Opt Out of the Fear Prison

“So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” (Acts 12:5)

It’s hard to escape the reality of the news these days. The world around us seems so out of control. Even close to home I sense the stress of a broken society. It’s reflected in our abandoned value systems where we once cherished character traits such as honesty, truthfulness, and honor in our word to one another, along with commitment to respect those in authority over us, whether at work, school or even in our homes. We have become disconnected from a system of values that were ultimately founded upon God’s principles for successful living.

We instinctively sense and the scriptures confirm that “God is not a God of disorder,” so when things are in disorder and disarray we know something is very wrong. Scriptures tell us that when individuals care more about themselves, abandoning Gods values in favor of pursuing self through envy and selfish ambition, “then we find disorder.” (1 Corinthians 14:33, James 3:16)

Such disorder leads to fear, which drives its own set of unhealthy behaviors that are manifested and reflected all around us.

Fear is an interesting topic. There are different kinds of fears in life, and not all fears are bad. Some fears are about the physical world we live in; fear of fire, heights etc. When viewed in context I would characterize these as “safety fears.” They remind us to respect the physical laws of our world so that we lessen the chance of hurting ourselves in our day to day living.

In the spiritual realm there’s something I describe as “reverent fear,” it’s a respectful fear of God, acknowledging His vast creative and saving power in our lives. This type of fear is one that helps us recognize God’s role in our lives, it reminds us of our total dependency upon God’s grace and provision for everything, even the very breath we take.

Then there is what I would call “foreboding fear.” This type of fear is the fear of an unknown, a dread of impending or possible distress or misfortune that might befall us in the future. It’s often founded and reflective of many underlying and deep personal fears within ourselves. It builds until it’s resolved, and until it is resolved, it can grow and become a paralyzing fear. It’s the kind of fear that can isolate us from those around us. It’s also the kind of fear that if left unchecked can take over and overshadow any joy that we might have in our lives.

This kind of fear is a type that the Evil One would desire believers to embrace, because it signifies that our reliance and confidence in the Lord has been replaced by the temporal concerns of this life, even if those concerns are of a great value and weight.

The Apostle Peter faced such fears. He and many others had been rounded up by the government because of their faith in Christ. (Acts 12:1-19)  King Herod saw that the popular religious leaders reacted favorably to the arrest of James, brother of John, and so he had Peter arrested as well.

Peter found himself in prison, alone with his fears, locked and shackled with a bunch of guards to keep an eye on him until after the Passover celebration was completed. He may have been there for several days; plenty of time to think about life and how brief it might soon become.

While he was in prison his brothers and sisters in Christ were praying for him. Prayers are to bring glory to God, and He always answers our prayers, even if we may not always understand the answers at the time.

God had plans for Peter that had yet to be fulfilled. He allowed Peter to remain a prisoner right up to the last minute, until the night before his trial which would have no doubt ended poorly. That night, God sent an angel who freed Peter from prison and allowed him to escape. Not for Peter’s sake, but for the future purposes that God had in mind for His kingdom.

Peter was genuinely surprised by his escape and it was clear that he did not fully grasp what God had in store for his future.

I’ve often wondered what Peter might have been pondering while in prison. Perhaps he reflected on his trust in God for all of the past parts of his life, which included the complete and total forgiveness of his past sins. Perhaps he thought about the fact that he also trusted God for his future, when his physical body would one day die and be received by Jesus into Heaven. Hopefully after all of his pondering and thinking while he was in prison, that he concluded that even in his current state, as hopeless as it might have appeared, that he should feel the peace of trusting Jesus for the present since he had already trusted Him for his past and his future.

Of course such trust for the present can only be possible after we’ve resolved in our minds and hearts that the God we worship is big enough and powerful enough, and loves us enough to always be with us no matter what may happen in this present earthly life.

I cannot say with certainty that either I or my family will remain safe from harm’s way in this world. Even Jesus himself was not kept from death, yet in His death we now find life. But I can say with certainty that I have had to make the intentional choice to trust God for whatever future might unfold for either myself or my family.

Our walk with Jesus is a continuous journey of surrender…and surrender again, and again. Ours is to surrender the very people that we love the most. Our Heavenly Father did exactly that with His son Jesus. He surrendered that which was closest to Him, the person he loved the most. And he did that for you and me and the countless many who would come to follow Christ in the years to come.

My prayer is that the Lord would give you peace and security in your heart and mind, and that in that peace your strength and hope would be renewed.

 

The Evidence of Intimacy

“Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.’ ” – (John 11:14-15)

I first met Tony, a tall handsome man with a greying beard and the air of a wizard about him, through a small group bible study I had been leading. Our meeting ultimately led to a friendship in which we not only had the opportunity to worship together in the same church, but to also work together professionally in the same company.

