Wednesday, October 3, 2018

"loseth Not Thy Cooleth"

By John Stallings

Be patient brethren……James 5:7

A school teacher was having a bad day. It had rained all day & her children couldn’t go out for recess.

About 2:45 she saw it was still raining & decided to go ahead & get the kids ready for dismissal. She sorted out boots & raincoats & started helping get them on.

Finally they were all ready to go, except for one little guy whose boots were just too small for his feet. There were no zippers or straps & it took every last ounce of strength she had to get them on.

When she finally did get them on she straightened up with a sigh of relief. That’s when the little boy looked down at his feet & said, “Teacher, you know what? These boots aren’t mine.”

She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry but being the good teacher she was she smiled & bravely started taking them off. And they were harder to get off than they were to get on. She yanked & tugged until finally the boots were off. That’s when the boy smiled at her & said, “They’re not mine, but they’re my sister’s, & I got to wear them today.”

That teacher may have been the one who constructed the little prayer, “Lord, I need patience & I need it now.”

Have you “lost your cooleth” lately?

I’m probably the last person who should be writing a message on patience, but like every preacher or communicator, every now & then we get to [or should I say- have to] put one out there that hits us squarely between the eyes.

Listen to Paul in Colossians 3:12
As God’s chosen ones, holy & beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility & patience.

WHAT IS PATIENCE?

When patience is mentioned in the Bible it’s talking about; perseverance, persistence, forbearance, & endurance; the ability to bear trials without grumbling & complaining, self-control, self-restraint, regardless of the circumstances.

# PATIENCE IS A SHOCK ABSORBER

I’m almost always silently praying for patience, but prayer isn’t enough. Although patience is one of the fruit of the spirit, we have to be willing to exercise it & allow it to do its perfect work in us.-James 1:4

Just about the time we think we’re safe, our patience will be tested & we’ll find out we haven’t arrived as yet. Patience takes spiritual muscle & any muscle has to be exercised to remain strong.

Sometimes it’s annoying strangers we have to absorb, like the people down the block whose dogs bark all night long; or the driver poking along at 45 mph in the left lane of the freeway. Or the person in front of us in the 15 item express line at the grocery store who puts 19 items on the belt then proceeds to chat with the checker & then argues about the bill.

Maybe it’s the person sitting behind you on the airplane that keeps coughing & sneezing to the point that you want to hold his nose & cover his mouth simultaneously or maybe ask the attendant for another seat.

Maybe you race across town for a doctor’s appointment only to cool your heals for an hour in the waiting room.

Sometimes it’s our own family. It’s our nearest & dearest who try our patience. It’s our kid who brings the car home with an empty gas tank or brings the family RV home with all manner of junk in it.

Patient people have the capacity to absorb these irritants without seizing up. Don’t get me wrong; there are times when it’s perfectly appropriate to confront individuals or situations even to seek legal justice. God never calls us to be doormats. But in order to be effective we have to be coming from a calm controlled place ourselves.

Listen to James;

Be patient therefore brethren unto the coming of the Lord. Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth & hath patience for it, until he receive the early & latter rain.

Through the years I’ve watched patient people & when possible I’ve studied them. It helps to have good role models & teachers.

# PATIENCE IS SELF-RESTRAINT


Patience doesn’t hastily retaliate against a wrong. When someone does you wrong, do you respond with patience or anger?

# PATIENCE IS THE ABILITY TO ACCEPT DELAY OR DISAPPOINTMENT GRACIOUSLY.

For some of us, that’s really tough.

# PATIENCE IS THE ABILITY TO CONTINUE TO REMAIN STEADFAST UNDER STRESS & STRAIN.

If patience is put under duress, say by a loved one you’ve spent hours with at a hospital or nursing home, the patient person will say, “This too will pass. It’s almost over. I can keep on keeping on.”

# PATIENCE IS A CALM ASSURANCE, BASED ON THE KNOWLEDGE THAT GOD IS IN CONTROL.

I’ve received more comfort from Romans 8:28 than perhaps any other Bible verse. The verse doesn’t promise us we’ll have no problems & struggles but it gives us the assurance that God will use everything that happens to us to bring about His ends which will always be beneficent.

A TEST TO SEE IF YOU’RE AN IM PATIENT PERSON

# You’re too impatient if you’ve ever left a restaurant because they took too long to wait on you.
# You’re too impatient if when reading to a child you skip a page or two to expedite the process.
# You’re too impatient if you put on make-up or a necktie while driving to work.
# You’re too impatient if you see a yellow light & you’re tendency is to accelerate instead of brake.
# You’re too impatient if you ever wanted to reconfigure the long line at the buffet.
# You’re too impatient if you’ve ever asked during a sermon, “How much longer is this windjammer going to talk?”
# You’re too impatient if you’ve ever cut through a parking lot to miss a stoplight.
# You’re too impatient if your children or grand-children think their first names are, “Come on…hurry up… & let’s move it.”

Lest you feel impatience is not a big deal, may I remind you that graveyards are full of people who would still be alive if they’d had just a few seconds more patience.

HERE ARE A FEW NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF IMPATIENCE

# We run the risk of being dissatisfied & angry with ourselves for our slow pace of growth & change.
# We in turn pass that on to others & have outbursts of temper when they are slow to change & grow.
# We “throw away” relationships, discarding people, jobs, school, or church when things aren’t working out as smoothly as we want them to.
# We waste energy fretting about how slow things are going, instead of channeling that energy toward the changes we desire.
# We lose friends because we withdraw prematurely when we don’t see quickly the results we desire.
# We ignore all the positive gains we’ve made on the road to change only concentrating on what hasn’t yet been accomplished.
# We become sour & pessimistic about life seeing the cup “half-empty” rather than “half-full.”
# We are in such a hurry that we neglect to count our blessings & see how far we’ve come.
# We burn ourselves out pursuing vain goals & chasing things that don’t exist-- like perfection.
# We finally lose the ability to reinforce any level of success or attainment discouraging ourselves & others.
# We become overwhelmed by any large task ahead of us & lose the hope & motivation to keep trying in life.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the Old Testament king Saul. Early on when he was fighting the Philistine army the prophet of God- Samuel told Saul to wait for him at a place called Gilgal. But Saul got impatient at the end of seven days & took it upon himself to offer burnt offerings to God. At that very moment Samuel appeared & confronted him with his defiance.

If the king of Israel would not obey the God of Israel what hope could there be for the nation? Saul was distrusting the Lord at a time of national danger as though God were not as interested in preserving the people as he. At the end of the day, it was Saul’s impatience that made him unfit to be king.

LET’S LOOK AT PATIENCE ANOTHER WAY

Does being patient mean we have to be calm cool & collected all the time? Does being patient mean I’m not allowed to be sad or upset when nothing seems to be happening? If I’m “waiting on the Lord” does that mean I can’t be proactive in the pursuit of my dreams & goals?

The more I’ve learned about patience, the more I’ve realized that patience isn’t a singular item we must cultivate. As a matter of fact it seems to me that patience doesn’t stand alone as though separate from the other virtues. I’ve seen patience as something that, somewhat like happiness comes & lights on our shoulder when we’re doing some other things right.

In the pursuit of Christ likeness, we are learning to be kind to others & when we’re kind & loving, we’re also learning to be patient with others. When we are learning self-control, we’re also learning faithfulness, & so it goes. In Galatians 5:22-23, we see the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….”

Notice it says the “fruit” of the Spirit rather than the “fruits.” In the end, I think patience is having full confidence in God’s timing & waiting on His will to be fulfilled rather than jumping ahead of the game or going directly against His will. We may have times of anguish & we may be hurting during the long wait but while we’re waiting we’re also learning other lessons about God & cultivating other virtues.

DEVELOPING PATIENCE ISN'T EASY

Let’s face it; we weren’t born patient, were we? If a baby wakes up in the middle of the night hungry or with a wet diaper, it doesn’t lie there & think, “I know mom & dad are tired so I’ll just wait until a more convenient time to let them know I need to eat or I need a dry diaper.” Nope! That baby cries bloody murder until it gets the attention it demands.

Impatience reached its zenith recently in a Long Island Wal-mart when at 5 A.M in the morning several hundred adults broke the doors down in a stampede to avail themselves of a sale to buy Flat-screen TVs. In the process they trampled on & killed a guard at the door, never stopping to check to see if he was seriously injured.

America has become an angry, tense, anxious, impatient nation. You see it at work. You see it in school & you see it on the hi-ways. We don’t live in a relaxed culture & it takes a toll on us. Have you ever seen someone so uptight their shoulders are up around their ears? I’m sure they didn’t start the day out like that but society has just worn them out by days end. I’ve been to many other countries & there’s a different lifestyle. People are more laid back. Whatever happens-happens.

Another thing I see is that we have convinced ourselves that impatience is a virtue. I hear folk say “I may be impatient but I get the job done.” We like hard-charging “type A” personalities.

The Bible says- A patient man has great understanding but a quick-tempered man displays folly. Proverbs 14:29

A hot-tempered man stirs up dissention but a patient man calms a quarrel. Proverbs 15:18

We live in a day when there are more nervous breakdowns than at any other time in history. The other day I heard on the news about a pilot who actually had a breakdown right in the cockpit & had to be forcibly subdued. I know that wasn’t a pretty sight to see. If I’m not mistaken one of the female flight attendants had to help land the plane. People can just be overwhelmed with a sense of impending doom.

The Sabbath day was God’s idea- a day to worship & rest. Our bodies need it, & our spirits need it. Sometimes we just need to take a walk or spend some time in the park, or leave your credit cards at home & go to the Mall. Watch people, watch children play & listen to the birds sing. Read a book, plant a flower & watch it grow. And it helps to remind ourselves that Paul said, -- God, who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

Isaiah also reminds us—But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like Eagles………Isaiah 40:31

David said; I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined unto me & heard my prayer. He brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, & set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. Psalm 40:1-2

As we approach Christmas, the pace of life will pick up & we’ll see the “rat race” & the rats will probably win. Let me suggest a few practical things that will help us enjoy the season more.

1. Declare a moratorium on horn blowing unless it’s absolutely necessary.
2. Eat your food slowly & enjoy every meal even if it’s just a sandwich.
3. Stand in the longest check-out line & discipline yourself to keep a pleasant attitude.
4. Go through one day without looking at your watch or using your cell phone.
5. I was going to say, don’t even check your email but I just couldn’t get myself to type those words.
6. Remember how patient God is with us. We keep messing up yet His patience never wavers.
7. “Be Cooleth.”

