God Works in Mysterious Ways

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9. K.J.V.)

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33, K.J.V.)

In early October of 1948, a young minister was called to pastor what could have been described as an “old” church. The church building had once been a magnificent structure in a wealthy part of the town, but by the time the young pastor began his ministry there the building was in bad shape and much of the wealth had moved to another part of town. Nevertheless, with unusual enthusiasm, he and his wife began the work of painting and repairing the building in an effort to restore it to some of its former glory. Their goal was to have everything ready for the night of the upcoming Christmas Eve candlelight service.

Just one day before Christmas Eve, however, a storm dumped a lot of rain on the area. The rain was more than the church’s old roof could take, and a leak sprung just behind the church’s altar. The water ran down onto a wall, and the wall’s plaster, after soaking up as much as it could, began to crumble. The end result was a gaping hole in the wall.

As could be expected, the pastor and his wife were very despondent over this setback. They couldn’t get the wall fixed before the Christmas Eve service, and it seemed to them that almost three months of hard work had been wasted. To their credit, though, the young couple determined to accept the ruined wall as somehow being God’s will.

That afternoon the couple attended a benefit auction for the church’s youth group, and one of the items that was put up for bid was an old ivory-and-gold-colored lace tablecloth that was nearly fifteen feet long. When the pastor saw it, an idea came to his mind. He would buy that old but still beautiful tablecloth and hang it over the hole in the wall behind the altar. Fortunately for him, nobody else really wanted the tablecloth, and he was the high bidder at $6.50.

The next day Christmas Eve came, bringing with it snow and high wind. As the pastor unlocked the church doors to make the preparations for the candlelight service, he noticed a woman standing at the nearby bus stop. Since he knew the bus wouldn’t be there for at least half an hour, he invited her to come inside the church and stay warm.

She accepted the offer, and as they talked, she explained that she wasn’t from the neighborhood and was only in the area because she had interviewed for a job as governess to the children of a well-known wealthy family. But she hadn’t gotten the job because she was a war refugee and her English wasn’t very good. The woman would only be inside the church until her bus arrived, but she said that she’d like to pray while she was there. So, the pastor left her sitting on a pew near the back, with her head bowed in prayer, as he began hanging that tablecloth across that unsightly hole in that wall behind the church altar.

But when the woman looked up from her praying and saw the tablecloth, she immediately rushed up to the pastor and said, “It’s mine! It’s my banquet cloth.” Of course, the pastor was startled by her reaction and didn’t quite know whether to believe her or not. She convinced him, though, when she showed him her initials that were embroidered in one corner of the cloth. Then she told him the sad story of how she had lost the tablecloth. It was the kind of story that could only happen during intense times of war.

According to the woman, she and her husband had lived in Vienna, Austria, and had opposed the Nazis before the World War II. Eventually, the couple had decided to flee to Switzerland, but the husband had felt that it would be safest if they traveled separately. The woman had left first, with the plan being that her husband would soon join her. Tragically, though, he had never arrived. Later on, she had heard that he had died in a Nazi concentration camp.

The pastor was so touched by the woman’s story that he insisted that she take the tablecloth. The woman thought about the offer for a moment but politely declined. After all, she didn’t need the tablecloth anymore, and it did look beautiful hanging on the wall behind the altar. She then thanked the pastor for what had been an amazing experience, said good-bye, and left the church to catch her bus.

Later that night, as the pastor conducted the Christmas Eve service, he couldn’t help but think even more highly of the old tablecloth, and he noticed how beautiful it looked in the flickering light of the candlelight service. Consequently, he wasn’t surprised when, after the conclusion of the service, many of the attendees made a special point of complimenting him on how beautiful the church looked. One older gentleman in particular even stayed after the service just to spend some more time admiring the tablecloth.

When the gentleman finally did make his way back to the door, he said to the pastor, “It’s strange. Many years ago, my wife – God rest her – and I owned such a tablecloth. She only used it on very special occasions. But we lived in Vienna then.” When the pastor heard this, goose bumps rose up on his skin. He thought, “Could the woman I met this afternoon actually be this man’s long-lost wife?”

