Trusting Despite the Circumstances

Sometimes we can do everything right and still the Enemy of our soul scores a point. It’s not that God doesn’t care, or is incapable of intervening, rather it comes down to something in us missing the ball. Eventually we all must encounter this experience, since in this world we are far from perfect. Even St Paul may have had some issues, and we know Timothy did from Paul’s advice to him to take wine for the sake of his stomach!

Our health and our prosperity are perhaps the two area where Satan will attack most, since they are the areas most of us are most vulnerable in. We can generally cope if our health is intact, but then the bills start piling up and we scream “God these BILLS!!!” He gives us prosperity and we find ourselves with sickness in our lives, either in ourselves, or in those we love.

Sometimes it’s easier when the sickness is in our own body. We can rationalise that. But having to sit by whilst a loved one, even a saved loved one, is diagnosed with cancer, diabetes or some other illness with no “cure” can be even worse.

I wrote recently on the difference between Truth and  Fact, and the point I was trying to make is that facts are subject to change. Truth is, by it’s nature, unchangeable. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) He was also heard to say “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Either that was very profound, or Jesus had no concept of correct grammar. I suspect the former. Truth is unshakeable. If we place our trust in the Truth of God’s Word, which He places above His Name, then our foundation is solid.

For us to trust God in our lives, we need a foundation of Truth. When that is in place, we can endure whatever the enemy throws at us. The house may shake, but it will ultimately stand.

Building a relationship on fact alone when talking about God is like building on sand. If I base my relationship with Him on the fact that there is money in my bank account and health in my body, then I am set up for a fall. But if I build it on the Truth that if He is with me I am prosperous whether I have money or not and He has healed me according to His promises in Isaiah and Peter, then whatever my bank balance or my doctor may say the Truth will hold me firm.

So the circumstances will come in this life where we have the occasion to accept or reject Truth because of what the facts tell us. We then start to live under the circumstances, and we are tossed about in the storm. It is infinitely better to anchor deep, hold on to the Truth, and ride out the onslaught of facts. They can always be changed. The Truth is eternal.

So smile at your issues. Laugh at your problems. Trust Jesus with your heart in spite of the circumstances, and live life to its fullest.

Fulfilling our Potential

We were created in God’s image. It’s an awesome concept. I don’t mean physically, but rather our essence, our persona is God-like.

It’s a unique construct in creation. First God makes the entire universe, with all it’s intricacies and foibles, then as his final flourish he creates Man in His own image. A self-determining being with free-will and a purpose to determine what path he will follow.

That being said, we have a responsibility in our freedom. God placed in each of us the seeds of greatness. Every human being ever created has the potential to do incredible things for God and to change the world.

The responsibility is mind-blowing. Each one of us changes the world with every breath we take.

William Wallace in Braveheart says something to the effect of “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” In our lives for Christ, how true is this? We are called to do incredible things for God, but every day we chicken out. I wrote in another entry of how I failed to act when a young father had died, how I missed a God-sent opportunity to minister to a grieving family because of fear. I am not paralysed by this memory, nor am I afraid to declare my humanity. I long to live in the way God wants me to live, but my human nature gets in the way.

St Paul had the same issue. He said “I can anticipate the response that is coming: ‘I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?’ Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.” (Romans 7:14-16 The Message) If the great writer and scholar such as Paul had these struggles, how arrogant would I be to try to say I have it down!

Paul lived his entire New life based on two simple questions after he met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Those questions were:

1) Who are you?
2) What do you want me to do?

Everything in Paul’s life stemmed from those questions, from his missionary journeys up to his execution for declaring Jesus as the Christ. Even then there was more he probably wanted to do, but he lived his potential from those simple questions.

We can do the same.

Part of the reason I write this little blog is that I asked God what I should do, and I believe He told me to write. I asked what I should call what I do, and He led me to Isaiah 40:31 “But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired.” (Amplified) He told me not to be afraid of men or of criticism, but to write what I felt He placed in my heart, so this is what I do.

