Thursday, January 12, 2017

"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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Don't Go To Moab!

By John Stallings

This story could be ripped from  todays headlines.

Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Chilion and Mahlon have left their homeland because of famine.

They were refugees. They went into a new land called Moab searching for food and shelter. Like many people, because of wars, famine, or economic scarcity, they left their homeland in an attempt to begin life anew.

Moab wasn’t a nice place- to say the least. In fact in Psalm 60:8 God called Moab His wash pot, a wash basin where they would wash the guest’s feet. God said that Moab was as filthy as a wash pot. It was a place of trash. Moab was the off-spring of Lot and his oldest daughter Gen. 19:37

So Moab was born out of an incestuous relationship. God had constantly warned His people about Moab. In Jeremiah 48:11, Jeremiah prophecies about Moab and he paints a little picture. He says that Moab has been at ease from his youth. He has always been “no good”, even while he was growing up. And he says here is Jeremiah 48:11 that he has not been emptied from his lees. The picture here is that of wine making. When they made wine, they put it in a vessel and let it set for a while and while it was sitting, the trash would fall to the bottom.

Then they would take that vessel and pour it through a filter into another vessel and let it sit until more trash fell to the bottom. They would do that over and over again until the wine was crystal clear.

God said about Moab that his lees had not been emptied; that he is full of trash. God said about Moab in Zephaniah that He would destroy Moab like Sodom and Gomorrah. Moab was a not a place to be. It was a place of filth.  Moab is a type, a picture of the world.

Sometimes people seeking a newer and better life think of a new land as the Promised Land. But promises don’t always work out, and the dreams  can sometimes turn into nightmares. This happened for Naomi and her sons.We read the story in the book of Ruth chapter one.

Naomi’s husband Elimelech died leaving his wife and children behind. His sons eventually married wives from their adopted country. Two daughter-in-laws, Orpah and Ruth now became part of this immigrant family.

After tens years both of the sons die, leaving their mother, Naomi, their wives Orpah and Ruth alone and destitute. The cultural times meant that without men/ husbands as providers the women were alone and poor. But famine had come to Moab and Naomi decided it was time to return home. She felt that she had left with everything, and now her returning would be with nothing. In fact, her spirits and hopes were so low when she returned home, she said to the people, "do not call me Naomi but Mara." Mara means bitterness or sorrow. This statement illustrates the depths to which Naomi had plummeted. There was a deep and inconsolable sorrow and hopelessness in her soul. But let’s back up.

Naomi, realizing that there is nothing to stay in Moab for decides it’s time to go home. She releases her daughter in-laws from their family obligation, in part knowing exactly how hard it is to start life in a foreign land. Orpah decides to return to her kinfolk in Moab obviously with hopes of starting all over again. But Ruth refuses to depart from Naomi uttering some of the most memorable words in scripture:

"Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die - there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!"

These are powerful words. Many sermons have been preached on the undying love that Ruth had for Naomi. Her love, commitment and loyalty come through poignantly and powerfully in these words of poetic verse. These words, wherever thou goest I will go- are often used in weddings, which is somewhat strange because the words weren’t spoken by a bride to a husband-to-be but rather by a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law. To me it just goes to show how powerful those words of love and commitment really are.

I WONDER…

I wonder why one of the wives would return home and the other not? I wonder why Orpah would go home to her kinsfolk and Ruth refuse. It causes me to wonder what kind of situation Ruth came from. Was her family dead? Was the family in abject poverty and there was nothing there for her to return to? I wonder whether life for Ruth had been one of abuse, and the marriage to one of Naomi's sons was a relief from the violence and possible death. I wonder why Ruth didn’t go home. Was it because, for the first time in her life she found kindness and care under the tutelage of Naomi? Was it because she found the love of a family in the family of Naomi and didn't want to give that up? Or did she so worry about the future and well being of Naomi that she just didn't want to leave her alone to the elements? I don’t know the reasons for her not returning to her family and kinsfolk, and the scriptures give us no clues. But I do know that there was some compelling reason that she accompanied Naomi into an uncertain future and place.

LIFE CAN HAVE SOME CRAZY BOUNCES

When we think about life and living, you and I understand that life is uncertain and our futures are uncertain! We don't know what will come our way. We don't know what will happen in the next moment. One minute everything can be going along just fine, and the next moment we don't know what hit us! In one moment Naomi had a husband and two sons, and the next she had no husband. Then Naomi had two sons and two daughter in-laws, and then her sons were gone and her life uncertain and frightening. Life is like that! We don't know what twists and turns will come in our lives.

A spouse can die. A child can die. We can lose our family, just like it happened in this story. We might have to start all over again. We may have to start a new job or go back to school for more training and start a new career. We find ourselves in places where we have to make decisions, and sometimes those decisions are difficult ones.

Naomi was going back home with nothing, and Ruth was going into a foreign land with an uncertain future. Sometimes we stare into our futures with more questions than answers. At times we stand in the present moment and cannot imagine what tomorrow looks like. One thing is sure; life can come at you fast! You may remember a blog I posted some time back entitled “Life comes at you fast.” Sometimes it’s too fast for my taste. We can find ourselves looking at problems, things we don't want to face, troubles, and hardships that cause emotional trauma. Naomi and Ruth had this and more. In many of those moments there isn't anything much that we can do about what comes our way. So what do we do? How do we cope? How do we carry on?

Naomi and Ruth didn't know what was before them, but they knew what was behind. They also knew they couldn’t bring the good times back! They knew that they had to go forward because there was nowhere else to run and hide. Naomi returned home saying, "from now on call me "Mara;" bitterness or sorrow. She had lost everything, but there she stood, along with Ruth, with happier times at their backs and uncertainty ahead. It reminds me of the old lPopular song,  "Side by side.”

One thing Ruth and Naomi had was love. Surround me with love and I can face some pretty awesome things if I know that love is real. If someone reminds you that they’re with you, backing you up with open hands and hearts offering to heal your hurts and soothe your worries it makes a world of difference doesn’t it? Naomi and Ruth had the love of one another with which to face the future!

FAITH

They seem to also have faith. Faith allows us to face the uncertainty of life, when it comes at you fast, and the joy is sucked out of it. Faith reminds you that whatever happens -it will be all right! Faith allows you and me to stand and face tomorrow, and another tomorrow, and another after that until the sorrow fades and the disappointment turns back to joy.

Faith allows us to face difficulty with a trust and belief that says -hold on and God will work it all out for your good and His glory. Romans 5:3-5 says:

"More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us."

Faith assures us that we can not only endure, but through our endurance our character is perfected. Through the character building experience hope starts to loom and we find that the hope is real.

Naomi and Ruth had been through some things. They faced the uncertainty and the suffering and eventually came to understand the character that God had placed in them, and through it all found it was not hopeless.

Consider the counsel of Ephesians 6.13:

"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm."