Trying his best to keep his excitement in check, the pastor told the man about the woman, and the old man, with tears streaming down his face, said, “Can it be that she is alive? How can I find her?” Fortunately, the pastor remembered the name of the family who had interviewed the woman for the job, and with the trembling old man standing beside him, the pastor telephoned the family and got the woman’s name and address.

The address was on the other side of town, but the pastor and the old man certainly didn’t mind making the trip. They climbed into the pastor’s car, drove to the address, and knocked on the apartment door. The woman opened the door, and right then and there that pastor was privileged to witness the tearful, joyful reunion of a wife who thought her husband was dead and a husband who thought his wife was dead. It had been more than ten years since the couple had seen each other, but now they were together again on Christmas Eve, 1948. Yes, God does indeed work in mysterious ways.

Posted in Adversity, Christmas, Church, Disappointment, Faith, Faithfulness, God's Omnipotence, God's Timing, God's Omniscience, God's Provision, God's Sovereignty, God's Work, Problems, Reconciliation, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God, Waiting | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

God Works Through Our Circumstances

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David. to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. (Luke 2:1-5, N.K.J.V.)

In his devotional book The Believer’s Code, O.S. Hawkins explains how God used the census decreed by Rome’s Caesar Augustus in His prophesied plan to get Jesus born in Bethlehem. Hawkins writes:

Long centuries before His birth, the prophets foretold that Christ would be born in Bethlehem. But how? Joseph and Mary resided seventy miles north, in Nazareth. God put the whole world in motion to fulfill His word. A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that everyone was to go to the place of their family lineage to pay taxes. So Joseph, because he was in the line of David, left Nazareth with his very pregnant wife on a long journey.

Many of the things in our lives that on the surface appear inconvenient may just be the hand of God’s providence getting us to our own Bethlehem. Bethlehem reminds us what God promises, He performs — no matter what. Bethlehem is a place of providence, and so are you. God is at work, behind the scenes in your life, right now. He has not abdicated His throne. He is at work in your life when you are not even aware.

This Christmas you might be wondering what on earth God is doing in your life. Maybe your finances are tight. Maybe a loved one is sick. Maybe a family member has died. Maybe you feel like God is not doing anything good for you. At the very least, you feel like He’s not doing what you want Him to be doing.

If any of this describes you, my counsel to you is very simple: don’t give up on God. He really does work through the sometimes confusing and disappointing circumstances of our lives to funnel us to where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do. That seventy-mile trip that Joseph and a very pregnant Mary took from Nazareth to Bethlehem was surely not an easy one, but it was God’s will for them. And anytime we are doing God’s will, we are without doubt doing the right thing. The rest we just have to leave up to His providence and trust that His plan will work if we will work the plan.

Posted in Adversity, Christ's Birth, Christmas, Disappointment, God's Omnipotence, God's Timing, God's Omniscience, God's Provision, God's Sovereignty, God's Will, God's Work, Obedience, Problems, Prophecy, Trials, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Your Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die!” (Genesis 2:16-17, N.K.J.V.)

God completed all the work of creation on day 6 of the creation week and rested on day 7. Not only had He finished all the work, everything was still in freshly minted, pristine condition. We know this because Genesis 1:31 says that God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. Presumably, that means that Satan and his fellow angels hadn’t rebelled yet, and sin hadn’t entered into the equation.

Interestingly, the Garden of Eden’s tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a part of what God labeled as being “very good.” This proves that the tree was not intrinsically evil or wicked. Harry F. Sanders III, writing for Answers in Genesis, compares the tree to a stove burner. He writes:

Man was explicitly commanded not to eat from the tree, yet he decided to do it anyway. This is analogous to a parent telling a preschool child not to put his hand on the stove burner. If the child does so, there are consequences for the child beyond the risk of him getting burned. However, the stove is not evil. It is still serving its intended purpose. The disobedient child sinned. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil can be viewed in a similar light. It was not somehow bad because man used it to disobey God.

