Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: doubts

Big dumb animal

Ever wonder if living for God is worth it?

Why do corrupt people get to enjoy nice things?  Why do greedy, manipulative people get away with their actions?  How can someone run a company into the ground and then walk away, scot-free?  Why are many believers struggling with health issues, money issues, and relationship issues when so many non-believers appear to live on Easy Street?

Maybe you have asked someone these questions, or perhaps you’re like a lot of Christians – we have secretly wondered, but are afraid to admit to it.  Either we’re ashamed of our doubts, or we don’t want to trip up someone else by vocalizing our own struggles.

However, we’re not alone in our wonderings.  3,000 years ago, a poet named Asaph wondered the same things.  While we enjoy the historical perspective of being able to look back to Jesus’ life and Asaph was alive well before Christ’s arrival, his writings still resonate with us:

Psalm 73:1-3
God is indeed good to Israel, to the pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray.
For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

It’s hard not be discouraged by the state of the world.  It only appears to get worse as the years move along.  How many of Asaph’s descriptions sound familiar?

Psalm 73:4-12
They have an easy time until they die, and their bodies are well fed.
They are not in trouble like others; they are not afflicted like most people.
Therefore, pride is their necklace, and violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes bulge out from fatness; the imaginations of their hearts run wild.
They mock, and they speak maliciously; they arrogantly threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues strut across the earth.
Therefore His people turn to them and drink in their overflowing words.
The wicked say, “How can God know?  Does the Most High know everything?”
Look at them – the wicked!
They are always at ease, and they increase their wealth.

After making these disturbing observations, Asaph begins to wonder if his efforts to stay connected to God are worth it.  Although he keeps his doubts to himself, his hopeless feelings were ones he was unable to change on his own:

Psalm 73:13-28
Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?
For I am afflicted all day long and punished every morning.
If I had decided to say these things aloud, I would have betrayed Your people.
When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless until I entered God’s sanctuary.
Then I understood their destiny.
Indeed, You put them in slippery places; You make them fall into ruin.
How suddenly they become a desolation!
They come to an end, swept away by terrors.
Like one waking from a dream, Lord, when arising, You will despise their image.

When I became embittered and my innermost being was wounded,
I was stupid and didn’t understand;
I was an unthinking animal toward You.
Yet I am always with You; You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory.
Who do I have in heaven but You?
And I desire nothing on earth but You.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.
Those far from You will certainly perish; You destroy all who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all You do.

I can so relate to Asaph’s path of doubt and wondering – which was taken care of by a perspective-changing encounter with God.  Seeing life from God’s vantage point helps us out of our legitimate worries and our self-created pity parties.  There have been times in my life when I, too, was a “big dumb animal” and didn’t trust God with my present circumstance.  But His guidance and counsel are always there for us.

We can rest knowing that our God is big enough to handle our doubts.  He’s also patient with us when we get caught up in comparing our lives with the short-term pleasures we see other people enjoy.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

First day jitters and the start of a new life

Remember that first day at a new school?  Those feelings of being nervous, curious, not quite sure what was going to happen?  Or how about your first day in a new job?  Probably had flashbacks to being the new kid in school…

Being a rookie, at anything, is rough.  Everywhere you look, you see people who look like they’ve been successful for years.  You definitely don’t want to interrupt the way things seem to naturally flow, and you certainly don’t want to be in the way.  It’s easy to allow the doubt to creep in and cloud our thinking – Do I really belong?  Will they think I’m stupid or ignorant?  Will I mess this up?  Will I even know that I messed something up?  How many times can I mess up before they don’t want me around anymore?

Whenever we venture out into something new, no matter what it is, there’s always one thing we’re hoping for: someone kind enough to help us out and show us around.

We all have vivid memories of that first person to befriend us when we were feeling more lost than we cared to admit.  Their willingness to reach out to the newbie made it easier for us to find our place and figure out the rhythm to our new settings.