This means that we have the stuff to face life, and take it as it comes. Faith enables us to take the lemons of life and make lemonade. There is nowhere to run so we will have to stand. Jesus also reminds us of the gift of having faith if only the size of a mustard seed. It doesn't take much faith to start a triumphant process – but it does take some faith. Faith increases if you use it, just as the mustard seed starts small and becomes a shrub where life resides. Remember Hebrews 11:1:

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things unseen."

In faith we can face the present and the future.  We can’t go back, but we can go forward. As long as life resides in us we will have the option of going forward.

Naomi and Ruth couldn’t go back, that wasn’t an option. They had no choice, so now they will face the future with love and faith!

DON’T GO TO MOAB

This Book of Ruth is a Book about strong women. It’s a time when men were weak. The reason why I know that Naomi was a strong and unusual woman is because when she came back to Bethlehem the whole town knew her. The whole town was stirred. Another thing to notice in the narrative is that Naomi and her family weren’t starving when they left Bethlehem. By Naomi’s own admission in verse 21, she said we left full.

A STRONG WOMAN CAN LEAD A WEAK MAN TO MOAB

 All too often men are so weak spiritually they throw all the decision making on the women folk. Naomi’s name means pleasant, smiling, beautiful, charming, and delightful. Men, strong women can lead you to Moab. A pleasant woman can lead a man almost anywhere. Don’t let your friends, your mama your sister your brother, take you to Moab.

You think things are messed up now. You think you’re having it hard now? Sir, you go  to Moab and stay awhile and tell me how you like it there. Tradegy always comes sooner or later to people who leave the House of God for the filth of this world. Moab ruined Naomi because as you read this text and look at verse 13 she said “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” She said “I was responsible.” And if you notice in verse 20 she said “the Lord has dealt very bitterly with me.” And in verse 21 she said the Lord has afflicted me. She said -"the Lord has testified against me."

Naomi understood that it was her leading that got Elimelech and her two sons down into Moab. She made it back to Bethlehem but her husband died in Moab. She made it back. But her sons married women in Moab, and then her sons died in Moab. If you hang around in Moab, you can lose your family. Naomi lost her family after 10 years in Moab. Everything was gone.

MOAB WILL RUIN YOUR FINANCES

Naomi said in verse 21, “I went out full. I left Bethlehem and I did not know how blessed I was. I didn’t know what I had, but now in retrospect I can see I was full and didn’t know it." Many people don’t know they’re blessed until they go to Moab. Someone has rightly said, “You don’t miss your water until your well runs dry.” Moab will ruin your finances. She said “I went out full but now I’m empty.”

By her own admittance she says “I’m broke.” I've got nothing left, no husband, no sons, I am broke.” It reminds me of the prodigal son who left his father’s house, who by his own admission at the hog pen said, “My father's servants have bread and enough to spare and here I am desiring to eat from the hog pen. " Moab will ruin you financially. I’ve seen people leave the family of God, wipe their hands, get mad  and through with God. They take off to Moab and, I’ve seen them come back. I’ve seen them go out full and come back empty.

Moab will impact the way you look. Look at verse 20. Notice that when they came back to town in verse 19, the whole city was moved. She’d been a woman of influence. The townspeople said - "is this Naomi? This can’t be Naomi. This can’t be that, gorgeous, beautiful, eloquent woman of influence who left Bethlehem. This can’t be Naomi."

Moab will even mess up your facial features. I’ve seen people who live in Moab. I’ve see what sin can do. I’ve seen how Moab can eat you up. I’ve seen what dope and substance abuse can do.

They said, Naomi, you haven’t been gone but 10 years and you look far beyond your age. Time has plowed furrows of worry across her face. That body that was like a sculptor’s dream, that figure eight has turned to a figure O. Hair that was as black as a raven’s back—time has speckled it with gray. Skin that was as smooth as a Georgia peach now looks like 10 miles of bad road. Moab will suck all the life from you. Moab will take your joy and age you, quickly.

Naomi said in verse 21 “The Lord has afflicted me.” The word afflicted in the Hebrew means to break into pieces. And sometimes in order to get you back to Bethlehem, He has to break you down. He has to break your pride. He has to tear that ego down. So she says “don’t call me Naomi,” which means beautiful, amiable and pleasant, “call me Mara,” which means bitter. It means “worn out.” "My name is not Naomi any more, it’s Mara."

YOU CAN RETURN

Let me offer a ray of hope here. You can return.

Naomi was hurt and she was lost in Moab, but she heard that God was blessing His people back in Bethlehem. The Bible says “the day you hear my voice, harden not your hearts.” I hear the Bible say “he that hath ear to hear, let him hear what the Lord is saying to him.”

Moab will wound you. Moab will weaken you. Moab will leave you without strength. When Naomi heard that God was blessing His people she said,-  "I know that I've been living in Moab. I know that I did wrong and I led my husband away." But she said,  "I’m going to hurry up and go back to Bethlehem/ Judah."

Let me tell you why you ought to be in a hurry. James said you ought to get in a hurry because- your life is like a vapor, it’s slowly vanishing away.


I can almost hear Naomi saying, “Lord, I know I messed up. Oh Lord, I left home with gold around my neck, but now I don’t have anything. But I’m going back to Bethlehem. I left home with children and I’ve lost them, but I’m going home to Bethlehem. I left home with a loving husband, but I lost my husband in Moab. But I’m coming back to Bethlehem.”

Are you living in Moab? You can come home today. You can come home… You may have a bad habit … Come home...You may be strung out… Come home…. You may be messed up….. Come home. You may have lost what you had…. Come home. Trouble in your life?… Come home. Family fractured?…. Come home. Finances all gone?… Come home.

God welcomes you back to Bethlehem…. Moab has wasted you… Come on back.

Come back to the father’s house.


Blessings,


John

Monday, January 2, 2017

Getting Unstuck For A New Year

By John Stallings


In the movie, “Forest Gump” you may remember the part of the movie where Forest decides to go for a run.

He first runs to the end of the driveway. Then he runs into town. Then he runs to the county line & then he runs to the state line. Then he runs across half the
United States to Santa Monica California.

Then Forest decides to turn around & run some more. This time he runs across the country to a lighthouse in Maine. He keeps running until people notice. He’s in the media, on magazine covers & starts to build a following. People start to run with him & follow him wherever he goes.With a full beard & dirty, grungy clothes, Forest finds himself with a large number of followers who will go wherever he goes.

One day,
Forest stops running. Standing in the middle of a road he speaks to his followers. They wait with bated breath for his words of wisdom. They lean toward him waiting for the words to fall from his lips.Forest speaks like no man ever spoke before, sharing these words of unprecedented wisdom, I hope you’re sitting because this is big; Forest says, “I’m kind of tired. I think I’m gonna go home now.” He walks through his followers who part like the Red Sea.

Though the movie was first & foremost a comedy, I think, & certainly it was just a movie, there’s something here that rings a serious bell. You can’t help but feel sorry for these people following
Forest, mostly because they have nothing better to do. They have no direction in their lives. These folk put their faith & hope in Forest & he has nothing to offer them.

