Tag Archives: Faith

Running the Rapids with Jesus

Before you even get in the raft, the white water guide begins to establish his or her authority and control.  In the early stages of the float trip they work hard to make sure everyone knows what to do, practicing the commands over and over.  “Back-paddle!”  “Right turn!”  “Let’s do it again!”  Why?  White water!  There’s rapids downstream and, when they get to them, it’s too late to begin figuring out what to do.  The idea is for everyone to be alert, trained and ready to respond quickly, without panic.  Even if the raft seems about to flip.

Jesus told the folks in His raft they would eventually confront dangerous rapids.  When they asked how they could know the end of the age was approaching, He didn’t mince words.  Instead, He prepared them (and us).   You can read what He told them in the 24th Chapter of Matthew, but here are some excepts of what He said:

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.

In other words, “When things get dicey, make sure you listen to my commands and not anyone else.”

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 

In other words, “When you hear the roar of the rapids, don’t freak out;  I have told you this trip winds up in white water so keep your heads.”

“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.   –  (Matthew 24:4–13 Excerpts – NIV84)

In other words, “Don’t be surprised at how violent the rapids will seem.  You may even get tossed out of the raft.  But remember to trust me.  Do what I say and you will come through just fine.”

Human history is filled with failed attempts to make our world better as we strive for utopia.  People even held the hope that World War I would serve to end all future wars.  No matter how or what we try, we have not succeeded in eradicating evil.  As we see the rise of ISIS, Russia’s alliances with wicked dictators and nations who pledge the destruction of Israel, it might seem discouraging and frightening.

But these kinds of events have been foretold in Scripture.  Jesus never whitewashed the truth: wickedness will increase as the age continues toward the end.  But He also said,  “see to it you are not alarmed.”  And, “don’t listen to others who will lead you astray.”  And, “stand firm in your faith and you will be saved.”

Mo Bettah

There wasn’t much my mother and I agreed on during my adolescence.  Especially music (Yeah, I know: big surprise…).  She was into lofty, classical refinements; I tended toward Four Strong Winds and Mr. Tambourine Man.  So when she announced that she had bought me a ticket to a performance at the local university, I groaned and protested.  With great reluctance I slumped down the dusty halls of academia, preparing to sleep my way through some tedious Elizabethan minstrels or something.  But it was legendary blues great, Josh White playing!  Far from being tedious, he held the audience captive with his plaintive, rich baritone voice.  His soulful guitar work, replete with amazing, raspy slide licks with his leathery thumb, put the whole experience over the top.  An experience I almost missed because I assumed I knew what to expect.  Score one for Mother. 

So frequently when I try to communicate the exhilaration and joy I’ve found in Jesus, I am met with the same indifference.  Usually, I am convinced, it is because they hear the name, Jesus, and immediately associate it with dusty, boring, irrelevant religion.  But I’m talking about lighting the afterburners on life and blasting into a whole different reality.  

Of course, this is nothing new; you can hear a bit of similar frustration in Paul’s words:

“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.
  –  (Colossians 2:1)

He goes on to say that the purpose for his struggle is:

“… so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
  –  (Colossians 2:2b-3)

If you have kept yourself a safe distance from Jesus because of dull religious experiences (or worse), don’t let what you assume you know keep you from experiencing the “One in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge!”

God’s Laundry

Dirty socks may not understand this, as they are sloshing around in the washer, but they have nothing to fear, not even from the repeated rinse and spin cycles.  People who are gathered to God in Jesus have nothing to fear either, from the growing bloodthirstiness of ISIS, the new alliances between the evil dictators of Russia, Syria and Iran, or the hostility toward Israel that simmers in Egypt and Iraq.  God told us to expect all that, all that and more.  There’s no way for us dirty socks to know if this will be the final rinse and spin, but we can take heart in knowing that things turn out well for God’s Laundry:

This is the word of the LORD concerning Israel. The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him, declares:   “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem.  On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.  On that day I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness,” declares the LORD. “I will keep a watchful eye over the house of Judah, but I will blind all the horses of the nations.   Then the leaders of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the LORD Almighty is their God.’  –  (Zechariah 12:1-5)

Turned Loose

A guy I knew in high school was confined to a wheelchair.  Then just about this time one year, he showed up at school walking!  He used canes, but he was really walking.  And the look on his face is still etched on my mind.

Imagine the look on the face of the paralytic guy to whom Jesus said, “”Pick up your mat and go home.”  I’ll bet it broadcast alternate waves of amazement and pure joy.  But rereading the account in Matthew, I noticed that the physical healing was secondary.  Jesus’ first words to this man were:

“Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2b)

The religious experts who heard Him were shocked at His supposed blasphemy.  So, Jesus used the healing as proof of His authority to forgive sins.

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?    Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?   But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” –  (Matthew 9:4-6)

It is easy to be astonished with the act of physical healing and lose sight of the fact it was given as proof of Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. My guess?  He would have healed the man out of kindness anyway.  But His first gift to the man was forgiveness. 