I became a Christian after my brother was killed in a road accident. I blamed God, I blamed myself, actually I blamed everyone except the driver that hit him – mainly because I know how he used to ride a bike! I had an encounter with Jesus that turned my life around in a quiet way at first, but has guided me ever since. I had a wandering away in my late teens and early twenties, but He kept calling me back. Through the early years in my marriage, He kept nudging me back to Himself. I’ve had the urge to write, to proclaim God’s goodness for years, and only now have I begun to find an outlet for that.

Potential is tricky. Bruce Wilkinson refers to what I thinnk of as potential as a person’s Big Dream. I love that concept, and I have immense respect for his writing. I have read and re-read “The Dream Giver” over and over again, and it was the inspiration that finally gave me the nudge to start writing myself. I recognise myself in Ordinary. I have a dream in myself of who I can be, who I should be.

I have more potential than I know what to do with, but potential alone is worthless. We need to take action on that dream, move towards the potential for it to be worth anything.

One of my favourite concept ideas was told me many years ago by a friend who had been in the navy. He used to remind me that God treats us like a ship, and He is the rudder. Basically He doesn’t make us go anywhere, but He directs our course once we start moving. It doesn’t matter where the rudder points if the ship isn’t moving.

It’s easy to sit and procrastinate. We can watch ministers stand up and criticise the way they talk, or what they wear. I had hair I could sit on a few years ago, and a beard I could tuck into my belt. People who met me for the first time then were shocked when I started to talk about Jesus as though I knew Him. I’ve been guilty of judging others the same way. We all have.

Our potential is not limited by how we dress, but by what we do. When I rode a Harley and looked like I was a wild-man I found other bikers and wild-looking men and women talked to me. I had a lot of comments made about how I looked, but the ones making the comments were people the bikers I met avoided. It was a priviledge to be able to meet them and talk to some real people.

Each of us has gifts and a calling. You and I will meet different people and impact their lives in different ways. I work in the same place as my wife. She meets every person who comes through the door, I only meet them if they don’t pay their bill! I have a different interaction with our reception staff than she does. We impact people in the same environment in very different ways.

Our potential is God given. It is inspired and purposeful. He means us to use it to Glorify Him. We are called to do that which He created us to do – Worship Him and have full relationship with Him – and in doing that we can fulfil our potential, truly live a life that is full and passionate, exciting and constantly stimulating, and build a deeper relationship with Him on a daily basis.

Truth or Fact?

In this 21st Century world we live in, we often miss the difference between Truth and the facts. This subtle difference is more than mere semantics, rather it is central to our understanding and ability to fully live in the fullness of Life as Christ died for us to be able to.

500 years ago, the accepted facts were that the earth was the center of the universe and all the heavens moved around this flat space we live on. The known facts today tell us something completely different. Facts are generally accepted without question, although every so often there are people who choose to shatter these facts.

Even in the last 100 years many accepted “facts” have been debunked. The concept of a human running a mile in less than 4 minutes, an atom being the smallest possible measure, the possibility of space flight, supersonic flight, cures for all kinds of illnesses previously deemed uncurable. These facts have changed our way of life and made us less aware of the Truths surrounding us.

Truth is immovable. It never changes. Popular opinion and understanding changes facts daily, but Truth is unchangeable.

Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”(John 14: 6,7)

Jesus not only spoke the truth, He is the physical embodiment of the Truth. Everything He said and did was an embodiment of Truth, from healing all those who came to Him and asked in Faith to driving the money changers out of the Temple. Never once did He say “come back later” or put sickness onto someone in order to teach them something.

He never took anything from someone without them receiving a Blessing in return far greater than that they had offered.

Facts were never a big part of Jesus’ teachings. Satan used facts to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus overcame these temptations with Truths.

Today we are quick to look for the facts. But facts can be misleading. It is a fact that there is more skin cancer now than at any other time in recorded history. It is also a fact that there is a hole in the ozone layer. It is also a fact that more sunscreen lotion is sold now than ever has been sold. The facts are suggestive that the hole in the ozone layer may cause skin cancer. But the same facts can suggest, if you choose to interpret them that way, that sunblock may cause skin cancer.