WE HAVE A GUIDE

As we embark on the year 2017, we
aren’t like the people in the movie Forest Gump, - so empty, - so lost -that we would follow someone who’s going nowhere in particular. Forest had a good heart, but really had no clue where he was going & why. We’re told in scripture & we know experientially that the Holy Spirit who resides within us will Guide us into all truth. We have God, His Son Jesus & The Holy Spirit to fill our lives with meaning & give us guidance.

STUCK

The greatest challenge of the coming New Year will be letting go of the past in order to grasp a new future. It’s not as easy as it sounds because we as human beings have a way of getting stuck. Many people find that though they want passionately to believe things can be different, a new beginning always seems to move just out of reach. They find themselves slipping back into the bondage of the past.In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul said….

but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind & reaching forth for those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

If you saw the movie Groundhog Day; you have a perfect example of a man who’s stuck, living the same day over & over. I don’t think there is anyone who isn’t, or hasn’t been stuck. Maybe our “stuckness” centers on a tangible such as buying, eating, drinking, drugging, worrying, fretting, gambling, risks, sex, love, books, movies, television, ideas, work, or power. Or maybe what we’re experiencing is a general malaise or vertigo that we can’t put our finger on.

Being stuck is sort of a twilight zone of sameness with no seeming ability to affect any kind of change. We yearn for new vistas but seem to be fresh out of ideas as to how and where to find them. We look down the road and see no chance of anything but more of the same.

We all know what it’s like to be in a car that’s stuck, either in snow, sand or mud. My heart bled these past few weeks as I watched the folk in the northeastern states being victimized by the white stuff.Though we love white Christmases, too much of a good thing can be devastating.

But being emotionally and spiritually stuck is worse. It’s the realization that we’re not moving forward, and we feel paralyzed. There are projects we know we need to start or finish, but we’re seemingly trapped and frozen in place.

Few of us will grow in our Christian lives in a steady, gradual, upward slope from birth to death. Granted there will be seasons of seemingly effortless growth but there will also be seasons where we somehow get “stuck” at one level and can’t “break out” to the next level.Something’s getting in the way!It's my contention that part of what impedes our personal and spiritual growth are the "stuck" places in our life.

There are varieties of reasons we get stuck but whatever they might be, our personal growth diminishes the longer we remain stuck. We can get stuck in our past, in our pain, in our problems, in our perspectives or in our life patterns.I get stuck sometimes, don’t you? It is not usually an absence of options, but a plethora of them. One gets stuck in the process of choosing & then shuts down.We can sometimes get stymied. That implies being thwarted by some outside force.

Certainly outside forces influence us negatively or positively, but the reality is that most of the stymieing comes from within. We are afraid. We are afraid of the shame, embarrassment, & disappointment that failure will bring & the increased responsibility of success. Therefore, we are timid, tenuous, and terrorized by fear of the decisions we might make or actions we might take. After all, we might make a mistake. We might produce mediocre work. We might open a can of worms. Our "mights take away our might.”

Maybe a large challenge comes up, -we get discouraged & we freeze. We put our plans on hold & break our pattern of discipline.Sometimes “being stuck” is a signal that something has gone wrong; somehow we’ve missed it, and we’re terribly off course. This is not always the case; as a matter of fact, feeling stuck is a condition that can be good for us. For one thing, a prime prerequisite for getting unstuck is to be stuck. When we’re stuck, we’ve lost our momentum and are forced, at least temporarily, to stop and assess our lives.

Feeling stuck acts as an inward summons or call. We face the fact that we are dissatisfied with where we are. We see the utter futility of our situation, and, if we are wise, we reach for another level to satisfy the desire for change. At that point, we are reaching for that which really satisfies, and, in so doing, we are calling out for God. So that’s why I say that being stuck isn’t really a bad thing. What has happened is, because of the stuck feelings, we have begun to readjust our lives, looking for a clearer perspective. In a way we are calling out, “What’s next for me, God?


PEOPLE GET STUCK IN THE PAST

Some people live in the past and seem to revel in the hurts of yesterday. They won’t shake loose from their past failures or calamities because, to them, the past is more important than the present. When you talk to them, you quickly see they are totally caught up with & committed to keeping the past more real than the present. They are stuck.


 What decade was it that Ronnie Millsap was lost in? Was it the sixties? I liked the song but always forget the decade. Oh well, it matters not; the important things is he was stuck.

In John 5, Jesus saw a man sitting beside the pool of
Bethesda. He had been sitting there for thirty-eight years, trying to be first into the water after it was troubled by the angel. Jesus came along and heard the man’s story and immediately saw that he was stuck. I would say that thirty-eight years of sitting in the same spot, whining about the same problem is really being stuck. It didn’t cross the man’s mind that there was another way. When Jesus was able to get him to quit worrying about his past defeats and disappointments & look to Him, the man was healed, & he carried his bed away.

WE CAN GET STUCK IN OLD PATTERNS AND HABITS.

It’s not hard to develop bad habits (sometimes sinful), but more often people are just bogged in ruts. Some give up, figuring they can’t change, so why try? Perhaps because of resentment or a negative thought pattern they’ve been in so long, they think their situation could never change. Perhaps they’ve come to believe their lot in life is already static, & nothing can ever be different.


MAYBE YOU’RE STUCK FINANCIALLY OR WITH SOME OTHER PHYSICAL NEED.

In John 2, Jesus attended a wedding in
Cana of Galilee, & they had run out of wine. The people were stuck with no libation, & obviously it put the wedding planners in a bit of an embarrassing spot. They were stuck with no wine. Though Jesus’ time had not yet come to do miracles, He responded to the need & performed His first miracle by turning water into wine. When we are stuck financially, emotionally, or in any other way, we should immediately turn to Jesus, knowing He’ll always be responsive to our needs.

YOU MAY BE STUCK WITH A FALSE ASSUMPTION

In Joel
2:23-32, the prophet speaks to a people who are stuck in despair, feeling things will never get better. He tells them to look up and be glad for God is going to do great things for them. They have a great future if they’ll rise up and take hold of it by faith.He says in verse 25,-

-And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the , and the caterpillar, and the , my great army which I sent among you. 26And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. 27And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.28And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.

In I Kings 17 we read the story of Elijah being sent to the home of the widow of Zarephath. A famine was in progress, & the only thing she had was just enough meal to make a cake for herself & her son, then die of slow starvation. This poor little widow woman was indeed stuck. Elijah asked her to make him a little cake first, and at that point she had a choice. She could believe the word of the man of God or do it her way, & no doubt die. When she opted to obey, she was given a miracle supply of oil & meal that lasted for many days.

When things are going bad & we are stuck in some situation or other, we should always listen for Gods voice. He’ll have a plan to get us unstuck. [He has a fleet of spiritual tow-trucks that can be on your case before you can say “Gesundheit”.] The only thing the widow had to do was exercise obedience, & her need was met. To get unstuck, you & I will often have to make that same choice--to obey God.



SOMETIMES BEING STUCK IS JUST PURE PROCRASTINATION.

