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The Remarkable Power That Transforms Lives

This is a story about a man who was struck by a power that changed the whole course of his life, a man called Joe. Joe grew up in Kingsport, and he and all his buddies worked shift work at Eastman. He had a comfortable job and a comfortable life.

But something happened to Joe, something he didn’t expect. And although he never went past high school, never had any other formal training, within a few years he was speaking to thousands, writing books, traveling internationally, and leading a large organization. What was this one remarkable thing that happened to Joe?

Before we look at this one remarkable thing, let’s rearrange our story a little. “Joe” actually didn’t grow up in Kingsport, he grew up 2000 years ago along the Sea of Galilee. And Joe’s shift work wasn’t at a factory, it was out on the lake in a fishing boat. And Joe’s name wasn’t “Joe”– it was Simon Bar-Jonah. And this ordinary fisherman, who became known as Peter, had his life completely transformed through one remarkable thing: faith in Jesus.

Faith in Jesus took an ordinary man and transformed his whole life, and through that transformed life Peter helped change the world. Faith in Jesus can take our lives and transform us to make a difference in our worlds too.

An Unpromising Start

Peter’s start with Jesus didn’t look all that promising to the outside eye. The first time he was with Jesus the two words that best described Peter would have been “fearful” and “unworthy.” (see Luke 5:1-11) But God’s ways are often not our ways, and the potential that God can see in a person is often far greater than what they can see in themselves. Jesus could see greatness in Peter, greatness that Peter could not see in himself, and Jesus knew that faith was the key to unlocking that greatness that lay within. And so Jesus struck back at his fear by telling him not to be afraid, and struck back at his feelings of unworthiness by inviting him to follow Him.

But Peter was not alone in having a rather unpromising start. If you look at the story of Moses, in his first encounter with God he desperately tries to convince Him to send someone else. Gideon kept asking God “Are you sure You’ve got the right man?” The bottom line is that it matters not to God who you think you are, or what you think your limits are. Through faith God knows your life can be transformed into something extraordinary.

Faith Transforms Us to See Jesus

The Bible records three great ways that faith transformed Peter’s life. Faith transformed Peter to see Jesus as the Christ, to trust Jesus in every circumstance, and to be faithful to Jesus in every trial. In Matthew 16:13-18 we see how faith transformed Peter to see Jesus:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Let’s look at three lessons that this passage teaches us about faith. First, the passage teaches that seeing Jesus as Christ is the rock of our faith– the foundational transformation of faith. Jesus refers to this realization that He is the Christ as the rock that he would build his church on– the foundation that would withstand any storm or attack, the foundation that all the rest of the Christian life is built upon.

Second, faith is spiritual certainty. Look how although Peter accepted that Jesus is the Christ by faith, it wasn’t a leap of faith or a blind faith. No, Peter KNEW, he knew more surely than anything he had every known before– he was committed to that truth, he would later die for that truth. And that’s what genuine God-given faith is, it’s spiritual sight. When Paul says in 2 Cor 5:7 that we walk by faith, not by sight, he didn’t mean we walked in blindness, or in optimism “Well I sure hope that Jesus is the Son of God and He died for my sins.” No, no, a thousand times no! Faith is certainty, faith is truth, faith is reality, as Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is spiritual certainty.

Third, see how faith is the gift of God. How humbling this is, both for Peter and for us. Look at Peter. Here was a man who lived with Jesus, walked with Jesus, heard Him teach, saw Him heal the sick, raise the dead. If any man could ever come to know who Jesus was by his own devices it was Peter, and yet Jesus tells Peter that even all his experience as a disciple could not reveal to him that his rabbi was the Son of God. Only through the gift of the Father could Peter be transformed by faith to see Jesus as Christ, and only through the blessing of the Father can you and I be transformed by faith to see Jesus as Christ.

Faith Transforms Us to Trust Jesus

The next passage from Peter’s life of faith we’ll examine is from Matthew 14:22-33:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

In this passage we see that faith transformed Peter to trust Jesus in any circumstance. Here again, let’s draw out three truths regarding how faith transformed Peter, and transforms us to trust Jesus.

First, faith has the opportunity to transform us when all we have is faith. When it’s bright and sunny and everything’s going great there’s no need for faith. Why did Jesus say that it was harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? Entering into the kingdom of heaven requires giving over all your life to trusting Jesus by faith, and humanly speaking many rich people don’t have a need to give over their life to anyone— they can take care of themselves just fine, thank you. But when the wind and the waves start blowing, and we desperately look around for anything to steady us, and we see Jesus, then is when faith can work a miracle in us.

