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7.17.2018

Little Faith

Greetings Everyone!

     Today's "thought" addresses the question: "How much faith is necessary?" 
     On two occasions I have heard preachers speak on Jesus' words that, "faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains."  And in each case both of those preachers went on to speak of wanting to exercise a far greater quantity of faith than Jesus said is necessary.  One of the preachers even said, "some people are content with a thimble full of faith, I want a swimming pool full of faith -- faith I can swim in!"
     Yet, I believe both of them missed Jesus point.  For Jesus tells us that faith the size of a mustard seed is far more than anyone will ever need!   With that much, says Jesus, "Nothing will be impossible for you."  In other words, we don't need tons of faith to see impossibilities become possible, we simply need that small amount and we will see miracles happen.  As R.T. France says in his commentary on Jesus words: "It is not the 'amount' of faith which brings the impossible within reach, but the power of God, which is available to even the 'smallest faith.' " 
     That's what today's thought is about: "Little Faith."   It comes to us from a book entitled, "Day by Day with the English Puritans" by Randall J. Pederson.  This particular entry was written by John Rogers, a Puritan pastor from Essex, England, back in the 1620's.  I trust you will find it helpful and encouraging. Enjoy.

Little Faith

"If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say unto this mountain,
'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
Matthew 17:20b
     "Little faith is true faith, as well as great faith.  A little man is just as much a man as a large man; a little water is just as truly water as the ocean seas. The disciples had true faith, yet very weak faith, weak in knowledge. Though they believed that Jesus was the Messiah come to save the world, yet they did not know how.  They were ignorant of His death, for when He told them of His coming sufferings, it is said that they did not understand what He was saying (Luke 18:31-34). Peter took Jesus aside and counseled Him not to go to Jerusalem to die (Matthew 16:22). They were ignorant also of His resurrection also, for when Mary told them of it, they did not believe her (Luke 24:11).  And of His ascension, when He spoke of going away, they understood it not, neither did they know where He was going, or the way to get there (John 14:1-31).  Their knowledge was very weak to be ignorant of such important things...
     But weak faith may prove strong in time. The most learned clerk was once in school studying his grammar book. The greatest giant was once in swaddling clothes. The tallest oak was at one time a twig. And faith grows from a grain of mustard seed to produce a tall tree.  As from a child to a man, so corn grows from a weak blade, to a stalk, to an ear with ripe corn therein. The disciples who were so weak before, afterwards, when the Holy Spirit was sent among them, were exceedingly strong and feared not in the face of tyrants."
     It was not unusual for Puritan pastors to affirm the words of Jesus that even little faith (faith as small as a mustard seed) was sufficient faith.   Thomas Watson, also a Puritan pastor, once said: "Though your faith is weak, do not be discouraged -- a weak faith may receive a strong Christ."   And Richard Sibbes, yet another Puritan pastor, once said: "A spark of fire is fire, as well as the whole element. Therefore we must look to grace in the spark as well as in the flame. All do not have the same strong faith, though they have the same precious faith (2 Pet. 1:1), whereby they lay hold of, and put on, the perfect righteousness of Christ. A weak hand may receive a rich jewel.  A few grapes will show that the plant is a vine, and not a thorn.  It is one thing to be deficient in grace, and another thing to lack grace altogether.”
     So, we are, as Peter says, to, "make every effort to add to our faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control...." (II Peter 1:5-9).  We are called to exercise and add to our faith. Yet, we must also remember that a mustard seed sized degree of faith is more than sufficient to "move mountains" and make "nothing impossible for (us)."   No one needs a swimming pool sized degree of faith!  Who needs more than a faith that is able to do all things?!
     In fact, if Jesus rebuked the disciples for not being able to cast out evil spirits, "because they had so little faith," and then went on to say "faith the size of a mustard seed" was enough to do anything that needed to be done, one must question how much the disciples could have had?  Maybe the tiniest speck of a mustard seed that had been ground to powder?  I suppose it really doesn't matter. Little faith in the infinite God is enough! The aim, after all, is not to focus on our faith, but the immutable, great, loving, and all-powerful object of our faith.  For faith grows as we look away from it, and seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.  The greater we understand Him to be, the greater our faith will become -- and that without even needing to focus on faith.

Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff

7.10.2018

Spiritual Inebriation


Greetings All!

     I have always contended that who we become in life has to do, not only (of course) with the direct input of God into our lives through His Word and His Spirit, but the guidance, influences, and input of other people whose wisdom and counsel and insights we have sought out. This is one of the reasons I always check out the libraries of other people!  I want to see who they have turned to for guidance and inspiration, and have thus, in some way, helped form them.  James Stuart Bell also understands this principle. And therefore he sought to inquire who the authors were that influenced the life of someone he admired -- A. W. Tozer.


























     This selection, therefore, comes from his book, "From the Library of A. W. Tozer -- Selections from Writers Who Influenced his Spiritual Journey."   This particular excerpt (only one of hundreds in his book) is from a book in Tozer's library by Jan Van Ruysbroeck's (or John of Ruusbroec, born in 1293 A.D. near Brussels, Belgium) called, "The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage."  In this selection he speaks of one of the joys of being the Bride of Christ -- "Spiritual Inebriation."  Enjoy.
Spiritual Inebriation

"The joy of the Lord is our strength."
Nehemiah 8:10

"Do not be drunk with wine, with leads to debauchery, 
but instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Ephesians 5:18
     "Spiritual inebriation is this: that a man receives more sensible joy and sweetness than his heart can either contain or desire.  Spiritual inebriation brings forth many strange gestures in men. It makes some sing and praise God because of the fullness of joy, and some weep with great tears because of the sweetness of heart.  It makes one restless in his in all his limbs, so that he must run, jump, and dance, and so excites another that he must move and clap his hands.  Another cries out with a loud voice and so shows forth the plenitude his soul feels within, and another must be silent and melt away because of the rapture which he feels with all his senses.
     At times he thinks that all the world must feel what he feels; at times he thinks that none can taste what he has attained. Often he thinks that he never could, nor ever shall, lose this sense of well-being; at times he wonders why all men do not become God-desiring.  At one time he thinks that God is for him alone, or none other as much as him; at another time he asks himself with amazement of what nature these delights can be, and whence they come, and what happened to him.
     This is the most rapturous life (as regards our bodily feelings) which man may attain upon earth.  Sometimes the excess of joy becomes so great the man thinks that his heart must burst. And for all these manifold gifts and miraculous works, he shall, with a humble heart, thank and praise and honor and reverence the Lord, who can do all this, and thank Him with fervent devotion because it is His will to do all this.  And the man shall always keep in his heart and speak through his mouth with sincere intention: "Lord, I am not worthy of this. Yet I have need of Your boundless goodness and of Your support." In such humility he may grow and rise into higher virtues." 
     On the day of Pentecost unbelievers accused the disciples of being drunk (Acts 2:15).  Why?  Surely it was because of the sheer joy they felt, and the glow on their faces that attested to it (similar to what is described above) when the Holy Spirit came and fell upon them on that day.  After all, it was only 9:00 o'clock in the morning and they were obviously full of intense joy and energy (or the Spirit's "power" - Acts 1:8 - or dunamis in the Greek, the same word from which we get our English word "dynamite").  Of course, speaking in tongues (or languages they had not learned) may have played into it as well!
     Though some fear the intense emotions that can often attend centered prayer, joyful worship, or the experience of the Holy Spirit, it did seem to be part of the experience of the early disciples and apostles. Have you experienced such times? Have you ever found your heart so full of joy it was hard to contain?  Ever been moved to sing, praise, clap, cry or dance, touched as you were by the overwhelming sense of God's grace, goodness and love?  Ever sensed the presence of God's holiness and complete otherness in such a way that it moved you to feel that to even speak a word, or simply move, would have been inappropriate and irreverent?   Have you ever become so conscious of the reality and presence of God that it altered the way you viewed everything happening around you, and made even the most common things beautiful and sacred?
     Such experiences are not uncommon in Scripture. And dare I suggest that if we pursued God with the intensity of many of those in Scripture, we might find such experiences more commonplace too? 