Finally, it helps to keep our eyes on Jesus. I hope you don’t feel I’m trying to give a few slick answers or remedies to impatience, like “Forty days to a more patient you.” While learning some practical steps can be helpful, we’re talking here about something far deeper. We’re talking about developing a Christ-like character.

We might as well accept the fact that we can’t be gracious, kind & loving within ourselves. We need God’s help to do that. We become more like Christ by thinking less about our own desires & focusing on the Lord Jesus.

When you & I look at Jesus on the cross, we see Him not just absorbing a few minor annoyances, but absorbing the accumulated evil of the whole world, thereby breaking the cycle of retaliation & vengeance in which this world is trapped.

The more I study & learn about Jesus, the more the irritations & annoyances that bug me don’t seem quite so bad.

The main reason God has kept back the tidal wave of destruction that will eventually engulf this world is His desire to see people repent & come to Him.

The Lord is not slow in keeping His promises as some understand slowness. He is PATIENT with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.—11 Peter 3:9

Blessings,

John

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Rejection 101

By John Stallings


Rejection has a way of destroying a person’s life in a way that few other things can.

The sad fact is that the number of people who’re affected by rejection is staggering. If we want all God has created us to be then overcoming rejection and its affects is vital and absolutely essential.

I can tell you that spirits of rejection are among some of the most common areas of attack in our time and almost everyone is affected by it to some degree. We must constantly be on guard in this area because there’s no more brutal weapon in Satan’s arsenal than rejection.

When rejection is kept at a distance, like when we see a sports team lose on a field of play, or someone else getting a rejection slip on their job, or the scenes of hatred and war on television, or a family having their lives ripped apart in the newspaper, or a leader resigning in disgrace with a faithful spouse standing nearby, rejection seems…at a distance.

But rejection isn’t an abstract concept when you watch someone you love being rejected, or when you receive a pink slip of your own, or when you receive a rejection slip from a publisher who didn’t like the book, poem or song you sent for their appraisal. Then rejection is no longer at a distant but very immediate. Rejection is the gut-wrenching fire of immediacy…it’s the ache that never completely goes away… the pain that sits on your shoulder when a sad song is played and changes your taste in music at least temporarily, no matter how long ago it occurred. Rejection is strong stuff.

Being a songwriter since the age of sixteen, I am on speaking terms with rejection. I can’t count the times my songwriting efforts have been ripped apart, by those who were in a position to say yes or no concerning a song I’d just written. Don’t get me started.

Recently a teenage girl committed suicide because the kids at school had placed some sort of lewd material or statements about her on the internet. I’m not minimizing the impact of this sort of thing especially on a teenage girl but obviously she chose a long term answer to fix a short term problem.

Several years ago a Major league baseball pitcher threw one bad pitch and caused his team to lose the league championship. When he pondered over what that loss meant to him and his friends over a month or two the disappointment with himself caused him to end his life.

I’ve known young children who could miss one question on a test or make a lower grade than they usually make on a course of study to cry and be so shaken they literally got physically ill. In my opinion, all the above cases stem from rejection of some sort, real or perceived.

Why does rejection wound us so deeply? Because it attacks the very person that we are. It destroys our self-esteem, who we are and our purpose in life. That’s why one of Satan’s most common tools is rejection. God never wanted us to feel rejected or abandoned. He desires for us to know who we are in Him and how deeply He loves us. If we get this down in our spirit we can experience the fullness of what God has ordained us to be.


THE FRUIT OF REJECTION
Many people who’ve faced rejection as a child grow up with unresolved emotional wounds. These wounds if not cleansed will fester into spiritual wounds such as unforgiveness, envy, blaming God, jealousy, etc. This opens us up to areas of attack and satanic invasion. The goal of the enemy is to put so much “junk in our trunk” that we can’t function in a normal way. Some of the most common symptoms of rejection include;

• Rebellion-in both children and adults.
• Trying to be someone you’re not -to be accepted.
• The tendency to reject others first before they can reject you.
• Always wondering if others accept you.
• Self-pity or the poor me attitude.
• The inability to be corrected, or receive constructive criticism.
• A sense of pride that says-“How dare they reject me!”
• Extremely opinionated with a ferocious need to be right.
• Feelings of worthlessness, insecurity or hopelessness.
• Approval seeking behavior or basing identity on what people think of you.
• Envy, jealousy and even hate can be rooted in rejection.
• Fear of confrontation because your identity is based on people’s opinion of you.

Obstinacy and stubbornness are usually rooted in rejection.


PERCEIVED REJECTION

Perceived rejection is when a person only thinks they’re being rejected and really aren’t. “Why is that person not coming over here and talking to me?” The individual may not be rejecting you but at the time is feeling shy about stepping out and meeting you or anyone else for that matter. It doesn’t matter to the Devil whether we’re really rejected as long as it appears that we are because his evil plan is to make us feel rejected.

A person who feels like God is mad with them usually has rejection issues. It’s very common to meet people who feel God has rejected them.

In 1 Samuel 18:7-11 we read of the incident where the women of Israel are singing-“Saul has killed his thousands but David has killed his ten thousands.”
Saul got so agitated that he threw a javelin at David almost hitting him. Here’s some ugly fruit that all started with rejection. It wasn’t actually the rejection but rather Saul’s reaction to the rejection.

Think of this; we don’t actually know if what the women were saying was true. You would have expected that a man like King Saul who stood head and shoulders above David or anyone else for that matter would have had a larger spirit than he had. This lifts the lid on the monster of rejection, what it’s designed by Satan to do, and its horrendous aftermath.

MISPLACED IDENTITY
When you and I base our identity on somebody or something other then what God’s Word has to say about us, we become vulnerable to the damage of rejection. If a child bases their identity on what teachers, parents or friends think of them, this sets them up for Performance Orientation bondages later in life, because their parents give them conditional love based on their grades or performances. Anytime we look to others or even ourselves for our true identity we’re setting ourselves up to determine what only God is qualified to do. It’s absolutely vital for us to have a close walk with God as we were never meant to live apart from Him or base our identity and worth on the things of this world.

DYNAMICS OF REJECTION

The closer a person is to you the deeper their rejection can hurt you. Authority figures can deeply wound you because you look up to them and admire them. Parents often pass rejection to their children when they say things like “I’ll love you when you get good grades.” Conditional love causes feelings of rejection and can result in an unhealthy drivenness.

Here’s another kicker; whether you love or hate a person doesn’t immune you from rejection. You could literally want to kill somebody but still be affected by their rejection. The question is, are you looking to them for approval? Does their approval of you give your life meaning and purpose? If so, now we’re on dangerously thin ice.

A person’s age also has a lot to do with their vulnerability to rejection. Children are especially vulnerable to the damage of rejection because they’re still developing their identity and learning about who they are. More damage than we realize is done by peers in school. Either you’re too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny, you have brown eyes when you should have blue eyes…you name it and kids will pick on it. Insecure children can be very cruel and damage other children through rejection.

It’s possible to receive rejection from a child or even a grandchild. Nobody is immune, providing that they are basing their identity on what the other person thinks of them. You can be 100 years old and be damaged by the rejection of a caretaker.

EXACTLY WHAT DOES GOD TELL US ABOUT WHO WE ARE?
If we’re rooted and grounded in God’s Word we become virtually immune from the ravages and hurtful effects of rejection.

The opposite of rejection is acceptance. The Word of God says we are “accepted in the beloved.”….. One thing is sure, God says He’ll never leave or forsake us so we can be sure we’ll never face rejection coming from Him. I feel better already don’t you? Listen to these verses telling you who you are and what you have In Christ:

You are a child of God – one of His favorites – John 1:12
You are seated in heavenly places with Christ – Ephesians 2:6
You have inherited all things with Him – Ephesians 1:17-18
You are more than a conqueror in Him – Romans 8:37
You have the Holy Spirit of God with you – Acts 1:8
• You have the kingdom of God within you – Luke 17:21
• You have the mind of Christ – 1 Corinthians 2:16
• You are partakers of the divine nature – 2 Peter 1:4
• You always triumph in Christ – 2 Corinthians 2:14
• Because of His great love for us we’re adopted into God’s family. Romans 8:17.
*We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. Ephesians 1:3
*We are the righteousness of Christ through faith, thus being made right before God. Romans 3:22
*We are entitled to a clean conscience before God because of the blood and we can have full assurance when we go before Him. Hebrews 10:22
*Our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west. Psalms 103:12
*God Himself has chosen not to remember our failures. Hebrews 8:12
*We are loved with the same love that the father has for Jesus Himself! John 17:23

We could go on and on here because the Word of God is so rich and powerful in helping us define who we are in Christ.

Listen to this verse; When my father and my mother forsake me. Then the Lord will take me up. Psalms 27:10

WE’RE NOT GOING TO SETTLE REJECTION ISSUES UNTIL WE GET IT DOWN IN OUR SPIRITS THAT WE ARE ACCEPTED, LOVED, AND APPRECIATED BY GOD.
Religion in general tends to paint God as cold, distant and impersonal. This is why bringing our relationship with God into proper perspective is such a vital step in the process of overcoming the strongholds of rejection.

Tearing apart the devil’s power of rejection is as simple as receiving with childlike faith what God’s Word says about our identity in Christ; that we are called to life, purpose and meaning in Him.

Make no mistake, intentional rejection as we’ve already stated is emotional abuse in its most simple form. It wounds a person’s spirit sometimes slightly other times wounds can be deep and very painful. These wounds must be healed and in my opinion this can only be accomplished as we correct our identity and start seeing who we are in Christ, and the person he has designed us to be.

One thing I'd suggest would be that you print out a list of Bible verses which speak of who you are in Christ. These are incredible tools to help renew your mind and defeat rejection.

COMING FULL CIRCLE

There must be awareness that just as we can be victims of rejection, unless we’re vigilant we can do a little rejecting ourselves. You see, it works both ways. We have to have an honest introspection asking ourselves, do we reject people? It goes back to what Jesus said about seeing the speck in our neighbor’s eye when we have a big log in our own eye .Then we have to be completely honest asking ourselves if we enjoy tweaking someone’s nose from time to time. In all probability that will have to stop unless we’re absolutely sure we’re not hiding sadistic zingers in our comments. Also, do we have a forgiving heart for those who’ve hurt us?

God has asked me “How is your heart towards those who’ve rejected you?” Forgiving the person or persons who’ve rejected you is a vital step in Rejection 101. If we want God’s help in this process then unforgiveness isn’t an option.