Second, trusting Jesus by faith means trusting Him as Lord. This is actually the first time in Matthew that Peter addresses Jesus as “Lord.” It’s actually a great word study to study the situations where people address Jesus as “Lord”— the overwhelming majority of the time it is when they want something out of Him, usually in great distress and desperation. Jesus eagerly waits for us to trust Him, but honestly not just as a friend or the man upstairs, but as Lord.

Third, we can only trust through faith or doubt through unbelief– we cannot do both. Peter found this out in a split second— that the human mind can focus on only one thing— either trust or doubt. It’s like there’s a single parking spot in our soul, and only one vehicle can fit into it at a time. You can park trust in there, or you can park doubt, and it’s your choice. But— the choice you make— trust or doubt— will dictate everything else in your life. Peter chose to trust Jesus, and he was enabled to walk on water. But when he took his eyes off the reality of King Jesus, when he abandoned his spiritual sight and started using his physical sight instead, in an instant he moved trust out of his parking space and moved doubt back in. That is the value of keeping our minds continually attuned to the presence of God, so that our lives can be ruled by faith and trust, not by doubt and unbelief.

Faith Transforms Us to Be Faithful to Jesus

Finally, the life of Peter teaches us that faith can transform us to be faithful to Jesus in every trial. In Luke 22:31-34 we see the prelude to the great stumbling of Peter’s faith, before he denied Him:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.

The Bible has a lot to say about faith and trials. The first principle that we should know is that faith is the answer to every trial. When you’re in a rough time, or even a desperately hard time, it is not knowledge or cunning or strength or any other ability that will enable you to prevail, it is faith. Look carefully at James 1:2-4:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James clearly sees that it is faith that will see us through any trial, and will result in our soul becoming fully mature.

Second, the Bible shows us that faith transforms us to walk as children of God in any trial. When the way is dark and we can’t see how a trial will end, how will we respond, how will we keep going? That’s what faith is about, about transforming us to keep walking, to keep responding in love, trust, & courage when we can’t see the path. Look at a passage from the life of Paul in Acts 27:21-25:

Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.

Here is Paul, a prisoner on a ship that is in the middle of a fierce storm that has lasted for weeks. Even the captain has no idea of where they are or where land is. But in the midst of this hopeless situation Paul shines as a beacon of light because of his faith. Through faith, we don’t have to respond in fear, despair, anger, or any other negative emotion, through faith we can walk in the light and the life of God.

Finally, the Bible teaches that our faithfulness is guaranteed by God. Just like Peter, we all will stumble in our faith, we will all bitterly disappoint ourselves. But Jesus never gave up on Peter, and he will never give up on us. He calls us all his sheep, and teaches in John 10:27-30 that…

My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail (Luke 22:32), and Jesus prays for you and for me. Our faith can never fail because of Jesus.

The Rest of the Story

There is one more passage from Peter’s life worth looking at. As the radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, there is a “rest of the story” for Peter, after the bitterness of his denying Christ. It happens in Acts 5:27-29—

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Here Peter is at another trial of the Sanhedrin, the same ruling council that a few years earlier had condemned Jesus to death. But this time Peter is not just an observer, he is the man facing death. And what is his response at this trial? Does he out of fear deny Jesus? No, he leads the rest of the apostles in affirming the truth in courage. Here is the ordinary fisherman, transformed by the power of faith in Jesus, stunning the rulers of his day.

Faith had done its work, transforming Peter to see Jesus as the Christ, to trust Jesus, and to be faithful to Him. This same faith, this same Jesus, can work the same transformation in our lives today. It is all available to us, as we put our faith in Him.

New Book Published!

 

My Newest Book–

The Sunflower:

A Parable of Life

Once upon a time there was a sunflower seed…

…so begins a simple tale of trust & beauty that we can all relate to.  Often it is the simplest of ideas that can lead to profound shifts in our lives. Dr. Hollandsworth’s new inspirational gift book The Sunflower tells such a story, one that is well worth reading, pondering, and sharing with those you love.

Available in a free PDF to read, and in a beautifully illustrated full color softcover gift book.

Price is $6.99 from Amazon, or order direct from the publisher CreateSpace and use the coupon code CGXAP6SS to receive one dollar off the list price.

Book Review: A Place of Healing


“Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty” is an apt subtitle for this book, for just like Jacob wrestled with God many centuries ago, Joni has been wrestling with God for decades, ever since she took that dive into a too shallow lake as a teenager and became a quadriplegic.