Tony’s friendship and mentorship became a very influential and guiding force in my life. His wisdom, integrity, humor, and deep walk with the Lord all conspired to help me grow at many levels.

Working for the same company also afforded us the daily opportunity to get our exercise in through lunchtime walks where we would converse over all manner of topics. Over the years he would regularly challenge me both professionally and spiritually. He often shared with me the importance of living life within the framework of biblical truth with Jesus as the principle foundation.

I will always remember that fateful day when Tony shared with me during one of our walks that he had been diagnosed with cancer. He was so matter of fact about it, like it was just another topic on our daily walking agenda. From the outset he completely trusted in the Lord for whatever the outcome might be.

Over the next two years he was subjected to all sorts of treatments and surgeries. I had occasion to visit him in his home and in the hospital at times. Those visits often left me saddened as I watched the body of this once great and wise friend wasting away as the disease progressed on its relentless course.

Yet Tony’s faith in our Lord remained.

All during that period many, myself included, prayed fervently for a healing miracle from God. But none would be forthcoming.

I received the news of his passing while at work. I left my office and walked a short distance along a small trail that led to a picnic area on a lawn covered hill near our office. The area offered an overlook of the hills that surrounded the valley we were situated in.

I prayed through the tears and sorrow that befell my heart on that day. It seemed so final, yet I knew that he was in Heaven, in a far better place, but I also wondered why God had not healed such a humble and faithful servant.

I remembered in his book “If Ye Shall Ask,” that Oswald Chambers shared that God always answers our prayers. Even Jesus said; “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” ( Matthew 21:22 (ESV) )

Both were bold statements!

In the months that followed, I was in somewhat of a spiritual struggle, contrasting the words of Jesus against the reality of Tony’s death. On the surface it seemed as though God had not answered our prayers for healing.

In the end, I found myself faced with one of two possibilities:

  1. Prayer was not real, it’s just a nice vehicle to help us through some difficult times.
  2. Prayer is real and God always hears and answers our prayers.

I concluded that if one presumed that prayers were simply feel good actions on our part that served no greater purpose, then one must also conclude that God was not real, and by inference, the scriptures were not a reliable source for understanding God and his plans for humanity.

On the other hand, if God is real, and if I can trust the scriptures as reliable, then I must also presume that God’s intent in his answers must serve a higher purpose, perhaps even a purpose for which I may not fully grasp.

I worked through both possible outcomes and concluded that the evidence overwhelming supported the reality of God. Furthermore, I also knew that the reliability of the scriptures stood on very solid ground. And to be sure, I also appreciated from firsthand experience in my own life, that the God who loved me first is a personal being that desires only to give me His very best in this life.

For a time the topic of prayer and the experience I had with Tony’s death was never far from my mind. One evening as I was reading the scriptures, I came across a story about a guy named Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus.

It seemed that Lazarus was also the brother of Martha and Mary, two sisters whom Jesus had befriended during times when he and his disciples stayed in Bethany, a small village on the Eastern slope of the Mount of Olives in Judea. The village itself was about a mile and half East of Jerusalem. Even today the town is called el-Azariyeh (the place of Lazarus) by its resident Arab population.

Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem at the time he heard that his friend Lazarus had become very ill. The scriptures record that upon hearing of his friend’s condition, Jesus elected to stay in Jerusalem for an additional two days. At the end of this stay he told his disciples that Lazarus had died. But then he said; “...and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” When I read this statement I thought to myself; “what puzzling thing to say to his disciples.”

With my interest peaked, I continued to read and learned that when Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, it was revealed that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. (John 11:17) In other words, Lazarus likely died the same day that Jesus was told of his illness by the messengers sent by his sisters Martha and Mary. (John 11:3) Yet Jesus delayed his return and did not heal his friend from what would ultimately become a terminal illness.

When Jesus arrived at their home it was Martha who initially came out to meet him. Of the two sisters, Martha had a history of being the anxious one. We know this from what Luke recorded in the scriptures.

Luke noted an earlier incident when Jesus was visiting in Bethany with his disciples; evidently Martha was busy preparing and serving food while Mary was sitting around and listening to Jesus teach. (Luke 10:38-42) Martha complained to Jesus about this apparent inequity. Jesus responded by sharing that Martha should not be so troubled and should spend more time doing likewise.

After Lazarus’s death, when Martha saw Jesus arrive, her first words where not words of greetings, but words of underlying disappointment and frustration with Jesus. She told Jesus that “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Clearly she understood and believed that Jesus had the ability to heal others and knew that her brother’s death was preventable. In her defense, Martha did ultimately conclude that Jesus could bring her brother back from the dead, and Jesus confirmed that with her. But in the moment she thought that he was speaking of the end times when all believers will be resurrected in their new bodies. After affirming her belief in Jesus as the expected Messiah she alerted her sister Mary of Jesus’s arrival.