Popular pastor and author Tony Evans has called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil a “Google tree.” Google is nothing more than a virtually bottomless reservoir of knowledge, and knowledge is neither good nor bad. Knowledge is just knowledge, built from amoral facts and amoral information. Just as through wisdom knowledge can be used to serve God, through foolishness it can be used to disobey Him.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a litmus test for Adam and Eve. If they obeyed God by not eating the fruit from it, they would acquire a knowledge of “good.” On the other hand, if they disobeyed God by eating the fruit from it, they would acquire a knowledge of “evil.” After spending an untold amount of time keeping God’s command by not eating that fruit, Adam and Eve had a knowledge of “good.” In other words, they knew what “good” behavior was because they had lived it. What they didn’t have was a knowledge of “evil.” They didn’t know what “evil” behavior was because they hadn’t lived it. And the only way to acquire that knowledge was to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree.

It should be understood, though, that the fruit itself wasn’t the problem. That fruit was definitely not poisonous, a fact that is borne out by Adam and Eve remaining physically alive after they ate it. For that matter, there’s nothing to suggest that Eden’s animals couldn’t eat that fruit without repercussion. The problem was the blatant rebellion against God’s revealed will that was accomplished by Adam and Eve eating that fruit.

It’s not like the fruit’s juices somehow magically downloaded the knowledge of good and evil into the brains of Adam and Eve. I’ve even wondered if any singular tree from the Garden of Eden, regardless of the type of fruit it produced, could have served as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil if God had chosen it for that role. The point is, it was the eating of the fruit, not the fruit itself, that created the sin and in so doing gave Adam and Eve the knowledge they hadn’t had: the knowledge of evil. The fruit was nothing more than some type of fruit. According to Genesis 3:6, it was “good for food” (K.J.V., N.K.J.V.), a description that can be taken to mean that the fruit not only looked delicious but also tasted delicious.

Of course, having more knowledge doesn’t necessarily make you happier or more godly. Seeing the video footage of President John F. Kennedy getting assassinated in Dallas, Texas, will certainly give you a knowledge of that event, but does having that mental image in your head and knowing that you live in a world where leaders sometimes get assassinated really make you happier? A teenage boy who has never seen a naked woman clicks on a pornographic site and instantly gains a new knowledge of the female anatomy, but does that knowledge draw Him closer to the Lord and make him more godly?

Physically speaking, God created Adam and Eve as fully grown adults. Adam was expected to tend (cultivate) the Garden of Eden and keep (watch over) it (Genesis 2:15), while Eve was expected to be fruitful by producing offspring (Genesis 1:28). In regards to their moral state, however, they were akin to infants. Little babies enter into this world like blank slates when it comes to knowing about good and evil. It is only over the course of time, learning, and experience that they gain a knowledge of not only good but also evil. How many of us adults, though, find ourselves sometimes longing for the days of our childhood, days when we walked around in a childlike naivety and were quite happy because of it? That simple innocence, not to mention their fellowship with God, was what Adam and Eve forfeited when they acquired the knowledge of evil by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree. And once that innocence is gone, there is no way to get it back.

Even though the exact location of the Garden of Eden has been lost to history — the flood of Noah saw to that — and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil no longer exists, you can still have your own such tree in your life. In a very practical sense, anything or anyone that God has told you to stay away from plays that role for you. If you obey God by staying away from that thing or person, you will automatically gain knowledge about doing “good” because you will be learning by experience. Conversely, if you disobey God by eating the fruit from that thing or person, you will automatically gain knowledge about “evil” because you will be learning by experience.

It might even be that there isn’t anything inherently sinful or wicked about the thing or person in question. Like the fruit on that forbidden tree in Eden, that person or thing might be amoral. Nevertheless, if God has told you that the fruit is off limits to you, that command is what makes the difference. Somebody else might be able to enjoy the thing without sinning or participate in the relationship without consequence, but you can’t because to you that fruit is forbidden.

That lands the choice in your lap, just as it once landed in the laps of Adam and Eve. And Satan and his demons will surely tempt you to choose wrongly, just as Satan did with Eve. But just remember that Satan and his demons can’t make you do anything, and with God’s help you can always resist the temptation to eat the fruit from your tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I’m not saying that it’s always easy to resist that temptation, but I am saying that it’s always doable. You see, forbidden fruit doesn’t have to be eaten, and the less knowledge of evil you have the better off you will be. That’s something that Adam and Eve found out the hard way, and here’s hoping that you don’t follow their bad example.