Jesus said it was easier for Him to say “Your sins are forgiven,” but in fact, it was not easy for Him to make that possible.  Only Jesus had that authority, and He alone, because He was sinless, was able to purchase forgiveness for others on the Cross. 

I think Jesus chose such moments with care, using those that were living pictures of His deeper truth.  Chances are pretty good that you, like me, have felt, paralyzed by sin from time to time, helplessly locked up and unworthy of release.  Jesus has the full authority to say, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven; take up your mat and go home.” 

Trust Him on that…

Risking Faith

If Christ lives in us (See: Don’t Miss This!) and His life changes us to be in harmony with God, then what are we supposed to do?  What is our responsibility in this new life?  How can we make sure we don’t mess it up?

Like this:

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” – (Colossians 2:6-7)

We received Christ Jesus as Lord by faith; we live our lives in Him in the same way: by faith.  If you test this out, you’ll see quickly how it works.  Jesus’ life in us moves us to do things that seem upside down to us.  Such as, “Love your enemies,” or, “Forgive completely as God has forgiven you.”  Daring to follow His lead in these ways truly takes faith, faith that His way is really better.  Next time you risk forgiveness, you do so by faith.

The more we use faith, the stronger it becomes.  As trees grow roots, they increase their ability to be nourished while also gaining strength to withstand heavy winds.  Same thing in following Jesus.  Our roots grow and we become “rooted and strong.”  We more easily are “nourished and strengthened” by His Spirit. Trees grow larger as they are rooted.   Likewise, we are “built up in Him.”

When you learn to ski, it takes faith to put your weight on the downhill ski.  It seems counterintuitive.  And yet, when you risk it, suddenly you  swoop through a turn, kicking up powder.  Then what?  You pump a fist in the air and shout, right?  Same thing when you test out faith  and power through a couple of turns with Jesus.  You see how it works and want to shout with amazement.  You “overflow with thankfulness!

Don’t stress about this, enjoy it.  It starts with faith and continues with faith.  Risk it.

There’s More

“But wait, there’s more!” Those words, made famous by infomercial hucksters, were given full measure by Ty Pennington on Extreme Makeover, Home Edition.  After walking each flabbergasted, tearful family through their newly built super-home, he’d say, “But wait, there’s more…” and then surprise them with another lavish gift, perhaps a fully paid off mortgage. 

The lavishness of the generosity, the “but wait, there’s more” attitude, is what made that show. It would have been enough if they had fixed their house and cleaned it up. But instead, anything they could imagine and accomplish to bless the family was piled on, with joy and enthusiasm. “But wait, there’s more…!”

That’s the feeling Paul must have had as he told his friends why he was so excited and happy for them as new believers. They had become recipients of the lavish, “but wait there’s more,” generosity of God. Look at his short list:

“… giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” –  Colossians (1:12-14)

Imagine the excitement experienced by each Extreme Makeover family when they first heard they qualified for an extreme makeover. God qualifies the new believer for full rights as an heir in His Kingdom. I once visited a mansion of an heir to a breakfast cereal fortune. Impressive, but not even close to the riches awaiting those who share in the inheritance of the Kingdom of God. It’s a wealth that cannot be measured with money.

Paul calls it the Kingdom of Light, and says, God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness.” Ever met a meth addict? Most are pretty vivid examples of how the promise of fun quickly turns into dominion by very dark forces. Many worldly pleasures and treasures take control of us in a similar, if more subtle, way. But God rescues us, redeems us, forgives us and welcomes us home into the Kingdom of His Son.

Some of the most enthusiastic, happy people I know have been rescued from a very dark place and brought into His light. But they haven’t seen anything yet. To say it another way, “But wait, there’s more…

Red Pencil

As it came time to bury Ann Maree’s ashes, I began looking through her Bible, to see what passages and verses meant the most to her.  Easy enough to tell; she had a red pencil and carefully underlined her favorites.  Your eye was automatically drawn to the places her heart hung out.  Especially The Psalms; some of those wound up looking like a grammar school theme after Mrs. Owens was done with it.

I was also taken by the lines she did not highlight, contrasting them to those she did.  For example, consider some lines from Psalm 31.  As Stage 4 bladder cancer continued its inexorable siege, you might think she would have underlined this:

“Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.” – (Psalm 31:2)

But she did not.  No frantic plea for healing.  No desperation.  Instead, she settled herself with this:

Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.”  –  (Psalm 31:3) 

Through her red pencil, she said, “I know I can trust you, even in the midst of this final struggle, so please, God, show me what I should do.” 

I was gripped with awe.  Ann Maree never made a big public deal about how much she trusted God, but in her quietness and peace, the straps of her faith were cinched tight.

You can see it for yourself, in the rest of what she emphasized with that red pencil:

“But I trust in you, LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hands…” –  (Psalm 31:14-15a)

“How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you.”  –  (Psalm 31:19a)

“Praise be to the Lord, for He showed His wonderful love to me…”  –  (Psalm 31:21a)

“Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.” –  (Psalm 31:5)