We develop a habit of putting things off until it finally turns into resistance to tasks that are unpleasant to us. Though we don’t enjoy thinking about it, sometimes we can become stubborn, which started as a childhood-survival technique we may have developed to ward off controlling people. We learned early that we can resist certain things, & people can do nothing but accept our resistance. Perhaps we even enjoyed seeing how it frustrated others when we used those powers of resistance. This may have worked as a child, but it isn’t necessary now, and if we don’t recognize what’s happening, it can be a tool of the devil to sabotage our motivation. Now it translates to pure, old, mule-headed stubbornness, keeping us from the changes we should make.


MAYBE WE ARE STUCK BECAUSE WE ARE RESISTING CHANGE.

Are you stuck at the beginning of the great New Year, 2017?


HERE ARE A FEW HELPFUL HINTS FOR GETTING UNSTUCK.

1. Look at your situation realistically. Does anything in the aforementioned apply? Ask God to help you see what’s really stopping your progress.

2. Look for the bottlenecks in your situation & address them.

3. Develop a “what’s next” mentality. God will show you His will if you seek Him.

4. Don’t hesitate to go to people you respect & enlist their prayers & advice. Don’t forget to seek God.

5. When you get temporarily stuck on a project, walk away for a while, & you’ll come back to it with a new perspective. But do come back.

6. Home run king, Henry Aaron, had this advice: In a slump, keep swinging.

7. Help others with their problems, & yours will seem smaller.

8. Take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally, & physically.

9. Start each day with God’s Word & a prayer for guidance.


LET ME GIVE YOU A LIST OF IMPORTANT QUESTIONS FOR THE NEW YEAR

1. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you’ll ask God to do for you this coming year?

2. What’s the single most important thing you need to happen to improve the spiritual quality of your family?

3. What spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress in & what will you do about it?

4. What’s the biggest time-waster in your life & what will you do about it in the coming year?

5. For whose salvation will you most fervently pray in the coming year?

6. How could you improve your prayer life in 2017?

7. What will you do in 2017 that will matter most in 10 years? In eternity?

8. What will you do differently by God’s grace this coming year?

9. What’s the most important decision you need to make in 2017?

10. What area of your life needs simplifying & how will you do it?

11. What important need do you feel burdened to meet in 2017?

12. What habit would you like to establish in 2017?

13. Who do you most want to encourage this year?

14. What’s the most important financial goal you need to meet & how will you go about doing it?

15. How can you improve the quality of your work life?

16. What will you endeavor to do to bless your pastor or others who minister to you?

17. What book in addition to the bible do you want to read?

18. What’s your biggest regret of 2016 and; what will you do about it in 2017?

19. What important trip would you want to take in 2017?

20. What skill do you want to learn or improve?

21. To what need or ministry will you give to in an unprecedented way in 2017?

22. What biblical doctrine do you want to better understand?

23. If those who know you best gave you advice, what advice would that be?

24. Would they be right?

25. What will you do about it? You are looking for ways to make progress in your life. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have read these little tips by such a non-expert as I.


If we keep reaching, the best is yet to come.

In
Saskatchewan there’s a sign by the side of a muddy road which reads:

CHOOSE YOUR RUT CAREFULLY, YOU’LL BE IN IT A LONG TIME.

Have a happy and blessed New Year,


Every Blessing,


John 



















































































Monday, December 26, 2016

Holy Bounce-ology

By John Stallings


Recently a 33 year old man from Brooklyn, New York was distraught that he was about to be robbed for the second time in nine months, this time by two youths intent on stealing his watch and Laptop.

The man started screaming uncontrollably, “Why does this have to happen to me? Why does this always have to happen to me?” The poor guy was so upset that his nerves got the best of him and he was making so much noise about it that the muggers got nervous. The victim later told police that one of the robbers …answered “Oh please, don’t be a crazy person. This is New York. Everybody gets mugged.”

I don’t want to be flip here, because getting mugged as anyone whose ever been robbed knows all too well, is no fun. But the philosophical robber had it right. What is true on the tough streets of Brooklyn is true in this rough-and-tumble place called real life. Eventually everybody- no matter how spiritual, clever, lucky, well bred or bright -gets “mugged" in life. Real life has this way of periodically knocking our underpinnings out from underneath us…of upsetting our orderly assumptions…of messing with that idyllic script we all wrote for ourselves...of throwing our lives into upsetting chaos.

Sometime early on in our adult lives most-if-not-all-of-us write a wildly optimistic script for ourselves…a script that would have things go predictably, safely, gently and well for us.

At some point in our innocence we imagine that our lives will unfold in smooth, rational, comfortable patterns. We imagine that we’ll get the right education, find the right job, and begin building a satisfying career that will see us steadily and predictably advance in expertise, influence, and income.

We imagine that we will on cue find just the right person to fall in love with, a wonderful Christian individual, establish a happy partnership in a beautiful home with that mate, and together have God’s blessings and the right genetics to have a couple of darling, bright and precocious children and grandchildren who will do us proud by their well-rounded development into exceptional adults.

In addition to fulfillment and contentment at home and work, we likewise imagine that what lies ahead for us is a long, contented life marked by good health, good luck, heavenly blessings, good judgment, and maybe a few unpleasant surprises. Right?

Then…sooner or later…something called real life shows up and says to each of us, "HEL…LOOO!"

Few if any make it into midlife who have not been thrown at least one “cosmic sucker punch,” often when they least expected it. A marriage fails… a child dies… a car accident happens… a career derails…perhaps disease or illness comes…maybe we just find ourselves struggling to cope with a mix of vexing life difficulties. I once knew a pastor who jokingly told people that his favorite scripture was “grin and bear it.” Funny guy!

When we got our first computer there was a cute little video making the rounds with an animated girl singing the pop song “I will survive.” Just as she’s really getting into the song a big wrecking ball comes down and squashes her. Though it was really a shocking thing to see, after the initial viewing I almost burst my sides laughing. The whole thing rings so true. Maybe we won’t all get hit so hard but that’s exactly the kind of thing life is famous for. Remember the song “That’s life?”

Each of us "gets mugged" in different ways – but we all experience the painful shock to our system when some aspect of our life goes completely hay-wire, and we find ourselves struggling in ways we never remotely imagined. Perhaps one of the most essential truths of living is…over a lifetime, bad, unwanted things happen to us and all of us are eventually thrown to the mat by life.

These thoughts may trouble you at first because we’re taught that nothing happens to the child of God in a “happenstance way.” And that is true. God’s people don’t just bounce around helplessly with no rhyme or reason to their experience. Very true. So the correct idea is that- “bouncing” is a word or concept we mortals use to explain what our life experience sometimes feels like. But from God’s perspective, we’re all on a divine time-clock experiencing exactly what God intends for us. If God didn’t send it, He allowed it and will be faithful to work it all out for our good and His glory.