Maybe, just maybe you’ll have to “forgive God” for “giving me this nose, or this short body.” I’ve struggled with God at times because I felt he was just too hard to please. But I know that little number was laid on me by religion [as opposed to a relationship] and the bondages that come with it.

Even Jesus was rejected. Isaiah 53:3 says that “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hid their faces, he was despised and we esteemed Him not.
Jesus didn’t take on Himself the responsibility of what people thought of Him. He just moved on and lived His life, doing what The Father sent Him to do. Jesus lived His life with an audience of one, His Father and that’s what you and I must do.

Over one hundred years ago there lived a young preacher named G. Campbell Morgan. In 1888 he was one out of 150 men trying to be ordained in the Methodist church. He passed the doctrinal exams but when he faced his trail sermon before 1,000 people he “bit the proverbial dust.” He flopped.

He wired home to his father only one word, “Rejected.” The next day his wise old dad wrote back, “Rejected on earth. Accepted in heaven.” G.Campbell Morgan went on to become one of the greatest preachers of the past century.

Don’t worry about the devil. Don’t worry about what critics say. Worry only about what God says. He said He’d never leave or forsake you.

I love the story about the dog that got onto a baseball field during an important game. The players tried to catch the dog but it just couldn’t be done. People were starting to realize that unless the dog was removed the game couldn’t go on. Then the people in the audience got in on the fun.

The people in the packed northern bleachers started whistling, and the dog started running toward the north part of the field. Then they stopped and the people sitting in the south bleachers started whistling, and the dog started running south. The same thing happened in the western and eastern bleachers. Finally in frustration the dog went out into center field, sat down, and lifted his ears seeming to bask in all the noise.

An announcer came on the speakers telling the people to please be quiet, that-unless the dog heard a dominate voice; he’d never get off the field.

You and I live in a world of ten-thousand voices, some are family, some are job related, there are media voices and some are just people who don’t like us very much.

The victory of our lives will not be in the opinions of others but in our determination to make God’s voice the dominate one in our lives, having a keen listening ear to God who has called us to life, purpose and meaning in Him.


Blessings,


John

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Faith Interrupted

By John Stallings


Lord I believe, help me with my doubts. Mark 9:16-The Message


A young boy was riding home in the family car after Sunday school & church. 

The parents asked the boy what he’d heard that morning in Sunday school class. The boy said, “It was cool, Moses crept behind enemy lines & sneaked his people under barbed wire & past the searchlights out into the desert. They got stuck at the Red Sea & it looked like they were gonna get captured by the Egyptians & their tanks. So Moses ordered the engineering corps to build a pontoon bridge across the sea. When the tanks started after them, Moses called in an air strike & jet fighters flew down with smart bombs & killed only the bad guys.”

“Is that really what your teacher told you?” asked the father?
“No,” says the boy. “But you’d never believe what the teacher said.”

Let’s face it. When it comes to faith, many times we can have troubling questions & not as many absolute answers as we’d like. I’ve had folk to ask me if I ever had doubts. Truth be told, I hardly ever have a day to pass without a doubt or question coming into my mind. Frankly I don’t see how anyone can be a Christian & not have doubts from time to time. Faith requires doubt in order to be faith. If you come to a place where all your doubts are gone, you’ll know you’re in heaven.

This is one of the best kept secrets in Christianity; we all have doubts along the way. But doubts can be healthy. They can often be a catalyst to new spiritual growth. Without bogging down here, let me explain that there’s a difference in doubt & unbelief. Unbelief is the opposite of faith while doubt refers to inner uncertainty.

BOY POSSESSED BY DEMON

One day Jesus & His disciples came upon a man who had a sick son. The boy had a demon spirit that would sometimes throw him on the ground foaming at the mouth like an epileptic. The father said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have pity on us & help us.” Jesus answered, “What do you mean if I am able. All things are possible with God.” The man replied, “Yes I believe, but help my unbelief.”

Many people think demonic possession is a myth but I disagree. It seems that there are two extremes; people who don’t believe in demons & people who see two demons behind every coffee pot. I can tell you that the sight of it is disturbing & the sounds that come out of a demon possessed person’s mouth are exceedingly & unhealthily disturbing. I’ve witnessed it. Yes demons are real because Jesus had to deal with them on many occasions. To deny this is to call Jesus a liar.

However as Christians we don’t have to be afraid of the devil, for the greater one lives in us. A demon possessed Christian is a contradiction in terms. Christ & Satan can’t & wouldn’t reside in the same person.

Christ’s disciples had tried to heal this boy but failed. Jesus explained to them that they’d forgotten to pray because some things are only accomplished through prayer & fasting.

Recently I was reading a book of sermons written by a man who has had a presence on national radio & T.V for years. I was somewhat surprised to hear him tell of being confronted with a demon-possessed man who came into his church office tipping over steel desks & throwing furniture around like match sticks. He said, “I knew the man was devil possessed because of his strength. However, I also knew the days of miracles were over so I didn’t take any chances, I called 911.”

I’d be interested in having that good brother give me the date when miracles ceased but I already know the date. It was when people ceased to have faith in a miracle working God. When someone tells me they don’t believe in divine healing I usually say, - “well don’t worry about healing. It isn’t for you anyway, it’s for believers. If you don’t believe in healing, you won’t be bothered with it.” Nothing is impossible when we believe God.

You’ve probably heard someone say at some point that God doesn’t ask us to put our brain on the shelf when we follow Him. That’s true in one sense. There’s plenty of proof available to validate the claims of the Bible. I happen to believe that nowhere does the Bible contradict itself or tell us things about people & places that run counter to scientific [or science-so-called-] findings. I believe in the “inerrancy of the Bible,”i.e, I don’t believe there are errors in The Word of God. Not one tiny error. There are many things we may not understand, but zero errors.

Some people say, “The Bible contradicts itself.” I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to chase down some of these contradictions. However I’ve learned unequivocally that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself; it does however contradict us. This doesn’t mean I have full understanding of all things spiritual. On many things I wait patiently to possess full knowledge, knowing it will take another world to reveal it all.

Author John Bunyan in his classic Christian book Pilgrim’s Progress deals with the adversaries Christians have to overcome. There’s a castle called “Doubting castle” & the owner is “Giant Despair.” As we journey down this road called faith there are ditches of doubt. During these times we may feel we’re walking through the valley of darkness Isaiah talks about in Isaiah 50:10; he says according to The Message;

Who out there fears God,
Actually listens to the voice of His servant?
For anyone out there who doesn’t know where you’re going,
Anyone groping in the dark,
Here’s what: Trust in God,
Lean on your God.



“AWAITING FURTHER LIGHT”

When I was in Bible College, one of my teachers said something that made a lasting impact on me. He said; if you’re ever troubled by a doubt or some question of faith for which there doesn’t seem to be a satisfying answer, tuck it away in a drawer labeled “Awaiting further light.” He continued,- we might open the drawer now & then & think about this or that but if the answer hasn’t come, close the drawer & keep waiting for further light to come & illuminate the truth. This keeps us from “freezing” in doubt or impugning God’s Word just because we as yet don’t have full revelation.

The teacher added -because he knew he was teaching young aspiring preachers, never, never share with others the areas where we were “awaiting further light.” “Tell them what you know.” If we share from our “awaiting further light” file we’ll get the folk as confused as we are. How right he was.

I’ve heard Billy Graham say that he had a thousand questions for God when he gets to heaven. The Apostle Paul himself admitted that we “see through a glass darkly.” To be honest, after all these years in the ministry, well over fifty, I believe my “awaiting further light” drawer has grown larger but of course the questions & answers I seek aren’t the same.

FIRE ANTS, FRUIT FLIES & ROACHES

Living in Florida comes with the understanding that some other of God’s small critters will co-exist with us. I was raised in Florida & from childhood can remember that if we did nothing in the way of exterminating, we’d have little creepy-crawlers on our tables, in our beds & maybe even crawling up our legs. So you have to fight them if you don’t want to live with insects. These little guys just show up in your house complete with attitudes. They get in by being born inside, wishing themselves inside or by coming through holes not visible to the human eye. They seem to feel they have every right to invade your domicile. So we do what we have to do to get rid of our pests.

Doubts are a lot like flies, ants & roaches. Doubts are “ants in the pants of faith.” They keep us alive & awake struggling to make sense of what God is up to in His great big universe. As already stated, doubts can be a catalyst for growth. I can’t say this for sure but maybe the ants & roaches are here for the same purpose.

Some people feel that even honest doubt is sinful & a symptom of weak faith or spiritual sickness. They seem to think God is in danger of disappearing because of our questions. I don’t believe that’s true. I don’t believe God is so weak that He has to be shielded from questioning. Doubt can be healthy when it’s sincere questioning, searching, probing, wondering why, & not being satisfied with conventional answers. Doubt- if it means an honest searching can be good when it leads to life, truth & knowledge.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. There’s a danger if you & I are-“ever learning & never coming to the knowledge of the truth.” As our faith grows stronger, we should come into full commitment, surrendering & entrusting our life to God.

Our faith can’t be so wishy-washy that we say, “I’m inclined to the opinion that in all probability there exists a being that may not inappropriately be called God.”You’ll remember the three Hebrew boys who were threatened by a wicked king that if they didn’t bow down & worship him, they’d be thrown into a fiery furnace. They explained to the king their faith that God would deliver them. However they added- “but if not” they wouldn’t bow down & worship him. There has to be a “but if not” clause in our faith, meaning -we’d love to have more answers, “but if not,” - if we never get them in this life, we’ll still serve God.

True faith if it’s to mean anything is the determination to walk, live & act in the light of the declared conviction that God is real & has our best interest at heart. Like the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, they didn’t merely voice the opinion that flight with a heavier-than-air machine was possible; they got in the machine & flew. Our expression to God should be; here is my life & my soul & my doubts. Please do what you can with me.

Going back to our story of the little boy possessed of a demon, with a father who had wavering faith; notice that despite the fact that the father admitted he has been wandering & stumbling through the land of doubt, despite the inner despair, despite the struggle, despite the fact that his faith was deeply intermingled with doubt, nevertheless, by grace Jesus granted this man’s request. Evidently the man’s faith mattered more to Jesus than his doubt did because Jesus didn’t even rebuke him for his unbelief.

