Sloop John B

The Beach Boys have a song called Sloop John B. As best I can tell, it’s about a sailing trip gone bad. Not Gilligan’s Island bad but bad. I think Charles Manson was somehow involved.

Shortly after graduating from high school, my life was that song. I spent a week on a cruise. But this was no giant cruise ship that we were on. It was a tiny boat. As the week went on, that boat got small and smaller.

More than a few times on that trip I sang the words to Sloop John B to myself.

“Why don’t they let me go home?

This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on.”

Our captain spent the week in his bathing suit. By bathing suit, I mean bikini. His first mate was a Russian who liked to drink. It was my first time out on the open seas and my life was in the hands of a partially clothed man and his drunken assistant.

On one of our stops, a few people went into a casino. One guy got really drunk and the captain tried to have the alcohol beaten out of him. Another guy, the Russian first mate to be exact, got really drunk and lost all of the money that he was saving for a trip back to Russia. I can still remember him riding around in circles on a bicycle mumbling his miseries in Russian.

We had responsibilities on this tiny boat. One night, it was my responsibility to drive the boat. The partially clothed captain’s instructions were simple.

“Don’t worry about looking out the window. Watch the screen and make sure the red dot doesn’t hit the yellow dot.”

And off he went.

I was scared to death.

That night, surrounded by a dark sky and an even darker ocean, the world seemed to be really big and really small at the same time. I had never even thought about being a boat man but that night made it clear that it wasn’t my calling. I hated the pressure and the responsibility. When my shift was over, for once, I was really happy to see our partially clothed captain.

My lesson had been learned.

I was a better passenger than a pilot.

But I still forget that lesson a lot. If I had to honestly read Psalm 23, there are plenty of times when I would say, “I am my own shepherd because I don’t trust the real shepherd.”

And then the Real Shepherd reminds me that I make a better sheep than I do a shepherd.

I’m a control freak. I don’t really care about controlling what other people say or do. I’m more concerned with controlling the future. I want to ensure that things go well for my family and my church. I want good health for me and the ones I love. While there are certainly things that can be done to make those things more likely, there are no guarantees.

Things happen.

Sometimes really bad things happen.

And that scares me.

Handing over control of the ship really scares me.

That’s because I’m prone to forget the character of the Captain. He’s nothing like the one I had on that boat all of those years ago. This Captain is faithful and true and all-powerful.

And loving.

He never promised that the ride would always be smooth but he did promise to deliver us safely home.

Two big reasons for the anxieties we face are our constant effort to sit in the Captain’s seat and the ease with which we forget how good and loving that Captain is.

Christian, stop fighting for that seat.

Instead, sit back and trust that the Captain is good, that he is in control and that he loves you.

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

image credit

 

Cootie Catcher

My son climbed into the truck and told me to name a color.

I said red.

Then he asked me for a number.

I said eight.

Apparently I gave the right answers because he told me that I was going to be a millionaire.

At school he had made what he called a fortune teller. A generation or two ago it was called a cootie catcher. You’ve probably seen one of these before. It’s made out of a piece of notebook paper and it fits over your hand sort of like a puppet. Written on the outside are numbers and colors that correspond with something about your future.

After I got over the initial thrill of knowing that I would be a millionaire when I grow up, something else amazed me.

Kids today can access a world of information on a phone. If they want to know how many touchdowns Matt Ryan has thrown this year, it’s just a few clicks away. They can watch entire television shows and download albums on their phones. But they still like to play the same paper game their grandparents played way back in another world. Score one for the simpler things.

But simpler things have a way of becoming complex things. In the second grade, you dream about the car you’ll drive and the house you’ll live in. In your thirties, when you get the car and the house, you long for the good old days when those things were just dreams rather than bills to be paid. Sometimes, the life we dream of isn’t as peaceful as we thought it would be when we were holding a cootie catcher in our hand.

Forget about the nice car. Is there a cootie catcher that promises us peace in the future?