General George Patton said, “Success is determined by how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”

You may hit bottom when you make wrong, foolish choices, or you may hit bottom because of the wrong foolish choices of others. Failure can send you plummeting down to the depths of discouragement. When your money runs low or your health is snatched away--when depression drags you down and you can’t seem to find any hope---when you feel all alone and God feels far away-- you look around and discover you’ve hit bottom. The real issue is: how do you bounce back then?

BOWLING BALL, BASKET BALL

What would happen if you dropped a bowling ball? Would it bounce back up, or would it hit the floor with a thud? That's right; it would hit the floor and pretty much stay there. Bowling balls aren't very good at bouncing back.

Now, what would happen if you dropped a basketball? Would it bounce back up, or would it hug the floor? Right again, it would bounce right back up.

Now, why will the basketball bounce back up and the bowling ball won't? Someone might explain that the density and composition of the basketball is key to its ability to bounce. The simple fact is that the basketball is made of the right stuff and has what it takes to bounce back, the bowling ball doesn't.

God made us like that. When things aren't going too well for us we can either be the basketball or the bowling ball. We can choose to either hit the floor and stay there, or we can bounce back higher than we were before. We can do that because we’re made of the right stuff. God gave us the strength to overcome life’s downers. He gave us the ability to bounce back.

So remember this the next time you’re feeling down, sad, angry, or lonely; you can bounce back. You can do it with God’s help.

I am persuaded that because life is the way it is, a healthy measure of resilience is crucial to each of us if we are to successfully navigate spiritually and emotionally through the often unpredictable, challenging tumble of our lives. Life has taught me that resilience is a profound and saving virtue…resilience is a life stance and skill that can rescue us from bitter, poisoned, withdrawn and joyless living.

Life is tricky. That just might be the understatement of the year. Resilience is something you and I must intentionally nurture if we are going to cope in life.

We’ve observed people we know both in the public arena and in our private lives respond very differently to adversity. We all have watched as some people who become paraplegics by some terrible accident find it impossible to adapt to this loss, fold their spiritual and emotional tents and sit there immobilized in self-pitying despair because they have lost the use of their legs.

Meanwhile other, more resilient people who have experienced the exact same thing, and are outwardly no different than those who emotionally and physically collapse get right back out there, decide to make the most of a bad situation, and begin training joyfully for wheelchair marathons!

Similarly, we all know people who have gone through a painful divorce who treat their failure in love as permanent and refuse to believe they can ever be successfully and joyfully intimate with another person…while other persons more resilient at heart who have been just as deeply hurt and surprised by the collapse of a marriage, move on from their failed relationship with faith that they can and will learn from the experience, and eventually once again start seeking the kind of life-saving love and intimacy we all seek.

Likewise, we witness some people who tragically lose a beloved child or a spouse in the prime of life spend the next four decades hating God, and stewing in the unfairness of the capricious loss they have suffered…while others who experience the same loss and grief, who are again, just as deeply shattered and shaken by the shock of such loss somehow quickly and courageously begin once again to open new doors out into their worlds…by risking new, caring relationships and commitments that reconnect them in love and vulnerability.

I marveled at the resiliency of the late Superman actor Christopher Reeve. Without a lot of fuss he turned the terrible loss he suffered toward the brightest possible light, and adapted his life productively to the new possibilities his disability allowed.

Let me introduce you to my blind son-in-law, Marcus Engel. I have written about him before because he’s a very interesting individual. Though I don’t see men as women do I must admit Marcus is a tall, dark and handsome dude. To make it even more disgusting [kidding] he’s well over six feet and from Greek extraction. At age 18, Marcus was riding in a car that was t-boned by a drunk driver. Marcus lost his sight because of that accident but in the ensuing years has with infectious spirit adapted to being sightless to the extent that I can say in spite of the daily hardships and frustrations which come with blindness, leads as full, joyful and engaged a life as anyone I’ve ever met or heard of.

Today in his thirties, Marcus along with my eldest daughter, the lovely and gracious Marvelyne, and his faithful Guide dog Garrett, [Marcus’ third dog] travels the nation as a motivational speaker, speaking in schools, colleges and I suppose any venue open to him. It’s an inspiration just to be in Marcus’ presence.

Let me give you a quick antic dote to show you the depth of Marcus’ resiliency. I first heard about it on Face book. A week or so ago, Marcus had finished giving a speech at a college and was signing books. His new Guide dog Garrett, just walked off. This type of thing is almost unheard of, what with all the training the dogs go through. What I’ve learned about Guide dogs is that when they get all rigged in their “harness” they are strictly business and really pay attention only to their owner. However when you take off the harness, they are just as playful as any other dog, and probably friendlier.

Marvelyne said they located Garrett in a happy mood running up and down the halls. He had his harness on his back that Marc uses to hold on to. I’ve often marveled at the teaming an unsighted person with a dog in this way because I know a lot of people who can see who can’t handle a dog.

Non-the-less the system works. With his usual acumen, Marcus took the whole incident in stride, understanding that if human beings can have lapses in judgment and acceptable behavior, certainly a young inexperienced guide dog can.

BOUNCE-OLOGY
Isn’t it encouraging realizing that God has built into all of us the innate ability to bounce back from anything that life might throw at us? In other words, we’re actually designed that way by our all-wise heavenly Father. Let that sink in; you and I were designed by God with the equipment to bounce-back from anything life shells out. Obviously Christians have this ability in spades although some don’t seem to realize how ‘bouncy” they really are.

If we fall accidentally, or are slammed to the ground by the actions of another; the harder the fall, - the higher the bounce. To further simplify it, this experience can be traced through an acronym spelled FIRE;

F-Fall
I-Impact
R-Restoration
E-Elevation

Let’s use a tennis ball as an example. If you saw in slow-motion a tennis racket hitting a tennis ball, you’d see the ball sinking into the racket and partially losing its shape because of the pressure of the strike. We could call that the “Fall.” As the “Impact” of the fall/strike unfolds, you’d see the ball leaving the racket and being thrust forward at a high rate of speed, but you’d also notice the ball as it moves through the air, thanks to the way it’s engineered, regaining its original shape. This is “restoration,” because the ball, once “bent out of shape” has now regained its original form.

Then depending on the force of the swing the ball was subjected to, and the trajectory of the strike, the ball would reach a certain height or distance. This is Elevation.
Once the ball has left the racket, and the further it moves away from the strike, built-in buoyancy assumes control. Can you see it? Praise the Lord, the harder we’re hit the higher we bounce back. I’ve been slammed so hard at times; I knew I was going to need an oxygen mask to breathe when the “elevation” came.

Any blow a Christian takes can do nothing but push them further along the path God has laid out for them. Why? Because that blow has to pass through a “divine sifter” and that sifter transforms the blow from destructive to constructive.

LIFE DOESN’T ALWAYS MOVE ALONG THE PATH WE ANTICIPATE.

MOSES

Moses is a study in bounces. He started off a basket case. By all accounts he should have been dead. He was in the equivalent of a Hebrew refugee camp. Moses was abandoned by his parents under threat of the State. The pharaoh king fearful of the sheer number of the Israeli population ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill any boy babies as soon as they were born. He of course expected this to be carried out, but Moses was spared. Moses was part of a despised minority [baby boys] so despised in fact they were victims of legalized murder.