Friend, this should be an encouragement to us, especially in difficult times. The only thing this father knew for sure was that his little boy was tormented & that Jesus could possibly help him. The words “if you can do anything to help us,” are hardly words of faith & are expressed in the clumsiest of ways but Jesus heard the words “I believe—help my unbelief.” When the man said that- he put the entire matter in the hands of Jesus, right where it belonged & Jesus didn’t let him down. Nor will He ever let us down. Jesus wasn’t looking for a reason not to work a miracle here. Conversely, He was looking for a reason to work a miracle for this boy & his family.

JOHN THE BAPTIST

John was in jail because he’d rebuked Herod for his sin. He must have been confused & frustrated because he sent messengers to Jesus asking; “are you the one who was to come or should we look for someone else?” Not to make excuses for John, but I’ve been to several jails to preach over the years & my heart has always been deeply moved by the hopelessness I felt there. In my opinion there could be no place more corrosive to faith than a prison cell. Nothing could be darker & more soul-destroying than to have your freedom taken away & to languish in a dank, dark prison cell.

Here was John; not knowing when or if he’d ever be released & he began to wonder. Initially, John must have believed that his imprisonment was part of his mission & was in the divine plan of God. But as the months passed, he started wondering about things. He probably wondered –“why am I still in prison? When is Jesus going to start the kingdom? When will I be released? Why isn’t something important happening?”

At least he asked the right question when he asked; “are you the one sent from heaven or is there someone else who will be our savior?” Again we have some encouragement here. Jesus didn’t rebuke John or put him down. He sent back the answer, “the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers are cured & the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Jesus knew John was nursing his doubts but there was no condemnation. It’s as if He was saying; “John may doubt me for now, but I don’t doubt him. He’s still my man, doubts & all.” What an incredible affirmation & what an incredible Jesus.

THOMAS

How can we talk about “Faith Interrupted” & leave Thomas out? After all, his name has become synonymous with doubt has it not? He wasn’t quick to believe Jesus had risen from the dead. Before we jump on Thomas’ back, let’s not forget something he said. In John 11: 16 when Jesus was contemplating going to the home of the now deceased Lazarus, they remembered that He had almost been stoned to death by the leaders there. Thomas said, speaking of Jesus— “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” Of course Jesus & His disciples went to visit Lazarus’ family & Lazarus was raised from the dead. Thomas was right there with them so we know he was no coward.

It takes a lot of courage to talk like Thomas did. If we read between the lines here, it just might be that Thomas, more than any of the disciples knew in his heart what was about to happen to Jesus. But when it came to believing Jesus had risen from the dead, Thomas wasn’t going to beat around the bush. He wasn’t one to accept easy answers.

Let me use a personal illustration here. Once in a while I’ll get a call or an email from some well meaning person telling me that a famous singer has recorded one of my songs. Now I’m by nature not really an optimist. Or maybe I should say I’m a “cautious optimist? Juda will say, “Isn’t that wonderful?” She’ll get all excited & almost want to get on the phone & call someone & share the news. That’s one of the things I love about her. She believes. However, I can sometimes be a “fuddy-duddy.” I’ve learned through the years that some of my dear friends don’t know a thing about music. They’ll hear a song that has “Jesus” in it & say, “I think John wrote that song.” What this has done to me over time is make me very cautious. Sometimes the person is right & very often they’re wrong. Well intentioned- but wrong.

Years ago someone called & told us Debby Boone had appeared on the Larry King show & sang one of my songs. I never watch Larry so I had to do an unbelievable amount of research only to find Debby had sung a Gospel song on the show but it wasn’t one of mine. So you can understand, it’s not that I’m a total skeptic, because lots of people have recorded my songs, but I don’t get all excited until I’m absolutely certain it’s true. Even then I don’t get too excited until I first learn if they’re going to pay royalties. [Partially kidding!] One thing for sure I’ve learned the hard way not to accept second-hand information.

Likewise, Thomas wasn’t one to accept easy answers. One incident & the way Thomas responded to it gives us valuable insight into his inner landscape. Jesus had just told the disciples about His father’s house & the many mansions there & that He was going to prepare a place for them so they could be with him. Thomas was listening very intensely to Jesus & in a moment of total honesty he asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going so how can we know the way? The rest of the disciples just listened but Thomas wanted more precise information. We all know people like that-if they don’t understand they won’t let it pass. Thomas was a thoughtful man & an independent thinker -certainly not easily stampeded. He wouldn’t make a confession of faith unless he believed it to be true. He was honest about his doubts, confusion & fears, and he wouldn’t be satisfied with second-hand answers. He’d made it clear that unless he could feel the wounds in Jesus’ side he wasn't going to accept that He was alive.

Thomas wasn’t there on that Sunday evening when Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst. We aren’t told why, but I think I know. We said earlier that Thomas probably knew in his heart more than the others that Jesus was going to be killed. If this is true, he had already entered into mourning for His Lord. He was already being hurt. He wasn’t with the disciples because his heart had been crushed. He still loves, he still cares deeply, still wants to believe but his heart is broken. He’s not a bad man nor is his doubt sinful. He isn’t a skeptic; his honest doubts came from his devotion to Christ. It’s one thing to sit in a college classroom & doubt the virgin birth of Christ. It’s something else again to lose someone you love & wonder if there is still a God in heaven.

Thomas isn’t an unbelieving skeptic, he’s a wounded believer. He was not unwilling to believe, but unable. Thomas stands for all time as one man who desperately wanted to believe if only he could be sure. This wasn’t upsetting to Jesus, not at all. We might have a tendency to look down on Thomas but not Jesus. Eight days later, Jesus appeared to the disciples a second time. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus relates to Thomas as a man with weak faith, not as a man with an evil heart. He said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand & put it into my side. Jesus knew the raging sea within Thomas’ heart & so He came so that Thomas could be sure. Jesus didn’t chide Thomas & scold him for his little faith. He said-“Go ahead, see for yourself. Stop doubting & believe.”

As far as I can see Thomas never actually touched Jesus. Seeing Him face to face more than convinced him. When Thomas saw Jesus he rises to the highest level of faith in the gospel of John as he cries out, “My Lord & my God.” Honest doubt once resolved can actually become the bedrock of unshakable faith.


IT’S WHAT WE DO WITH OUR DOUBT THAT MATTERS

Doubt can be dangerous but it can also spur enormous spiritual growth. Here are some things that can help us move from doubt to faith;

1. Admit your doubts & ask for help.

That’s what John the Baptist did & also what Thomas did. God isn’t easily offended in the area of our honest doubts. He’s got broad shoulders. Tell God your doubts & ask Him for His help. Don’t fight the battle alone. Talk to a pastor, a deacon, an elder, anyone with strong faith & godly insight.

2. Don’t be afraid to borrow some faith.

Often I do this by reading spiritual materials especially biographies of great Christians. If this doesn’t make sense to you skip this point. But if it does, keep it in mind & when you find yourself slipping into doubt, go find someone with faith & borrow some. Let them build you up. It works. Maybe next time you’ll be building them up.

3. Recognize that faith isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice.

It’s easy to believe God when everything is going good for you but when things aren’t going so well it becomes harder. This is why we must not allow fickle emotions rule our faith-life. Emotions can change overnight for no apparent reason.

4. Act on your faith, -Not your doubts.

That’s what Noah did when he built the Ark. That’s what Abraham did. It’s also what Moses did, David did, Nehemiah did, Daniel did, & Joshua did. Did these heroes of the faith have doubts? Of course they did. They didn’t know how things were going to turn out but they took a deep breath & took “a leap of faith.”

5. Doubt your doubts, not your faith.

Don’t cast away your faith just because you’re walking through a valley. All of us spend a lot of valley time. Nothing is gained by camping out in the valley of darkness. Look for the light because it will shine on you again.

6. Know that some things will never be understood until you see The Lord.

Many of our weightiest questions revolve around the “whys” of life. Why did this happen? Why this, why now. Why did it have to happen now instead of ten years from now? These questions of the heart will be answered in heaven so it’s faith-building to say, “I understand that I won’t understand right now.”

Here is my final word to you; God never turns away an honest believer. Never. Come to Him with your doubts, your skepticism, your unbelief, your hard questions, & your sincere uncertainties & He welcomes you.

How do I know that? When I was just a teenager, I was struggling to figure out what I could believe. I knew something was wrong with my life but didn’t know what. One night in prayer I cried out, “Jesus, if you’re real come into my life.”

He did, & nothing has ever been the same.

Blessings,


John

Sunday, August 26, 2018

"I Can See Clearly Now...."

By John Stallings


Back in 1972 a little song called “I can see clearly now  entered the American music lexicon without much fanfare. But, as they say, it had legs.

There are few people on the planet who haven’t heard it at least once and it somehow seems to stick with you.

I don’t begrudge Johnny Nash his song but as I’ve said about lots of pop songs, I wish some gospel writer could have thought of it first and written it around a spiritual theme.

The words to the chorus are;

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

In Mark 8:22-26 when Jesus came to Bethsaida, they brought a blind man to him desiring Jesus to touch him. The Bible doesn’t give us the name of this blind man. He was destitute of the precious sense of sight. He had long been a stranger to beholding the beauties of nature. He could not see the lovely region around Bethsaida, the shimmering waters of the lake, the lovely flowers of the Galilean hills, nor the stars and the moon as they decorated the sky on a clear night. This man had a problem, and the people brought him to Jesus.

The healing of this blind man is one of the most fascinating miracles Jesus performed during His earthly ministry. It is also one that has produced a lot of conjecture and misunderstanding.

Let’s unpack this story and try to unravel some of the questions it presents.

The story is related to us very succinctly in five short verses, but in fact contains teaching that impacts our understanding of several spiritual truths. The disciples were granted the opportunity of witnessing a remarkable miracle in a city that was condemned for its unbelief.

Listen to Jesus’ words…

Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you” (Matthew 11:21-22).

Note that Jesus chose three Jewish cities and rebuked them for their unbelief. They had heard His preaching and seen His miracles yet had not repented. He compared them to present and past Gentile cities filled with sexual perversion, idolatry, and heathenism. These were the present cities of Tyre, Sidon, and the Old Testament city of Sodom. Jesus said these cities were better than the cities of Israel. If these cities had seen the same miracles and heard the same preaching, they would have repented. It will be more tolerable at the Great White Throne Judgment for the heathen Gentile cities than for Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum in Israel.

Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of town before healing him. This blind man lived in Bethsaida so Jesus separated the man from the unbelief of the city. Jesus didn’t need snide remarks and insults to be hurled at this man who was young in faith. He could heal in the midst of unbelief, but this man could not maintain his healing surrounded by the ridicule of the city in which he lived. This is why Jesus led the man out of town and healed him away from the view of the religious population of Bethsaida.

