “groaning” while in wait for the “redemption of our bodies” (vv. 22-23), Paul was offering a word of hope. This word of hope is grounded in the history of what God has done in Christ, namely through the death and resurrection, and what that means for the future.
There is still so much about God and life that remains mystery. We’ll likely never know or understand fully why we suffer. What Paul says reminds us that God is at work for our good, which is our redemption in Christ, and God will get that done. That’s why Paul goes on to say “in all things we are more than conquerors” in Christ Jesus (v. 37). Can we trust God with that?
Trusting God again or for the first time isn’t easy. It takes time, a lot of time too. Forget any programmatic “how to” process. It doesn’t exist or at least I haven’t discovered one yet. But we can choose to believe in the promise that God is still redemptively at work for our good and that in the end all things will somehow work together for this good.
Before my son died, I had a faith of absolute certainty. When it came to the way God and life worked, I was sure. With absolute certainty, I was sure. My son’s death shattered that certainty. But for nearly two years, I kept trying to gain back that certainty. I nearly lost all faith in God doing so. The problem was that the faith I had — absolute certainty — was gone for good. I couldn’t go back living as though what had happened didn’t happen, so there wasn’t any possible way to get the certainty I longed for again. But I did and still do believe that God is redemptively at work in Jesus Christ and so I chose to trust God again and trust what he is doing in Christ.
That choice didn’t eliminate my questions but it freed me from needing the answers… and the need for absolute certainty, which really isn’t faith. In place of that old faith, I gained a new faith that was assurance. It was assurance that God is still at work even though I don’t always understand. This new faith was healing, a healing deep within my heart in the sense that I had hope again. I was able to go on living again. God undid the pause button on my life and pushed the play button again.
If you are reading this and you have endured some form of suffering, I hope my own story might help you towards healing in your heart. I write this with the hope that it gives you the courage to choose faith. I share this story in hope that you can lean into the Easter story, the story of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ, trusting God to heal.
May God bless us all, even in the midst of uncertainties, to trust him and his Easter’s promise!
 Unfortunately, this passage has often been used as a prooftext offered in response to suffering. Whether offered as a pastoral response to the pain experienced by those who suffer or as a polemical response to the doubts experienced by the suffering, using this verse as a proof text often comes across as dismissive of the problem. In other words, it is like trying to put a bandaid on a gaping wound and acting as though that it helpful when in fact it is not. There isn’t any prooftext which can heal the wounds of suffering. Only God can do that. This passage is merely a window to see that redemptive work of God and that is how I use this passage here.
Bio: K. Rex Butts serves as the preacher and minister with the Columbia Church of Christ in Columbia, Maryland. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tennessee, has written numerous articles for Christian publications, and post regular blogs and other materials at www.kingdomseeking.com. Additionally, he has been married to Laura for fourteen years and together they are raising two children.
If this article has encouraged you, please return the favour by leaving a comment to let Rex know. Or perhaps you have questions or comments. I know Rex will check in and respond. So don’t be shy!
For additional perspective on this difficult subject, John Mark Hicks shared his reflection of death and resurrection on his blog here.
Today’s post is the second in a series of guest posts centered around my church’s annual theme of “Healthy Hearts”. This month’s contributor is James T Wood. His full bio is at the bottom of the post, but here’s a brief intro…
James and I crossed paths in graduate school a few years ago. Since then James has gone on to do a lot of writing. In addition to his numerous blogs and articles he regularly publishes online, his small group discussion guide on the book of Ephesians was recently published by The Gospel Advocate. I appreciate James volunteering to contribute to this series. I’m sure you’ll find his perspective encouraging.
QUESTIONS OF THE HEART
Growing up in church, I was taught that certainty, not cleanliness, is what’s next to godliness. From the pulpit to the Sunday school classroom, we were told that we could be sure of our faith. It came as a surprise to me, then, when I discovered the many of the heroes of faith in the Bible have struggled with questions.
