The Testing Of Your Faith

-A Terrible Secret!

The daughter of missionaries, to the Congo Republic, told the story of her participation in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1st missionaries coming to that part of Africa. It was a huge celebration to commemorate the lasting impact of the work of those original missionaries. Special speakers were invited. There was lots of special worship music, festive meals, and many other planned activities.  At one point, she said that an aged native came forward & introduced himself as the last person alive who was privy to a terrible secret.

-They Tested Their Sincerity!

The old man confessed that 100 years earlier, his ancestors didn’t know whether to believe the message those 1st missionaries brought. So, to test the sincerity of the missionaries, they devised a plan. Slowly, secretly, and systematically they began poisoning the missionaries. Then, they watched intently as mothers said goodbye to children; husbands said goodbye to their wives, and friends said goodbye to one another. The old man explained that it was only as they saw how the missionaries died, that the truth of their message was confirmed. As a result, many came to believe & embrace the gospel message!

-A Faith That Remained Firm!

They observed a faith that remained as firm in death, as it was in life. It’s in James, chapter 1, where the writer— James; Jesus 1/2 brother— began his epistle like this:  “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: To the 12 tribes which are scattered abroad…” Let me tell you why that introduction is significant. He’s writing to Jewish followers of Jesus Christ who have been “dispersed” or scattered in persecution for their faith. James’ purpose, for writing this letter, was to encourage them & offer them a basis & a reason for their suffering! To teach them that their pain was not pointless! That God had a purpose for it!

-On Display In An Unbelieving World!

And, part of His purpose for the pain & the suffering & the setbacks we endure, is to put us on display in an unbelieving world. The genuineness & quality of our faith is most visible & apparent during times of intense pain and testing. In other words, the gospel is seen most plainly & Jesus is seen as most valuable when we continue to pursue Him even during life’s trials & tests. Jesus’ ministry was authenticated, in part, by His response to betrayal, to false testimony & to His unlawful death. And, because He did not condemn them; but, said “Father, forgive them”, we see centurions & soldiers & many of the priests (who approved of His crucifixion) coming to believe in Him!

-Jesus In The Flesh!

There are people all around us who need to see Jesus in the flesh before they’ll believe! Like the 1st believers in the Congo, they need to see our response to pain, suffering & setbacks before they’ll come to faith and believe in the Jesus you say you believe in. James continued from his opening sentence with these words: “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4) I sense a storm brewing in our land! Don’t you? We might be closing in on a day when it’s against the law to be a Christian! Church, we need to be teaching our children & our grand-children how to live in a culture & environment like the believers of James day lived. I don’t believe we’ve done a very good job of that! We haven’t prepared them! Will you pray for God’s help to do that?

Healthy Relationship Essentials!

Not A Good Dating Candidate!

What are the essentials that contribute to healthy relationships? And, what kinds of things are harmful & destructive to our relationships? Early on, in our friendship, my wife Sara saw me playing in a softball game while we were attending college. And, well, softball just wasn’t my sport! I had played baseball growing up; so, I was used to over hand pitching that might hit 80 mph or more! I just lacked the necessary patience to wait on an underhanded, slow-pitched ball. Well, I struck out; and, I was embarrassed & mad at myself! So, I did reacted with great maturity—I slammed the bat on the ground in anger! A really stupid thing to do! Well, Sara would tell you that after observing my college-aged temper tantrum that this guy was NOT a good dating candidate!

-Overcoming 1st Impressions!

But, she didn’t really know me very well at the time. She was someone that I had noticed the 1st time I spotted her on campus. But, I was dating someone else at the time; and, a pattern seemed to develop that either I was dating someone and she was free; or, she was dating someone and I was free. But, when that magical moment happened when I was free from dating someone; and, she was free from dating someone; that, I asked her to go out with me; and, she agreed! But, it would take some time for her to overcome those 1st impressions watching me smash a bat into the ground after striking out. She had to grow to trust me! To trust my heart! To trust that when I got angry I would never physically take it out on her! I might take it out on a baseball bat; but, it wasn’t in my nature to be a brawler with her; or, with other people.

-Trust Is Essential!

Trust is essential to any healthy relationship, isn’t it? If you study up on any relationship advice, for marriage partners; or, for just being a good friend, trust is always listed as a requirement along with honesty & communication. Relationships are healthy where there is respect, transparency & vulnerability. Where there is commitment, empathy & kindness! And, it may surprise you that all of that is also true about your relationship with God. We think we all struggle, at least a little bit, to think of God in those terms because He is Spirit; and, we are flesh, right? So, how do we relate to Him?