A question arises here; why didn’t God just allow His deliverer to be born before Pharaoh decided to kill all the Hebrew male babies?Think about it this way; the lethal environment into which Moses was born provided an opportunity for a Hebrew child to be raised by the daughter of Pharaoh. The man who was going to take 2,000,000 rough-necks through a hostile desert for 40 years, meet face to face with Pharaoh as God’s spokesman & write the first five books in the Bible required a very special kind of training & the development of some unique abilities.

So God arranges a set of circumstances wherein a Hebrew mother places a perfectly healthy beautiful child into a wicker basket which would end up in the possession of the daughter of Pharaoh who raises him in a manner fitting royalty. Think about the utter improbability of a baby boy born to a hated Hebrew slave receiving grooming required to do all that God had planned for Moses. Yet it’s no problem for God because He’s sovereign.

Moses was banished to oblivion in the bleak "Desert University" for forty years until God called him one day out of a burning bush. This calling was the continuation of a life that was marked by ups & downs. We’re told that after a long life of 120 years, Moses died secure in the arms of God.He came a long way from the wicker basket & passed on in accordance with God’s timetable for him. He must have marveled as he looked back over his life & all that God had wrought through him. Before he died, Moses was still robust enough to climb Mt. Nebo in the land of Moab, a mountain that’s extremely high. He hadn’t sat on the sidelines of life & though he wasn’t perfect we are told after his departure,

--No prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”

PAUL

Paul said,--being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ…… Phil.1:6

Paul knew what it was to be on a roller coaster ride in his life experience. He had learned to be the big dog or to be considered a complete flop. He knew how to have everything or how to have nothing. Paul could take it all in stride because he understood the sovereignty of God & had all faith that He would finish every work He started.Sometimes Paul soared to great heights & sometime he plummeted to the depths.

Listen to some of his life in his own words;

Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night & a day have I been in the deep;In journeyings often in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;In weariness, & painfulness, in watchings often, in cold & nakedness, beside those things that are without that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. --2 Cor.25-28

Paul gives us a verse of verses when he tells us;--We know that all things work together good for those who love God who are the called according to his purpose.—Romans 8:28

As Christians we believe that God holds the future in His hands.There are many times when we’ll not see the good even if it were right under our nose. We have to accept that our notion of what is good may not always square with what God calls good in His divine wisdom & infinite understanding. Sometimes life is a tapestry, a weaving, a quilt. If we look at it from the backside all we see is a confusing jumble of knots & threads & colors. It seems chaotic without rhyme or reason. We don’t always see what God’s hand is creating. But turn the tapestry over and you see the beautiful pattern.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God who are called according to His purpose. That promise is our anchor in this troubling & confusing world. That promise is our security, our comfort, our hope.

JESUS AND “ROCKY”

Peter is one of my favorite characters in the Bible, partly because we know a great deal about him. The Greek word we know as Peter really means "rock." Call me crazy but I like to think Jesus might have called him Rocky. Jesus built His church, not as many suppose, on Peter himself, but rather on his declaration of faith that Jesus was The Christ, The Son of The Living God. In scripture we see Peter struggling with the gap between what he wanted to be, and what he was.

Through the years, the gap narrowed and Peter became the Rock, the head of the disciples, a strong, powerful leader of the church who eventually was martyred in Rome. We can see the growth in Peter through the years and his experience can serve as an example for all of us who struggle in life.When you deal with the tension-anxiety-causing gaps in your life remember Peter. When you think of Peter, think of the four Rs.

Real,
Rash,
Resilient, and
Redeemable.


Peter was authentic. People were never in doubt as to who Peter was. He told you. He lived it. Peter accepted himself and was comfortable with himself. When he failed, he admitted it. When he felt guilty, he did something about it. He didn't wallow in the guilt. Peter was refreshingly open about his imperfections and shortcomings. When you are open about where you are, when you admit to yourself and those around you that you are not what you want to be, then you are opening yourself to the possibility of change.

When you deny where you are and who you are by pretending to yourself and to the world, you are denying yourself the opportunity to do something about it. No doctor can help people get well when they deny they are sick! Why would Jesus choose a Simon Peter rather than a self-righteous Pharisee? The insufferable Pharisees couldn't admit any defects, while Peter openly displayed his, admitted his humanness, and thereby opened himself to the transforming power of Christ. Peter's defects were redeemed.

There was little pretense in Peter. Peter was real, authentic, a genuine person who took himself as he came, didn't excuse himself; and didn't look for rationalizations. He presented himself as he was. Here I am, like me or not. Peter accepted himself, and, in the accepting, found the grace and power to change. Peter was real, rash, adventurous, impulsive, impetuous, thereby lovable, thereby able to grow, and able to make changes in his life. Peter impulsively tried to walk on water like Jesus, and sunk like a rock. Is that why Jesus called him Rocky??

When the soldiers arrested Jesus, Peter impulsively, impetuously, rashly, drew his sword and cut off a man's ear. Not that we should emulate this behavior, but it shows his personality. His feelings were near the surface. He took chances. He risked. Because he risked, he made himself vulnerable, and sometimes he made mistakes, like cutting off the guard's ear. Jesus reprimanded him for that.

If our goal is to never make a mistake, you and I will never do anything. We’ll remain rigid and frigid, immovable, and thereby irredeemable. Peter was resilient. He kept bouncing back. Jesus had to reprimand him on occasion. At one point, Jesus didn’t like the advice Peter was giving him, and He told Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan." Those were strong words but Peter didn't pout, sulk, get mad, or quit the group. He didn't say, "Jesus, take this job and shove it!" He persisted. He bounced back.

When he denied knowing Jesus to the maid in the courtyard outside the trial, and thereby, let Jesus down; when he was not there with Jesus through the trial and the crucifixion, he was filled with remorse, but unlike Judas, he didn't let his remorse drive him to suicide. Peter was resilient. He bounced back. After the crucifixion, he went to the upper room and led the group in their praying and deciding what to do next. He was filled with Holy Ghost power and in the first gospel sermon ever preached saw 3,000 souls saved.

When the women found the tomb of Jesus empty, they ran to report to Peter. Peter bounced back. He kept trying. He refused to give up. He sought to become the kind of person God was calling him to be. Peter was redeemable and there was always hope for him. Even though he disobeyed; even though he let Jesus down; even though he lied by denying he knew Jesus; even though he resorted to violence and cut off the guard's ear, in spite of Jesus' stand on non-resistance; the Lord was patient, long-suffering, and merciful.

Jesus called and kept calling, "Come, follow me." The Lord did not give up on Peter, and he became the Rock--an exemplary, Spirit-filled, powerful leader of the movement. Don't lower your expectations.

Instead, be like Peter; be real, rash, resilient, and thereby redeemable.


Keep bouncing back!


Blessings,


John

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Child With Four Names

By John Stallings

There are lots of people with three names.


