Remember My Words

“I did tell you, but you did not believe.” John 10:25
Do you remember that annoying kid in school, the expert on every subject who delighted in telling you everything she knew? Do you remember how irritating it was when it turned out she was right? Didn’t you just hate to hear her chortle, “Told you so!” Yes, I remember that kid. Truth is, I was that kid. And I would like to apologize to my brothers and my classmates for being such a brat. But let me just remind you – I was right.
The point of this, and there is a point, is how we often fail to recall what we hear, and specifically what God has said to us. This is the first step in the long fall of doubt, and our enemy is the chief manipulator in twisting our thoughts and raising uncertainty about God’s words.
Let’s look at an account in Scripture with Jesus and His disciples. Please stop and read Mark 4:35-40. This is the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm that threatened their company on the boat in the middle of the sea. The disciples are fighting against the wind and the waves and where is Jesus? Asleep in the boat! How can He sleep when there is a “furious squall, and waves [breaking] over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (v. 37)?
The fearful disciples awaken Jesus, and “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 38-39). Now listen as Jesus chastens His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40). Recently a friend asked me about this passage, wondering what Jesus saw in His disciples that caused Him to rebuke their lack of faith. As I meditated on these words, this is what the Lord brought to my mind and heart. Jesus is not chastising the disciples because they doubted His ability to deal with the storm, the issue wasn’t that they were scared. But go back to verse 35. Jesus told them “Let us go over to the other side.” This wasn’t a mere suggestion, but Jesus was giving them an emphatic direction, and He was assuring them that He was with them – notice the words “let us”. And because He was present, their journey was assured. When the storm came up, their fear caused them to doubt that they would survive. But in truth they were expressing a deeper doubt that Jesus could accomplish what He said they would all do, which is “go over to the other side.” They allowed the storm to drown out Jesus’ words, and all they knew is that the wind and waves meant certain death.
This is Satan’s favorite tool, to cause us to doubt and question God’s Word, His promises, His commands and His authority. We can see this clearly in two snippets of Scripture:
Genesis 3:1 – “Did God really say…?” and  Matthew 4:3 & 6 – “If you are…?   In these two brief lines, Satan is casting doubt on what God has said, first to Eve, and in the Matthew passages to Jesus. Satan was causing Eve to question God’s command in the Garden, and cast doubt on the goodness of God’s heart toward them. Notice that when the serpent questioned Eve about God’s command, she began to get confused and twisted the words of God, “God did say ‘You must not eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Gen. 3:3, emphasis added). God had commanded they not eat from this tree, but, in her answer to the serpent, Eve added a little bit of her own thoughts, and the doubt was sown. Have you ever wondered “Did God really tell me this, or am I hearing my own voice and my own words?” This was the beginning of the slippery slope of doubt for Eve – Satan knew it, just as he knows it when we have the same doubts – and he uses it to his advantage. He also tried to cause Jesus to doubt His identity and who God had declared Him to be at His baptism – “You are my Son…” (Mark 1:11). Satan succeeded in leading Eve astray, but Jesus knew without a doubt what God had said, and who He was. Matthew notes how Jesus repeatedly refuted the devil by saying “It is written…” for He knew exactly what God’s Words said – He was their Author.
Now, let’s look at one more – John 11:40 – “Did I not tell you…?” This passage comes from the resurrection of Lazarus. Remember that Jesus had told Martha, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life…whoever believe in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25). He even asked her, “Do you believe this?” Now, when Jesus commands that the stone be rolled away from the grave, Martha questioned Him. That is when Jesus said “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). “Do you remember what I promised you Martha? I am going to fulfill it right before your eyes!” Isn’t it amazing how quickly the warmth of His words cooled in her heart; from the time of Jesus’ speaking until they came to the tomb, Martha had begun to doubt.
God has spoken great and precious promises in His Word, promises for this life and for the life everlasting. He has spoken through the pages of the Bible and He speaks through His Holy Spirit that dwells in every believer. He speaks to give you and me assurance and promise and hope and peace and comfort. He speaks to guide and direct us, leading us into the  “Promised Land” He has ordained for His beloved children. Perhaps God has, at some point, told you that He is going to do something in and through you; and time, circumstances and the enemy are casting doubt on that word. Just as the disciples and Martha forgot what Jesus had said He would do, I wonder if Jesus stands before you and asks “Did I not tell you…?” Perhaps His word to you is right at the cusp of fulfillment. Child of God, will you continue to trust that God will do what He has told you?
Holy Father, when You speak, Your word is fulfilled. Lord, When my mind wanders, when the storms blow, when the enemy tries to cause me to doubt; please help me to hold fast to what You have promised, and to trust You to bring everything You have said to completion. Amen.

