Category: Faith (Page 1 of 21)

Weakness Turned to Strength

I know you make mistakes and you mess up. Me, too. I know you sin. I know you leave things undone that should be done and you do things you should not do. Me, too. But those mistakes are not what define you. Those sins do not characterize who you are as a person and they do not limit how our God relates to you. It is God’s grace that defines you. It’s his grace that covers you. It is his grace that enables you to keep going in the trust and faith that God is powerfully at work in you.

I look at the Faith Ring of Honor in Hebrews 11 and I don’t see any perfect people.

Sarah had a laughing problem.  Abraham had his own laughing problem and a problem with lying and the kid with Hagar. But the Bible says they never wavered in their faith. That means Abraham is not defined by his many mistakes. Sarah is not characterized by her poor choices.

In Hebrews 11, Rahab is not condemned for being a prostitute. All these people are commended for their faith. Gideon? He’s a spineless, wishy-washy doubter. Barak? He’s gutless. Samson? He’s arrogant and selfish, a violent womanizer. Jepthah? He’s stupid and thoughtless. David? An adulterer, a liar, and a traitor to his country. Samuel? Maybe one of the worst parents in all of Scripture. But here they are in this list of heroes with all their sins and all their flaws. Hebrews 11 says these are the people who conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword. These are the people, it says, whose weakness was turned to strength!

You know, the Bible says God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

His grace is also made perfect in the places where you need it most.

Peace,

Allan

Gain Perspective from the Past

It feels like we’re coming out of the pandemic. Slowly. Thankfully. In fits and starts. And I know your life has been impacted over the past twelve months. Some of us lost money and jobs, some of us lost senior years and graduations, some of us lost loved ones and buried them without funerals. Vacations were postponed, holidays were canceled. What was going well for you before the pandemic was probably disrupted and stressed. What wasn’t so great before the coronavirus probably got worse. We’ve all been affected differently by this thing, but we have ALL been affected.

As we begin the slow transition to whatever the future holds, we need to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are. We can’t really turn the page on something new, something post-pandemic, until we’ve taken a hard, honest look at what’s happened DURING the pandemic.

I would suggest using 2 Corinthians 1:9-10 as a backdrop for your prayers and reflections.

“This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he is delivering us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.”

Scripture gives us the proper perspective on difficulties and tough times. The Apostle Paul says these kinds of trials are to teach us not to rely on ourselves but on God. Placing you in a desert like this is how God shapes you. When you’re in a desert, you can’t survive without God’s intervention. If God doesn’t provide water, you die. If he doesn’t give you bread, you die. If God doesn’t provide shade or rescue, it’s over. You rely completely on God when you’re putting one foot in front of the other in a barren desert.

And that’s exactly where God shapes you. God trains you in the desert. He draws you closer and causes you to depend on him more.

Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they spent 40 years in the desert. God gave them manna and quail from heaven and water from a rock. And it changed them into the people he wanted them to be.

David spent time in the desert running for his life, hiding in caves, barely staying half-a-step ahead of the enemies who wanted him dead. God protected him and provided for him in the oasis at En Gedi. And it changed him into the greatest king Israel’s ever known.

Elijah complained while he was in the desert. He spent his time griping to God. He couldn’t understand why the Lord would allow bad things to happen to him when he had been so good. But God sent an angel with food to Elijah and the Lord spoke to Elijah in a still, quiet voice. And it shaped him into God’s greatest prophet.

Our Lord Jesus was baptized and preparing to launch his salvation mission to the world when God’s Holy Spirit drove him into the desert. No food, no water; tempted and tortured by the devil for 40 days. Protected and provided for by God. That’s where the Father equipped him to do what God needed him to do.

I know this has been your experience, too. When your dad died. When you lost your job. God formed you during that time. You started reading the Bible more during the tough time and God spoke to you.

When you moved to a new town or when your last kid moved out of the house, God put the exact right people into your life and he changed you.

After the funeral, you immersed yourself in that service project, you started doing more for others. And God shaped you.

When you were in that horrible financial mess, when your marriage was threatened, when your child was diagnosed, you started spending more time in prayer, just you and God, and he convinced you of some things you never would have heard otherwise.

Gain perspective from the past. God has delivered you, he is delivering you, and he will continue to deliver you.

Peace,

Allan

Surely Not I?

All four downtown churches came together for a Maundy Thursday worship service last night at Polk Street United Methodist Church, continuing a tradition that began with the prayerful formation of our “4 Amarillo” partnership eight years ago. Attendance was about half of what it’s been in the past; we were all pretty spread out in Polk Street’s beautiful sanctuary and lots of us were wearing masks. We didn’t walk down to the front to receive communion as is our practice; we were handed those sad little pre-packaged kits to wrestle with in our seats. But, still, every time we gather across our denominational lines for worship and service in the name of our Lord Jesus, it is a tremendous blessing and privilege. Our “4 Amarillo” events are the highlights of my every year. I remain thankful to God for these opportunities that, I realize, not many Christians get to experience. And I never take it for granted.

I was honored by God to preach last night’s message from the account of the Last Supper in the Gospel of Mark. In this telling of the story, Jesus declares to his disciples that one of them will betray him and, one by one, it says, they ask him, “Surely not I?” Last night we focused on turning that question into a statement of loyalty and allegiance to our Lord. It’s not a question mark for us, it’s an exclamation point!

One of you is going to betray me. Surely not I!

Not me, Lord! Not us, Lord! Not tonight! Not tomorrow! Not ever!

Increase my faith, Father, yes. Strengthen my resolve, Lord, yes. Yes, Holy Spirit, give me power to live more fully for Christ, to be with Christ and for Christ. May everything I say and do and think be in the name and manner of Jesus from right now until his day of eternal glory.

May this be our prayer and may this be our commitment. One of you is going to betray me. Surely not I!

Peace,

Allan

Patience

“The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are.”      ~Henri Nouwen

Eyes Off the Hills!

Lots of Christians believe that once they repent and confess Jesus as Lord and begin living in the righteousness of God, nothing bad should ever happen to them again. Christians should not have accidents or arguments with spouses, they should not be misunderstood at work or talked back to by their children. No problems, no pains, no setbacks, no sins, no issues.

Even Christians who don’t believe that sometimes talk like they do. Too blessed to be stressed!

So, when something does go wrong, some Christians don’t handle it very well. Maybe a doubt creeps into your head. Maybe a loneliness moves into your soul. An illness puts you in the hospital or an argument lands you in the doghouse. A misunderstanding leads to anger and pain.  A person walking in the way of faith gets into trouble and starts looking for help.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?” ~Psalm 121:1

What does this person see on the hills? What’s happening on the hills?

The pagan religions were practiced on the hills. That’s where the pagan gods were worshiped. The high places on the hills are where the nations built their altars to Ba’al and erected their shrines to Asherah. People went to the hills to engage in acts of idol worship they believed would ensure their safety or fix whatever is wrong. You worshiped the pagan gods on the hills to enhance the fertility of your livestock and crops. The pagan rituals would keep you safe from invading armies. The religious formulas and good luck charms would make you wealthy and wise. It would protect you from evil.

Where do your eyes go when things get a little shaky? Who do you look to? Where do you put your trust when things go bad? There are all kinds of things we can look to for help besides God. And all those things are idols.

In the Bible, the hills are where the idols are worshiped. Hosea 4:12-13 and Ezekiel 6:13 are two of dozens of biblical references. 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles describe the high places where God’s people set up sacred stones and Asherah poles “on every high hill.” Think about the altars of Ba’al on the hills of Mount Carmel. Think about King Rehoboam who built his altar on the high place at Dan. Think about the hills of Caesarea Philippi where the temples and shrines were built to Pan and Ba’al and Asherah and where they worshiped Roman Emperors and sacred goats.

When you run into trouble or when something goes wrong, you holler help. And if you look to the hills, there it is! All kinds of help! Instant help!

Except for one thing: it doesn’t work. It’s an illusion. Nobody is ever really helped by what’s happening in the hills.

“We will come to you, for you are the Lord our God. Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception.” ~ Jeremiah 3:23

If you think the next election is going to fix things, you’re looking to the hills. If you believe the next scientific breakthrough is going to heal things, you’re eyes are on the hills. If you think your next promotion or pay raise is going to put you over the top and fill the hole in your soul, you’re looking to the hills.

When you look to science, technology, or politics for help, you’re going to be disappointed. When you put your faith in the economy or your family, your education goals or your career plan, you’re going to be let down. When you try to ignore your pain or distract from your troubles with pills or drinks or vacations or sports or some kind of busyness, it just leads to more pain and more trouble.

“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” ~Psalm 121:2

Your help comes from the Lord, not from what’s in the hills. You don’t need any supplemental insurance from what’s going on in the hills. When your loving Father is the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe, you don’t need your safety or security to come from the hills.

“The Lord will keep you from all evil — he will watch over your life.” ~Psalm 121:7

That doesn’t mean you’re never going to stub your toe. No one gets out of this life without the experience of pain. The promise is that no injury or accident, no illness or distress, no tragedy, nothing that can ever happen to you will have evil power over you. Nothing can ever happen to you that can separate you from God’s purpose for you.

That’s the Lord’s Prayer. That’s the expectation. “Deliver us from evil.” That prayer is answered for you every day. Sometimes several times a day.

Take your eyes off the hills and place them directly on the God of Heaven and Earth who says, “I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who says, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, I have overcome the world!”

Peace,

Allan

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