Now I’m NOT a scientist, and I don’t know the details of how sunscreen works or understand the workings of UV rays. But I do know that my own dad used sunblock, a vest, a t-shirt and a tracksuit on the beach and still got skin cancer. I also know many many people who use sunscreen and don’t develop cancer. Those facts suggest wearing too many clothes on the beach may be a cause of cancer.

We are quick to accept facts, but slow to accept the Truths we see.

Jesus heals. I’ve watched legs grow, have been healed of some physical ailments and met 3 people who have been raised from the dead. Truth is unmoveable. It is irrefutable. Facts are refuted and adjusted all the time. If we look for Truth, we must look in the Word of God. Jesus’ life and teachings, not just the current popular interpretation of them.

I heard of a church leader who refused to allow a song containing the line “here with the power to heal now” to be sung in his church because it may raise people’s hopes unrealistically when we know the fact is that healing just doesn’t happen.

Truth trumps fact. Every time. God heals. God prospers. God loves unconditionally.

If our body has symptoms, those symptoms are facts. Jesus heals.

Fact: I take medication for diabetes. Truth: By His stripes I have been healed.

I used to take medication for Gout. By His stripes I am healed.

Just something to think on…

Image vs. Character

We have no idea what Jesus looked like. No clue if He was tall or short, muscular or chubby. Did he have acne as a boy?

The disciples we allot physical types to. Peter, the Rock, was a fisherman. Muscular, ruddy complexion and imposing physical size. Levi, Tax collector. Less impressive, perhaps he looked like Danny DeVito.

But we have no descriptions. David was described as “ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features” (1 Samuel 16:12), and we know Moses didn’t think much of himself, but we couldn’t pick them out in a line up.

I think there’s a wisdom in that that is overlooked. The disciples who walked with Jesus didn’t recognise him cooking breakfast on the shore after the resurrection. They saw initially with their physical eyes, rather than their Spiritual eyes.

I knew a man many years ago who was a farmer up on the wild moorland in Devon. He spoke little and listened a great deal. His appearance was one that would have caused many to pass him by and pay no attention, but there was something in his gait that spoke more strongly than words. He had a presence about him from spending many hours alone in the wilderness on the moors with just his Bible for company. Eric was a man who spoke with authority because he knew his God.
 
Intimately.

Image meant nothing to Mark. He was born blind, and was offered prayer in his 20’s by a man who had seen blind eyes created seeing in the past through the power of God. He refused because he didn’t want his experience of God to be watered down by sight!

There are many more examples of men and women who have joyfully sought to rid themselves of any kind of image in order to find the Truth.

In the current climate Image is everything. Here in South Africa, Julius Malema – Leader of the ANC Youth League – regularly speaks out about anything and everything so he can change feet. Jacob Zuma, National President, said at a recent rally that a vote for the ANC means you go to heaven. The image that portrays is truly terrifyng!

Young men in particular are falling victim to the image-mongers. Cars, suits, hairstyle, skin condition, sunglasses are all essentials to say “I am a success”. Young women are bombarded with images on magazines like never before of “perfect” celebrities – but not told the details of the airbrushing that took them there. A few years ago I worked in Torquay, Devon, when some actors and actresses appearing in the local theater came into my place of work to relax. I stood and chatted to them for a while, then helped them get set up and enjoy their evening, totally unaware of who I was talking to, because out of make-up and costume they were just men and women like you and me. It turned out that when one of these men had been on TV, I’d been an avid fan and not missed an episode, but I couldn’t connect the real man with the character he’d portrayed – and rightly so!

Any magazine stand will scream the latest gossip from the covers about Charlie Sheen’s antics or Britney’s new hair or some other individual who we’ll have forgotten by next week existed as if the future of the human race depended on it. It’s all image.

George Burns made a series of movies in his later years in which he played both God and Satan. The Satan character had the flashy cars, suave suits, fawning women and money very obviously in his hand. The God character had a more “everyman” look to him. Grey jacket, loafers, flat cap and understated. Obviously, the characters were initially drawn to the flashy guy in the red suit, but as the movies progressed they found the image was hollow and the gentle guy in grey who was quietly waiting for them and offering advice ended up being the way they found they had to go to have peace.