Joni doesn’t speak on suffering & healing as a lofty theologian, or as some shallow social commentator, but as a real woman who has walked through real suffering and pain for all her adult life.  Unlike many sufferers, however, she has developed a rock-solid conviction of both God’s love for her and God’s sovereignty over her quadriplegia. This fusion of personal experience with Biblical truth is what makes this book so powerful.

She starts the book with a quote by John Stott: “The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.” She then launches headlong into a discussion of the question of healing and God, both personally and theologically. Further chapters discuss the benefits of suffering, how the sufferer can bring God glory, regaining perspective, and the impact of suffering on the Kingdom of God.

The title of her final chapter is a phrase she has earnestly repeated over the years: “Thank you, God, for this wheelchair.” In it she opens her heart to say that she really is content, for contentment is “realizing that God has already given (me) everything that (I) need for my present happiness… If there were anything more that I needed, God would have given it to me.”

A Place of Healing is a rich treasure of wisdom & comfort to share with anyone who is struggling with any kind of suffering. Highly recommended.

Spiritual Seed Pack 1: Living by Grace

John Piper’s Future Grace is a book so deep & yet so practical that it is certainly on my “must-read” list for every Christian.  This spiritual seed pack gives you core concepts and ideas from Future Grace to plant and grow in your life.  There are direct quotes from Dr. Piper, major ideas distilled down into my own words, and quotes from other writers.

Hungry for the whole book?  Click here to see it on Amazon.com.

Want more depth? Click here for a series of articles going through the book chapter by chapter.

Faith Is the Key to Grace

Faith is the key, the channel, that God’s grace flows through. So to experience grace you must possess faith.  Faith is absolutely central.

If you go wrong on the nature of faith, everything in the Christian life will go wrong.

So, what is faith?  Here are some key concepts:

Faith trusts in the promises that God has made through Christ, and loves them, cherishes them, prizes them with all the heart.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that faith is more than mere knowledge, more than belief, but is a joyful response of the heart to the truth of the Gospel.

Eternal life is not given to people who think that Jesus is the Son of God.  It is given to people who drink from Jesus as the Son of God.

Faith, embracing the spiritual beauty of Christ, is the key to my joy and spiritual growth.

If we can look in our hearts and see God’s love within, sense a spiritual eye for Christ’s light and an ear for Christ’s voice and a taste for Christ’s living water, then we can rejoice and thank God for His glorious grace in our lives, for these are the marks of true faith.

Because building my faith is central to grace, destroying my faith is central to Satan.

Whether it is a discouraging situation, a tempting thought, or any other kind of battle, the real target of Satan is always my faith.

Whenever we turn from faith (total trust and reliance) in God and turn toward anything else, we open the door to sin in our lives.

All the sinful states of our hearts are owing to unbelief in God’s super-abounding future grace.

All our sin comes from failing to be satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.

Example: the heart that loves money is a heart that pins its hopes, and pursues its pleasures, and puts its trust in what human resources can offer.  So the love of money is virtually the same as faith in money (trust, confidence, assurance) that money will meet your needs and make you happy.  You can’t trust in God and in money at the same time.  Belief in one is unbelief in the other.

Where faith in God fails, sin follows.  Faith stands or falls on the truth that the future with God is more satisfying than the one promised by sin. Where this truth is embraced and God is cherished above all, the power of sin is broken.

Grace is God’s Power At Work in My Life

God’s Grace is Boundless

The reason God saved us was so He could lavish the riches of His grace on us, and it will take God all of eternity to do it. (see Ephesians 2:4-7)

We never have to worry about being beyond the reach of God’s grace, and we never have to worry or manipulate to try and win God’s grace.

God’s grace is a boundless infinite ocean. This reservoir of future grace is hidden from our eyes, but each of us can look back and see a sea of grace that has already flowed from God’s hand, and it grows broader and deeper every day.

God did the hardest thing, not only that has ever been done, but the hardest thing that could ever even be conceivable to be done, in the universe: He allowed His Son, the being He loved more than anything else in the universe, to suffer and die.  Why? Romans 8:32 says it— “for us.”  So Paul is saying that if God has already done the hardest thing in the universe, it is an easy thing, a simple thing, for Him to “graciously give us all things.”

Having Faith in God’s Grace Changes Everything

You must believe this or you will not thrive, or perhaps even survive as a Christian, in the pressures and temptations of modern life.  There is so much pain, so many setbacks and discouragements, so many controversies and pressures.  I do not know where I would turn in the ministry if I did not believe that almighty God is taking every setback and every discouragement and every controversy and every pressure and every pain, and stripping it of its destructive power and making it work for the enlargement of my joy in God.