Usually, when we hear about someone being at peace, it means that they’re dead. “Billy lived a hard life, especially there at the end, but he’s at peace now.” It doesn’t have to be that way. While we will never know a perfect life on this side of eternity, we can know peace. Peace among the dreams that never came true. Peace among the dreams that did come true but turned out to not to be so dreamy. In the thick of anxiety and fear, the Bible offers us hope.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:2 (ESV)

In the heat of your stress and anxiety, it is possible to know peace. It is possible to silence the unnecessary noise around you and to rest in Jesus like a child in his mother’s lap. David Powlison says, “Most of the noise in our souls is generated by our attempts to control the uncontrollable.” It’s as if we’ve grown to believe that the cootie catcher really works, that we really are in control of our future. We aren’t. Failure to recognize this is the root cause of much of our anxiety. That’s why David wrote, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me (Psalm 131:1).

The future is too great for us.

But it’s not too great for the One to whom we belong.

David’s peace was not like the so-called inner peace that people talk about these days. You know, the kind that makes us feel better about ourselves but never really goes beyond ourselves. Real peace is shared peace.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 131:3 (ESV)

We live in a world where most people are being driven crazy by the noise of what they cannot control. It could be that your greatest testimony is living out the peace you have from being content in the God who controls all things.

In the town where I live, there used to be a guy whose job it was to stand out in front of the pizza place and try to get the attention of the people who drove by. Stand isn’t the best word to describe what this guy did. He danced. He danced like it was his goal in life to get people to stop at that place and buy a pizza. I don’t even like the restaurant he worked for but sometimes I would think to myself, “Well, if he feels that strongly about it, maybe I should try a few slices.”

He was the exact opposite of the guy who works for the place that sells Halloween costumes in October and does taxes in March. You know the place and you know this guy. He’s always dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, leaning on a sign that says, “We’ll do your taxes” while texting. That’s it. No dancing. Just texting. I hate to be so judgmental but I don’t want my financial future in that guy’s hands.

You are that guy. Or the pizza guy.

Whatever it is that you put your hope in, that’s what you advertise to a hopeless world.

If your hope is ultimately in your ability to control the future, you have nothing to offer a hopeless world.

But if you are trusting in the Sovereign God who has calmed and quieted your soul, even when everything else in your life is falling apart, the world stops and takes notice.

Is God Really In Control?

A while back I was having a theological conversation with someone. They were taking issue with my belief in the sovereignty of God, that is, the belief that God is in control of all things at all times. The person’s main concern was that if all Christians believed that God was in control of all things, none of them would do missions.

I thought about that on Wednesday night while I sat and heard a woman telling a story of the sovereignty of God. She and her husband and their five children packed up everything and left behind the comforts of Georgia for the challenges of Romania. For eleven years now the family has been working to break down barriers or racism, rescue women who are or otherwise might be caught in the sex trafficking industry, pulling children out of orphanages and giving them a better home, providing an education and yes, evangelizing the lost.

This family’s belief in the sovereignty of God didn’t keep them from the mission God had for them. It fueled their mission.

Christians like to say that God is in control but I wonder how many of us really believe that. Sure, we can say that he is in control on a random Tuesday morning. But what about on a Wednesday morning when a tornado hits? Or when there’s a bad phone call from your brother? Or when it feels like you can’t possibly go any further? Is God still in control then?

The Bible answers that question with a resounding yes.

I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the LORD, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:7 (ESV)

This would be quite scary were it not for God’s goodness. Hitler had a pretty good measure of control over Germany. An abusive husband can control his wife. But neither Hitler or the abusive husband are good.

It does us no good to speak of the sovereignty of God if we do not also speak of the goodness of God.

 

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:1-5 (ESV)

So the sovereignty of God is not intended to free us from the mandate to make disciples of all nations or from any other more specific mission God may have for us. But there are a few things that the sovereignty of God, when understood in union with the goodness of God, will free us from.

Things like fear and anxiety.