Among them are, Sandra Day-O'Conner, US Supreme Court Judge, Jaquelyn Kennedy Onasis, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tommy Lee Jones, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Ray Cyrus, James Earl Jones, and Sara Jessica Parker.

Of course we can’t forget those with one name like Madonna, or Cher or Elvis.

One of the many important decisions confronting new parents is, “What shall we call our baby?” Most new parents spend hours debating this question. We all realize that names matter. Shall the new baby be named after his father, his uncle, a favorite friend? Should he be given a name that happens to be popular at the moment? Or one that simply sounds good?

Charles Phillip Arthur George


Names are important because once you pick out a name the child will be stuck with it for a long, long time! Babies have no voice in the selection of their names. They have to live with them — to live them down or live them up.

Every so often you’ll run across a person with multiple names, such as Charles Phillip Arthur George Windsor. That’s sounds odd until you discover it’s Prince Charles. If you say that’s a heavy load to lay on a baby, remember He’s royalty and He needs a long name.
So it is with Jesus.

Even before His birth, Jesus was a child with many names. The prophet Isaiah, writing 700 years before He was born, prophesied that Messiah would have four names:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

We know that there are many other names for Jesus; however this verse reveals four of those names. Each one features an aspect of His character. They teach who He is and how He can help us. One of our beloved carols is cast in a plaintive question:

What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”


Listen to Isaiah’s divinely-inspired answer. These four names speak to us about wisdom, power, security, and assurance. The first name is…

1. WONDERFUL COUNSELOR


Literally this title means “a wonder of a counselor.” It speaks of the wisdom of his plan. The word “wonderful” means “astonishing” or “extraordinary.” The writers of the Old Testament used it for acts of God which man cannot understand. The word “counselor” means “advisor” or “ideal ruler.”

There are several professions that make their living giving advice to others but they can’t claim perfection. Psychiatrists routinely make $150 (and sometimes $350) an hour for their counsel. Much of it is good, some not so good. But the Lord goes to no one for advice. And when anyone comes to him, He gives them the counsel they need.

He is therefore the perfect teacher and the ultimate counselor. This gives us insight into his working. His plans are not our plans, His ways not our ways. He will accomplish things beyond human comprehension and He will do it in ways we cannot fathom. He will do the greatest work ever accomplished and He will do it seamlessly. A violent death would not be man’s way to victory but it was God’s plan and our Lord carried it out perfectly.

As the Wonderful Counselor, He gives great direction to His people. Those who follow him will not walk in darkness but in the blazing light of day. In this tiny baby we see all the wisdom of God wrapped in swaddling clothes.What Child is This? He is the Wonderful Counselor. Then He’s the…

2. MIGHTY GOD


This speaks of the “Power of Accomplishment.” It is first of all a statement of deity. The baby born in the manger is not just the Son of God; He is also God the Son. All the fullness of God dwells in the Lord Jesus Christ. As the ancient creeds declare, He is “very God of very God.”

That can never be said of any mere human baby. Something else is important in this title. The word translated “mighty” is the word gibo, which means “strong one” or “the powerful, valiant warrior.” Thus the term “mighty God is actually a military title. He is the God who fights for his people! At the Incarnation, God took the form of human flesh. That’s why one of his names is Immanuel–God with us.

Now take the first two titles together and what do you have?

As the Wonderful Counselor — He makes the Plans.
As the Mighty God —He makes the plans Work.

All of his wonderful plans will be carried out with all of God’s infinite might. There is in this little baby’s arms flailing around in His crude bassinet all the strength of Deity. The power of God is in those tiny fists. He has strength which is divine. The omnipotence of God is at His command. Whatever He desires, He is able to achieve.

Carl Sagan Meets Jesus


When we meet Jesus, we meet God. If He is not the “mighty God,” then we are deceived and it is blasphemy to worship him. There is no middle ground here.

If He is not God, we are fools to worship Him. If He is God, we are fools not to.

Some time back renowned astronomer Carl Sagan died. He is best remembered for his famous PBS series called “Cosmos” in which he evangelized for his evolutionary views, especially the notion that the universe is billions and billions of years old. He repeatedly said that he didn’t believe in the afterlife. However, he also said he wasn’t an atheist because he didn’t know enough to rule out the possibility of God. I would argue that God never gave a human being the power to be a real atheist, but that’s another article.

Carl Sagan is an evolutionist no longer. And at this moment he is neither an atheist nor an agnostic, for he has met the Mighty God whom he refused to worship in this life. Despite his great learning and his notable achievements, Carl Sagan died a fool’s death because he would not bow before the Babe of Bethlehem.

HERE’S THE REAL REASON MANY PEOPLE RESENT MANGER SCENES IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE…


Banning manger scenes or other Christmas scenes from public places has nothing whatsoever to do with being “politically correct” or offending people of other religions. Let’s do a post-mortem on the real reason some people fight so hard to call Christmas trees “Holiday trees” and say “Season’s greetings,” or “Happy holidays” taking all mention of Christ out of Christmas.

Christmas is the great dividing line of the human race. No wonder some people want all mention of Christmas expunged from our public schools and from our public life, indeed from human consciousness. They understand that Christians believe Christmas is based on the belief that at Bethlehem, God Incarnate slipped out of timelessness into time, to land in the arms of a virgin girl. Now, if this is true, then unbelievers have problems.

When a person says there is no God, rejecting Christianities tenants, they are telling themselves they can live like the devil then die like a dog. How “very nice” for them. They want to believe that at death, that’s it, it’s over. They’ll never be faced with standing before a Holy God being judged based on what they did with their life, and especially what they did with Jesus.

These “atheists” may never darken a church door. They can live their lives and never open a Bible. They never have to even hear the name of God or Jesus Christ except in cursing. But once a year, here comes Jesus again. And that’s every year, for about a month. More toasters will be sold in Jesus’ name than any name in history. More turkey and Ham will be sold in His name and more money will be spent in His name than any other name. The only way these folk could escape it would be to leave the planet.


Now, if they’re not careful they’ll hear Christ’s name coming out of their own mouth, and we couldn’t have that. A manger scene isn’t only about a cute little baby. Who could be offended by that? The entire world loves a baby. But baby Jesus is different. If you accept that manger scene then you’ve got to accept that God exists, the miracle of the virgin birth, and the rest that goes along with it. This is too painful for them because when you extrapolate it out, you’re faced with things like- one day giving account for yourself to God and then issues like what your eternal address will be, - heaven or hell.

If we take out manger scenes and the name of Christ, we’ve erased some of the best gospel preaching imaginable, and to these people that’s a good thing.

In this tiny baby we see the power of God sleeping on Mary’s lap. What Child is this? He is the Mighty God. He is also…

3. THE EVERLASTING FATHER


In the Hebrew the phrase is literally “the Father of Eternity.” This speaks of the purpose of his coming.

He is before, above, and beyond time. He is the possessor of eternity. He is eternally like a father to his people. This is not a statement about the Trinity, but about the character of our Lord. All that a good father is, Jesus is to his people.