Jesus spoke with Mary and together they all walked to where the tomb containing the body of Lazarus was located. Jesus requested that the stone seal be removed and the tomb be opened. Martha, the ever anxious one, still did not understand fully what was about to happen, instead she was worried about the terrible odor that would come from the tomb should it be opened after four days. (John 11:39)

Nonetheless they did remove the stone seal. Jesus looked up and prayed to his Father and then yelled in a loud voice; “Lazarus, come out!” Immediately Lazarus came out from the tomb, with his hands and feet still wrapped in strips of linen. Jesus told those around him to “take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Many of the Jews that had come to visit Mary and Martha, and to mourn with them saw what had happened and immediately placed their faith in Jesus. They realized for the first time that He was much more than a teacher, but he was their expected Messiah!

Scriptures would later record that it would be these same Jews and others that would greet Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on that fateful Passover week prior to his crucifixion. (John 12:17) The Jews who had witnessed Lazarus being raised from the dead not only became believers, but they also spread the word to many others.

As I finished reading about this incident, I pondered how the outcome might have been different had Jesus simply healed Lazarus and not allowed him to have died. Many Jews would not have known of Christ as their Messiah. The story of Lazarus would not have been recorded in the scriptures to give us further evidence of Christ’s power over death, and the very town where the event took place would not today bear the name of Lazarus some two thousand years hence, still testifying to the power over death that Jesus demonstrated, even before his own crucifixion and resurrection that was yet to come.

I concluded that sometimes when our prayers don’t seem to be answered, that God has in fact answered them already, but His answer speaks to a higher purpose for which I may not fully appreciate or even understand in the moment. Therein lies an element of my trust and continued faith in His promises to me.

The prophet Isaiah said; “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

In the end Chambers reminded me that I must always keep in mind that prayer is to bring glory to God, and that what appears to be silence is in fact the first sign of His intimacy.

 

We’re All In Need of Adoption

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12)

I saw a picture the other day of a child posing next to a hand written sign that read “For 806 days I have shared their Love+Home…as of today I share their last name.”

It’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to go from living in the foster care system, with all of its tensions and uncertainty, to being adopted into a loving family as its newest member.

What a transformative and life changing experience!!

Gone are the days of wondering if your current family will be just another temporary place to live as you move from home to home. Gone are relationship ties that are built and then necessarily broken time and again. Gone are the needs for emotional walls of protection and the deep insecurities that develop which will no doubt have life lasting impacts.

On a personal note, I’m grateful to have lived out my childhood in the context of my birth family. In that setting I always knew how much I was loved and supported. As a child I knew that no matter what happened my parents would always love me. I grew up with siblings that to this day I am close to. We can count on each other in good times and bad.

Despite such a stable upbringing, I eventually came to realize that my wonderful earthly family was a temporary one and would not last forever. I sensed an absence in my life that I ultimately identified as spiritual in nature. Although everything around me seemed fulfilled in my life, there was this last nagging piece in my heart that had yet to be satisfied. At some point I realized that the missing element was my relationship with God.

Having grown up around the scriptures, I knew that the Bible spoke of being “children of God.” How could that be? I was already a child of my parents, what more would I need?

I remembered that the scriptures shared a story of another person that was also struggling with this concept. He was a religious leader in his day, a man by the name of Nicodemus.  One night he  secretly met with Jesus in the dead of night and asked him about his relationship with God. I was amazed, here was a devoted religious leader, an educated and intelligent person by any standards. Yet he knew the moment he had encountered Jesus that his life was in some way incomplete.

Jesus shared with him that in order for Nicodemus to have a relationship with God that he would need to be “born again.” Nicodemus didn’t understand at first, as he was already born, how could he be born once more? Jesus explained to him that it was one thing to be born to an earthly family, but entirely a different matter to be born into God’s family.

As I recalled that story from the Bible, I realized that while I might have an early family that loved me, from a spiritual perspective I was really an orphan. I was in need of adoption. The emptiness I sensed was my lack of relationship with God. The reality was simple: unless I was adopted into God’s family I would spend eternity alone and have to face life by myself.

The apostle Paul shared that making a personal decision to trust in Jesus Christ would allow me to be formally adopted into God’s eternal family. He shared that “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”( Galatians 3:26 ) He went on to say that we would “receive adoption” (Galatians 4:5 ) into  God’s family and that as His child I would no longer have to live out my life in fear or uncertainty of the future. In fact I would become  “co-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17) Wow!!!

As an adopted child of God I knew for certain that no matter what might befall me in this life, even physical death, nothing in all of creation would ever separate me from the love of God. (Romans 8:39 )

It’s a key milestone in our lives when we figure out that life is much better as a member of God’s family than by going it alone. Many choose otherwise and suffer great loneliness and lack of direction in their lives.