For me it started with a distraught father. He was completely at his wits’ end. He’d tried everything up to this point and nothing had worked. He wanted what was best for his son, but it seemed like he couldn’t ever get there. Failure after failure left him crushed. One more offer of hope seemed like a cruel joke that he just couldn’t resist. Faith was worn, frayed, and close to breaking. In a desperate, lonely moment he let the words slip out of his heart before his brain could stop them: “I do believe, help my unbelief.”
You might recognize the words from Mark 9, but, if you’re like me, you also recognize them from your own frayed, broken moment when the hope that you’ve been clinging to seems to slip away. You find yourself speaking nonsense. You and I mix belief and unbelief, faith and doubt, certainty and questions.
But, if you’re like me, you feel guilty about it. You question your questioning and doubt your doubting. We grew up being taught that there’s no higher goal than spiritual certainty so our doubts, fears, and questions must be wrong. Right?
But that’s not how Jesus treats this poor, beleaguered father in his moment of confession. He’s not condemned as a sinner for expressing doubt, his son is healed and his life is transformed. Jesus, the man who flipped tables in the temple, defiantly healed on the Sabbath, and called out the religious leaders as hypocrites, was not afraid of confronting sin. He never flinched from a righteous conflict and didn’t excuse people from doing wrong, even in the midst of forgiving them. But he doesn’t forgive the unbelieving father – no, instead he just heals the son.
Scripture is filled with faithful people who question God.
Once I started to see it, I couldn’t avoid it. Scripture is filled with faithful people who question God. Elijah, immediately after miraculously defeating the prophets of Ba’al, runs away into the wilderness. There he meets God in a still, small whisper and confesses that he’s done. He’s afraid for his life and he’s ready to give up.
Or look at David who cried out to God in heartbreaking songs that were penned when he was pretending to be insane, or hiding in a cave, or cradling his dead son, or hiding from his usurping son. David threw his questions into the teeth of God with poetic power and those songs became the hymnal of Israel.
One of David’s songs came up again – a heartbreaking question thrown at the Almighty for generations – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus, on the cross, echoes David and questions God.
Jesus questioned God.
Let that sink in for a bit. If you’ve felt guilty for your doubts, if you’ve questioned your questioning and feared your lack of faith, you’re following Jesus in this.
Jesus prayed for God to do something, anything different. Have you prayed that prayer? When the test came back positive? When the marriage didn’t survive? When you pulled on your black dress clothes for the funeral? When the collectors kept calling? When you lost your job?
God, why can’t you do something else? If it’s possible, let this cup pass from me. Take it away. Choose any other path. Please.
Jesus shows us that questioning God isn’t bad, it’s healthy. David did it, Elijah did it, Job did it, Habakkuk did it, Gideon did it, Abraham did it, Moses did it, and those are just a few of the stories. The Bible is filled with tale after tale of people who blurt out in pain, confusion, and passion: “I believe, help my unbelief.”
Is that you? I know it’s been me.
When God responds to these questions, he’s not mad. He doesn’t rebuke or condemn the faithful-doubting of his people. Job’s answer was that God is in control. Gideon’s answer was that he should fight for God’s people. Elijah’s answer was that he wasn’t alone. David’s answer was to praise God anyway.
The questions don’t yield an explanation of God’s plan, but they draw our heart closer to the heart of God. When we lay everything, even our doubts, at the feet of God we get those Romans 8 moments:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
Bio: James T Wood is a writer, minister, and teacher in Portland, Oregon. He and his wife Andrea have worked with established churches and church plants all over the US. You can find out more about James and what he’s up to at www.jamestwood.com.
Please take a moment to encourage James by leaving a comment.
You might also like to continue the conversation by addressing these questions:
- Have would you describe the phrase “I do believe, help my unbelief” in your life?
- In your experience, do questions draw you closer to God, or create a barrier between Him?