Posted in Addiction, Backsliding, Choices, Commitment, Conscience, Decisions, Desires, Discipleship, Disobedience, Doing Good, Dying To Self, Faithfulness, God's Will, God's Word, Lust, Man's Freewill, Obedience, Personal Holiness, Rebellion, Righteousness, Sanctification, Sin, Temptation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Biscuit Revival

As for God, His way is perfect… (Psalm 18:30, N.K.J.V.)

A pastor asked an evangelist to come and preach a weeklong revival in his church. Each service a love offering would be taken up to pay the evangelist, and he would sleep in the guest bedroom of the parsonage following each night’s service. The deal also included three meals a day at the parsonage.

The evangelist accepted the invitation despite the fact that he was at that time struggling with his own faith. A series of recent setbacks had caused him to question God’s ways and wonder why God hadn’t spared him from it all. Still, though, he was an evangelist, and it was his job to preach revivals. So, he went and did the best he could.

After three dry and fruitless nights of services, the pastor knew that something was wrong. The evangelist’s sermons were prepared well enough and the oratory was acceptable, but there was no real emotion to the messages. They lacked fire. They lacked zeal. They lacked heart. It was as if the evangelist was preaching what he was supposed to preach, not what he truly believed.

Very early the next morning the pastor knocked on the evangelist’s bedroom door. When the evangelist opened the door, the pastor stepped inside the room and began a conversation. He said, “Brother, I can tell that something is wrong in your life. I’m a preacher myself, and I know when a preacher is just going through the motions in the pulpit. I’m just here to ask if there is anything that you’d like to talk about.” Tears began to stream down the evangelist’s face, and for the next several minutes he told the pastor all about the recent setbacks that had crippled his faith. After sharing it all, he said, “Pastor, I just don’t understand why God has allowed these bad things to befall me.”

Before the pastor could respond, his wife called out, “Breakfast is ready; you two come and eat.” Both men dutifully obeyed and were delighted to find a full-course breakfast, complete with a plate of piping hot buttermilk biscuits, awaiting them at the dining room table. Seeing the biscuits inspired the pastor to have a burst of spiritual genius. As the three people sat down to enjoy the breakfast, he said, “Let me bless the meal.” Then he proceeded to pray this very strange prayer:

Lord, I absolutely hate the taste of buttermilk. You know that about me. And I hate lard. You know that, too. And you also know that I don’t like the taste of raw, white flour. But Lord, when all of these bad-tasting things get mixed together and baked, they make for delicious biscuits, and You know that I do love my wife’s biscuits. So, help us all to understand, Lord, that when things happen that we don’t like and we don’t know why You aren’t rescuing us from them, we just need to let You finish Your mixing and baking. If we will do that, the biscuits You’ll have for us in the end will be absolutely delicious. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

The pastor’s prayer/sermon wasn’t lost on the evangelist, and that night he preached with a renewed faith and enthusiasm. The congregation responded in kind, and a true spirit of revival broke out that caused the revival services to continue for two weeks rather one. At the close of the final service, the evangelist told the congregation, “I want to especially thank your pastor for the way he has helped my own spiritual struggles over the course of my stay with him. Through a simple prayer that he prayed over a plate of biscuits one morning, I have to say that I’ve experienced revival myself.”

Posted in Adversity, Complaining, Depression, Disappointment, Doubt, Encouragement, Faith, God's Omnipotence, God's Omniscience, God's Sovereignty, God's Work, Perseverance, Problems, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God, Worry | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

God Works from a Schedule

He has made everything beautiful in its time… (Ecclesiastes 3:11, N.K.J.V.)

God works from a schedule, and His timing applies to everything. That even includes the birth of Jesus. The Bible’s first mention of that birth is found in Genesis 3:15 where Jesus is described as being the Seed of the woman (in reference to His Virgin Birth). But almost 4,000 passed before He was actually born. That’s a long time.

In Galatians 4:4, we read these words:

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (N.K.J.V.)

Those words “when the fullness of the time had come” tell us that Christ’s birth was a scheduled event that took place right on time. As for why God the Father waited so long to send God the Son into the world, Warren Wiersbe has offered a possible explanation. In his commentary thoughts on Galatians 4:4, he wrote:

Historians tell us that the Roman world was in great expectation, waiting for a Deliverer, at the time when Jesus was born. The old religions were dying; the old philosophies were empty and powerless to change men’s lives. Strange new mystery religions were invading the empire. Religious bankruptcy and spiritual hunger were everywhere. God was preparing the world for the arrival of His Son.