If you live inside this massive promise, your life is more solid and stable than Mount Everest… nothing can blow you over when you are inside the walls …Outside all is confusion and anxiety and fear and uncertainty.  Outside this promise of all-encompassing future grace there are straw houses of drugs and alcohol and numbing TV and dozens of futile diversions…once you walk through the door of love into the massive, unshakable structure everything changes. There comes into your life stability and depth and freedom…The confidence that a sovereign God governs for your good all the pain and all the pleasure that you will ever experience is an incomparable refuge and security and hope and power in your life.  When God’s people really live by the future grace of Romans 8:28— from measles to the mortuary— we are the freest and strongest and most generous people in the world.

God’s Answer to Every Prayer is Grace.

Many of us have been taught that God answers prayers either “yes” “no” or “wait.”  But in reality God always answers every prayer by giving us His grace—the grace of a blessing, the grace to endure a hardship, or the grace of patience.

Grace Gives Me a Heart for Holiness

Jesus repeatedly spoke of the importance of becoming like God—loving & holy.  Jesus said that he did not come to do away with God’s laws but to fulfill them. Bottom line:

The law is so wonderful and important that part of the reason Jesus died was that we could obey it and fulfill it.

The commandments of God are not negligible because we are under grace. They are doable because we are under grace.

How does grace do give me a heart for holiness? Sin is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God. Sin makes a promise to us, to satisfy us, just as God does.  Obeying God is learning to trust and value God’s promises to satisfy us in Jesus more than trusting or valuing the promises of sin.

There is a power that comes from prizing God which leaves no nook or cranny of life untouched.

Grace Gives Me a Heart of Patience

Patience is a deepening, ripening, peaceful willingness to wait for God in the unplanned place of obedience, and to walk with God at the unplanned pace of obedience— to wait in His place, and go at His pace.

On his deathbed the 18th century pastor Charles Simeon wrote:

Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole (of my life) with infinite love; and infinite power enables me— to rest upon that love.  I am in a dear Father’s hands— all is secure.  When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness— and immutability— and truth; and I have the sweetest peace— I cannot have more peace.

Grace Gives Me a Heart of Contentment

Faith is the experience of contentment in Jesus, the satisfaction of my soul’s thirst and my heart’s hunger. The fight of faith is the fight to keep your heart contented in Christ— to really believe, and keep on believing, that He will meet every need and satisfy every longing.

As bitterness rears its ugly taste in our soul, we can successfully banish it with the assurance that God’s justice will be satisfied and by cherishing the even sweeter taste of God’s own forgiveness and love for us.

Grace Gives Me a Heart of Endurance

The Apostle Paul uses two word pictures of the walk of faith: a fight and a race.  That means it must be hard, and that we must endure to the end.  Knowing that we are in a race and a fight helps us to endure when the way becomes hard.

Grace Brings Suffering & Redeems Suffering

The more you are willing to forsake trust in yourself and the things of this world, the more you will open yourself up to situations where you may experience suffering for God.

When you know that your future is in the hands of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God who promises to work all things for your good, you are free to take any risk that love demands— no matter the cost.

In regards to spreading the gospel today, we talk so much about “closed countries” that we have almost lost God’s perspective on missions— as though he ever meant it to be safe.

There are no closed countries to those who assume that persecution, imprisonment, and death are the likely results of spreading the gospel. And Jesus in Matthew 24:9 said plainly that these are the likely results.

God has purposes that He intends to accomplish through suffering:
Suffering Shapes an Unshakable Faith
Suffering Shapes our Character
Suffering Magnifies the Worth of Christ

Grace Frees Me From Fear

The aim of grace is to liberate me from fears and desires that enslave my soul and hinder radical obedience to Jesus.

Freeing me to live a radical life, doing whatever will advance the Kingdom and glorify Jesus– that’s why God gives me grace.

Grace Gives Me a Heart for God’s Glory

One thing is past all question: we shall bring our Lord most glory if we get from Him much grace.  If I have much faith, so that I can take God at His Word… I shall greatly honor my Lord and King. (Charles Spurgeon)

Grace Gives Me a Heart for Ministry

The state of the heart is shown by the things that satisfy its desires.

Ministry is a lifestyle devoted to advancing other people’s faith and holiness.

But a lifestyle of ministry is costly, in acts of sacrificial love. None of these costly acts of love just happens.  They are impelled by a new appetite— the appetite of faith for the fullest experience of God’s grace.”

Grace Frees Me to Pursue Joy in God

The breadth and depth of our pursuit of joy in God is the measure of His worth in our life.