In his song “Hollywood”, Michael Buble sings “Remember when you’re rich that you sold yourself for this – You’ll be famous coz you’re dead” It’s a great line, but how it gets lost in society.

Image is not improtant if you mean how others see you. What is important is Character, the person we are when nobody’s around to pat our back and say well done. That’s the image we should develop. It comes through every time.

For what we are in our most private moments is who we are. I’m a quiet guy with a bad temper that thankfully is mellowing with age, who longs to be a dad, a leader, a writer, a singer, but mostly a Husband and a Lover of God. I don’t care if people notice and ignore or notice and praise or even attack me for my beliefs and the way I live. I have chosen to develop my character. Granted it’s a work in progress, but I’m on the road at least.

Heart Surgery

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV 1984)
I never really thought about this passage in great detail until today. The “wellspring of life” is an interesting way of putting it.
I see a psychologist every couple of weeks. Unlike some of my favourite people I see nothing inherently problematic with this – as long as a correct perspective is kept on the whole activity. I have tremendous respect for her, and I understand myself better as a result of our sessions. I have, over the years, kept counsel with many people in a similar role in my life. I have opened my heart and shared the deepest recesses of my mind in an effort to better understand my motives and actions.
In truth, my current counselling leaves me feeling lifted and supported just as much as any of the Christian counselling I’ve had. My heart feels protected, and on an emotional level I feel strong.
Now I’m not advocating the path of psychology for every issue that arises. There are certain things we need to feel rotten about so we can move out of that area of sin. The issue is that once we have moved out of the area we must as a matter of urgency stop beating ourselves up about it.
I had a friend who used to go to AA meetings but stopped because he found a single issue with them. He still doesn’t use, and he is sober now for several years. He had a problem with every time he introduced himself having to say “My name is X, and I’m an addict.” His issue was that after he’d been in the program for several months and fallen flat on his face many times he had received prayer and the addiction had been taken from him. He simply no longer desired the alcohol he’d desperately needed just a day before.
Now don’t misunderstand me. AA is an important organisation, one I advise people to go to when I’m asked for advice. I just know my friend found the declaration broke down his heart.
Our physical hearts are fragile – ask any doctor. Our Spiritual heart is even more fragile than the physical one though. It can be bruised, pierced and broken in a far more deadly way than the physical one can – and if it hardens we can get to the point where we don’t even realise it. That’s where counselling comes in.
The people who know me best know I had a lot of loss in my youth. But the pain I carried hardened my heart in ways far beyond what I had experienced.
My brother died in a road accident when I was almost 13 and he was almost 10. It was a life-changing experience, but the power it held over me for many, many years was disproportional. I used it as an excuse to not develop close friendships at school. The school I went to was an all-male environment, and to say I didn’t fit in was an understatement. I wasn’t an athlete, I was a dancer. I wasn’t highly academically inclined (for the school), rather I was a musician – and I didn’t even reach the full potential I could have done in that because I didn’t bother to practice as much as I ought to.
I left school at 18 feeling like I was a worthless failure, then set out to prove the theory. I got a rude awakening in my first job – as a classroom assistant – where I got affirmation daily about my skills and knowledge. I left home and moved to Devon, where I would live for the next ten years, and received more affirmation that I was actually a capable, caring, witty and intelligent person who was worth being around.
I really struggled with that because I didn’t have that image of myself – but it was what I wanted me to be.
Now I’m nearly 40, I’ve finally completed a business degree – which I studied for part-time whilst running a medical practice – and I find myself advising younger men to guard their hearts from worthless advice given by older individuals who actually have no maturity. They stopped their hearts from maturing by locking them away and although its been 30 years since they were saved they have never moved beyond that initial level!
Now I’m not saying I’ve arrived. There are many areas of my life where I need to unlock my heart and allow it to grow and mature – hence the visits to a counsellor – but I’ve at least understood this and I want to move.
Movement is painful though. It involves having a heart replacement – stone for flesh. I’m comfortable with my stone heart in places. It’s familiar. I dislike change in a major way – so do most men. But change is essential if we are to grow close to God. We must not stay where we are, but we cannot change our own heart, any more than a surgeon – no matter how skilful – can perform his own heart transplant.
Jesus offers us a new heart, one piece at a time. My Grandad was 80 when he went Home to be with God, and he was still learning after over 60 years as a Christian – most of those as a minister.
Heart surgery. We all need it.

