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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

He must increase; I must decrease [John 4:30]

From the very beginning, John the Baptist recognized who Jesus was; even when John’s own followers were leaving to follow Jesus, his response, “He must increase; I must decrease,” showed the clarity of his understanding of his unique role with the Messiah. Yet, not long before his own death, suffering in prison, he sends some of his remaining followers to Jesus just to make sure; John’s idea of what Messiah was going to do didn’t seem to match with what he was hearing about Jesus. Most likely, he never envisioned imprisonment as part of is life and how his ministry would transition. Jesus reassured John that prophetic scripture was being fulfilled. 

We, too, all called to decrease and see that Christ increase; John’s mission was to prepare for Messiah, our is to proclaim Him. If John the Baptist can get confused in his destined mission, so can we. I’m sure there are more, but here are five of the “red flags” to help us avoid failing in our role to “decrease.”

1. Focusing on making a name for myself.

As someone once said, if we focus on deepening our relationship with God, He will take care of the breadth of our ministry.  It is easy to get lost in putting ourselves in positions for recognition, so much so that even the preparation and study for what we do is to further our position, not deepen the relationship of obedience.  We study, we practice, we prepare so we can offer the best offering of service to the King of kings and Lord of lords, not be in pursuit of the next best position. God makes the decision and timing in our journey; it is His choice whether or not what we do expands to a broader audience.

2. When I am unable to receive the truth that contradicts my desire.

The rejection of wisdom from those outside “my circle” could reveal an unwillingness to admit that someone else's opinion might be a better option. When my desire, my opinion, or my perspective, becomes more important than searching out the truth, the opinion of others just becomes noise and we have failed to decrease.  Sometimes we even look down on opinions from those that “aren’t as prepared as we are,” so their opinion really doesn’t matter. In ignoring even the evaluating of that advise, we may be passing up an idea that would transform what God is doing in our lives. Remember that God’s Word is always our final authority and source of truth.

3. Not accepting my limits.

Contrary to the popular belief “that we can do anything we really set our mind to,” the truth is we all have limits.  In accepting our limits, we seek out God’s will for our lives rather than some dream that is beyond the limits of our 

reality. As I age, I am reminded regularly that I cannot do what I could do 10 or 15 years before. The aging process is only one of many that are a natural part of “decreasing.”  Even learning how to deal with death is a part of our decreasing. In death, we finally get to see His greatness and glory. We can do all that God has called us to, because He will equip those He calls to do what He commands. 

4. When circumstances or plans don’t go as I had expected. 

John the Baptist was living in that reality: he was in jail though obedient, and what he was hearing about Jesus didn’t match his expectations. God’s plan for his life did not make his expectations. When we are more driven by our expectations than we are the truth of God’s Word, then we are setting ourselves up to get side-tracked from God’s plan of decreasing.

5. Decreasing is not self-criticism or demeaning. 

We are all made in the image of God, and all share the same fallen nature. Our worth does not come from what we might be able to accomplish, from fame, popularity, etc., but from what Christ has done in our lives. Continual beating ourselves up does not help us “decrease” nor is a part of His increasing. When we continually beat up on ourselves, we are actually doing the opposite of what we think we are doing because the focus centers around “us.”  Living a life of grateful obedience in humility and joy brings honor and glory to God.

 He must increase; I must decrease! 

Paul had faced incredible hardships and persecutions, as he shares in 2 Corinthians 1:8 “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.” While he was transparent about his difficulties, later in 12:9-10, he underscores the importance of refocusing our perceptions:  9 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  

Rather than viewing our weaknesses and "decreasing" as something negative, Paul helps us realize God's truth that can help us as we continue in our journey here.

He must increase; I must decrease!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Fear Not...

For the past two or three weeks God has continually brought to my mind and heart the words from Psalm 34:4-9:

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.  8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.  9 Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing.

I had started having some unexpected side effects that I thought were related to the radiation treatment, but upon consultation, probably were not. After ending the phone call, my mind began to race and the idea of a “reappearance of cancer” began to loop in my thoughts. Dread, denial, and fear all seemed to coalesce; even my heart seemed to begin to race. I stopped and took some deep breaths and began to pray: “God, I trust You...” Honestly, I really couldn’t say much more. Then God brought me to His Word in Psalm 34:4: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.”  God has not put me on the planning committee, and He isn’t obligated to explain to me what or why, but the greater question was and still is, “Will I trust Him?” 

I began to look at fear in a different light and jotted some notes down during my private devotional time in the morning. When we go through the storms of life, we do not become automatic experts in how to deal with the issues, however, if we allow Him, God can use those events to help mold us into His image. That’s where I am, on a journey trying to learn what God wants to teach me and to re-mold me into more of the likeness of His Son.