From the historical point of view, the Roman Empire itself helped prepare the world for the birth of the Savior. Roads connected city with city, and all cities ultimately with Rome. Roman laws protected the rights of citizens, and Roman soldiers guarded the peace. Thanks to both the Greek and Roman conquests, Latin and Greek were known across the empire. Christ’s birth at Bethlehem was not an accident; it was an appointment: Jesus came in “the fullness of time. “(And, it is worth noting, that He will come again when the time is ready.)

This Christmas, as with every Christmas, we celebrate Christ’s first arrival into this world and recognize that we are one year closer to His second arrival into it. Additionally, we take comfort in knowing that God really does have a precise schedule from which He works. He’s not making it up as He goes along. He’s not listening to the daily news to discern the signs of the times. He’s not confused by recent events. No, He has a grand plan from which he works, and by way of that grand plan He will make everything beautiful in its time. He’s already proven that once with the birth of Jesus, and He has every intention of proving it again one day with the Second Coming of Jesus.

Posted in Christ's Birth, Christmas, God's Omnipotence, God's Timing, God's Sovereignty, God's Will, Waiting | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Can Be a “Good” Person and Yet Still Be Lost

Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city! (Matthew 10:11-15, N.K.J.V.)

Jesus sent His chosen 12 apostles out to minister on their own. His instructions to them were as follows:

  • They weren’t to preach to any Gentiles or Samaritans, only to Jews (Matthew 10:5-6). Preaching to the Gentiles and Samaritans would come later.
  • They were to preach the message that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 10:7). It was at hand because Jesus, the King of the kingdom, was on the scene.
  • They were to accompany their preaching with miracles (healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, casting out demons, raising the dead) (Matthew 10:8). The miracles would verify their ministries and lend credence to their message.
  • They weren’t to take any money or extra supplies with them (Matthew 10:9-10).
  • When they came into a city or a town, they were to find out which citizens there had the reputation of being “worthy” and stay in the homes of those citizens for the duration of the visit, allowing those citizens to provide them with food, shelter, and whatever other needs arose.

The Greek word that is translated as “worthy” in this passage is axios. It means “of weight” or “of worth.” It’s used in a good sense to describe a person who has value to them. A person who is axios is not a rogue, a scoundrel, a liar, a thief, or a con artist. To the contrary, the person has the reputation of being honest, upstanding, and trustworthy.

However, the context of the passage makes it clear that a person can be axios and yet still be a spiritually lost unbeliever. This raised the possibility that someone who had the reputation of being “worthy” might actually refuse to allow an apostle to take temporary lodging in his or her home. That’s why Jesus gave the apostles two possible courses of action in regards to how the “worthy” people treated them. Option #1: If the house proved its worthiness by allowing the apostle to not only abide in the home but also find food and supplies there, the apostle was to pronounce peace upon the house. Option #2: If the house failed to prove its worthiness by refusing to allow the apostle to not only abide in the home but also find food and supplies there, the apostle was not to pronounce peace upon the house.

Taking the matter even further, Jesus said that if a house or a city would not receive an apostle or listen to the apostle’s message, that apostle should literally shake off the dust from his feet as a symbolic judgment against that house or city. And how serious would the judgment be? Jesus said, “It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!”

The usual takeaway from this passage is that it is a spiritually dangerous thing to reject God’s messenger and God’s message through that messenger. When you do that, you might not get another chance to make things right. At that point, all that will be left for you is judgment.

As I recently read this passage, though, another takeaway jumped off the page at me. I noticed that even “worthy” people can reject Jesus and His messengers. If this isn’t the case Jesus wouldn’t have mentioned that second option to His apostles. You see, it’s not just the lowlifes, the riffraff, the drunks, the drug addicts, or the criminals who reject Jesus; it’s also the high-society types, the pillars-of-the community types, the salt-of-the-earth types, and the so-called “good” people.

I can just see one of the chosen 12 apostles walking into a city and asking a local, “Is there anyone around here who might provide me with free lodging and food for a day or two?” The local says, “Well, you might try a guy named Jeremiah. He lives in that big house on the right at the end of this street. He’s a good man who has the reputation of being hospitable and charitable.” The apostle then takes the local’s advice and knocks on Jeremiah’s door. Jeremiah answers the door, and the apostle launches into his explanation of why he is there and what he needs. Now Jeremiah has a decision to make. Will he allow the apostle to stay in his home for a few days and take care of him while the apostle evangelizes the city? Or will he refuse the request because he doesn’t believe in the cause? What Jeremiah doesn’t know is that his eternal destiny might very well be riding on his decision.

Let this be a warning to anyone out there who thinks that human goodness has anything to do with salvation. Frankly, hell is filled with the souls of people who were axios folks in life. According to the Bible, criminals whose deeds have earned them the death penalty can be saved (Luke 23:39-43), as can scandalous women (Luke 7:36-50; John 4:1-42), tax collectors with bad reputations (Luke 19:1-10), and religious zealots who have innocent people imprisoned and put to death (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-19). On the other hand, religious leaders can be lost (Matthew 23:1-39), as can rich people (Luke 16:19-31), young people who live moral lives (Mark 10:17-22), and people who go to church (Jude verses 12-13). The deciding factor, of course, is the person’s relationship or lack of it with Jesus. That’s the same Jesus those 12 apostles preached when they went around to those cities and towns some 2,000 years ago, and it’s the same Jesus who still offers salvation to any and all today who will believe in Him as Savior.

Posted in Belief, Forgiveness, Good Works, Grace, Salvation, The Gospel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

You Do Not Have Because You Do Not Ask

…you do not have because you do not ask… (James 4:2, N.K.J.V.)

One of my favorite memories from raising two boys took place in a fast-food restaurant following a baseball game. My oldest son, Ryan, was a freshman in high school and had played a j.v. game in another county. Since it was a school night, and the varsity game would be late in ending, the varsity coach allowed the j.v. players to ride home with their parents rather than wait to ride the bus after the varsity game. So, when the j.v. game ended, Ryan got in the car with me and we headed for home.

I knew that he hadn’t had any supper and was hungry enough to eat the car dash, so I stopped at a fast-food restaurant on the way home. We went inside, got our food, and sat down at a table to eat. Now it was time to pray. As was our custom, each of us prayed individually and silently. Normally I would pray longer than Ryan on such occasions, but this time I opened my eyes and saw that he was still praying. As a matter of fact, he prayed quite a bit longer than I had before he finally opened his eyes.

Being the nosy parent I am, I just had to ask him why he had prayed so long. I was thinking that maybe he was thanking God for allowing him to play a good game, asking Him to help the varsity team win, or something along those lines. What I learned, though, was that I wasn’t even in the right ballpark (pun fully intended). Upon hearing my question, Ryan grinned a little as if he had been caught doing something he didn’t particularly want to share, and then he looked at me and said, “I was asking God to help you let me get a dessert.” I couldn’t help but crack up at the boy’s honest admission, and at that point there was no way I was getting out of that restaurant without having to pay for a dessert.

I hesitate to use those closing words from James 4:2 as a text passage for this post due to the fact that they must be understood in their proper context. And what is that context? James is talking about how Christians, just like lost unbelievers, are prone to get caught up in materialism, social status, and the pursuit of worldly pleasures. Rather than ask God for these things and receive them by way of His plan and timing, we claw, scratch, plot, and scheme to get them. We’ll even take them through conflict, sometimes intense conflict, if necessary. The point is, our whole approach to getting stuff is off base. Even when we do actually ask God to give us what we want, He refuses our requests because our motivation for wanting the stuff is wrong (James 4:3). It’s wrong because it comes from a place of worldliness rather than godliness (James 4:4).

I’m taking the time to explain the context of James 4:2 because I don’t want you to interpret the words “…you do not have because you do not ask” as a blank check by which you can play “name it and claim it” with God. Going back to my story about Ryan, if he wanted that dessert simply because he wanted to get something that his younger brother Royce wouldn’t be getting that night, or if he planned to take my money by force if I wouldn’t buy the dessert for him, that would be in keeping with the context of James 4:2. But because his motivation wasn’t sinful, it’s not surprising that God granted his request by melting my heart enough to get me to buy the dessert even though I was in a hurry to get back home and wasn’t itching to spend more money on that meal.