It’s interesting to hear how people talk about the upcoming presidential election in the United States. Here’s a basic summary of one point I hear frequently.

“Well, neither one of the candidates are any good but we need to vote for ______________ because at least God can work through that one.”

But God can’t work through the other one? Read the Bible. It’s one big, long story of God working through tyrants to accomplish his perfect will for the good of his imperfect people. Or, to put it another way, the Bible is an account of God’s complete control over all things. That doesn’t mean that we have to support tyranny or some supposed lighter version of it. It just means that we don’t need to be afraid when it comes knocking on our door.

God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness work together to free us from the constant hand wringing that so many have given in to.

God was good and he was in control when he created the heavens and the earth.

God was good and he was in control when Jesus was crucified.

God was good and he was in control on the day that I was saved.

God was good and he was in control on the day that my parents divorced and on the day that my mother got sick and on the day that she died.

When we have our presidential election, God will still be good and he will still be in control, no matter who wins.

And, whether God calls you to Romania or to stay in the states to make disciples, he will still be good and he will still be in control.

Because God is both good and sovereign, we can trust that when bad things happen, God will eventually, some way and some how, work them for our good. We don’t need to know all of the details. When tragedy strikes, the world is better off without us trying to excuse God, speak where he has not spoken or explain away his sovereignty.

We say something much more powerful when we simply trust God and worship him.

He really is in control.

He really is good.

And that frees us to obey him boldly and worship him gladly.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:33-36 (ESV)

image credit

 

Be Careful What You Fear

331446658_8f85525706_o

Fear can make you do some crazy things. It can physically shut your body down. It can convince you to make decisions that you’ll later regret. It can convince you to buy some products and get rid of others. As followers of Christ, we have to be very careful of what we fear.

None of us are taught how to fear. At varying degrees, we just enter the world that way. And to make it all better, our parents lie to us. They tell us, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” As we get older, we realize that they were lying to us. There’s plenty to be afraid of. It might not be under our bed but it’s certainly outside our door. If not, we tell ourselves, why do we have security systems on our cars and homes? But then we get even older and we tell the same lie to our kids. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Go back to sleep.”

Jesus doesn’t work this way.

Consider the story of Ananias. Ananias doesn’t get much attention. I don’t know of any VBS themes devoted to him. But if you’re a Christian, it’s very likely that the story of your salvation could be traced back to Ananias. All by God’s grace, of course.

God came to Ananias in a vision one day. Ananias responded like any good follower of Christ. “Here I am, Lord.”

By the time Ananias found out what God was requesting, perhaps Ananias was wishing that he wouldn’t have answered so quickly.

There was a man named Saul. He was well known among Christians for all the wrong reasons. He wanted to kill them. And God wanted Ananias to meet Saul.

Ananias was afraid. So afraid that he felt compelled to talk the Sovereign God of the universe out of his plan.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (ESV)

As if God would say, “Oh. Good point. I didn’t think about that. Scratch that. My bad.”

When I read this, I picture God laughing when a frightened Ananias talks about the “authority from the chief priests.” Do you remember one of the last things that Jesus told his disciples after his resurrection? In Matthew 28 he told them that, “All authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to him. All authority. Ananias had either forgotten that or hadn’t learned it yet. And the same seems to be true of us.

In this age of fear over elections and Supreme Court appointments and terror strikes it is important for us to remember who the authority really belongs to.

It’s not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

It’s not ISIS.

It’s not the Supreme Court.

It’s Jesus. And any authority anyone on this earth has ultimately rests under his authority. He gives it. He takes it away. All for the good of his Church.

When the Lord responded to Ananias, he didn’t say what parents usually say. He didn’t say, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” And he didn’t even promise that Ananias would be safe. He just said, in so many words, “Go, because I’ve got a plan for Saul and you play a part in the beginning of it.”

So Ananias went. He wasn’t given the assurance that his going would be free of difficulty or danger. But he wasn’t going alone. He was going with the presence of his Lord. And he was going in the fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord is different from the fear of man. The fear of man sees man as ultimate and leads to paralysis. The fear of God sees God as ultimate and leads to worship and obedience and joy.