Because He’s like a father, -caring for his people. Because He owns eternity, He can give us eternal life. That’s so important for those of us who live on this sin-cursed planet. No one lives forever. Sooner or later we will also find our own place in the graveyard. We’re not immortal, but transitory. We’re here today, gone tomorrow. A dead Christ will do us no good. Dying men need an undying Christ.

Here’s a key phrase: He is a father forever! That’s important to me because I had a father, but not a father forever. I had a father, but he is gone now… He was a very good man, but he was not a father forever. . I am father to daughters but not a father forever. I will someday pass away. All human fathers must go. But Jesus is a father forever! He’ll outlast the stars in the heavens.

When our children need anything, we run to help them. If they cry, we go. If they want us, we will come to them. We would never kick them out. They belong to us. They are ours, in a manner of speaking. What we are in a poor way to them, Jesus is in a perfect way to all who believe in Him.

In this tiny baby we see the love of God sleeping in a stable. What child is this? He is the everlasting Father and he’s also…


4. PRINCE OF PEACE

The phrase literally means “the prince whose coming brings peace” This speaks of the effect of his coming. This final title is the climax of all that has gone before. The word “prince” means something like “General of the Army.” It speaks of his high position. The word “peace” speaks of his basic nature.

Recently I read that there are more wars raging right now than at any time this century. All over globe there are ethnic conflicts and tribal wars. Closer to home not a day goes by without word that someone else has been murdered in America. We see so much killing that it no longer surprises us—or even bothers us.

In Florida where I live, just this week a man, embittered because his wife had lost her teaching job went to a school-board meeting intent on killing several school board officials. The video has been played over and over with the warning about its violence. He was a very angry man but thankfully a bad shot and was gunned down by officials. This video will probably go viral on YouTube.
We’re practically immune to violence because we live in a violent world.

Isaiah 9:6 tells us that God’s plan for world peace is focused on a one person—a baby asleep in a manger in Bethlehem. He is the ultimate man of peace.

· In the past, His coming made peace with God*
. In the present, those who come to Him find peace in their heart when Christ comes in.
· In the future, His second coming will usher in a kingdom of peace. There is no peace today. -So much strife and bloodshed. He is not a failure. We are.


Christ is no warrior, no greedy conqueror, and no empire builder. He came to bring peace. He did. He does. He will.

In this tiny baby we see the peace of God welcomed by angels and shepherds. What child is this? He is the Prince of Peace.

In this one verse you have the four names of Jesus. This is what they mean to us today:


If you are confused…He is the Wonderful Counselor.
If you are weak…..He is the Mighty God.
If you are scared……He is the Everlasting Father.
If you are disturbed….He is the Prince of Peace.
You never know what may happen in the world because a baby was born. No doubt the Innkeeper didn’t know who he was turning away. Even Mary couldn’t fully imagine what it all meant that night. But that baby born in Bethlehem has become the centerpiece of human history. We even divide time itself by his coming—B.C. and A.D.

What child is this? He is … the Wonderful Counselor … the Mighty God … the Everlasting Father … the Prince of Peace.

For to us”


The most important part of our verse is the first three words……."For to us” The gift of Christ is a personal gift from God to us. A gift requires a response. If I put a gift under your tree, you may acknowledge it, may admire it, may even thank me for it, but it isn’t yours until you open it and take it for your own.

Why Would God Visit Us?


Mankind has made a total mess of things. We blew our one shot at immortality—and now the graveyards are filling up. But God is not finished with us yet. Go to Psalm 8 and find these words;

“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”


David seems to say; why bother with people like us? We ruined Eden, you gave us another chance, and we fouled up so badly that you sent a flood to wipe out the human race except for one family. Why not just hit the delete button on the human race? Why not just admit that this was an experiment that didn’t work out? No one could blame God if He decided to get rid of us all and start over again.

David’s question comes to the very heart of Christmas—What is man that God should pay attention to us? What is man that God should care about us after we’ve failed so miserably? Why should God care about us at all?

The New King James Version renders verse 4 this way: “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” Why would God care enough to visit people like us? It is right at this point that we see the glory and wonder and mystery of the gospel.

Jesus visited us to become like us in his nature. That’s the Incarnation. That’s Bethlehem. That’s Christmas. He came into this world as a tiny baby, born in a stable, in an obscure village, born in poverty, unwanted by the world. He was just another face in the crowd. Few knew that He was coming. No one cared that He had arrived. Jesus “had” to do this. In order to truly “visit” us, He had to become like us.

Jesus tasted death because that is our common destiny… Jesus could not have truly “visited” us if He had held himself back from “the last enemy” that confronts us—death. In order to be fully human, He had to taste death. Jesus suffered and died because that was the only way He could save us. Only by dying could He give us life.

Jesus came to restore all that we had lost in Eden. The Bible calls Jesus “the last Adam.” One of the verses of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” calls him the “Second Adam from above.” He came to reverse the curse that we brought upon ourselves. Now in heaven He is crowned with glory and honor. One day all those who believe in Jesus will share that glory with him.

God said, “I will not leave you alone. I will not let you destroy yourself, each other, and the world I have made. I love you too much to let you alone.” So He sent prophets. We killed them. He wrote letters. We ignored them. He told us how to live—and we said, “Who are you to tell us what to do?” We mocked the God who made us, we broke his laws, we said we didn’t need him, and we made up our own gods that we liked much better because they looked so much like us.


Oh, we made a mess of things. God had every reason to kill us all. But he didn’t. He said, “I love you too much to let you go.” And after we had trashed everything, God said, “I’m coming down there so you’ll know once and for all how much I love you.” We didn’t pay any attention; it didn’t even make sense to us. How could God visit us? But He did—and He came to the world in a very strange way. He entered a virgin’s womb and came out as a baby, born in Bethlehem, a baby named Jesus, born to save us from our sins.

So He came as a baby, and when He grew up, we butchered Him, slaughtered Him and murdered Him on a cross. That’s the thanks we gave to God for visiting us. But we were wrong about everything. After we killed Him, He came back from the dead—proving that He was right all along and we were really wrong—dead wrong about everything—and still God loved us and came from heaven to earth on the greatest rescue mission in history.

He came because we blew it so badly.He came and we killed him.He died and became our Savior.

WHAT A STORY! WHAT A CHRIST!


That’s the good news of Christmas: God has done it all. The only thing left to you and me is to believe. God wrapped up his Son in swaddling clothes and said to the whole world, “This is my Christmas gift to you.”

Someone rightly called Christmas “the happiest holiday.” But it will only be truly happy for those who truly believe in Jesus. I cannot prove to you that what I have said is true. You will have to decide that for yourself. But I can say without any reservation that I have staked my life on the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the incomparable Son of God.

Christmas matters because truth matters. And the heart of the truth is that God did not leave us alone, but in our misery He came to visit us one dark night in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.

Christmas is all about who we are, and who God is, and how far God will go to reach us.


Blessings,


John


Merry Christmas



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