God commands us to pursue joy in Him. In fact, He commands us to pursue joy with as much passion and zeal and intensity as we can.  Pursuing joy is not sin, but pursuing happiness where it cannot be lastingly found is sin.

“Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4) is not a secondary suggestion.  It is a radical call to pursue your fullest satisfaction in all that God promises to be for you in Jesus.  It is a call to live in the joyful freedom and sacrificial love that comes from faith in future grace.

Live by faith. Live by grace. Live for joy in God.

Book Review: Fearless

Fear.

Everyone knows that name.

You can see it on the face of a startled infant; you can see it in the eyes of a dying man.  Fear is one of the inescapable consequences of being human.

Or is it?

Is it possible to live without fear?

Max Lucado says we can fight fear, and learn to live without its life-draining presence, as we learn to trust in Christ.

His newest book, Fearless, examines fear and how we can combat it.  Starting with the nature of fear, he deals chapter by chapter with a wide variety of fears we commonly face, including significance, parenting, violence, and our relationship with God.  In his trademark style of wisdom, compassion, & hope, Maxwell points us beyond our fears to Christ:

It’s not the absence of storms that sets us apart.  It’s whom we discover in the storm: an unstirred Christ…  Whether or not storms come, we cannot choose.  But where we stare during a storm, that we can.  … Do whatever it takes to keep your gaze on Jesus…

In the back of the book is an excellent study guide that digs deeper into each chapter.  Each chapter of the guide has space for journaling “examining fear” (reflecting on key ideas from the chapter), “exposing fear” (reflecting on key Bible verses), and “battling fear” (practical steps of faith).

All of us have to face fear.  Lucado reminds us that we do not have to face it alone.  A good book to read and share.

A Road Trip With Jesus

mirror by Lawrence Whittemore via Flickr

I had been planning the trip for years.  I had researched it, read books, planned it out, drew maps, opened up a special savings account to save enough money, talked to other people who had been there, even went through catalogs and bought everything I thought I would need.  I guess it had occupied a lot of my thoughts and dreams.  It was going to be the trip of a lifetime.

One spring morning I awoke to the birds chirping outside my window.  At last my wait was over.  I packed my suitcases, assembled all my maps and directions, grabbed my keys, and headed out to the car.  To my surprise, a young Middle Eastern guy was sitting in the driver’s seat, hands on the wheel, grinning at me.

“Jesus? Wow, I knew you’d be coming with me, but I guess I just didn’t expect to, like, actually see you…”

“That’s ok, John— no one ever does.  Just jump in & let’s go.  I’m as excited about this trip as you are.  I’ve been planning it for a long time, you know.”

A bit taken aback, I managed to get out, “Oh, yea, I’m sure you have— I mean, with you being God & all, I guess you’ve planned everything, right?”

Jesus just smiled & said, “You sure have got me pegged.  Hop in & we’ll get started.”

I started to get in, and then realized that Jesus was still in the driver’s seat.  “Uh, Jesus, are you going to drive?”

He replied, “Yes, I thought that would work out better— I know the way we’re going.”

I figured that must be true, since He knows everything.  I buckled up beside Jesus, and we started down the road.

It was a beautiful sunny morning, and I was starting to relax and enjoy the countryside when I realized that WE WERE GOING THE WRONG WAY!

“Wait, wait a minute Jesus!  We’re headed the wrong way!”

He just flashed that smile again and said, “No we’re not.  I got you covered.  Trust me.”

I was confused now— I looked over my maps, and there was no way to get to our destination going down the road we were headed.  “Jesus, there’s something wrong, look at the map here, we’re headed the wrong way.”

Jesus’ gaze softened somewhat, and He said, “We’re not going there.”

“What?”

“We’re not going there, John.  That’s not the trip we’re taking.”

That took a few seconds to sink in.  My mind tried processing it, but kept getting stuck.  I finally answered back, “I don’t understand, Jesus.  I’ve been planning this trip for you for years.  I’ve done all this planning and work, I’ve prayed & prayed about this trip, I’ve got these Bible verses to show how much this trip would please You.” 

Looking down at my treasured maps, I emphatically stated, ” I KNOW this is the trip you want me to take.”   Then, a pause, and more meekly I spoke,  ” I…  I… know it’s the trip I want to take too….”

I looked up from my maps, & I can’t put into words the look I saw on His face.  It was love & care & a touch of sadness, all rolled into one.  He replied to me, “That trip you planned— I know why you’re excited about it.  I know how much it means to you.  It’s a great looking trip.  But….  it’s not our trip.  It’s not where we’re going at all.”