The grave opening, deaf destroying, lame restoring, water walking, multitude-feeding, eye opening Jesus then spat on his eyes and touched him with his hands, then asked him if he could see. The blind man answered by saying, "I see men as trees, walking."

WHY DID JESUS SPIT ON THE BLIND MAN'S EYES?

Regardless of how you examine spitting in the Bible, it’s a great insult to spit on someone or to be spit upon. Anyone under the law who was spit upon had to wash themselves and their clothes and were considered unclean until the evening. (Leviticus 15:8) Other scriptures deal with the insult of being spit upon. (Numbers 12:14, Deuteronomy 25:9) Jesus was spit upon as a great insult before He was crucified. (Matthew27:30)

Some folk miss the point of the miracle and the insult Jesus was giving by bringing spit into the transaction. Jesus didn’t spit on the blind man; He spat on the blindness. This was the ultimate insult to sickness and disease. If Jesus could speak to sickness and rebuke it, then apparently sickness can hear. (Luke 4:39) If sickness and disease can hear, it can also be insulted. Jesus released all of His contempt for Satan and his works when he spit on the blindness.

Jesus spat on two others in the New Testament. He healed another blind man by spitting in the clay and rubbing it in the man’s eyes. (John 9:1-7) He also spit on the tongue of a man with a speech impediment. (Mark 7:33) Notice in each of these cases, Jesus spat on the diseased part of the body demonstrating He was spitting on the disease, not the person. Jesus did not always lay hands on the diseased part of the body. He touched Peter’s mother-in-law on the hand to heal her of a fever. He touched people, but He spit on the devil and his works.

WHY DID JESUS PRAY FOR THE MAN TWICE?

 Jesus spit on the blindness, but He laid hands on the man for healing. In fact, He laid hands on the man twice. After laying hands on this man once, his eyes opened partially and he told Jesus he saw men walking, but they were blurry, they looked like trees. This man was not born blind, but somewhere in his life, perhaps through an accident, he had become blind. He knew what men looked like. He also remembered what trees looked like. When Jesus laid hands on the man a second time, his vision was completely restored. He saw clearly.

This is the only case recorded in the word where Jesus laid hands on a person more than once. Why? Because of the unbelief of the city of Bethsaida where he resided. He was filled with doubt concerning the ability of Jesus to heal him. Being separated from the people of the city allowed him to open himself up, albeit with skepticism, to the healing power of God. Once he could see partially, he resolved himself to being healed completely. Jesus didn’t lay hands on this man twice to release more of God’s power. God's full power was in manifestation. Jesus prayed twice because the man was now more open to God's healing power.

Although this is the only case where Jesus prayed twice for a person, it’s not the only case where a person was prayed for more than once. Jesus had to cast out the devil from a boy who had already been prayed for by the disciples. Jesus cast out the devil and then upbraided the disciples because of their failure due to the skepticism of the religious leaders and the pressure of the crowd. They had failed because of their unbelief.(Matthew17:20)

MANY PEOPLE DON’T SEE SPIRITUAL THINGS CLEARLY.

Listen to 2 Corinthians 4:4;

In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not…..

Also in Ephesians 4:18…

Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Ephesians 4:18)

When we read the Bible we need to pray like the Psalmist, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" -Psalm 119:18.

Humanistic religion won’t make you free; rationalism will not make you free; existentialism will not make you free; denominationalism will not make you free. All of these isms will keep you from seeing clearly.

There are many kinds of sight: physical, spiritual, intellectual, and hindsight, and there are so many people who need a second touch. A famous actress was recently asked why she remained single but adopted children. She said, "I had a baby at twenty five because I wanted to have a baby and I could afford it. I didn’t get married because I firmly believe that marriage destroys relationships.” Really? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in the grand scheme of things this woman isn’t seeing the big picture. She just isn’t seeing clearly.

Apollos, the eloquent preacher, did not see clearly and was given a second touch of teaching by Aquila and Priscilla. After that he could say “ I can see clearly now.” (Acts 18:24 28). The twelve men at Ephesus didn’t see clearly when they only knew of the baptism of John; but a second touch of teaching by the apostle Paul caused them to see clearly. Acts 19:1-5. Even though they had been saved they hadn’t even heard of being Spirit filled. After Paul expounded they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, just like on the Day of Pentecost.

You can’t be taught wrong, understand wrong, believe wrong, obey wrong and end up being right. Paul taught the Ephesians right; they understood right, believed right, obeyed right and were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Ethiopian Eunuch was a church-going, Bible-reading man, but he did not see clearly. He was reading in the Old Testament and didn’t understand what he was reading. But evangelist Philip gave him a second touch of teaching by preaching Jesus to him and then the eunuch could sing –I can see clearly now. (Acts 8:27-39). There are many church-going and Bible-reading people who do not see clearly. They need a second touch of divine revelation.

This story under scores the fact that…

GOD DOESN’T TREAT US THE SAME WAY.

God isn’t limited by anything or anyone and he doesn’t treat us all the same. He heals one with a touch, another with a word, another with a glance, and yet another at a great distance. He touches one and never sees the other, and yet all are healed.

It’s a mark of maturity to say, “Lord, you don’t have to treat me the way you treat my neighbor.” We all understand that truth theoretically, but it is hard to come to grips with it when your child is sick unto death and your neighbor’s children are healthy and happy. No one knows exactly why two people get cancer and one lives while the other dies.

Many people struggle with this concept. They think that because God did something for a friend or a neighbor or a loved one, then God must be bound to do the same thing for them. But it doesn’t work that way. God can deliver your neighbor from cancer and not heal you. Or vice versa. Envying your neighbor because he has something you don’t have is a waste of time because God treats us as individuals, not as groups. The truth is, he might do for you exactly what he’s done for someone else, or he might do more or he might do less or he might do something entirely different. He’s God. He can deal with us the way he wants.

When Peter asked about John’s fate, Jesus brushed him off with a mild rebuke, as if to say, “Don’t worry about it.” In essence he was saying, that’s him, not you. God deals with us as individuals. The Lord isn’t obligated to bless you the same way he blesses anyone else. And he is not obligated to put you through the same trials [either greater or lesser] that anyone else goes through. Our only business is to make sure we are following Jesus closely. If we do that, we don’t have time to worry about how he treats our friends.

When Jesus entered the room to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, the mourners had already arrived and laughed Jesus to scorn for declaring the daughter was not dead but asleep. Jesus removed them from the room before He prayed. This was for Jairus’ sake. The father had already begun to fear when he heard the report of his daughter dying. (Mark 5:36) Jesus didn’t want this man surrounded by the unbelief so rampant in Capernaum. Jesus separated the man from the atmosphere of skepticism.

Notice the last thing Jesus told this blind man after his sight was restored. “Go back to your home, but do not go back into the city or tell anyone of your healing.” What a wonderful statement to anyone needing healing today who is bothered by the reports of unbelief given by friends, relatives, church or business associates. We can go home but we need to separate ourselves from the village of unbelief that could so easily sway us and cause us to be defeated. Home is where we can be alone with God to pray and study His Word.

God still asks us today, “whose report will you believe?” To believe His report, we must dwell on it and study it until it becomes a part of our lives.

WE DON'T GET BETTER AT THE SAME RATE OR THE SAME WAY

For every man who is suddenly, radically, completely transformed, it seems that there many more who must grow in grace slowly, through stages, and whose spiritual vision starts off cloudy and only slowly gets better. To say that is not to give in to pessimism. Often it’s for our benefit to get better gradually. Spectacular healings always amaze us—and thank God they do happen yet we should realize that God often chooses to heal slowly.

This principle works across the spectrum of spiritual life. Some people come to Christ and grow quickly, becoming strong Christians in a short period of time. Others take much longer to learn the Word and become strong in the faith. Many will struggle with blurry vision for a long time. I daresay that all of us have areas of “blurry vision” where see things very unclear. Every believer has blind spots which by definition we don’t see because if we saw them, they wouldn’t be blind spots.

A WORD ABOUT HOW YOU CAN RECEIVE HEALING

If you desire to be healed and are not a Christian, you should first find healing for your soul. Repent of your sins and seek God with your whole heart. When you repent of your sins, believe in the Lord Jesus [not just some things about Him, but believe Him and trust Him and what He says in His Word], and confess Him with your mouth, - then you will be saved (see Romans 10: 9, 10). When you are born again by the spirit of God and born into the family of God, you are eligible to ask in faith for any of His promised benefits.

THE CHRISTIAN AND HEALING

If you are a Christian and haven’t received healing, examine your life and attitudes in light of God's Word. God hasn’t shown respect of persons in your case, as that’s contrary to His divine nature. If you are still sick, there is a reason, and God's Word will reveal it to you if you’ll diligently seek His face. When you find the problem and correct it, God's healing touch will be yours. This is God's guarantee, and God cannot lie.

Many fail to receive healing because they have been taught that sickness and physical suffering is God's way of bringing out the best in them, or developing the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. They believe that they must be patient in affliction and wait until it’s God's time to heal them. They believe that God is working out patience and long-suffering in them. Or perhaps God is chastening them for some unknown sin.

It’s true that sin opens the door for sickness to enter, but all God asks is that the sin be confessed and forsaken. God doesn’t say, “Is any sick among you? Let him patiently wait until God has finished chastening him" but rather…

Confess your faults one to another [now, today], and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The promise is, The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (James 5:16, 15).

God is not glorified when Christians continue in sickness. Build your faith on the Word of God. Search the Word to find the reason you have not been healed. Get rid of the problem, and then accept your healing joyfully, in whatever way God sees fit to give it.

God may choose to heal you instantly or He may choose to let the healing be gradual. He may choose to give a sudden manifestation of your healing, but at a little later time. Or, as in the case of one whose time has come to go, He may bring deliverance from pain and suffering by taking the person to his eternal rest.

Lay aside your own ideas of how God is going to heal you and accept the healing God's way. Believe God and take Him at His word. God says healing is for you. God, who cannot lie, says to- believe that ye receive it and ye shall have it.

Don’t cast away your confidence if recovery doesn't come immediately. Hold fast to your faith in the Word of God. Stand upon the promise and God guarantees that your healing shall come.

SAVED BY HIS HONESTY

What finally saved this poor blind man was his honesty. He didn’t lie to Jesus. That’s a crucial insight. He could have said, “Lord, I see all things clearly.” If he had said that, he would never have gotten better. His honesty gave him the sight he did not have.

