I See Men As Trees Walking…

Our family has been going through a trying time as a beloved sister is in the final stages of cancer.  Like anyone else, I wonder why God sometimes heals immediately and completely and at other times does not.  I know He can heal and I know He does heal and I know He wants to heal.

So why is my sister-in-law dying?

Sickness and death entered the world when Adam and Eve sinned.  Our perfect bodies and our perfect environment began to die and decay.   Everyone but Enoch and Elijah would die a physical death.  They would be taken directly into God’s presence.  While not as prominent as healing miracles in the New Testament, there were miracles of healing in the Old Testament.  Elisha raised a child to life (2 Kings 4:35), healed Naaman of leprosy (2 Kings 5:10), and raised another man from the dead (2 Kings 13:21).  Elijah healed Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:7).

There are many more healings noted in the New Testament.  So, God’s ability and willingness to heal isn’t really the question.  It’s interesting to note two slightly different circumstances.  In Mark, chapter 8, Jesus heals a blind man by spitting on his eyes (definitely not very politically correct for our day and age.) and laying His hands on him.  However, the man was not completely healed.  Things were still blurry to him.  So Jesus touched him again and then he was completely healed.

The other circumstance involved Paul’s thorn in the flesh.  We don’t know what that thorn was, but Paul begged the Lord three times to remove it.  Paul never struck me as the wimpy type.  So for him to beg to take it away three different times seems to imply it was something major.  God’s answer was not healing but, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

So God does not always heal.  If He did, no one who believes would ever die and that’s not going to happen until Jesus returns.  And when He doesn’t heal sometimes it’s because we see men as trees walking and His intentions are blurry to us.  Other times it’s just because He’s God and we’re not.  My mind and imagination are far too limited to understand His great intents and purposes.   But His grace is sufficient and the weaker we are, the more His power is made perfect.

It doesn’t make me feel less sad about my sister, but, like Paul, I can, for Christ’s sake, delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:10)

When Not To Pick Up the Pieces

Corrie ten Boom told the story of a little girl who broke one of her mother’s demi-tasse cups.  The little girl came to her mother sobbing, Oh, Mama, I’m so sorry I broke your beautiful cup.  The mother replied, I know you’re sorry, and I forgive you.  Now don’t cry any more.  The mother then swept up the pieces of the broken cup and placed them in the trash can.

But the little girl enjoyed the guilty feeling (and the attention her mother gave her).  She went to the trash can, picked out the pieces of the cup, brought them to her mother and sobbed, Mother, I’m so sorry that I broke your pretty cup.  This time the mother spoke firmly to her, Take those pieces and put them back in the trash can.  Don’t be silly enough to take them out again.  I told you I forgave you, so don’t cry anymore and don’t pick up the broken pieces anymore.
When we bring our sin before God, we’re like that little girl.  We confess what we’ve broken in our lives and God forgives us.  Unfortunately, sometimes our sin has gotten us to feel so guilty and  lacking in self-confidence that we find it hard to believe that God can forgive us and we end up bringing wallowing in the feeling of being unworthy.  So we bring the same sin back to God again and again.
Well, guess what?  We already  were unworthy before we committed that sin that makes us feel so worthless now.  If we pick up the pieces of our past failures again, as the little girl did, we make the work of the Cross to no effect.  And then, what else is there?  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  (John 14:6)
Remember, if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9) Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the price for all of our sin–past, present and future.  Once we have confessed something, it is nailed to the Cross with Christ.  The stain has been removed.  This does not give us leeway to continue in the sin that has been forgiven, but it does free us from the penalty we all deserve for sin already committed.  Jesus said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’  (Then Paul added) So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.  (2 Cor. 12:9)  So take your sin to the Cross and leave it there.  In that way the power of Christ can work best through your weakness.

Prayin’ Up a Storm

Just after the Ark was returned to them and the Israelites were led by Samuel to get rid of their idols and rededicate their lives at Mizpah, the Philistines gathered to do battle with them.  The people of Israel were terrified.  Samuel sacrificed and interceded for them with God.   While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites.(I Sam. 7:10).  That must have been quite the thunderstorm!

How many times do we read of the storms of life and think of them as being the trials and tribulations that we face?  I have a young relative who has been facing a series of difficult circumstances through no fault of his own.  He has no support or working relationship with his mother or father, he was asked to leave the college of his choice, he lost his means of transportation and he has been forced to move in with the parents of a friend.  To me, that qualifies as a storm.