It’s a scary world that we live in. There is plenty to be afraid of but we must be careful what we fear. It is impossible to simultaneously live our lives in fear of man and obedience to God. Our only hope is to fear God.

If we allow the fear of man to consume us we will eventually embrace evil. Our fears will convince us that evil is our only option. But if we fear God, that is, stand before him in reverential awe and obedience, we will see the world in a whole new way.

Yes, the world will still be a frightening place when we fear God.

But the terrors of this world will have no control over us.

That’s because our eyes will be fixed on the Authority that is over this world.

image credit

 

Five Reasons For Christian Confidence

25873132563_10f47e0a1b_o

The word con-man is short for confidence man. Back in the day, a confidence man was someone who tricked people out of their possessions. Today he’s called a con-man. Or a televangelist. Or a presidential candidate.

Stop listening to the preachers on TV who keep begging you for money and promising you outrageous blessings. These guys cannot deliver on their promises. You have no reason to have confidence in these confidence men. But, if you are a Christian, you have many reasons to be confident. Here are five.

You can be confident in the faithfulness of God.

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! Psalm 4:1 (ESV)

You can be confident that God actively listens to you when you talk to him.

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him. Psalm 4:2-3 (ESV)

You can be confident that God is in control of all things.

Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the LORD. Psalm 4:4-5 (ESV)

You can be confident that the joy of the Lord is infinitely greater than the phony joys of this world.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound. Psalm 4:6-7 (ESV)

You can be confident that the God who created and sustains you is supreme over all other gods.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8 (ESV)

Pride is a sin and it puts you on a quick path to destruction. The prideful man acts as if he is his own god. But Christian confidence is different. It is not centered on self but rather on the faithfulness and power of God. Christians, above all other people, have a reason to be confident. That’s because they have a Savior who loves them and is in control of all things.

image credit

A Word From Jesus That You’ve Probably Never Noticed But Really Need To Hear

409272438_ab9d3f7f70_o

It’s far from the most popular phrase that Jesus ever spoke. It never shows up in any of the movies. We don’t repeat it today. In fact, even if you’ve spent your whole life in a really good church, there’s a chance that you’ve missed this phrase.

Jesus was getting away. His confrontations with the religious elites had been intense and, no doubt, draining. On top of that, someone had just told him about the death of John the Baptist. So Jesus got in a boat to get away from the noise. But something was waiting for him on the other side of his getaway. Another crowd.

Imagine how you would feel if you went on vacation and when you showed up to your condo on the first day all of the people at work were waiting on you. Jesus didn’t feel that way. Rather than turning back around or telling the people to go away or calling down fire from heaven, the Bible says that Jesus “had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14).

At some point, Jesus’ disciples decided that there had been enough compassion for one day.

Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Matthew 14:15 (ESV)

The disciples were clear. They were ready for the people to move along and start taking care of themselves. Jesus wasn’t.

But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:16 (ESV)

Jesus was asking his disciples to do the impossible. Buying food for this many people would cost well over half of a laborer’s yearly salary. And no one happened to have that kind of food packed away in a bag. The best the disciples could come up with was a few fish and some bread. That’s when Jesus spoke the phrase that all of us need to hear but few of us have ever noticed.

And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Matthew 14:18 (ESV)

Not, “That’s it?!”

Not, “Oh, you of little faith.”

Just that one simple command. Bring them here to me.

Jesus knew what he was doing. He wasn’t chewing his finger nails and giving himself a stomach ulcer along with the disciples as they tried to figure out what to do with the crowd. Instead, he was intentionally putting them in a situation where all of their resources had run out. There was nothing that they could do. They couldn’t send the crowd home. They couldn’t afford to buy food for everyone there. And they couldn’t just make food appear out of nowhere.

But Jesus could. And he did. Over ten thousand people were fed that day. And the plotting, planning and administrating of the disciples had absolutely nothing to do with it. It was all the result of the God who remained God when the disciples had come to the end of their rope.