Now I really was lost.  “But why, Jesus?  I was SO SURE…. Why not?  Why can’t we go there?”  I was getting desperate, and He could tell.

Jesus answered, “Some day you’ll understand.  Some day you’ll be okay with it, even thank Me.  But you can’t understand the reasons today, and you’re going to hurt today, and there’s nothing I can do to explain.”  He added, “All you can do is trust me.”

Half in thought and half in pain, I turned my face away from Him.  “I… I don’t know…  I don’t know whether I want to go anymore.”

Jesus slowly eased the car off to the side of the road.  He put the gear in park and turned to me.  His words were kind but firm. “John, you can choose to get out of the car.  If you do, I’ll wait right here.  But you know in your heart that you can’t take the trip without me.  Even if you tried, you know it wouldn’t be the same. ”

And then, looking straight into my eyes, He spoke, “And if I may be so bold, you need to decide in your heart whether your trip means more to you or whether the fact that you’re with me means more to you.”

I looked off again.  That was true, and that was hard.  Hard to admit that my plans & dreams were taking a bigger place in my thoughts & in my heart than Jesus did Himself.  Hard to realize that it wasn’t so easy to give them up either.

Still lost in thought, I felt a strong arm give me a big squeeze around my shoulder.  “Oh, lighten up!  You think too much, did you know that?   Stop thinking about the past that you can’t do anything about.  Stop thinking about a future that just existed in your mind.  It’s a beautiful day, and you’re with the best driving buddy in the world.  I say we do this  road trip, & do it up BIG!”

I smiled.  I knew He was right.  I let the tension go out of my shoulders as He pulled back on to the road.  It was going to be a great day.

How to Be Absolutely Certain & Completely Clueless at the Same Time

seems like i'm always leaving by Unfurled via flickr

It’s been said that life is like driving down a road at night. That’s what I was thinking as I was driving home last night, seeing that white line stretching out in front of me.  I suddenly realized that I was both absolutely certain & completely clueless, at the same time, about my drive, and about my life.

I realized that when I’m driving at night, I’m ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN about what I need to do RIGHT NOW, in the moment.  That white line tells me whether I need to veer right, veer left, or keep it straight.  A red light ahead tells me to stop; a green light tells me to go.  As long as I keep my headlights on, the guidance I need for the present moment will always be there.

That’s just like my life.  In my moment to moment living, I have “headlights” that infallibly guide me. As long as I’m walking in step with God, listening to Him, being mindful of myself, my circumstances, & others, I can be confident that I will know what to do RIGHT NOW, in the moment.  God won’t fail me.  He never has.

I also thought of the Biblical story of Joseph.  Throughout his life, he was always guided as to what he needed to say & do at the right moment:  he knew he had to refuse his master’s wife; he knew what to say to the imprisoned butler & baker; he knew how to save Egypt from starvation.

But even though I’m absolutely certain about driving in the present moment, I’m also COMPLETELY CLUELESS about WHAT LIES AHEAD. If you ask me if the road will head northeast or southeast, whether in the next mile I’ll go up a mountain or go across a bridge, whether there’s a lake up ahead or a desert— I’m (literally) in the dark.  I’ve never traveled this road before.

Isn’t life like that too? I’ve never traveled the road of my life before, so I don’t know what lies ahead. I don’t know whether my job will prosper or end; don’t know whether I’ll live to 100 or die while typing this post; don’t know what joys or sorrows, victories or defeats I will face tomorrow.  And guess what?  If I try too hard to control my destiny, to make sure my life doesn’t take a sharp turn or go into a dark tunnel, I’m liable to run off the road completely.

The same was true of Joseph.  Even though he saw visions and interpreted dreams, he never saw his own brothers trying to murder him, never saw being sold as a slave in a foreign country, never saw spending years in a prison.  But he also never envisioned being the regent of the richest country in his world, having wealth and power beyond his comprehension, and being responsible for not only saving his family, but an entire country, from starvation.

That’s where faith comes in, for Joseph and for me.  When I’m driving an unfamiliar road at night, I may be clueless about what’s around the bend, but I remain confident that I will reach my destination.  I know the road was built to take me there, and I know I can trust my map.

Life’s the same way.  I know that the path that God has lovingly chosen for me will succeed.  Although there is much about it I can’t understand right now, and I’m completely clueless about what’s around the bend, I know that my final destination is secure, and that it ends with the One who loves me more than I can possibly imagine.

How Is Your Faith Tested?

two paths by RyanBSchultz via Flickr

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

 

When you think of your faith being tested, what comes to mind?

Faith that God will heal a loved one?

Faith that God will open a door so you can get a job?

Faith that God will (insert supernatural outcome) to (bad situation I want out of)?

I think there is a problem in always thinking of the “testing of our faith” in this way.  Yes, God is still in the business of doing truly supernatural things, but that’s not how life is day to day.  It’s also important to realize that many times we put our faith in some good outcome we want, but not something that God has actually promised.  If we put our faith in a supernatural outcome that God hasn’t promised to us (that new job, a healed loved one), what happens when the job doesn’t come, or when the loved one dies?  Even in the great faith chapter in Hebrews, it speaks of people being tortured, dying, and even “not receiving what was promised.”

So what is the testing of the faith that James speaks of?   He says we will meet “trials of various kinds”– like we would run into tests of faith all the time.   What kind of tests to our faith would that be?

May I suggest that it the testing that all of God’s people face every day, the test of choosing the narrow gate:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Every day we must make choices that test our faith.  Do we make the easy choice of passing by the person in need, or do we take the narrow gate of helping the person who can never repay us?  Do we make the easy choice of looking at that inappropriate internet site knowing that “it’s harmless”— or do we take the narrow gate of having the faith that a life of integrity will be blessed by God?  Do we run that stop sign or be late for that meeting?  Do we speak with love toward the person that hurt us?  Do we put down the right numbers on that income tax form, knowing there would be more money in our pocket if we don’t?  Do we stay in that marriage that we are miserable in, knowing that getting out would make us happier?

All these are tests of faith: tests for us to answer that entering the narrow gate, following the path of a disciple, will be best, even if our fallen reasoning & desires urge us otherwise.  Only by passing these tests day by day will steadfastness be produced in our hearts.  Only by choosing the narrow gate, day after day, will we one day be perfect & complete.

The Faith of a Wife: The Three-Fold Example of Sarah

One of the great Biblical examples of faith is Abraham. Much has been written and spoken about him, and rightly so. Much less has been said of another striking example of faith, the faith of his wife Sarah. Her life of faith was different, and in some ways much harder, than that of her husband. She demonstrated a three-fold faith that is an example for every wife, and for every believer, male or female.

First, Sarah had faith in God’s direction & provision. Hebrews 11:8 says Abraham set out “not knowing where he was going.” Certainly, that took faith on Abraham’s part, but put yourself in Sarah’s sandals. At least Abraham had some type of vision or message from God, but all Sarah had was her new husband telling her, “God told me to go.”  “Where, my husband?” “I don’t know.” “How long will we be gone?” “I don’t know.” “How will we eat and stay alive? Will there be any other people there? Will there be any civilization or laws? Will I ever see my home or family again? Will we lose everything we have or be enslaved or worse?” “I don’t know. God just told me to go.”

Remember, this was before national governments, wikipedia, savings accounts, or any type of long-distance communication. Setting out from your own village literally meant “not knowing where he was going,” with no guarantee at all of what it would be like. Imagine that, and realize the faith Sarah had to have in God. None of us will ever be called to that kind of faith. Even the missionary called to a far off land will know quite a bit about what lies ahead: the people, the geography, the government, his mission board and support team, how he will travel, how he can get out if there is danger.  Sarah knew absolutely nothing: she needed massive faith in God’s direction & provision.

But, Sarah also had to have faith in her husband’s ability. Let’s get real, Sarah: Did your husband really hear from God? Maybe it was his midlife crisis instead, or over zealous optimism, or misdirected desires. If you’re a wife, it can be a scary thing to put your faith in your husband. And what’s scarier is that God has a track record of sometimes leading people through rough seas— the same chapter in Hebrews that lists Abraham & Sarah’s faith also lists people of faith in chains & torture & death.

I don’t think it’s easy for any wife to have faith in her husband, especially when the direction that he is pointing in doesn’t seem to square with where she thinks God would lead. But what is the alternative, when you look from God’s perspective? A godly college student named Ruth was absolutely convinced that God had called her to be a missionary, but her boyfriend didn’t feel that call. How was she to know at the time that her lanky young Billy Graham would one day become the greatest evangelist of the century with her love and support? She had to take it on faith. Another young college student named Noel was engaged to a pre-med major, when he suddenly told her that he wanted to go to seminary instead. Would she search for a more stable, more secure husband, or would she choose to follow & support John Piper so that one day his ministry would put his theological writings in the hands of millions of believers?

