And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.   (Romans 8:28)

                The story is told of a king in Africa who had a close friend with whom he grew up. The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) and remarking, “This is good!”  No matter happened he would say out loud, “This is good.”  One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. The friend would load and prepare the guns for the king. The friend had apparently done something wrong in preparing one of the guns, for after taking the gun from his friend, the king fired it and his thumb was blown off. Examining the situation, the friend remarked as usual, “This is good!” To which the king replied, “No, this is not good!” and proceeded to send his friend to jail. About a year later, the king was hunting in an area that he should have known to stay clear of. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, set up a stake and bound him to the stake. As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. So untying the king, they sent him on his way. As he returned home, he was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his treatment of his friend. He went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend. “You were right,” he said, “it was good that my thumb was blown off.” And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened. “And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this.” “No,” his friend replied, “This is good!” Astonished, the king said, “What do you mean, ‘This is good?’ How could it be good that I sent my friend to jail for a year?”  His friend replied, “If I had not been in jail, I would have been with you. And I have both of my thumbs! So I would have been eaten.  So this is very good indeed!”
                I’ve heard it said that hindsight is 20-20 – meaning that as we get a little further down the trail, we can look back and gain a greater understanding of the events in our lives.  For the believer, our perspective should always be shaped by the truth we learn in God’s Word. The Bible clearly says that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to his purpose.  Look at that word all closely. When He says “all things” – he means 100 percent of every issue in your life.  The promise is totally comprehensive. Contains no qualifications and has no limits.  “All things” includes every pleasant experience, as well as every painful experience.  It doesn’t mean that all things feel good or are good in and of themselves.  The promise is that God can take all things – both pleasant and painful – and weave them together in a beautiful tapestry as he accomplishes His purposes in our lives.  For example consider these ingredients: 1 ¾ cup of sugar  2 sticks of margarine  5 raw eggs 2 cups of flour  1 teaspoon of vanilla 1 tablespoon of baking powder.   Would anyone find enjoyment in consuming any of these items individually?  But you can mix them all together, put it in the oven and what comes out is something delicious.  The promise in this verse is that through His omnipotence and omniscience, God is able to take the singular raw ingredients of our lives and mix them together in a way that produces good for us and glory for Him. 

                Do you know the greatest example of this? It is the cross of the Lord Jesus. God watched his only son being arrested and God must have thought, “That’s not good.” God watched as his only begotten had his back bared and a cat-of-nine tails tore into his back until it was hanging in ribbons of flesh. I’m sure God must have thought, “That’s not good.” Then he watched as Jesus was blindfolded and they hit him in the face. I’m sure the Father must have thought, “That’s not good.” Then they put a crown of thorns on his head. “That’s not good.” Then they nailed his hands and feet to a cross and lifted it up and for six hours he hung there in shame and nakedness bleeding in agony. And I’m sure the Father must have thought, “That’s not good!” But do you know what happened? God took all of those things that were not good and he used them as the platform upon which every one of us can have forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. “Now that’s good! That’s very good!” The cross is the greatest proof of Romans 8:28.

                The words “works” in this verse comes from the Greek word sunergos. We get our word synergism from it.  Synergism is kind of a pop word in corporate circles today, but Paul used it long before anyone ever heard of it.  It means individual parts working together and producing something greater than the sum of its parts.  That’s what God has done and is in the process of doing in your life today.  He’s at work in ways we may not completely understand in the present moment. But he asks us to trust him and know that even in the difficult and unexpected – he can produce something good.  If he could bring something as wonderful as forgiveness and salvation out of something as dreadful as the cross, he can work the events of your life together to bring about good.  

                Do you have something unpleasant happening in your life to which you’ve been saying, “This is not good.” Why not invite the Lord into your situation and trust in His timing and ultimate sovereignty to bring about His good and glorious results?
                Dear Heavenly Father, We face many difficult and troublesome moments in this life. When understanding escapes us, and even when our heart fails us, we trust in your steadfast power and wisdom to cause your good purposes to come about. 

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

Are You Bull-Headed?”

            I grew up on a cattle farm in Southwest Pennsylvania.  Along with an assortment of other farm animals we normally had around 150-175 head of beef cattle. My job as a kid was to go out daily to count and feed the cattle and make sure none of them had wondered off.  Consequently I spent a lot of time in the fields looking for strays and runaways.  I really didn’t mind the task that much because of the love I have for the outdoors.  Looking for lost cows gave me an excuse to go exploring along all the creeks and valleys that made up a good portion of the farm.  (Often I’d go looking for runaways even when they weren’t lost!) 