Perspective

Perspective is one of the most important things we must keep in our walk as Christians. How we perceive ourselves will directly influence our ability to receive what God has for us.

The overwhelming view of Christians is that they are filthy sinners who scrape into heaven after being lambasted by God until they finally die and are made whole. We are, in truth, saved from this existence and made whole right now. Until we take hold of that perspective we cannot truly hope to receive anything from God.

James writes “Only it must be in faith that he asks with no wavering (no hesitating, no doubting). For the one who wavers (hesitates, doubts) is like the billowing surge out at sea that is blown hither and thither and tossed by the wind. For truly, let not such a person imagine that he will receive anything [he asks for] from the Lord, [For being as he is] a man of two minds (hesitating, dubious, irresolute), [he is] unstable and unreliable and uncertain about everything [he thinks, feels, decides].” (James 1:6-8) The perspective of the passage is the focus on the double-minded or wavering man, however if we look from the other perspective, that of the single-focussed man, we can see that this passage suggests (when taken in the context of the whole of James’ letter) that this man who is single-minded and focussed on Christ as his whole being can expect to receive everything he asks for.

We lose sight of ourselves at our peril, and we must learn to see ourselves as we truly are. Only when we can finally allow ourselves to overcome the fears and prejudices we feel and live in God’s perspective of us as His children can we hope to truly advance the Truth in our lives.

Faith

Faith is a tricky thing. It can be easy to think we have no faith.

In truth, we exercise faith every day. We have faith the cup will hold the coffee, the sugar will sweeten the tea and the chair will hold us as we sit on it. We use faith so often we don’t even realise it is faith.

We were designed to believe. That basic design is hardwired into the human psyche in a way no psychologist can ever fully understand. We believe.

Believing is easy. I believe God exists. I don’t have to do anything to prove this, merely state it. I believe He can heal, I believe He can prosper. Believing isn’t enough. James writes “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19) Satan believes. It won’t save him.

Mere belief is useless. What if Peter had believed he could walk on the water, but never stepped out of the boat? What if Moses had believed God could deliver the Israelites from Egypt but had not stepped into the Red Sea? Our beliefs alone are worthless husks of a pointless exercise.

Faith on the other hand produces action.

Faith let Peter step out of the boat, let Moses step into the sea, let Jesus climb Calvary’s Hill…

We must be moved by our faith. We move because we have faith, not because we have evidence we can sense with our five physical senses.

We had an example of this recently. My brother in law and my wife both reached a crossroads professionally recently involving their careers. Both had to choose between two paths. Both involved a drastic change or staying where they were. My wife finally felt that for now she should stay where she is. Her brother felt it was time for him to move and he resigned to move out on his own. Each of them was moved by the faith they have that God is in control and He will lead them in the direction they need to take.

We all face choices in our daily lives, some bigger than others. We often have to go on faith to justify our decisions, yet we dismiss it so easily.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence oth things unseen we are told in Hebrews. Faith brings the unseen into the physical realm. Health, prosperity, salvation and eternal life are all obtained by faith. Whether we gain health by pills or by prayer, faith is ultimately what causes it. We take the pills because we have faith they will work, yet we often don’t even consider asking God to intervene because there is a pill we can take. We prosper through hard work – sometimes – and we play the lottery and cross our fingers for a bit extra, but we don’t call out to God for that.

We are saved by the Faith God gives us, and we have Eternal Life through Him, but we don’t fully walk in that. Rather we plod through this life, setting up home in the valley of the shadow of death and being greatful it will be over soon. We forget what we have been given and go through religious rituals to try to eran God’s pleasure instead of just being real and trusting Him.

Faith without works is dead. Not limited, dead.

Unless we put our faith into action we will for ever be trapped in the stagnation of our lives, draggin onwards until death releases us to have the tears wiped away as we weep at the final realisation of what our lives here could have been if only we had acted on our faith…