Of course, not every case of a woman having faith in her husband has such a happy ending. Sarah’s life wasn’t all roses, either. Abraham stumbled badly at times, even putting Sarah’s life in danger by his foolish decisions. Even the best of husbands is a flawed & sinning human, and the worst of husbands can be much worse. That’s why Sarah, and every other wife, must have faith in God’s sovereignty. This is the hardest kind of faith to have: to believe that God still has a purpose and will still work for His glory and her good in a flawed, even deeply flawed, mate & marriage.

If you are a wife, why not commit to Sarah’s three-fold faith: to have faith in God’s direction & provision through your husband, to have faith in your husband’s ability, and have faith in God’s sovereignty even in your husband’s weakness, failures, & sin.  If you say that you can’t see how you can have that kind of faith with your husband, well, that’s why it’s called faith. You believe it not because of who your husband is, but because of who you know God to be.

If you’re not a wife, you can still look to Sarah’s example of trusting God. Every husband is tempted like Adam to complain to God about “the woman who You gave to be with me.” (Genesis 3:12) Don’t complain— trust God for your mate. Everyone can also apply this faith principle to their friends & church— just because they’re not perfect doesn’t mean you can’t have faith in them & in God working through them.  No matter who you are or what people are in your life, God challenges you to live this three-fold life of faith today.

Walking with God Through Adversity: Seven Lessons from the Heart of Hannah


The book of 1 Samuel begins with the story of a remarkable woman of God named Hannah.  As I meditated on her life I marveled at her heart towards God.  This woman’s simple faith allowed her to walk with God through her deepest valley.  God placed her story in  Scripture as an example of how a follower of God walks with Him through adversity.  Here are seven lessons we can all learn from the heart of Hannah:

Lesson One: Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty

“the LORD had closed her womb.” (v.5)
The very first thing we learn about Hannah is that she knew ”the Lord had closed her womb.” It’s clear that she and her husband saw her infertility as being under God’s sovereign hand. Without any help from sophisticated theology textbooks or philosophy courses, they were able to see the obvious truth that the being who created the universe must also be the being who orders its every event. Acknowledging God’s control over all our life’s circumstances is the essential first step to a life of walking with Him.

Lesson Two: Affirm God’s Righteousness

Next, we can see that Hannah saw God as righteous.  Even in her deepest distress, she never accused God of being unloving or unjust. There is nothing in her prayers to suggest she cried out, “Why did you do this to me?” Her attitude parallels Job 1:22, where the Bible says that Job never “charged God with wrong.” If the first step of walking with God is to accept that He is in control, the second step must be to affirm Psalm 145:17 that, “the Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.”

Lesson Three: Keep Following in God’s Ways

“So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord”  (v.7)
When confronted with deep soul pain, many people make the choice to walk away from God. Not Hannah. Year after year, she remained faithful to worship Him, even if it meant traveling to Shiloh with another woman who delighted in making her miserable. She could have feigned illness, or could have outright refused to go. Instead, she continued to obey God’s commands year after year after year, fully knowing how hard the road of obedience sometimes was. 

Lesson Four: Go to God With Your Pain

“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” (v.10)
Acknowledging God’s sovereignty and righteousness and remaining faithful to Him does not mean we have to stuff away our pain or pretend it doesn’t hurt. God is a loving Father and He both understands our pain and desires that we pour out our heart to Him. Hannah, David, even Jesus in the Garden freely poured out their pain to God.  He always received them, and He will always receive us.  We can freely pour out our heart to God.

Lesson Five: Ask God to Intervene

O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant…” (v. 11)
Trusting that God knows best does not mean we do not ask for our desires. God does not answer to Hannah, “Why are you asking me for a child?” For that matter, can you remember anytime God reprimanded anyone for asking Him for a good thing? No, that is not the way of a loving Father with His children. Part of walking with God is putting our requests before Him every day.

Lesson Six: Trust God With All Your Heart

I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life (v. 11)
Hannah’s vow here is not an example of mere crass bargaining with a deity. No, it is a mighty expression of her faith. Hannah declares to God that she knows that He can open her womb, and that she is more than happy to respond to His grace with her faith in dedicating this still future child to Him.

Lesson Seven:  Let Your Joy in God Transcend Your Own Desires

Lastly, Hannah’s song of joy in 1 Samuel 2 shows us that her joy in God transcended her own desire to keep her son by her side. There is no hint of regret or misgiving in dedicating her beloved son for the sake of the Kingdom.  She rejoices in God and sings:

My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.

There is none holy like the Lord;
there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.

May we all strive to have a heart like Hannah that exults in the Lord everyday as we walk with Him.