Honestly, the Christian life isn’t any different.  Being a newbie is a little scary.  We’re unsure of what to say or what to do next.  Everyone around looks like a spiritual veteran, like they’re a half-step away from perfection…and we’re just sitting here, surprised that God let someone like us into His family.

So, how is this supposed to work for a newbie Christian?  Since Jesus brought us into the family, why doesn’t He immediately take away all the junk and bad habits left over from our previous life?

Tucked away in John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, there is a six word command where Jesus clues us in:

John 11:41-44
So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Not to make too much out of a minor detail, but I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t unwrap Lazarus from his burial cloths.  Lazarus didn’t unwrap Lazarus.  Instead, Jesus instructed those closest to the resurrected man to “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Jesus had just brought a man back from the grave, but He gave others the responsibility of helping Lazarus remove the remnants of his old life.  This wasn’t going to be a task Lazarus could do on his own.  He needed someone who was willing to reach in close and help deal with the dirty death-rags left over from his previous life. 

Let’s be clear:
If you were a world-class jerk when you met Jesus and accepted His offer of eternal life, you’re still going to have a lot of jerk-ness that needs to be dealt with, even after being saved. 

Anyone who tells you that you should be immediately perfect after encountering Jesus hasn’t read their New Testament in a while.  Instead of placing perfection-level expectations on a brand-new Christian, us veterans need to be willing to get our hands dirty.  We need to show them around, help them see the rhythm and flow of living a Christ-centered life.

Also note that Jesus didn’t tell Lazarus to go ask someone to help him remove his burial cloths.  Us veterans shouldn’t wait for a newbie to come up and ask for assistance.  We approach them, help them, and then smile as we watch them go in their new, life-long adventure.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A question of belief

Can I be open and honest with you?

Throughout my decades as a follower of Jesus, I have had several mini-crises of faith.  Times of struggle or tragedy in my own life (or in the lives of those that I love) have caused me to pause and wonder a number of different things, like:

·       Does God really care what happens to us?
·       Is living the Christian life really worth it?
·       Do I really believe all this “Jesus stuff”?

These are hard-core questions, and our pride may make it difficult for us to admit to other people that we wrestle with these kinds of thoughts.  But we wonder, just the same.  And it’s hard to reason through these kinds of questions.  Our feelings can be all over the places, especially when life goes sideways.  Throw in the daily struggle with sinful desires, and we can easily start a mental tailspin.

As our feelings ebb-and-flow and our actions are typically tainted with at least some level of selfishness, we can’t rely on ourselves to answer these questions and doubts.  This is where it is helpful to look at what Jesus explicitly said about us and about Himself. 

John’s record of a conversation between Jesus and Martha can help as we deal with our questions and doubts:

John 11:17-27
When Jesus arrived, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away).  Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.  Yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give You.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”


Martha was going through what was likely the toughest time of her life – her brother had fallen sick and she watched over him as he died.  God hadn’t answer her prayers to heal Lazarus.  Jesus didn’t arrive in time to rescue Lazarus from the pain he was suffering.  Martha had been grieving for four days when Jesus arrived.

Martha was looking toward future events for comfort, instead Jesus directed her to look at who was standing next to her.  What Jesus offered was Himself.  It is in this conversation that Jesus states one of His greatest “I am” statements: I am the resurrection and the life.  If we believe this statement, then Jesus guarantees that even if our bodies experience physical death, we will still live – forever.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say to clean up our lives and then He’ll give us eternal life.  He does not tell Martha to examine her life to see if she really does believe in Him.  He also does not tell her to make sure she continues to act a certain way.  In fact, Jesus does not tell Martha to look at herself, at all.

Jesus said that those who believe in Him have eternal life, no matter what else happens in this life.  Based upon what Jesus said, our hope and eternal security are found exclusively in Him – not in our circumstances, not in how we feel, not in how we behave.

Do you believe this?

Keep Pressing,
Ken