Sometimes the best place we can be is in the place where all of our talent, resources and knowledge has run out. It’s in that place where we really begin to understand the lordship of Jesus Christ over all things.

He is Lord over the hurts the people brought to him that day.

He is Lord over the worries that you have today.

He is Lord over the seemingly impossible.

And he looks at the handfuls of nothing you have to offer him and says, “Bring them here to me.” Instead of allowing your worries to consume you, bring them to Jesus.

Parenting is difficult and overwhelming. Bring your inadequacies and failures to Jesus and trust him with the results.

The temptation you face is much more than you can handle on your own. Bring your compromises and sins to Jesus.

Fears about what will happen tomorrow have a way of keeping you up at night. Bring those fears to Jesus, trusting that the same God who has been Lord for all eternity will still be Lord over your tomorrow.

You might find yourself in a tight spot today. And the miracle required to get you out of it may never come in this life. But remember, Christian, that Jesus is with you. And he has one simple command for what you should do with your insufficient funds.

“Bring them here to me.”

image credit

The Fear Of Man And The Laughter Of God

1324895081_8644b1ceb2_o

Fear seems to be ruling the day. If you watch closely, most of what you hear from presidential candidates begging for your vote is based on of fear. If this guy wins, he’s going to do this terrible thing. If this guy wins, there might not be another election in this country. And so on.

Fear rules the day.

But as Christians, we must be careful that fear does not rule us.

Ananias was afraid. God had given him what appeared to be a dangerous job. He had to go into a house and have a face to face meeting with a man who most Christians at that time tried to avoid. Here’s what Ananias said in his futile effort to talk God out of the plan.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (ESV)

“Lord,” Ananias said, “Saul is evil and he has hurt your people. Not only that, he has been given authority by some pretty powerful people to keep on hurting your church.”

Do you ever picture God laughing? Probably not. We’ve been brought up believing that laughter is either a sin or something beneath the Creator of the universe. In reality, God does laugh. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, there is no doubt that he laughed when something was funny. But there is a specific time that the Bible speaks of God’s laughter.

The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming. Psalm 37:12-13 (ESV)

I can’t help but picture God laughing when he hears a frightened Ananias talk about the so-called authority of those powerful men who were fighting against the Church. Whenever we encounter the authority of evil and powerful men, we must remember that their authority only goes so far. And we must remember the One whose authority is without end and without corruption.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Matthew 28:18 (ESV)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:15-18 (ESV)

If you watch the presidential debates, it’s easy to give in to fear. Especially when you consider the very likely scenario of an adult who acts like a child becoming our next president. If you care about liberty, both individual and religious, the death of Antonin Scalia can trigger a panic attack. And if you’re one who feeds on a steady diet of talk radio and the evening news shows, and the bogus news articles your friends post on Facebook about the president selling the country to Martians, the fear seems even more natural.

Thankfully, there is a better way. Just remember Ananias. Better yet, remember the God he served. If you are a Christian, you serve the same God. That God has always been good and he has always been in charge and that will never change.

When Pharaoh refused to let his people go, God laughed.

When Herod made people think that he was a god, the real God laughed.

And when we feel the burden of living under corrupt rulers today, God laughs.

But God does not laugh as one who does not care. And he does not laugh as one who is amused by the suffering of his people. It’s quite the opposite. God laughs at the absurd notion that those who rule over us are somehow in control of us. He laughs at wicked rulers like a Rottweiler laughs at a barking Chihuahua. He laughs because, as the Psalmist told us about the wicked man, “His day is coming.”

There are two ways for that day to come.

It can come like it did for wicked Saul and lead to faith, repentance and a life devoted to serving Jesus.

Or it can come like it did for evil Herod when he was immediately struck down by God and his body was eaten by worms.

Either way, their day will come. So if Christians are going to be afraid of something, we should be afraid of the fate that awaits wicked rulers who continue to embrace corruption while rejecting God. Their day will come.