Christian, the takeaway lesson for you from this post is two-fold. First, you should never be shy about asking God to give you the things you desire. He is, after all, your heavenly Father, a Father who enjoys sending down good gifts (James 1:17). Second, you should always examine your heart before making any request to God. What is your motivation for wanting that thing? Are you willing to wait on God’s plan and timing to receive it? Will you strive to get it on your own even if God turns you down? And are you prepared to hurt someone else if that’s what it takes for you to get it? These are serious questions, and they serve as the foundation upon which you should build any request to God. If, however, your answers to them are sinless and acceptable to God, you are at liberty to ask Him for exactly what you want. Even if it’s something as trivial as a dessert from a fast-food restaurant, there’s certainly no reason not to ask.

Posted in Desires, God's Love, God's Omnipotence, God's Timing, God's Provision, God's Will, Greed, Needs, Personal, Prayer Requests, Waiting | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Linus Dropped His Blanket

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11, K.J.V.)

The character Linus from the Peanuts cartoon series is famously known for two things. First, he always carries his security blanket. Second, he gives the pivotal speech in The Charlie Brown Christmas Special. You know that speech. It’s Linus quoting verbatim the K.J.V. of Luke 2:8-14 in response to Charlie Brown’s frustrated cry, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

But as many times as you’ve watched Linus give that speech, have you ever noticed a particular thing that he does as part of it? Immediately following his voicing of the words, “Fear not” he drops his trusty blanket and doesn’t pick it up again until he has finished the speech. It’s as if he instinctively understands that you don’t need a security blanket when you know that Jesus is on the scene.

Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts series, converted to Christianity after returning home from serving in World War II. He read theological commentaries the way other people would read popular novels, and he taught Sunday School at the churches he attended. He even led one class through a study of the entire Old Testament. He never became the hardcore fundamentalist type, and no doubt he would have been labeled “too liberal” by many Christians, but he was never shy about lacing his daily comic strip with references to God and scripture. According to one online article, 560 of the nearly 17,800 Peanuts strips contain some type of religious, spiritual, or theological reference. Schulz himself once said, “I preach in these cartoons, and I reserve the same rights to say what I want to say as the minister in the pulpit.”

The Charlie Brown Christmas Special first aired on December 9, 1965, and the fact that its climatic moment was a speech that simply quoted a portion of the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus was downright shocking for the time. Other holiday specials, especially those aimed at kids, were content to major upon Santa Claus, reindeer, Christmas trees, presents, family, etc., but The Charlie Brown Christmas Special not only presented the story of Christ’s birth but also condemned the crass commercialism of Christmas. Let’s face it, that was pretty radical stuff for the time. For that matter, it still is today.

As long as you are sitting at your computer or staring at your smart phone, let me encourage you to go to You Tube, call up Linus’ famous speech, and watch for the precise moment when he purposely drops his blanket. You can view the whole scene in under two minutes, and it will be time well spent. Even more importantly, I would encourage you to drop any worldly security blankets to which you are clinging and instead place your complete trust in the Savior of whom Linus speaks. Just as that angel of the Lord wanted the arrival of Jesus to dispel all fear from the hearts of those shepherds on that night so long ago, fear and Jesus shouldn’t coexist in your heart, either. I’m not saying that the world is not a big, bad scary place that is filled with frightening things and frightening people, but I am saying that you don’t need a blanket in your hand when you truly have Jesus in your heart.

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The Sound of the Scrape

The renowned pastor Harry Ironside once told the story of a Christian widow who lived in Scotland. Her husband’s untimely death had left her with several small children to raise, and money was forevermore tight. Through it all, though, she kept her heart fixed upon the Lord and taught her children to trust in Him at all times.

There came a day, however, when the woman’s cupboard was almost totally bare. Despite her best efforts at frugality and money management, all she had left was a handful of flour. And so what did she do? Like the Bible’s widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-16), she scrapped up the last of the flour from the bottom of the barrel, determined to use it as best she could to feed her children.

But as the sound of the scraping reached her ears she couldn’t help but begin to cry. Normally she was plucky and full of faith, but her situation had never gotten quite this desperate. She was at the end of her rope, and she had to admit to herself that she felt totally forsaken by God.