Good healthy families care about one another and seek to build each other up, desiring to see each member of their family succeed in this life. That’s the way it is in God’s family. Our Heavenly Father is perfect and He only wants the best for each of us. He will never let us down, even when we might think He has, He hasn’t.

If you’re awaiting adoption…you need wait no longer, the choice to surrender your life to Christ and become part of His family is entirely yours. God is present and awaits your decision, but He will never force your hand. Yours is a response to the love He has already demonstrated to you through His Son Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2016

Mr. Fish

“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10 (NIV))

When our kids were young we would take them to the local County Fair which arrived for about two weeks each Summer.  They loved the fair and would enjoy the rides, the food, and all the fun activities.

Many of the fair booths would offer prizes to kids for succeeding in certain events, such as tossing a small ball into a hoop, or coins into bottles and bowls.

On one occasion, my son won a goldfish.

We had little hope that this “Fair fish” would survive for long, it looked rather skinny and listed to one side. Nonetheless, our daughter set out with great determination to ensure that her little brother’s fish would survive. We started by locating a large fishbowl that had been purchased at a garage sale some years before. After a trip to the pet store, we had an inexpensive air pump, fish food pellets, and some water conditioner in hand.

For the first week or so our Fair fish seemed to remain somewhat on the fence about survival, but then it suddenly seemed to take to its new home. Each morning he got a few pellets of food and he continued to thrive. In time he matured into a large handsome and very bright orange fish.

Days became weeks, months passed and then years.  Our Fair fish is now over seven years old and is as healthy as ever. Somehow over the years I became his de facto caretaker. Mr. Fish resides in our kitchen on the counter, his bowl only a few feet from our coffee pot.

Each morning as I pour my first cup of java, Mr. Fish slurps the top of the water in his bowl loudly and splashes his tail to remind me that it’s also mealtime for him. I obligingly drop in several pellets of food, which he hungrily devours. He spends the rest of his day poking around his bowl looking for anything that he may have been missed in the morning.

Periodically his bowl needed to be changed with fresh clean water. This used to be a process whereby I would chase the poor guy around the bowl with a fish net, and then transfer him with a plop into a  small temporary fish bowl (Actually a small plastic food storage container) until I finished cleaning his bowl.

Over the years however, this entire process became much less traumatic. In time there developed this unspoken trust, that when I needed to clean his bowl, all I needed to do was to gently cradle Mr. Fish in my hand, lift him out of his bowl, and place him in his little container until the cleaning was done. Once his home was cleaned and ready to occupy again, I would do the reverse and put him back into his bowl.

During this transfer activity, Mr. Fish remains extraordinary still and at peace as I make the quick, but smooth transfer from one environment to the other. Any normal fish would have every reason to be frantic, because absent the environment of his water, he is totally helpless. He can’t breathe, he can’t swim about, and it’s all about trusting that I’m not going to harm him in the process while I clean his home so that he remains healthy and strong.

One morning as I was having my coffee and watching Mr. Fish I found myself thinking about matters of trust and how rare real trust actually is.

Life for you and I offers many of its own challenges. We have every reason to find little trust in anything or anyone. Our news is filled daily with horrible stories of people taking advantage of one another.

Even as I look to the Bible I saw that one of Jesus’ closest and trusted disciples, Judas, traded him in for the equivalent of about six months’ pay.

What exactly is “trust” anyway?

In the context of relationships, the word trust means to have complete certainty when it comes to the character, ability, strength or the truthfulness of an individual. The reality is, no matter how well meaning, there’s no human being that we can hold with complete trust. That’s because the Bible tells us that all of humanity simply falls short, (Romans 3:23) we would have to be a perfect being in order to convey perfect and complete trust.

In a world of shifting values and uncertain times, where then do we anchor our trust? Over the years I have found that the only reasonable place to secure complete trust is in Jesus Christ. He has always been and will always be. (Revelation 22:13) The character and integrity of God is unchanging (Hebrews 6:17) and can be completely relied upon for all of the ages. Only Jesus possesses the character traits that have stood the test of time. He is the only one who has lived a life that is perfect and untainted by the effects of sin, a condition for which no one is immune. (Matthew 5:48)

Perhaps today as you read this you’re facing issues of trust. I don’t know what specifically they might be, but I do know this; you can trust our Lord for all of time, He is the one constant and certainty that you can reliably anchor to. He is an unmovable rock, the firm cornerstone that you can confidently build your life upon.

If you choose to follow Christ, to lay your complete trust in Him, you will also experience the peace and the joy of a deep inward satisfaction knowing that you are eternally loved by your creator. For the first time you’ll have a lasting purpose and you will know for certain that your presence in this life is not an accident, it was intentional in every respect.

Will this trusting relationship cause conflict or challenges in life to go away? Nope. But it will allow you to prevail with a hidden strength that will carry you through the storms of life with confidence and trust, knowing that the outcome of your life is in God’s loving hands.

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2016