Living in the grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff

7.04.2018

Serving Productive Time

Greetings Friends!

     Today I picked up a book someone who was involved in prison ministry had given me.  It's filled with stories, testimonies, and lessons learned and shared by inmates. Some are profoundly uplifting and others a bit  sad -- like the story of one man who killed his father, and has chosen not seek forgiveness for doing so, and even cling to the heavy burden of guilt as a "self-imposed penance" and personal attempt to "ensure that the seriousness of this act is never lessened."   I pray his heart may eventually change, though as a pastor I know that emotional self-punishment is not an uncommon response when someone has done something they deeply regret. Yet, it's a sad choice in light of all that Jesus came and did for us.





















     The selection I've chosen to include, however, is more uplifting.  It comes from an inmate named Ken Fox and is titled, "Little Did I Know."  This story (like the other) are both found in a book entitled, "Serving Productive Time," by Tom and Laura Lagana.  Enjoy.

Little Did I Know.

     "For no apparent reason I hated people.  I used to be the most angry, bitter and judgmental person on the planet. I even mistreated the few people who still loved me despite my atrocious behavior, including the woman who I now realize is a gift from God. She has to be an angel. How else could she have loved me and stood by me through fifteen years of this stuff?
     About two and a half years ago I transferred to a facility nearly four hours away from home. Being cut off from friends and family not only fueled my anger, it also gave me a reason to distrust the supposedly merciful and loving God my fiancee loved so dearly. Once I arrived at the new prison I lashed out at this wonderful woman: "What do you think of your God now? I bellowed.  A cheap shot I know, but I didn't care.
     Not long after that I received a letter from my cousin. I hadn't heard from her in five years. It was at her request, and the encouragement of my fiancee, that I looked into a program named "Keryx" (The name of a ministry taken from the Greek word meaning "Herald.")  I asked two Christian guys in my housing unit if they knew anything about the program. They were happy to talk with me and without my knowledge approached the chaplain about getting me into the upcoming Keryx weekend.
     Still carrying a large chip on my shoulder and anger in my heart, I reluctantly agreed to attend. But not before delivering a firm warning. My fists waving in the air, I shrieked, "If anyone tries to hug me, I swear I'll swing first and ask questions later!"  I convinced myself the weekend would have no effect on me, and for the first day I did manage to keep my distance. I was certain that I'd won and that God had nothing to offer me and I aimed to prove it.  But on the third day something happened. All the walls I'd built up around myself -- my false securities and all that I'd come to count on to keep myself safe and distant -- began to collapse.
     Earlier that day one of the volunteers told me that the Holy Spirit had something in store for me.  I smiled and shrugged it off for as long as I could. After that, we were asked to close our eyes and bow our heads. I complied and waited for further instructions. Then, as I sat there, the room suddenly filled with unfamiliar voices. Songs of praise ushered in an overwhelming presence of God. My heart began to swell with emotion. I'd never felt such intense love. 
     At that moment the destructive and negative feelings that I'd built up inside poured forth in non-stop tears. I had no control over my thoughts, my feelings, or my body. The Holy Spirit had arrived, and without a doubt, He had kicked my butt!  For the remainder of the weekend I didn't allow anyone to pass without giving them a hug! My heart of stone had crumbled. My walls had tumbled down. The light of the Lord illuminated my heart where darkness once ruled. Yes, God came for me that day, and since getting a hold of me, He refuses to let go.
     I still have my rough days. The trials and temptations are still there, but the love of God sees me through and I know brighter days are ahead. Now, to answer the question I asked my fiancee two and a half years ago, "What do I think of her God now?" I think OUR God is an awesome God, and I thank Him for saving a wretch like me."
     I picked this story because I saw many similarities between his life story and my own.  The keeping people at a distance. The anger and hardness. And the crumbling that occurred with regard to all those things when the presence of the Holy Spirit started moving upon me and ultimately conquered my heart.
     Ken Fox says that God, "kicked my butt."  I've always told people (I prefer wrestling terms) "He pinned me to the mat and made me cry uncle."   Because fight as we may (and we often fight hard) -- if God has determined to have us as His own, He will have us. And He will conquer us with a love so overwhelmingly powerful and pleasant that we no longer desire to resist it.  I pray the other man mentioned above will one day come to experience that same love and be freed from his own "self-imposed penance" to experience the joy of the Lord, and the peace that passes all understanding.