As she stood there crying hot tears, her little boy Robbie walked over to her and tugged at her dress. He looked up at her in mild astonishment as if he could hardly believe that she was crying. Then, in his thick Scottish dialect, he said, “Mother, what are ye weepin’ about? Didn’t God hear ye scrapin’ the bottom of the barrel?”

The boy’s loving rebuke brought the mother under conviction as she realized that she wasn’t doing a very good job of living out all the preaching she had done about trusting in the Lord. So, she stood up straight, dried her tears, and reasserted her faith. And did God reward her faith? Yes, He did. Shortly afterward help was provided from a completely unexpected source.

I don’t know why God so many times chooses to scare us to death before He comes through for us. I suppose He figures that’s the best way to build our faith. I think about Moses and the Israelites standing on the shoreline of the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army breathing down their necks (Exodus 14:1-31). I think about Naaman having to dip seven times (not six) in the Jordan river before his leprosy was cured (2 Kings 5:1-14). I think about the apostles’ boat filling up with water to the point of almost sinking before Jesus woke up and calmed the wind and sea (Mark 4:35-41). As someone has said, “God is never late, but He sure does miss numerous opportunities to be early!”

Maybe you are scraping the bottom of your barrel right now. You’ve cried out to God in asking Him for help, but as of this moment He still hasn’t met your need. What should you do? Keep scraping the bottom of that barrel and rally your faith as best you can. Remember, many of God’s finest deliverances are of the “last second” variety, and His delays are not the same thing as His denials. Be like David, who confidently says in Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want (lack).” You see, the sound of the scrape is actually a good sound if God has to hear it before He meets your need.

Posted in Adversity, Disappointment, Doubt, Encouragement, Faith, Fear, God's Omnipotence, God's Timing, God's Provision, Needs, Prayer Requests, Problems, Suffering, Trials, Trusting In God, Waiting | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Present

Since Christmas happens in December, I try to weave in some Christmas posts here and there throughout the month. Today I thought I’d share a story that I picked up somewhere along the way a few years ago. It was written by a woman named Margery Tallcott, who was a parent in the Great Depression. She wrote:

When our son Pete was six, it was a Depression year and the bare essentials were all we could afford. We felt we were richer than most people, though, in things of the mind and imagination and spirit. That was a comfort of sorts to us, but nothing a six-year-old could understand.

With Christmas a week off, we told Pete that there could not be any store-bought presents this year – for any of us. ‘But I’ll tell you what we can do,’ said his father with an inspiration born of heartbreak. ‘We can make pictures of the presents we’d like to give each other.’

For the next few days each of us worked secretly, with smirks and giggles. Somehow we did scrape together enough to buy a small tree. But we had pitifully few decorations to trim it with. Yet, on Christmas morning, never was a tree heaped with such riches! The gifts were only pictures of gifts, to be sure, cut out or drawn and colored and painted, nailed and hammered and pasted and sewed. But they were presents, luxurious beyond our dreams: A slinky black limousine and a red motor boat for Daddy. A diamond bracelet and a fur coat for me.

Pete’s presents were the most expensive toys cut from advertisements. Our best present to him was a picture of a fabulous camping tent, complete with Indian designs, painted, of course, by Daddy, and magnificent pictures of a swimming pool, with funny remarks by me. Daddy’s best present to me was a watercolor he had painted of our dream house, white with green shutters and forsythia bushes out on the lawn.

Naturally, we didn’t expect any “best present” from Pete. But with squeals of delight, he gave us a crayon drawing of flashy colors and the most modernistic technique. But it was unmistakably the picture of three people laughing – a man, a woman, and a little boy. They had their arms around one another and were, in a sense, one person. Under the picture he had printed just one word: US. For many years we have looked back at that day as the richest, most satisfying Christmas we have ever had.

Whatever your financial state is this Christmas, don’t forget that you are blessed if you have family who love you. As little Pete knew, “US” is tough to beat as a holiday gift. And if you are a Christian, you are even more blessed because you are a member of the family of God. That means that one day you’ll receive your “best present”: the blessing of getting to spend eternity in joy, happiness, and bliss with your Savior. His name is Jesus, and He really is the reason for the season.   

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