            Now you might wonder how a cow gets lost.  From my experience there were two primary ways.  One way involved the hungry careless cow.  This cow starts nibbling on a tuft of green grass, and when it finishes, it looks ahead to the next tuft of green grass and starts nibbling on that one, and then it nibbles on a tuft of grass right next to a hole in the fence. It then sees another tuft of green grass on the other side of the fence, so it nibbles on that one and then goes on to the next tuft. The next thing you know, the cow has nibbled itself into being lost. There was no real intentionality to it. Those cows were just thoughtless, focusing only on the desire to satisfy their hunger. The lesson I learned from those animals was, “Pay very close attention to that which you are nibbling upon!” 

            The other lesson on “lostness” involved a particular bull we had.  Every couple of years or so we would purchase a new bull to keep the blood line of the herd fresh. One such purchase was a huge brute of an animal.  His size often intimidated me but he was actually a gentle animal, but often very determined to visit potential girlfriends on neighboring farms. There were many times I would have to take a rope and escort him back from one of his visits after getting a phone call from an upset farmer.  Now how would he get out?  He would simply walk from post to post and just lean into it.  If the post held firm he would move on to the next one.  He would keep this up until he found a post that had a little give to it.  At that point he would press his weight into it, knocking the post over and off he would go. His “getting lost” involved a great deal of intentionality.  In this case “nibbling” wasn’t the issue. It was a determination to violate the boundary line that resulted in him being in a place where he didn’t belong.

            In the passage above James is teaching about how human beings often end up in a place where they don’t belong.  The first thing he teaches is we’ve got to be honest about the issue of temptation in our lives.  “When tempted no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’  For God cannot be tempted by evil nor does he tempt anyone”   How are you at accepting responsibility for your actions? When you do something wrong do you admit it, or do you blame someone else?  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone rationalizing sin by saying something like, “Well I guess this is just the way God made me, so it must be OK.”  Where does that line of thinking come from?  It comes from living in a no-fault society.  If I get a bad grade on my report card, it’s not my fault. It’s the teacher’s fault because she taught poorly or graded improperly.  If I lose my temper it’s because you made me lose my temper.  If I have a character flaw, it’s not my fault. It’s my parents fault for raising me like they did. Everyone is playing the Blame Game. There is an epidemic in our society of people failing to take responsibility for their actions, and inactions.  No matter how many people say, “It’s not my fault that I am acting this way.” it just doesn’t square with the truth of the Bible. It never has.  It never will. If you’re going to step across the fence line, please don’t be so bull-headed as to blame it on God or anyone else.  At least be honest enough to admit that you are the only one responsible for your wonderings.
            James teaches that temptation is really an internal issue – not an external one. “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”   It’s important to James that we understand that giving in to temptation is not a result of our culture or the environment in which we live or the people around us. Temptation is something that comes from within us.  He says that the source of temptation is our own evil desire.  He places the responsibility for temptation squarely on the individual. The cattle on our farm couldn’t blame their “lostness” on anyone.  They got lost either because they carelessly nibbled themselves into being lost or they stubbornly pushed past the boundary.  But they were lost because of their own desires. 

            James also wants us to understand that temptation always follows a predictable pattern.  It starts off with desire: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desiresIt moves on to deception: “He is dragged away and enticed   It grows into disobedience; “Then after desire has conceived it gives birth to sin.”  It results in death; “Sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  His point is, “Don’t be deceived. The grass is never greener on the other side of the fence and the price tag will always be higher than you expected to pay.”  Temptation does not deliver what it promises.  Once you step across the line you will find yourself facing another desire and then another one.  You’ll get further and further away from the God who created you and the people who love you and one day find yourself longing to find the way back home. Don’t be bull-headed.  When you’re standing at the fence line facing temptation, be content with the boundaries God has set and don’t step across that line.    

            Now if you’re wondering whatever happened to that persistent bull that refused to honor the fence line? Well we finally got tired of chasing him all over God’s green earth. So one fine fall day we invited him home to dinner.  And to tell you the truth, I think I enjoyed the dinners we had with him as much as the time I spent looking for him after he broke through all those fence lines.  Don’t be so bull-headed that you fail to realize that there is always a penalty attached when you refuse to honor a boundary.   Be honest with God and with yourself.  Recognize the danger hidden within every temptation. Ask God to give you strength to turn away from your wondering astray – and receive the refreshing forgiveness that comes from the Throne of Grace.
Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it. Seal it for thy courts above.