Living (now) in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff



6.26.2018

Scripture-grounded Take on Suffering in Times of Trial and Difficulty

Greetings Friends!

     Today's "thought" is taken from the daily devotional, "Streams in the Desert" by L. B. Cowman.
     In it we find an interesting, refreshing, and Scripture-grounded take on suffering that I offer to you to encourage you and nurture hope in you in times of trial and difficulty.  This excerpt appears to be a group of thoughts on the redemptive nature of suffering taken from the writings of several different people -- only two of whose names she cites.  As I was reading it on June 19th it struck me as one I would want to share with you. So please, enjoy!





“Grain must be ground to make bread.”
Isaiah 28:28
     Many of us cannot be used to become food for the world’s hunger until we are broken in Christ’s hands. “Grain must be ground to make bread,” and being a blessing for Christ often requires sorrow on our part.  Yet even sorrow is not too great a price to pay for the privilege of touching other lives with Christ’s blessings.  The things that are most precious to us today are things that have come to us through tears and pain" (J. R. Miller).
     "God has made me bread for His chosen ones, and if it is necessary for me to be ground in the teeth of lions in order to feed His children, then blessed be the name of the Lord" (St. Ignatius).

     "To burn brightly we must first experience the flame. In other words, we cease to bless when we cease to bleed.”
     Poverty, hardship and misfortune have propelled many a life to moral heroism and spiritual greatness. Difficulties challenge our energy, and our perseverance, yet they bring the strongest qualities of the soul to life. It is the weights on the old grandfather clock that keep it going. And many a sailor has faced a strong headwind while using it to help him reach port. God has appointed opposition as an incentive to faith and holy service.

     The most illustrious characters of the Bible were bruised, broken, and ground into bread for the hungry.

     Abraham, because he endured affliction while remaining obedient, stood at the top of the class and found his diploma inscribed with the words, ’the father of the faithful.’

     Jacob, like wheat, suffered severe threshing and grinding.

     Joseph was bruised and beaten and had to go through Potiphar’s kitchen, and into Egypt’s prison, on his way to getting to the throne.

     Job was ground to powder like medicine, yet through his sufferings has helped untold millions find hope in their own.
     David was hunted like an animal through the mountains.  Bruised, weary, and footsore, he was ground into bread for the kingdom.

     Paul could never have been bread for Caesar’s household if he had not endured the bruising of being whipped and stoned. He was ground into fine flour for the royal family.

     Combat comes before victory.  If God has chosen special trials for you to endure, be assured that in His heart He has kept for you a special place. A soul that is sorely bruised is one God has chosen to use.”
     It is a somewhat interesting phenomena that the messages I share from the pulpit where I use illustrations from my own life (or from the lives of others) where I or they struggled with pain, hardship, or difficulty, are the ones people say they appreciate the most. Not ones where I speak of my victories, successes, or achievements, but those where I share my struggles with pain, difficulty or trials.  There is, it seems, something universally helpful, desired, and appreciated when people are transparent about struggles, which is not there when one speaks about their victories and successes.  This pattern is so pronounced in Scripture, and my own experience, that it has made me hesitant to ask God (as some do) to be "used in a mighty way."  For it seems that those who have endured the greatest suffering and struggle are the most likely to be used in such a fashion.
     If the immense popularity of the Book of Job, and the transforming power of the sufferings of Jesus tell us anything, they tell us people find one immense help from one who is a friend in suffering. It should assure us that if we as believers experience hardship, it's not because God is angry at us or punishing us, but because God is growing our faith and equipping us for useful service to others in His kingdom.

Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff