Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Power of Faith

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he went off by himself in a boat to a remote area to be alone.  But the crowd heard where he was headed and followed by land from many villages.  Matthew 14:13 (NLT)

Despair is a powerful emotion.  We've all been in that place of hearing difficult news and feeling overcome with shock, disbelief, grief, and hopelessness.  Jesus had such a moment when he heard about the gruesome death of John: his cousin, partner in ministry, and prophet of God.  John had prepared the way for Jesus' arrival.  John had faithfully followed God's call on his life, and now, like many prophets before him, he was dead.  An innocent, holy man of God was brutally murdered at the wish of a bitter wife, a thoughtless daughter, and a spineless king.

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he went off by himself...

Jesus was popular at this point in His ministry.  Word had gotten around of His power to heal and His amazing teachings, and rumors were flying that He was the Messiah, the one who had come to save them.  To be alone, Jesus had to make a deliberate point to do so.  He had to have a plan.  He couldn't wander off and disappear.  Someone would see Him and He would be followed.  He managed to make it to a boat and set sail, but there was a crowd waiting for Him on the other side.

We know from other accounts of this time that Jesus wasn't actually alone.  His disciples were with Him.  They had just returned from a mission trip to teach about the nearness of God's Kingdom, to heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. (Matt. 10:5-15).  The disciples had returned to tell Jesus all they had done, and Jesus was ready for some solitude after being rather busy Himself--and hearing some difficult news.

We don't know what Jesus did during those hours before they made it to the remote area on the other side of the sea.  We don't know how much time He had.  We don't know what He thought about, what prayers He prayed, what He said to His disciples, if He took a nap, or what His state of mind was.  We know from other times Jesus slipped away from the crowds that He used that time to pray, teach His disciples, and rest.  He probably did all three.  

If Jesus made a deliberate point to seek what He needed for a difficult, heart-wrenching situation, how much more do we need to do the same?

I spent some time last week in a peaceful place.  I went to my childhood home to visit with my large family.  I was there with my three kids, and a lot of us were there at various moments, but I found some time to be alone with the beauty and peacefulness of the country setting surrounding me.  Alone with God, Bible on my lap, pen in hand, writing out verses and thoughts and prayers in my journal as I often do.  God met me there in a unique way as I read about Jesus hearing the horrible news about John and going off by Himself.  

I imagined what Jesus may have done during that time, and I wrote out some ideas, but it wasn't until I read the next part of the story I could see what one of the results of this alone-time was.  At first it seems interruptive, as if His plan didn't work.  He wanted to be alone, He wanted his disciples to rest, but a large crowd was waiting for Him on the other side.  But as I read what Jesus did, I came to a different conclusion.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.  As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late.  Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food."

Jesus had a good reason to send them away.  They needed food and He could probably use some rest from the long day and more time alone to cope with His grief.  But He didn't.  I think Jesus was reminded of a few things on the boat ride over.  He may have been feeling weary, defeated, heartbroken, and hopeless in the darkness of a tragic event, but He chose to believe what was true: He could continue on with His ministry despite difficult circumstances.  He couldn't stop now.  His disciples had accomplished some great things, and He had more to teach them.  They needed to believe in the work they still had to do and the power they possessed to accomplish it.

Jesus told the disciples they could feed the people.  They didn't believe they could, so He did it.  He took the little food they had and multiplied it to feed the thousands who were there.  I wonder why they doubted in their ability to do the same?  Hadn't they just returned from a great ministry tour of teaching, healing, and seeing God's power flow through them?  What happened to their faith?

Perhaps they weren't thinking about Jesus' words that way.  They were only thinking about the regular way to get food, not imagining it could happen supernaturally.  Sometimes when things seem completely impossible to us we are more likely to say, 'Okay, this can only happen with God's power,' and we put our faith in Him.  We have no other choice.  But when we know there are other ways, we fall back on the logical way of getting things done.

Jesus could have done the logical thing and sent the people to find food for themselves.  But He didn't.  He put His faith completely in God's power to do the impossible.  He wanted His disciples to do the same.  He wants me to do the same. When Jesus tells me I have the power to do something, no matter how impossible it seems, I can believe Him!

Difficult circumstances cannot stop me.  Pain, confusion, weariness, despair, lack of resources or skill--these are not roadblocks, they are an opportunity for me to exercise greater faith.  And greater faith yields greater results.  

"You of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Jesus always welcomes my faith.  He never says, 'No, you can't do that.  It's impossible.'  He only questions my doubt.

You may have a good reason for being in despair.  You may feel overwhelmed with difficult circumstances or a task that is too great.  You may need to have some time to yourself.  You may need to have some time with God.  You may need to rest awhile.

But don't doubt your ability to carry on.  Don't give up.  Don't stop meeting the needs of others and having compassion.  Don't stop sharing the truth.  Don't stop doing what God has called you to do.  Have faith in who He is and in who He has made you to be.  Have faith to do great things.

I pray that from his glorious unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit...By his mighty power at work within us , he is able to accomplish infinitely more that we would ever dare to ask or hope.  Ephesians 3:16,20 (NLT)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Reality Check: Truth vs. Lies

“I am the LORD, and there is no other.  I publicly proclaim bold promises...I did not tell the people of Israel to ask me for something I did not plan to give.  I, the LORD, speak only what is true and right.”  Isaiah 45:18-19

Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do, or been called a liar when you were telling the truth?  If you have, you know how much the false accusations of others can sting.  It’s an interesting jumble of emotions.  On the one hand you’re angry and know others are lying, but on the other, you’re left with a shameful feeling, like you actually did something wrong even though you didn’t.  

I had this happen to me recently, and I’ve had it happen in the past.  It’s painful.  It leaves me feeling hurt and violated.  It puts me in a position of having to defend myself with no real way of doing so.  It’s my word against a liar.  It’s the truth verses the skewed thinking, or evil intent, of someone else.

I was comforted this week by some strong words Jesus speaks in Matthew 12:34.  He is speaking to the Pharisees and says, “You brood of snakes!  How could evil men like you speak what is good and right?  For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.”  His words point out an important truth: even though evil words are spoken against me, the evil is not in my heart, but rather in those who accuse me of it.  And Jesus knows exactly how I feel.

Jesus was often confrontational with the religious elite of the day, but speaking harsh words to them was uncharacteristic of His usual, more subtle way of directing them toward spiritual truth.  He often used stories or illustrations or questions designed to make them think about how they were living.  But to call them a “brood of snakes” was telling them exactly how He felt!

I wondered why, and as I looked back to what had led Him to make this statement, I saw it stemmed from the Pharisees falsely accusing Jesus of something.  In Matthew 12:22, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man.  The people are amazed and begin to wonder if Jesus is the Messiah.  I can imagine Jesus having a feeling of elation and joy because their eyes were being opened, and Jesus wanted nothing more for them.  He wanted them to have eyes to see and ears to hear the truth of God’s kingdom arriving among them.

But then the Pharisees start mumbling and rain on His parade.  “No wonder he can cast out demons, he gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.”


I can feel His heart breaking.  For these prestigious, religious men to not recognize Him as the Messiah is one thing.  But to actually call Him a servant of Satan?  A liar sent on a mission from the father of lies?  

At first His argument is logical.  He points out the error of their thinking.  “Any kingdom at war with itself is doomed.”  Their theory didn’t hold water and He points this out to them.  “A tree is identified by its fruit.”  Good fruit comes from a good tree.  Bad fruit comes from a bad tree.

They were aware of all the good He was doing, yet they accuse Him of being evil at heart.  In contrast, Jesus knew the no-good they were up to and how their actions were proof of what was really going on inside their hearts: Just a bunch of religious piety, not true faith.

This is where He lets the words fly and turns the tables on them.  “You brood of snakes!”  He goes beyond saying they are simply mistaken or aren’t thinking clearly--something forgivable.  He calls what they are doing “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”.  They were speaking against the truth.  They were calling God a liar.

I’d like to be able to say I have never done this, but I can’t.  I know how much it hurts to be falsely accused.  I know the heartbreak of being called a liar when I’m only speaking the truth.  But I’ve done the same thing to God many times.  Every time I doubt Him.  Every time I don’t believe His promises.  Every time I choose to go my own way instead of taking the path of goodness.

Do you have a reason to doubt God right now?  You may think you do, but you don’t because God doesn’t lie.  Whatever He has promised, you can believe Him.  Be still and know that He is God.

*Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189.  All rights reserved.