Relationship With God!

I think that’s why God, the Son, coming in the flesh is such a big deal! For more reasons than the Gospel, Jesus fleshed out, for us, who God is! We know God better because Jesus walked on the planet He created among the people He created. Our relationship with God does not depend on our faithful ministry to Him; but, on Jesus’ faithful ministry to us on the cross! Over the next few posts, I’d like to invite you to look at the Old Testament book of Isaiah with me; so, that, we might grow together in our understanding of what a relationship with God looks like.

Just A Normal Guy!

From what we know of Isaiah, he was just a normal guy; married with children; and, trying to live out his faith during a tumultuous time in Israel’s history. The nation had rebelled against God’s theocratic rule! The northern half had already been conquered by Assyria; and, Babylon would soon rise to power and sweep away the southern half of the nation. So, God calls Isaiah in the midst of that mess; and, makes him a prophet to the Jewish people. And, the book of Isaiah records the visions & the oracles that God gave to Isaiah to deliver to Israel.  I hope you’ll come back to visit my posts over the next couple weeks! It’s my prayer that you might come to learn more about God’s character; so, that you might  grow in your relationship & your walk with Him! God began revealing Himself to us in Genesis 1— in the beginning— and, He continues to reveal more of Himself in the balance of Scripture; including, the book of Isaiah!

God’s Plan Is Good!

-He Uses Evil Men!

When evil men set their will against God, He will use them & their evil plans for His Sovereign purposes! We’ve been talking about God’s Sovereignty the last couple weeks; and, Scripture tells us that God actually raised up Egypt’s Pharaoh to accomplish His Sovereign purpose:  “The Scripture tells Pharaoh: I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth” Romans 9:17.  God, in His Sovereignty, turns Pharaoh’s evil plans, for Israel, against him & sets Israel free, from their slavery to Pharaoh, to the praise of His Glory!

-God’s Eternal Plans!

In addition, to His Sovereignty, there is another thread that weaves its way through Scripture; and, it’s closely related to His Sovereignty. I’m referring to God’s eternal plans for His creation! He has a divine plan for all of His Sovereign work in the world & in our lives. One of my most favorite Scriptures, in all the bible, is an acknowledgment that Joseph makes in Genesis chapter 50. After their father Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers fear that he will take revenge on them for selling him into slavery many years earlier. But, look at Joseph’s response:  “You planned evil against me; but, God PLANNED it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” Genesis 50:20.

-Confidence In God’s Plans!

Joseph had become so confident, in God’s Sovereignty & His plan for Joseph’s life, that he even trusted God with the evil plans others had against him.  He didn’t separate his “church life” from the “rest of life.” There was no secular for Joseph! Everything, in life, was part of God’s sacred plan! God used Joseph’s negative life incidents to grow him! To sanctify & mature him! To set him free from the bondage & slavery of sin! We also see that God’s plan was to use famine to bring Jacob’s family to Egypt; where, He promised that, in 400 years, He would lead them out of Egypt to a “promised land” that flowed with milk & honey.

-There Are No Coincidences!

In this way, God orchestrated all those “circumstances” to raise up Moses to lead Israel, in their Exodus, out of Egypt.  The world would say it was just a set of “coincidences”! But, we know better! It just “so happened” that Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses, in a basket, among the bulrushes. And, because she “Just happened” to be Pharaoh’s daughter, she had the power to save his life, though Pharaoh had determined to kill all Israelite males! It just “so happened” that Moses’ own birth mother was selected, by Pharaoh’s daughter, to wean him & train him; so, he could grow in the things of Yahweh!

-God’s Never Surprised!

In fact, Moses’ mother was actually paid, by Pharaoh’s daughter, to raise him (Exodus 2:9). Later, God informed Moses that it was “His plan” to send him to Pharaoh & demand, of him, that Egypt would let Israel, God’s people, go! God always has a plan! The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, says that Jesus was, “…the LAMB slain from the foundation of the world…” Rev. 13:8.  From before creation, God had already planned that Jesus, His Son, would come to earth as a man; and, die on the cross to deliver us from sin! What a great God! He’s never taken by surprise! So, even when the world is surprised by a world-wide virus like COVID-19, God had planned, from eternity past, to use it to bring Glory to Himself!