April 27, 2018

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”   (Romans 1:16-17)

“By Faith – From First to Last”

            If you know anything about modern helicopters, you’ll recognize the name Igor Sikorsky. Growing up in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, he was told by his parents that man would never fly—it was impossible. But after the Wright Brothers disproved that theory, Sikorsky dreamed of an aircraft that could take off and land vertically. He built his first helicopter in 1909 at the age of 20. He eventually moved to America and established a helicopter factory. Igor Sikorsky died in 1972, but today, Sikorsky helicopters are the fastest, finest helicopters flying in the world. They supply most of the helicopters for the U.S. Armed Forces including Marine One, which shuttles the President of the United States. When Sikorsky opened his first plant in America he posted a sign in the factory that read: “According to recognized aero-technical tests, it’s impossible for a bumblebee to fly because of the shape and weight of his body in relation to the total wing area. The bumblebee doesn’t know this, so he goes ahead and flies anyway. The word ‘impossible’ means nothing!”

            From the very beginning to the very end, the Bible is a book designed to teach us how to live by faith in God.  If you look at the beginning chapters of the book you soon learn that our ancestors failed the first test of faith.  Rather than believing what God said to them, they choose to trust what they could reason with their own minds.  Satan tempted our original parents into believing that God was not as trustworthy as they knew Him to be.  As a result, Adam and Eve choose to follow faithless Satan rather than our faithful God. They reasoned that it was better for them to reject God’s provision and to live life according to their own understandings.  The result was devastating.  As a consequence of their faithlessness, their close relationship with God was ruined.  It’s almost inconceivable that Adam and Eve found it impossible to trust God in such a perfect place as Eden.  And yet that is exactly what happened. 

            And when you go to the very end of the book you find the same attitude.  In Revelation chapter 20, after the thousand year millennial reign of Christ upon the earth, the Bible tells us that Satan is released for a short time upon the earth.  And once again, incredible as it sounds, there are those who still refuse to live by faith in God.  Once again there is the deception that God cannot be trusted and a great rebellion takes place.  Once again, the consequences are devastating to the ungodly who cannot grasp this one fundamental truth of Scripture – the righteous live by faith. 

            What is it that makes “walking by faith and not by sight” so very difficult for so many people?  Why must people insist that trusting God for what we cannot see with our eyes is impossible?

            For the believer, there is no other choice to be made.  If we are truly convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, that He rose from the dead conquering sin and death on our behalf, that He always has our best interest in mind – that His word is truth no matter what the critics may say – that He sovereignly directs human history – that His eye is on the sparrow – that He always keeps his promises – that He is unstoppable, immovable, invincible and unchangeable – that He sent the Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing that there is more to follow – that He’s given us an inheritance that can never spoil or fade – that we are heirs and co-heirs with Jesus himself – that no force in heaven or on earth can snatch us from His hand – that He is a Good Shepherd who knows how to provide for and protect his sheep – that He always loves His bride and will ultimately present her spotless and without wrinkle – that He promises to reward those who seek His faith – and that He has declared that without faith it is impossible to please Him … If these things are true – then there is no other choice but to trust God for the impossible!

            In the beginning there were those who flunked the faith test.  In the end there will be more who will fail the faith test.  What about you?  You are an “in-betweener.”  You are neither at the beginning nor are you at the end.  God has shown to us both the “beginners” and the “enders” so that the “in-betweeners” don’t make the same mistake of not walking by faith. 

            How will the “in-betweeners do?”  See, that’s what our lives are all about. When God tests your faith, will you trust Him beyond what your eyes can see or will you ignore everything He has taught us about His character and His actions towards us?

            Will you say it is impossible to believe how God can come through for us in these difficult days?  Or will you believe that our great big God has great big plans for those who live by faith?  What will your test results be?  Pass? or Fail?

            O Ye of little faith – learn a lesson from the bumblebee … there is no such thing as impossible.  From the first to the last we are called to walk by faith – not by sight.  Whatever challenge God has called you to face, don’t dishonor him by responding to it by what you can figure out with your own mind.  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  (Prov. 3: 5-6)

Dear Lord,
You are so much more than glorious!  Because of your glory, your love, and your faithfulness we gladly walk by faith – from first to last.