We live in a scary world. But we have no reason to be afraid.

That’s because, no matter what happens in court rooms, congressional hearings, backroom meetings and polling places, our God is the final and ultimate authority.

And he laughs at anyone who thinks otherwise.

image credit

A Word Of Encouragement To No Name Christians

6854990320_41b6c2e1be_o

I’ve never met Billy Graham.

I don’t have one of the Stanley’s numbers in my phone.

But I know an awful lot of people who are just as important to the kingdom of God. They may never get a chance to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. The biggest crowd they’ll ever speak to is that collection of runny-nosed four-year-olds they teach a Sunday School lesson to every week.

The mark of someone who belongs to Jesus is not a ton of Twitter followers or a large platform. The mark of a true disciple is obedience. Sometimes obedience will carry you to a war zone to tell people about Jesus. Sometimes it will have you speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast. More than likely, obedience will have you telling a few people about Jesus in that war zone otherwise known as the children’s Sunday School class.

Wherever your devotion to Christ lands you, there is no better place for you to be than in that place.

Consider Ananias.

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” Acts 9:10-12 (ESV)

Ananias was eager to hear what God had to say. That might be because he didn’t yet know what God was going to say. When God told Ananias to visit a man named Saul, it was comparable to him telling us today to take a trip over to ISIS headquarters to lead a quick Bible study.

Like Moses before him, Ananias tried to talk God out of the idea.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (ESV)

Verse 15 does not say, “Suddenly the Lord realized that Ananias had a point and reconsidered his plan. After all, the Lord wouldn’t want his people doing anything uncomfortable.”

Here’s what verse 15 does say.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” Acts 9:15 (ESV)

Not, “Nothing bad will happen to you, Ananias.”

Just one word, followed by a little explanation.

“Go.”

There was no promise of safety or even worldly success. Just a command. Go.

And Ananias did just that. He didn’t buy a ticket to Tarshish. There’s no giant fish in this story. Just a simple servant of Christ who didn’t allow his fears to overshadow his obedience. Ananias obeyed. Even if obedience to Christ takes you to the home of an anti-Christian terrorist, there is no better place for you to be.

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized. Acts 9:17-18 (ESV)

Saul would later become Paul. He would preach before many. He would suffer much for the kingdom of Christ. Thirteen of his letters are in our New Testament. Paul is a big deal. But so is Ananias.

I never got to meet Billy Graham. He’s a big deal.

But so is Gene Hancock. Before he died, he spent his free time sharing the gospel at a truck stop. I’m glad that I got to know him.

Turk Holt is a big deal too. He has spent most of his life pouring the gospel into young people. I’m glad that I got to learn from him.

When we die, Jesus will not ask us how big our platform was or if we had enough Twitter followers. He’s more concerned with our obedience. Here on earth, there’s no telling where our obedience will take us. But when our time here is done, this much is certain. By grace, our obedience will take us the the welcoming embrace of an accepting Savior.

So no matter how frustrated you are or how unappreciated you feel, don’t quit. Sometimes obedience to Christ and worldly success go together. But when they do not, always remember that there is no better place to be than the place where obedience takes you.

And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ Matthew 25:22-23 (ESV)

image credit

 

You Are Going To Be Okay And There Is No Need To Worry

6988004959_fe2c7c0e22_o

A while back, my son asked me about ISIS. He was scared. He had heard about them on the news and seen pictures of them dressed in black uniforms and holding knives. I tried to calm his fears with logic. Looking back, my logic was all wrong.

I told him that ISIS was small. They’re not.

I told him that ISIS wasn’t in our country. They are.

But the next thing that I told him was exactly right. One for three isn’t so bad, I guess.

I told him that we were going to be okay and that there was nothing to worry about.