Sometimes it’s hard to be honest with God. How difficult to admit our weakness.

Jesus didn’t ask this man, “Can you see anything?” in order to get information he didn’t have. Jesus knew the answer to the question. He wanted the man to be honest about his true condition.

We must come to the Lord just as we are, and when we do, he takes us as we are, but he never leaves us that way. That’s why the invitation of Jesus is always very personal.

Cast yourself upon the Lord and he will not turn you away.

Blessings,


John

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Someone To Watch Over Me

By John Stallings

I remember when I was a kid and my parents would go out of town. As soon as we heard they were leaving my sister and I would quickly ask, “Where are you going?”

After being told where our parents were going, somewhere in the exchange of information one of us would ask “Can we go with you?” My parents didn’t go on vacations without us so we invariably knew; they being preachers, -where they were going had something to do with ministry. Maybe a convention or a ministerial seminar. More times than I can count I remember one of my parents saying, “Johnny, son you can’t come this time.”

My next question would be “Well, how long will you be gone?” After gleaning these details either my sister or I would ask the most important question of all, “Who’s gonna look after us?” An overwhelming majority of the time the person who would keep us would be my grandmother, my mother’s mother. It hurts me to say it but she and I didn’t get along all that famously but she was a great cook. Grandma Manley made the best Apple turnovers you ever tasted. Somehow we were always able to “tough it out.”

When Jesus told His disciples he was going to leave them and return to His Father, they naturally had lots of questions to ask also. “Where I’m going you can’t come” Jesus said. Like confused children the disciples asked, “Who will take care of us?” They probably asked, “Where are you going and how long will you be gone?” Jesus’ answer was, in essence; “this much I can tell you; I’m not going to leave you alone. I’ll ask my Father to send you another comforter to stay with you. He will be with you until I return.”-John14:16

In this story Jesus is the “parent” ready to take the next stage of the trip to the cross and to infinity and beyond, and the disciples are the children. Jesus even calls them “little children.” So, is it too much to think of the Holy Spirit as our “babysitter,” the one looking after us while Jesus is away getting things ready, just like he promised?

As we speak, Jesus is in heaven practicing with the heavenly angelic choir so they can roll out the red carpet and give us a rousing welcome to heaven, polishing those pearly gates so that they shine when we arrive. Or, maybe he’s at the great “Wal-Mart in the sky” picking up our favorites. Or, maybe he’s in the garden cutting fresh flowers for our rooms. He’s got to be doing something, right? He’s got to be doing something because he’s taking his own sweet time coming back. I think it safe to say that heaven is in her “last day operations” right now and Jesus is making one last check of the banquet tables.
When it comes to the Rapture, I’ve got to be frank, I cannot for the life of me figure out what’s the hold-up? I’m about ready to get outside and start doing “rapture practices.” But I’ll restrain myself. Just exactly how bad do we have to act before the Holy Spirit picks up the phone, calls Jesus, and says “Hey, man, you gotta come home. This place is out of control.”

When you asked your mother when dinner would be ready, and she said, “in a little while,” you knew you’d better get a snack. Or, when you ask your wife how long ‘til she’s ready and she answers, “in a little while,” how long is that? Suffice to say you might as well watch a John Wayne movie because it’s useless to watch the clock.

I’ve said it before but I still haven’t figured out what takes women so long to get ready to go somewhere. I can be ready to go to the Moon in thirty minutes but it’s not that simple for Juda. Women even have “nighttime rituals” for something as simple as going to bed. Women “get ready for bed.” I’ve never gotten ready for bed in my life, other than brushing my teeth. I just go to bed and I suspect most men do the same.

Biblically speaking, “in a little while” seems to mean 10 years, 100 years, 500 years, 1000 years. From where we sit in 2016, it’s been so long since Jesus said, “I’ll be back in a little while” that some folk wonder if he has forgotten. They ask, “Is he gone for good? And if he is gone, where has he gone and what in the world will we do without him? And what is he doing, exactly, and why doesn’t he show himself?” It’s just like the child waiting for their parents to come back and take charge. “Who will watch over us? And, what do we do in the meantime?”

AN ALL IMPORTANT QUESTION

That’s the question of questions. What do we do in the meantime? Well, one thing’s for sure, the ministry must go on in the meantime. If the disciples could do it, we can do it. No offense to them, but they were no better than us. Jesus promised an Advocate to these disciples and us. This is important - he did not expect them – or us – to be faithful all by themselves. He didn’t expect them to do anything by themselves. In fact, in the Gospel of John, he tells them they CAN’T do anything by themselves.

He is sending an advocate – in the Greek, the word Advocate means- one who is called alongside. The Holy Spirit is called alongside them to strengthen them to do all kinds of things that they could never do for themselves. Someone to teach and advise, but also someone who watches over us, comes alongside and handles situations that baffle us. We could all use an Advocate.

IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRISTS COMMAND THE BELIEVERS WAITED AND THE HOLY SPIRIT CAME.

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. -Acts 2:1-4

Do you remember the TV show “Designing Women?” I usually don’t get interested in these “all girl sitcoms,” but occasionally I enjoyed this one. I guess it’s the “Georgia Boy” in me and also the fact that I liked Dixie Carter, at least her character in the show.

She died a while back, and columnist Connie Schultz wrote a tribute to her and her Designing Women character, Julia Sugarbaker. In this article, she says, “The passing of actor Dixie Carter has reminded me just how much most of us could use a friend like Julia Sugarbaker… the smartest and sassiest woman in the Southern Georgia foursome of "Designing Women."

Oh, the thrill whenever Carter's Julia Sugarbaker set her sights on someone who had committed the crime of small-minded thinking, be it prejudice, sexism or just plain stupidity.” That was Julia’s thing – getting riled up – her loyalty made her a fierce power to behold. My favorite scene is at a beauty pageant after Julia hears an arrogant Miss Georgia bad-mouth her baby sister and former Miss Georgia, Suzanne Sugarbaker.

Carter comes alongside of this beauty queen, Marjorie, and lets loose the storm of sisterhood: she defends Suzanne and her baton twirling talent so passionately and so eloquently that you want to stand up and cheer. This is her finale: "And you probably didn't know, Marjorie, that Suzanne was not just any Miss Georgia; she was the Miss Georgia. She didn't twirl just a baton; that baton was on fire. And when she threw that baton into the air, it flew higher, farther, faster than any baton has ever flown before — hitting a transformer and showering the darkened arena with sparks. And when it finally did come down, Marjorie, my sister caught that baton, and 12,000 people jumped to their feet for 16 and one-half minutes of uninterrupted thunderous ovation as flames illuminated her tear-stained face. And that, Marjorie — just so you will know and your children will someday know — is the night “The lights went out In Georgia."

Connie Schultz ends her article by saying, no matter how old we get, there’ll always be a Mean Girls Club. Most of us yearn for that Julia Sugarbaker kind of friend who overhears the nasty gossip and steps up to unravel the yarn on our behalf.

Friend, the Holy Spirit is kind of the Julia Sugarbaker of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is the one who gets fired up, riled up, fed up and who steps up, who Advocates, who strengthens and inspires and who is in charge, and who does not mind reminding us that he’s in charge until Big Daddy comes home. That’s the plan Stan!

God knows that the Christian life is too difficult to be done alone. When it comes to following Jesus, nothing is done alone. We have his spirit inside us.

We can’t change God’s schedule, but, in the meantime, we have this Advocate watching over us, ready to come along side us and inspire us and lead us on.

It is interesting to note that the word "comforter" was also used for legal aid or the counsel for the defense; so the Holy Spirit is that. Jesus is our aid at the right hand of the Father; the Holy Spirit is our aid on earth. Jesus is an advocate in Heaven; the Holy Spirit is a conditional advocate on earth.

The reason Jesus had to return to Heaven was twofold. First, He went to do His work. Hebrews 7:25,

"Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them."

Second, He went to give the Holy Spirit HIS work to do.

There are other times when He will empower and strengthen OTHERS to say just the words you need and give you just the comfort you need. This does not mean the Holy Spirit is not doing the comforting. He is leading and strengthening someone and using him to comfort us and strengthen us in our time of need. At times He runs alongside to help and there is no human aid in sight. At other times, He leads someone to come to us to be our aid, our comforter, to pick us up. In either case, this is the work of the Spirit. He simply sometimes chooses to use human help.

In my own life there have been many times the Holy Spirit alone has been my comforter. In the mid-nineties, I lost both my parents within a six month period. I can remember standing by their caskets and though my heart was breaking I could feel the Holy Spirit comforting me. I could almost feel fingers touching my arm. It was the Holy Spirit coming HIMSELF to watch over me, to look out for me and give me comfort.

Then this same Holy Spirit led others to speak words of comfort to me; He led loving friends to encourage my heart. He was comforting and strengthening me both WITH and WITHOUT human instruments. The Christian should yield himself to the Holy Spirit in order that the Spirit may use him to comfort, strengthen and restore others.

When the Christian writes a note of comfort, he should ask the Holy Spirit to deliver it for him and to use it as a strength and comfort. When a word of comfort or strength is spoken to a bereaved or weary friend, the power of the Holy Spirit should accompany that word. Hence, the Christian should speak to the Holy Spirit BEFORE he speaks the word of comfort, asking Him to speak words that he cannot speak and to leave impressions that he cannot leave in order that he may be used as a tool of the Holy Spirit to comfort and strengthen the discouraged, weak, lonely, bereaved or fallen brother. There is a wonderful truth in John 14:26,

"But the Comforter, Which is the Holy Ghost, Whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."

Notice the words, "and bring all things to your remembrance." The Spirit-led and Spirit-filled Christian may so yield himself to the Holy Spirit that when he comforts , the Holy Spirit will bring to mind what he ought to say. The Christian will enter into the very work of the Spirit Himself as a tool to be a comforter.

Thank God for those times the Holy Spirit Himself has come to lift me up and strengthen, and to comfort me. Thank the Lord for those times when He has touched a friend and spoken through him as a human instrument to comfort me and strengthen me and lift me up. And thank God for those times when He has used me as a tool to comfort others! My prayer is,-Oh, Holy Spirit, use me again and again and again and again to strengthen the weak, lift up the fallen, encourage the discouraged, offer fellowship to the lonely, give a smile to the sad and comfort to the bereaved and weary.