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The Heart of the Matter

“Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to Your Word.”  Psalm 119:37

A popular children’s song says “Oh, be careful little eyes what you see…Oh, be careful little ears what you hear.”  That’s good advice for any age, because our eyes and ears feed our minds and in turn influence our hearts.  Our hearts affect our mouths and hands and feet.  What is in our hearts will influence what we say, what we do and where we go.

Our hearts are the core of our being.  In the original Hebrew language, our Western word “heart” has many different words, with slightly different meanings, but they all come back to one point: “the inner person, the seat of affection, emotion, thought, desire, conscience and understanding.”  Surely this is why King Solomon wrote in his series of Proverbs, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

Solomon is advising us to “protect, preserve, and keep vigil over” that place of thought, desire, affection and emotion.  So how, exactly, do we “guard our hearts?”  He gives us several points to put this important principle into practice

“Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” (v. 24).  Doesn’t it seem that society’s language has become so base and filthy?  I remember when you would never hear the profanity on television that is tossed around today.  I remember when a man would not use coarse or profane language in front of a woman, out of respect.  Now women have mouths as filthy as a sailor.  Jesus said “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).  If profanity and coarse language, inappropriate joking and – uh oh – gossip – are tripping over my tongue, I don’t just have an ugly mouth, I have an ugly heart.

“Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you” (v. 25).    Two young men were sitting in a football stadium looking at the field covered with snow. They decided to see who could walk the straightest line from midfield toward the goalpost in the end zone.  They both stood on the fifty yard line and started walking.  When they reached their prospective goals they met back in the stands.  They laughed to see one boy’s trail veer off center and end up several feet from the goal post.  “I don’t know what happened,” he said, “I watched my steps, and put one foot carefully in front of the other.”  The other boy’s trail was dead on, stopping right at the center post.  “I didn’t look at my feet as I walked,” he said “I never took my eye off the goalpost.”  The goal of the Christian life is become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Hebrews 12:2 offers this word: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.”  Keep your eye on the goal.  Never take your eyes off of Jesus.  Wandering eyes lead to a wandering heart.

“Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm” (v. 26).  Whether we want to accept it or not, we are no longer living in a Christian culture.  The world today rejects the solid foundation of the Christian faith, and has created its own “spirituality,” that has no root in the time-honored traditions and beliefs.  You can believe whatever you want to believe, and you can change your belief when something more appealing comes along.  The paths that are level and secure are those that have been trod for thousands of years by faithful believers in the One True God and in Jesus Christ, His Son.  The way that is firm is “The way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).   Solomon also said “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining brighter till the full light of day” (v. 18). The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has stood the test of time, and it will stand for eternity.  Don’t allow the world to draw you off of the firm, level truth of God’s way.

“Do not swerve to the right or to the left; keep your foot from evil” (v. 27).  We have an image of Satan, red skin, horns a tail and a sharp trident.  I expect Satan laughs at the caricature we created in our imagination.  Evil is not always so easy to identify. Paul wrote “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 1:14). Evil is often subtle, cloaked in seemingly harmless decisions.  But evil always reveals itself when we are in deeper than we ever bargained for.   This verse tells us that the best way to guard against evil is to stay right on that level and firm path.  Jesus overcame evil, and He alone can lead us safely along the right way.

Finally, “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life” (v. 13).

There is no greater road map than the Word of God.  It is the original GPS – “God’s Positioning System.”  The instruction you will find in the Bible is true and is a rock-solid foundation to build your life on.  There are two verses that I believe express the importance of the Bible in the life of the believer.  The first is Psalm 119:105, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  Its companion verse is Deuteronomy 32:47, “They are not just idle words for you – they are your life” (emphasis added).  Wherever God takes you in this life, His Word is a sure compass and a guiding light; and in the Scriptures, both Old and New, is everything you and I need for life.  The Bible is real words for real life.  I encourage you to make Bible study part of your daily routine.  Find a church that teaches the true Word of God, even consider participating in a Bible study class or group.  Sink your roots down into the rich and fertile soil of God’s Word and you will be amazed at how deep and strong your faith will grow.