What are some of those fears that seem to eat us alive and consume our thoughts? Here are few thoughts:

Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment: Sometimes we base our worth on what we can do, but our worth is really based on what Christ has already done in our lives. Our pride scrambles to save face and make excuses when we fail or push us to do things we probably would not have done in other circumstances. In these situations, we need to trust our reputations to God and remember our worth is what God has already done in us through Christ. Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Fear of suffering: No one wants to suffer; regardless of what kind of suffering it may be, there isn’t a line of volunteers waiting to jump right in to suffer. We forget that suffering is just a natural part of growing and becoming like Christ. As Paul said “...that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering...[Phil 3:10]. Jesus assured His disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” [John 16:33] Suffering is the fire that burns away that which is unpleasing to God and the anvil that helps mold us into His character.  We do suffer when we sin, but the kind of suffering to which I refer is not destructive, but constructive.

Fear of persecution: Similar to the previous one, but perhaps more related to personal freedom and those in authority over us. We should never forget that regardless of what human government may be in power, God is still on His throne and still in control. What is more, throughout history, God has allowed persecution and His Church has grown strong through it. I am somewhat amazed that we would pray, “God, do whatever it takes to bring the world to Your feet!” and then, when God allows persecution to purify His Body to be able to be used by Him, we tell Him that persecution was not what we had in mind. One issue we must come to grips with is: “Do we really believe God is who He says He is and that He is really in control?” Trust is more than a word, it is faith put into active belief. We lay our fears at His feet, trusting Him.  To be able to hear Him, we must be pure before Him and able to be used by Him.  Hear the words of the psalmist to comfort your heart and spirit:
Psalm 55:22 “Cast your cares on the Lord  and he will sustain you; he will never let  the righteous be shaken.”  
Psalm 56:3 “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”
Psalm 4:8 “In peace, I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

Fear of punishment: God does discipline those He loves as a loving father would his children, however, sometimes we secretly believe that God is sneaking up behind us, waiting for us to mess up so He can punish us; that He delights in making us squirm. We have misunderstood the love of God. Remember He sent His only Son to take our punishment, the punishment we really deserved, so we might have forgiveness and eternal life in relationship with Him. Rather than the “mean man” with a big stick to hit us and keep us in line, He is the loving Father that stands behinds the baby that is learning to walk to help him when he falls. Remember 1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Fear of death: We all know we are going to die, but think that it is only something that happens to “older people.” If we are going to have to die, we just don’t want to suffer or cause a lot of suffering in the process.  I am not trying to minimize the grief associated with the loss of a loved one; that grief is real and we need to be honest in our feelings. I am not trying to make light of death; the finality of this earthly existence is real. While that is true, the reality of an eternity in the presence of our living Lord is also real. When Jesus was trying to walk the disciples through His own impending death, He said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” [John 14:27] Only our relationship with Christ can really give us the peace that comfort. Remember Psalm 23:4  “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You are with me...” We will close our eyes here on earth only to open them in the presence of Christ. The longings of our entire life will be fulfilled in the twinkling of an eye. Our focus then, it not on death, but on spending eternity with God in heaven.

So what can we do? Here is a start:
[1] Verbalize your fear to God; He already knows, but being able to articulate our fear, naming our fears is a great step in overcoming them. If you have a trusted mature believer, share those concerns with them.
[2] Go to the promises of God in His Word. You can start with those listed here, or follow the Spirit’s leading in Scripture.
[3] Shift your focus from your fear to your faith in God. What caused our fear may still exist, but our focus is on Him. Each time that wave of doubt or the dark cloud of fear tries to engulf you, go back to the promise of God’s Word. Memorize the passage, say it out loud.
[4] Thank God for His provision and care; list out those things for which you are grateful. Keep a gratitude list and review it early in the morning and before you go to bed.
[5] Remember: God is in control. God loves you and has a plan for your life. You can trust God.


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Parable: When JB Unfriended God


“JB unfriended God. After being stuck in this pandemic so long and God hadn’t done enough to stop it, so JB decided to just unfriend Him. After all, friends don’t let friends suffer, do they? JB had given God his Sunday mornings and even an occasional extra day. JB had prayed to stop this mess, but it just kept on. He was tired of staying at home, tired of wearing a mask, tired of keeping his distance, and it had been nearly a year. He just wanted his life back. And it wasn’t just JB, he looked around and saw how many other people were suffering? It certainly looked as if God had “unfriended” JB; he would just return the favor. Fortunately, God never had unfriended JB.