We really are going to be okay. As followers of Christ, we may find ourselves hanging on crosses like some of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. “Allahu Akbar” could be the last words that we hear spoken on this planet. But we are still going to be okay. Now, I didn’t go into quite that detail with my young son but my telling him that we were going to be okay was not just something that parents say to get their kids to quit worrying. It is truth. Gospel truth.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 (ESV)

Christian, no matter what ISIS does, you are going to be okay.

And you have nothing to worry about. That’s not a call to apathy. It doesn’t mean that you won’t find yourself in a situation where you have to fight to defend your loved ones. Rather, it is a reminder of Jesus’ complete control over all things. No matter what someone on earth does to destroy your life, family or country, no one can do anything to damage the infinitely better home that awaits you because of what Christ has done for you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:3-7 (ESV)

There really is nothing to worry about because Jesus will see you through to the end. And, as all Christians know, the end is just when it starts to get good.

Christian, as you watch the news, as you think through scenarios, as you try to comfort your kids, as you pray for wisdom and courage and preparedness to handle whatever situations may come your way by the hands of ISIS, don’t worry about how big ISIS is. They are big enough. And don’t worry about whether or not they are here. They are. Instead, live your life in confidence based on what the One True God tells you in his word.

You are going to be okay and there is no need to worry.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:1-6 (ESV)

image credit

 

The Faith Healer Who Didn’t Have Enough Faith

16356142654_ee89ee6bf6_o

We have a list.

Some of the names on the list have been there for a while. Other names have been removed. They really only get removed for two reasons.

We have a list.

It’s a prayer list.

Every Wednesday night, it gets passed out to our church. Before we pray, there are updates. There are new names to add to the list. New people who are sick. And there are also people who are taken off because they have been healed.

That’s my favorite part of our list. I like hearing about people who had cancer but don’t have it anymore.

That’s what we pray for. Sometimes individuals come before the church and ask for our leaders to pray for their healing. There have been a few times when those folks have been healed. And their names have been taken off of the list. All because of God’s goodness and the prayer of faith.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. James 5:13-15 (ESV)

Faith doesn’t stop there. There is more to faith than simply believing that God is powerful enough to take your cancer away. Faith is also what reminds you that God is still good and powerful when he chooses not to make you healthy again.

 

In Matthew 8, a sick man says something strange to Jesus.

And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” Matthew 8:2 (ESV)

Not, “I deserve to be healed.”

Not, “You owe me this, Jesus.”

Just, “If you will, you can make me clean.”

What was Jesus’ response?

And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Matthew 8:3 (ESV)

It’s important to remember that Jesus doesn’t always respond to our requests for healing with, “I will.” There are times when he chooses not to heal us. And that’s when faith really matters.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (ESV)

Paul was sick too. And, just like the leper in Matthew 8, he asked God to heal him. Only Paul didn’t get the same answer. His affliction wasn’t taken away. But he did get something better.

Grace.

It takes faith to know that God can heal whatever suffering it is that you endure.

And it takes faith to keep believing that God is still good when your healing never comes.

God never promised to be your ATM, dispensing out blessings and healing at your wish. But he did promise to always work all things together for your ultimate good. Even if that means that you will continue in your suffering.

My mother was sick for most of her life. A decade or so before she died, a faith healer stopped by her office to work his magic. He went through the whole routine. When he was done, he asked her how she felt.

He response wasn’t printed on that faith healer’s brochures.

She said that she didn’t feel any different.

That faith healer’s response was sickening.

“Well, you must not have enough faith.”

I think that it was the other way around. I think that God gave my mother plenty of faith. He gave her all of the faith and grace and power that she needed to endure years of a terrifying and painful disease without turning her back on the One who promised to work all things together for her good. That faith healer was the one who didn’t have enough faith. He could only see the power and goodness of God when things went his way. My mom saw all of that when everything was sideways for her.

Faith is the belief that God has the power to do whatever he wants.

And faith is also the belief that God is still good and in control when it seems like he is doing nothing.

Faith is what helps you to see that God is never doing nothing. He is always working for your good. Even if it means that your name stays on the prayer list a little longer than you would like for it to.

image credit