It is interesting to note that in a sense Jesus had to leave in order for the Holy Spirit to come, that the Christian might be benefited to the fullest. For one thing, Jesus can serve us better in his glory and we can do greater works because the Holy Spirit came.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father." –John 14:12

Jesus entered the very presence of the Father; at the Father's side He can help us and intercede for us. He knows our needs more. He felt them while He was here, so He can send the Holy Spirit to dispense the fulfillment of our needs. Hence, He helps the Father to know our needs. Though He doesn't have to persuade the Father to help us, He does remind Him of what help we need. Jesus isn’t interceding for sinners, that’s our job. He’s interceding for you and me.

When I was a young pastor, I did so many things myself that I later had others to do. I have filled the baptistery, prepared the communion cups, cleaned the building, turned on the lights, turned on the heat/AC, printed the church bulletin, drove the church bus, taught a Sunday School class and of course preached. Sometimes I even led singing. However, with the passing of the years and the increasing of the church membership I‘d have others to do what I used to do. Though I’d miss the personal contact and many of the tasks, it is expedient to my church people that I administrate so that greater works can be done than were once done when I did it all myself. I could say to my people, "It is expedient that I go to administrate, for I can send many others to do the work that I did and get more done."

Jesus was our comforter while He was here, though in a sense He continues to comfort from the right hand of the Father. He has sent us the Holy Spirit to comfort us and through that Holy Spirit greater works can be done than were done when our Lord was here.

I am sitting in our computer room now writing these words. If Jesus were in Jerusalem tonight, I would catch the first plane tomorrow morning and I would fly to see Him. However, in all probability I wouldn’t get to see Him or talk to Him, for millions of others would be seeking the same privilege as I.

If He were here on earth, it just may be I would never get to touch His hand, see His face or talk to Him personally. But now that He’s gone and has sent the Holy Spirit, He is in this room with me in the wee hours of the morning, and I feel His presence. I can talk with Him. In this sense, it was expedient for me that He go away, for through the Holy Spirit, I can be with Jesus anywhere I am, even in the wee hours of the morning in a quiet room in Florida.

Isn’t it comforting that we have this Third part of the trinity to strengthen us, lift us up when we’re trodden down? Isn’t it thrilling to know we have…


Someone to watch over us?



Blessings,



John

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Malice...Esther's Story

By John Stallings


…… lay aside all malice. 1 Peter 2:1


A while back we saw the TBN produced movie “ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING.” We were moved by the excellent way the story was told & our hats are off to all who made that movie possible.

I don’t know about you but I have noticed through the years that Esther has been preached on very little. In Sunday School we sometimes had a lesson on her life but generally speaking, at least from my perspective, I can remember precious few messages or lessons that had as their theme the events & characters of the Book of Esther. Also, very few books have been written about the life of Esther.

We may as well say it, the Book of Esther isn't nor has it ever been a very popular book. This is one reason the movie TBN made is so needed.

Sadly Esther has always been the forgotten women & this is a shame for there is so much to learn from her story. I encourage the reader to go back & read through the book of Esther, hopefully with a new perspective. Deal? Deal!

This little gem in the Old Testament is extremely rich & historical. The story begins in the empire of Persia. It’s set about 500 years or so before the birth of Christ. The following are a few reasons for Esther not being well understood by many people; God’s name isn’t mentioned in the whole of the book of Esther, neither is the word Lord. Search high & low in the book & you will not find Him. Also omitted are; any mention of prayer, worship, the Temple or Jerusalem. Also left out is any mention of heaven or hell or for that matter anything particularly religious. The story took place when Israel was being held captive in Babylon. A man much like Hitler arose during this time & tried to stamp out the whole Jewish nation. The book is a bit like the story of Joseph where God is hardly mentioned though his actions are clearly acknowledged at the end. Though in Esther, God’s name doesn’t appear at all, as we read between the lines in the story we see God’s hand everywhere, moving in behalf of His people.

In this book you have one of the most exciting stories of all time. It reads like a novel but it's not fiction. This is a true story. If you haven’t read it lately, let’s recap the highlights. In the interest of understanding this story, lay aside your 21st century ideas & assume the ideas of a culture many hundreds of years ago. If you don’t do this you’ll be lost in the fog of the story & miss how God is engineering the plots & sub-plots from start to finish. Remember to watch for God at every turn though His name is left out.

WHEN GOD SEEMS TO BE MOST ABSENT FROM HUMAN AFFAIRS, THAT’S WHEN HE IS PROBABLY THE MOST PRESENT & AT WORK.

What do you do when God seems to be absent? Has God forgotten you? Were His promises unfounded? Perhaps you’ve moved away from God. Does this mean that He has no part in your life & destiny now? These were the sorts of questions that exercised the minds of the Israelites in exile in Babylon, then later in Persia. They knew they’d been sent into exile as punishment for their rebellion against God. They were no longer in the Promised Land, the place of God’s blessing. So they feared that God’s care for them had ended, that they were on their own.

But that wasn’t the case. God was still their God & still interested in their welfare. He had sent Jeremiah to reassure them that even in exile God was looking after them. God had told them; --For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare & not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Jer.29:11. There are times when you & I wonder when things seem to argue against God’s presence with us, if God is watching over us; when life seems too hard for someone who had God on their side. But we have verses like Romans 8:28 & Heb. 13:5-6 that we can go to & see the promises to reassure us of His love & care. That’s where the book of Esther comes in.

The story is set after the first group of exiles returned to Jerusalem, but this group has chosen to stay in Persia. It’s about a king & his kingdom; a king who divorces his wife thereby becoming lonely by his own decree. King Xerxes, king of Persia, has banished his first queen. Therefore he has nothing especially to do except throw a party & lavishly display the glory & beauty of his kingdom. The extravagance & decadence of the event is shown by the fact that it last’s for 6 months & there are hundreds & thousands of people present. Can you imagine a party that last’s so long? Xerxes turns his palace into a frat party.

Xerxes has too much to drink & makes the mistake of sending for his wife Vashti, his queen. Not wanting to be paraded around a bunch of drunks she refuses to come. It is probable that she was to be paraded in a carnal way to arouse the lust of the men present, for we are told that she was very beautiful. We aren’t given the reason she didn’t come but her refusal causes a stir because of the example it set for other wives in the kingdom. What can the king do to save face but to have Vashti banished from the kingdom? Color her gone.

OUR AVAILABILITY TO GOD IS ALL IMPORTANT

Maybe Vashti had good reasons for not showing up when she was summoned. I’ll grant you that. But it’s also possible that she was just bored with it all & no longer had the motivation to participate in life. But one thing is certain & that is; Esther did show up & it was at a crucial moment. And in so doing she was mightily used by God. We need to ask ourselves the question; do we show up when God calls us? If we want our lives to count we must be willing to say with Saul of Tarsus, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do, & with young Samuel, speak Lord for thy servant heareth, & with Esther, if I perish I perish.It’s been two years since Vashti has gone & during that time Xerxes has taken an army to Greece to try to expand his empire with no success. So he’s bored & lonely & starts to fret over the loss of Vashti. When he asks his advisors what to do, they suggest he begin a search for the most beautiful girls in the kingdom.

The search begins throughout the land for beautiful young girls to take Vashti’s place. Mordecai, an expatriated Jew entered his orphaned cousin Esther whom he’d raised as if she was his daughter, in the beauty contest to become the queen of all Persia. Esther, this young Jewish girl is chosen. She’s a peach both inside & out. She’s a young girl who’s blessed with a shapely body & a beautiful face. For a year she’s prepared for the time in which she would come into the presence of the king. Beauty treatments were given to her & she was kept & groomed until the big day. That's a lot of Oil of Olay!

But as the story progresses we learn that she’s much more than a pretty face. She is blessed with great humility, courage, resourcefulness & knows how to deal with people. Her understanding of court politics comes out in the way she ultimately traps the stories villain. Wait for it!

Here’s a shocker for you. Esther is in all probability, though we aren't sure, being a young virgin, only around fourteen years old & probably under twenty at the end of the story. Think about the pressure that was put on Esther, barely out of girlhood being thrust into a setting where she had influence with one of the most powerful men in the world. And all this at an age when most young women are concerned with school proms & geometry exams. Throughout this story she has to bite her tongue, grit her teeth, put on a face, hide her grief & hold her tears. The first time she cries, as far as we’re told in the story is in chapter 8:1.

It’s hard for us to grasp how people in such a different culture view such a practice as kings having a harem, with so many women that they see them individually only about once a month. But this is the way things were during this era. When Esther was selected, she would have no choice but to go along with it. But there is something about Esther’s character that causes people to warm to her. Witness- the king falls in love with her & she becomes his queen.

Esther’s adoptive father, who is also her cousin Mordecai, has thwarted an assassination attempt against the king, though he was inadvertently never rewarded for it. We’re not told what Mordecai’s position is though he lives in the citadel, the areas around the palace. He has access to the area beside the harem courtyard & we find him sitting in the palace gates, the place where judgment is given for civil cases. So it seems he is held in some esteem by the king. He is without doubt a clever Jewish bureaucrat & is a descendant of Kish, a Benjaminite.

Let’s back up here for some historical background. In 1 Samuel 15 we read that God commanded Saul to eradicate the decadent Amalekites, ruled by King Agag. Saul chose to do it halfway & let some of the people, King Agag & some of their livestock live. 400 years later, Mordecai & Israel are confronted with Haman, a slimy character who was a descendant of Agag & very much hostile towards God’s people. 

What a lesson to us about not going all the way in obedience to what God has told us to do.

Though nothing was done to show appreciation to Mordecai for saving his life, the king has promoted Haman, who we discover is a natural enemy of Mordecai going back many generations. Haman is a government official who is climbing to the top as fast as he can. He was a particularly nasty piece of work. Haman is self-important, self-promoting, & intoxicated by his success, & those are just his good traits. He expects everyone to bow down to him but Mordecai refuses which “puts the pepper in the gumbo,” so to speak.

So Haman decides to take his revenge for that not only on Mordecai but on his entire race. Haman had the king’s ear in just about everything & when he proposed something to the king, he would usually rubber-stamp it, no questions asked. He was to be treated as if he were almost the king himself. People were to bow to him & do obeisance, honor & glory. Everyone, out of fear, did precisely that. Haman immediately goes to work to convince the king that for the king’s own benefit, he should eliminate these Jewish people. He arranges for the king to sign an edict that sentences every Jew in the kingdom to be killed on a certain day at the end of the year.