Why God allows suffering is one of the greatest mysteries and sometimes one of the greatest obstacles for some to overcome. There are no easy answers; I certainly don’t have one.  Fortunately, I don’t have to understand everything to trust God. I know that His love was so great that He allowed His own Son to suffer and die for my sin and the sins of the world; I can’t doubt that kind of love. I may not be able to understand, but I can trust that kind of love and that kind of God.  I know there are some wonderful explanations about this and I encourage everyone to search those out.  For me, this is my starting point: Almighty God is in control, He loves me and has a plan and purpose for my life; I can trust Him. 

One of the purposes of my life with Him is that I would be conformed to the image of His Son. While salvation is instantaneous, being conformed takes time. He must continually cut away everything that does not reflect the nature and character of His Son. It is a long and painful process, but the result is a deeper relationship with God and knowing Him in new and more intimates ways.  God is more concerned in deepening this relationship than the avoidance of temporary discomfort. So at times, while there is a temptation to believe that God might have “unfriended” me, I know I can go and trust Him. He is our faithful, loving God.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Expectation


The year 2020, and so far 2021 have not been what I anticipated. I was somewhat irritated recently with the limitations COVID has caused and came to the realization that, though I’m not fond of wearing the mask, etc., it’s really not that big a deal; what was really under the surface was I expected this to last a couple of months and then things would return to “normal.” Over and over again, my expectations of what I thought should happen got shot down with every new report or announcement of changes in what we must do.
Meditating on 2 Kings 5, I was reminded of another person whose unfulfilled expectations almost cost him healing. You know the story, Naaman, the powerful military leader from Aram had leprosy. Through the testimony of a young Hebrew girl who had been captured, he learns of a prophet that can heal him. [Too much here that I wished we could unpack, but not now.] He eventually shows up with a group of soldiers to the prophet’s house and is greeted by a servant who instructs him to go wash in the Jordan River. Infuriated, Naaman storms off. Listen to his crushed expectations in 2 Kings 5:11-12:
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
He had already imagined what needed to happen:
[1] the prophet would come out to meet him,
[2] call on His God, and
[3] wave his hand over the place,
[4] then be healed.

Bathing in a muddy river just wasn’t in his plans. At the urging of one of his soldiers, he finally does what Elisha had commanded and is healed. God wanted to teach some lessons to him:
[1] to humble himself,
[2] that Yahweh was the only true God, and
[3] to trust God’s commands and obey, even when it doesn’t seem logical.
Naaman returns not only healed of his leprosy but a believer in the only True God.
Fast forward to 2021; if we are not careful we can begin to trust our expectations of what we think should happen more than trusting God in the midst of everything going on. So when we catch ourselves getting flustered over unmet expectations, let’s stop and give them back to God, seek Him to see what HE wants us to do or how to respond.
I pray that the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, as you trust in Him!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

What is God’s Truth in the Matter?

I am humbled and grateful for so many praying for Kathy and me in my recent diagnosis of cancer and Kathy’s recuperation. I am also grateful for the encouraging reports from a bone scan and CT scan this week that the cancer has not spread. No one volunteers for this; it never comes “at a convenient time.”   No one said, “yeah, and let’s do it in the midst of a pandemic!” I would be lying to say that I haven’t been struggling in all this; I have, and I have a long way to go

What I have been doing is trying to focus on God’s truth in this. Here are a few things that I believe are God’s truth in this:

1. God is in control; He loves me and has a plan for my life, I can trust Him.

2. I have cancer; cancer does not have me. It may describe a physical condition, but I am defined by what God has done and is doing in my life, not what is happening to it.

3. I am humbled and grateful for so many who are praying for both Kathy and me; however, God doesn't wait until He gets enough requests from His children before He does something. Our prayers help us align our desires to His desires and to give Him glory. He hears and listens to the utterance of the smallest child, whether anyone else ever knows.

4. My worth is not on my abilities, but on what Christ has done in my life.

5. I am a child of God and a citizen of an eternal Kingdom. Since my life on Earth is temporary, my focus is not to build "my own kingdom" but be an obedient disciple of Christ.

6. I am not promised health, wealth, etc., as a child of God. Though God in His grace has given His blessings, I need to realize that the hard things that come, like cancer, can be used by God to help shape me more into His nature and character as I learn to respond rightly to Him in faith. 

7. Unless Christ returns beforehand, we will all die. That is not a surprise nor an option. At that time I will kneel before the Father only because of the death and resurrection of His Son and my faith in Him. The only question then will be whether or not I have been obedient to what He has called me to do; did my life bring glory to God.