So what about these storms–both the literal and the figurative.  In the New Testament we have this story:  35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”  39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”  41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him. (Mark 4:35-41)

And if you want to consider the storms of God, how about the one that lasted for forty days and forty nights!  things simply don’t get much more stormy than that.  So why does God send or allow the storms?  The thing to remember  is that all storms–including the Flood are not only episodes of judgment, but are also times of God’s grace and salvation.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32) Think of when Jesus prayed this.  He knew that Simon would deny him.  Yet He also knew that eventually Simon would turn back to Him and become a leader and strengthener of the disciples.  We know that Simon felt that storm of regret and failure before turning back.  But the important thing was that he did turn back.  That’s all Jesus is waiting for us to do, too.  Turn back from each weaknesses and failure and return to Him.  The Bible doesn’t say he who was saved on January 23rd, 1969 shall be saved, but it does say, he who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:13) It’s an on-going and continual process.

A Rose by Any Other Name Still Has Thorns

Roses are beautiful creations.  They may vary in size, color, and even in shape.  But they still have those nasty thorns.  No matter how careful I am when I handle them, I always stick myself.  In Paul’s 2nd letter the Corinthians, he notes, To keep me from being proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me. (2 Cor. 12:7)

You might think that a mighty apostle like Paul who was given so much by God to share with the New Testament church would be able to pray away this thorn.  After all, he had already endured 39 lashes five times, been beaten with rods three times, and been stoned once.  He had come through to the other side of each of these times of suffering.

Paul prayed three times for God to remove the thorn.  With all that he had already suffered, how severe this thorn must have been to cause Paul to beg God for relief.  People have guessed that it might have been malaria, depression, epilepsy, blindness, or an unusually strong temptation.  He never records that God delivered him.  In fact, immediately following his words in verse seven, Paul wrote, Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said, My power works best in weakness.  Job, too, endured great suffering at the hand of Satan.  Yet behind Satan’s activity was the sovereign hand of God, who permitted the suffering to bring Job to a greater understanding of his Creator and Redeemer.

There will be times when God does not give us the answer or deliverance we think we need.  But we can be certain that when we seek Him in prayer, He will always give us the grace and strength we need.  So don’t give up on yourself and God because of that one trial or temptation that you can’t seem to overcome.  God is still in control and His grace is still sufficient.  As Job said, I know that my Redeemer lives and in the end He will stand on the earth.  Job 19:25.  What will we learn from our trial or temptation?

* If you’re interested in art or writing, please check out our Activities page to find an online application and rules for our  1st Annual Online Christmas Art Contest.  The deadline for submissions is December 12, at 5:00PM.

Sin Is More Than a Choice.

Most Christians are taught that sin is a choice.  And we like to think that most of the choices we make are good ones.  Many of us are even willing to admit that some of our choices are less than good–we may even be able to call these bad choice sin.  Few of us take the time to realize that the Bible makes it clear that sin is more than some stupid mistakes.  It’s more than a choice; it’s a power.  That’s why Paul’s letter to the Romans talks about sin ruling.

There is a story told in the One Year Unlocking the Bible Devotional about a large group of people going on a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to one of the Pacific islands.  Many are traveling in economy class, some are traveling business class, and a few are in first class.  Everything is going smoothly en route until suddenly an alarm sounds.  Smoke fills the cabin and, to your horror, three masked gunmen appear.  You realize that the unthinkable has happened: the plane has been hijacked and you are all hostages.

It no longer matters what class you are flying because you are all in the same position.  The hijackers are in control and are determining the destiny of the plane.  That’s what it means when the Bible talks about sin ruling.  Sin invaded our world and took charge of our ultimate destiny–it was in control.

God sent His Son, Jesus, to set us free from sin’s ruling power, but not from its influence.  This is where we need to accept and depend upon that ultimate sacrifice daily (hourly, or minute by minute if necessary) in order to overcome sin’s constant influence.

The problem is that too many people see sin not as a dangerous hijacker, but as a harmless pest.  In the book Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver comes to a town where people are so tiny that he seems like a giant.  During his visit, Gulliver becomes tired, and while he sleeps, the little people climb all over him, tying him with thousands of tiny threads.  The individual threads have very little strength, but together they effectively paralyze this comparative giant.

Sin is not simply a choice; it’s a power that has taken over our world.  It may seem innocuous at times, but its many threads are too strong for you to break on your own.  So depend on the grace and power of Jesus–not for just the big things, but for the seemingly little things as well.