The idea that a king on such a whim O.Ks this kind of mass murder is another thing that seems foreign to us, but obviously it was nothing out of place or out of the ordinary in that culture. The Jews were a foreign race who were only there because they’d been defeated so what did it matter if they were destroyed? Xerxes’s kingdom extended from India to Ethiopia & there were plenty of other races. We can also see by this that Xerxes is a man who acts on whims, & doesn’t “check-before-he wrecks” where his wife & others are concerned. Not a sweetheart guy to say the least. So the scene is set for the destruction of the Jews.

MORDECAI CONTACTS ESTHER TO INTERVENE WITH THE KING.

In chapter four, Mordecai, knowing what was now happening, put on sackcloth & ashes to grieve. This is another proof to me that God’s at work here. His Spirit has caused Mordecai to be so grieved that he goes into the center of the city & cries with a bitter cry. Esther sees that he’s terribly traumatized so she sends him a change of clothes thinking that will help his feelings. Somehow Esther is uniformed or as yet hasn’t grasped the gravity of the situation. If you’ve ever been hit by Holy Ghost grief, you know that some superficial change won’t correct the matter. Mordecai knows Esther is in a unique position to do something so he sends her a message. Esther agrees reluctantly. The king had stopped asking to see her & she’d be risking her life to try to see him. Then Mordecai utters the famous words that -she may even have been brought to the kingdom “for such a time as this.” She asks the other Jews in the city to fast (prayer not mentioned) on her behalf for three days, and then she’ll do what she can.

Haman thinks he’s “all that” & feels he’s the most important person apart from the king himself. He thinks nothing can get in his way. Haman’s pride means he underestimates both Mordecai & especially Esther. In the end he’s caught by a spiraling set of circumstances devised to drag him under. Pride goes before destruction & Haman will soon be caught in the trap he has set for Mordecai.

Psalm 7:16 warns;…. “Their mischief returns upon their own heads…..

You will probably remember the CBS newsman Dan Rather, who a few years back resigned in disgrace because he had such malice toward President Bush that he aired unconfirmed & probably fabricated documents about President Bush’s National Guard records. At the time I thought, if Rather had only been familiar with the story of Esther, Haman & Mordecai, he could no doubt have saved his career. Rather got so caught up in his malice for Bush that he crossed the line going 150 mph. He crossed it so far that it got him in trouble with his superiors who themselves weren’t exactly Bush-promoters. I’m sure you noticed that malice usually carries with it a strong sense of self- righteousness if not downright craziness.

Mr. Rather wasn’t hanged but was put out to pasture.

Haman later hangs on the gallows he had built for Mordecai, the Jew for whom he had so much malice. The same scenario existed in what happened to Dan Rather. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “If you set out to destroy someone, dig two graves; theirs & yours.” Sadly malice rears its ugly head in our day -in political life, church life as well as business and family life.

ESTHER TAKES A RISK

Esther knows that to appear before the king without being summoned risks punishment by death. But this situation is worth the risk. She figures, if I perish I perish. So she dresses in royal clothes & stands in the inner court where Xerxes can see her. Her faith & courage are rewarded. Xerxes sees her & holds out his golden scepter as his invitation for her to enter. He offers to give her whatever she asks. But a strange thing happens. She doesn’t make a request. She simply invites the king & Haman to come to dinner that night. Again, though just a youth, she understands that timing is everything.

So why didn’t she tell the king her message up front? Why delay any longer when she’s so obviously won the favor of the king? She has a problem, & that’s to get the king to see that Haman isn’t his friend,- but this will be sticky. Remember, the king in his folly believes that Haman is his “new best friend,” so Xerxes may have thought she was just responding to Palace gossip & committing treason in the process of accusing the Prime Minister of such a crime. To do this before all the court servants & other people present was to risk the king going into “damage control mode” & simply dismissing her complaint. Far better to do it with Haman present; catch him off guard & who knows what he might say or do that would confirm his guilt. Don’t “hot-heads” usually go over-the top? In fact that’s exactly what happens. There’s another time honored saying;--“Give a man enough rope & he’ll hang himself.” Hot-headed Haman is headed for a “melt-down.”

Again, ---GOD, THOUGH NEVER MENTIONED, IS RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS STORY.

God had something to arrange before the time would be right. Esther seems to have done all the arranging but God has something else to do as well. Esther invites the king & Haman to join her the same night for a banquet that she’s prepared for them. The king sends for Haman & he hurries to join them. He’s still clueless.

You gotta-love this man Haman.- but only as a character in the story. He’s so self-absorbed & egotistical he can’t see what’s about to happen to him. He leaves the first banquet in high spirits because he’s receiving so much attention from the king & queen. Then he sees Mordecai, & his mood changes. He goes into a purple rage, immediately arranging for a gallows to be built to hang him. He never thinks that anything could go wrong. His false confidence is about to destroy him. Not only will his pride bring him down, but God’s divine sovereignty will also play a part.

That night the king can’t sleep so he gets up & asks for a copy of the Chronicles of his reign, maybe thinking a little “ego-salve” will calm him down so he could sleep. As he reads he comes across the account of the time when Mordecai had foiled an assassination attempt against him. So he asks his attendants what reward had been given Mordecai, & is told that nothing had been done to honor him.

By now its morning & so he asks who there is in the court that he could ask for advice. Surprise, surprise, old Haman is waiting in the outer court to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai. When the king asks Haman what should be done for the man the king delights to honor, Haman immediately thinks the king means him; WHO ELSE-RIGHT? If only Haman’s parents had taught him, “It’s not just about you, Haman!” But noooo. He’s so self-absorbed he falls right into the trap God had set for him. So he comes up with an ideal answer; & it’s all good except that it’s Mordecai who’s about to receive an honor & it’s Haman who’ll be the one leading the horse around the city praising Mordecai. It’s hilarious isn’t it? That is unless you’re Haman of course. Haman is totally humiliated & rushes home to tell his wife & friends what’s happened & light starts to dawn, for his wife at least. Haman’s pride tells him he’s still in control, but he’s being hurried along by Esther’s plans.

MALICE IS HAMAN’S PROBLEM

Haman’s big sin is the malice he bears towards Mordecai & the Jewish people. Malice is the deep-seated hatred that feels delight when our enemy suffers & pain when our enemy succeeds; a mean-spirited, thoughtful intention to hurt somebody & make them suffer. 1 Cor. 5:8 likens malice to yeast. It may start small but it swells like cancer eventually permeating the whole of our being the end result being the spoiling of our enjoyment of life. Haman complains that seeing Mordecai sitting at the king’s table as he walks by has taken all the pleasures he’s gained from being invited to the private banquet with Esther & the king.

But it also takes away his good judgment & he builds a 50 feet high gallows never thinking that it could be used on him as well. Nor does he wonder why Esther has just invited him to the banquet with the king. The king & Haman arrive at the banquet & are drinking wine when the king asks, for the second time, what is Esther’s petition & request. Esther replies, “Let my life be given me—that is my request; for we have been sold, I & my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, & to be annihilated.” Haman knows he’s been found out & hadn’t realized that Esther was one of the Jews he’d sentenced to death. Haman is now terrified & trembling in his sandals.

The king goes into a rage & his blood starts to boil. He has to walk out of the room to calm down in the garden outside & decide what to do with Haman. While the king is absent, Haman makes his final mistake & throws himself at Esther’s feet begging to be spared. Well, the king walks back in & sees that Haman is draped across Esther’s couch & that’s the last straw. He’s arrested & hung on the gallows he’s just built for Mordecia. And that’s the end for old Haman. Esther is given all of Haman’s possessions & Mordecia is promoted to the position of Prime Minister.

But there’s still the problem of the king’s edict about the Jews. Esther pleads with the king to revoke it but he can’t. In Persia, once a law has been made it can’t be revoked. Instead the king allows Mordecia to write a second law allowing the Jews to gather to defend themselves on the appointed day. When the day comes those who seek to attack them are killed, though the majority of the population takes their side. Esther asks for a second day of retribution for the Jews. Happily the crisis ends & so is instituted the feast of Purim that’s been celebrated by the Jewish people ever since.

It’s sometimes asked why this story is in the Bible, particularity as God isn’t mentioned in the entire book. Is it just there to explain the feast of Purim, or is there more to it than that? How might this story be relevant to us? Esther lived in a world where God wasn’t known & honored. The world of Susa had no real understanding of a personal God, of a living God, of a God who cared for His people wherever they were. Esther lived in a time when God’s people were waiting for redemption. They were in a foreign a land where they didn’t belong. They were waiting for God to come & take them home.

God has sometimes used armies & great miracles to rescue His people but He isn’t limited to those strategies. He can just as easily use an obscure person such as Esther & allow them to be the agent of His Salvation. We might be tempted to think God can only work in a situation where there is freedom of religion & worship like we enjoy in America. But this story shows us that He can enable His people to function within whatever system they find themselves. Joseph, Daniel & Esther all served totally pagan kings & won favor with them because of their exemplary conduct & example.

Esther & Mordecia had to live by faith & not by sight. There was no Temple to go to, to remind them of God’s grandeur & sovereignty. Israel was no longer a great nation reflecting God’s power & glory to the world. In fact, Haman’s order to destroy them showed just how powerless they were. We too must live by faith & not by sight. We are waiting for an inheritance that can’t be seen. It’s a sure & certain hope but it’s a hope that we hold on to by faith.

Like Esther, God may have put you where you are to allow you to find a solution in a situation where you & you only will fit. But don’t forget, you are never alone. God walks the corridors of production plants, offices, school & the Halls of Government, anywhere His people are. God is always working in the background bringing His plans for you, indeed for the world to completion. If you are a person who sees the gloomy side of things & you gaze into the future & don’t see that things could ever get better, Esther speaks to you.

We can rest in the knowledge that our welfare is in God’s hands. His help comes from unexpected quarters, unwilling partners, & unseen forces. He numbers the very hairs of our heads; he’s awake, alert, attentive & active.
His name may never be mentioned in our world except as a swear word but He is active & present.

As in the story of Esther, you too may be the target of malice. But if you’re faithful to Him, He’ll allow no weapon formed against you to prosper. Also, lets keep in mind the power of one person , like Esther, to make a difference.

In 1845, one vote brought Texas into the union.
In 1868 one vote saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment.
In 1876 one vote gave Rutherford B. Hayes the U.S presidency.
In 1923, one vote gave Adolph Hitler control of Germany's Nazi party.
In 1941, one vote saved the Selective Service System just 12 weeks before Pearl Harbor.

Let’s follow Esther’s courageous example & be ready to step out on faith & use the wisdom God gives us to do what’s needed

......right where we are.

Blessings,

John