The Bible tells us that Solomon was the wisest King of Israel, yet for all his wisdom, he failed to follow his own advice.  He allowed his heart to be turned away from God as he pursued multiple foreign wives (700 of them, plus 300 concubines!), and they led the King to worship foreign gods.  Solomon’s eyes beheld the exotic beauty of these women, and …well, be careful royal eyes what you see.

Holy God, teach me to guard my heart, and keep in pure and humble and always turned to You.  Let my words be pure, my gaze steady, my path firm and my way sure.  Amen.

A Mustard-Seed of Faith

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”  Matthew 17:20

How much faith do you have?  Maybe the better question is how much faith do you need?  According to Jesus’ words in our key verse, even the tiniest seed of faith can accomplish the impossible.  A mustard seed is one of the smallest agricultural seeds, about 1-2 mm in size.  That seems manageable doesn’t it?  So why, I wonder, am I not seeing the great acts of faith that Jesus said I would be able to do?  I’ve pondered that question a lot, and I’d like to share with you what I’ve discovered in God’s Word, from two different accounts.

Take a moment, please, to read Matthew 14:25-29.  This is the familiar account of Jesus walking on the water and Peter coming out on the water to meet Him.  Now, correct me if I am wrong, but walking on water – at least for the non-divine – is not the norm.  In fact we would call it impossible.  Yet, there Peter is, one foot in front of the other, walking out on the water to Jesus.  We know the rest of the story: Peter took his eyes of Jesus and began to sink, yet for our focus today I want to keep this fisherman turned preacher on his feet and doing what cannot be done.  Surely, in his many days of fishing he has jumped out of the boat and into the water, never expecting it to hold him atop the waves.  What is different about this time? Let’s freeze-frame here for a moment, and look at another example of faith, in the verses preceding this event.

Please back up in your reading and look at Matthew 14:15-21.  You will also recognize the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand (that’s just the men, not counting the women and children).  As they survey the scene, Jesus and the disciples see a sea of hungry people with no provision for food.  Except – one little boy with one little lunch – five loaves of bread and three fishes.  For five thousand plus people.  John 6 records this same event, and adds Andrew’s comments: “but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9).  Yet the little boy gave up his meager lunch and placed it in Jesus’s divine hands, and as He blessed it, He broke it. And broke it. And broke it. And broke it.  And thousands of people were fed, “as much as they wanted” (John 6:11).  Not a sample, not a little snack, but full tummies all around. And as if that weren’t miracle enough, the disciples filled twelve baskets with the left-overs!  Freeze-frame again as the disciples pass through the mass of people, dipping their hand into a basket that never ran out.

Bring these two images together and let’s consider what they are telling us.  Peter walked on water.  A meager lunch fed thousands of people.  What is the connection?  Faith.  Faith in Jesus to accomplish the impossible with the limitations of nature – water vs. weight vs. mass.  Faith to accomplish the impossible with the smallest offering in the face of great need.  It was faith in Jesus that made Peter swing his legs over the side of that boat.  It was faith in Jesus that led a little boy to give up the only food he had to the Teacher.  Without faith Peter sits in the boat and wonders “what if?”  Without faith, one little boy has a full tummy, thousands of people go hungry and the miraculous work of Jesus goes unfulfilled.  Peter could have “logically’ reasoned that the water could not hold him up.  The little boy could have kept his lunch to himself, after all, “That’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this” (John 6:9-The Message).

What are we afraid of?  That the water won’t hold?  That the little we have won’t be enough?  He honors and esteems our faith.  Will you hold on to the meager things, thinking it’s best to keep what little you have than lose it?  Will I decide that the risk of failure outweighs the call of God?  I’m preaching to myself right now.  What am I afraid of? That Jesus will let me down, let me sink, leave me hungry? That I will be embarrassed by stepping out in faith and failing?  That’s not my Jesus.

You see, by definition faith is more than warm thoughts; faith is a belief and a confidence that leads to action.  I want to be a woman of faith.  I want to step out of the safe confines of the boat; I want to give to Jesus the little I have and trust Him to not only provide everything I need, but to work a wonder and  spread what I offer out to bless many more.  Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ said, “God does not require you to have great faith.  You simply are to have faith in a great God.”

Will you join me in the water?  Will you also give your meager offerings to the Master?  Are you and I ready for what Jesus will do when we abandon ourselves to Him in faith?

Holy, mighty, wonderful God – like the father who brought him child to Jesus, “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).  Give me faith to step out and step up.  Amen.