Quiet Time Blogs

    The following are notes made during my quiet times with God.  Too often we come to God in prayer merely to talk but not to listen. 
Lately, I've been doing more listening than talking.  I've been allowing God to speak to me far more than I've addressed Him.
    From whence do these quiet time meditations come?  How are the texts picked out?  Why does there seem to be no systematic presentation?  If God speaks, it is worth writing down.  And if I receive a rhema word from God, it is worth sharing as well.  Too often preachers fall into the trap of going to the Bible to find a sermon.  That is not my purpose here - though some seed thoughts for a sermon might be found.  This is God's word specific to my personal spiritual pilgrimage. 
Answers:
1.)  The Scriptures sometimes come from a passage I read as I search the Scriptures given my acquaintance with where subjects are found.
2.) The Scriptures sometimes come from a passage that just pops into my head.  I may recall where I read it.  I may have to look it up with study tools that I have available.  I don't think that God brings what may seem at the time as "off the wall" Bible verses to mind for nothing.  Bible verses don't pop into one's thoughts by coincidence.  So I meditate on them to see what God is telling me.
3.) The Scriptures sometimes are cited because God gives a particular subject to mind that He wishes me to explore more thoroughly.  At times as I study & write impressions from those passages I'm sure that my thoughts are shaped somewhat by far greater men I've read.  I may not always cite them as sources or remember who may have originally said a particular profound utterance.  Nevertheless, statements from people like C. S. Lewis, C. H. Spurgeon, R. C. Sproul, D. A. Carson, John MacArthur, Chuck Swindoll, John Calvin, John Piper, Martin Luther, Soren Kierkegaard, & others will surely be paraphrased or even quoted inadvertently.  I've rarely if ever had an original thought. 
4.) The purpose of these quiet time postings is not to write devotional literature.  I seldom embellish my quiet time thoughts with stories or quotes unless God brings them to mind in my conversation with Him.  I also do not post many of my quiet times because they are too deeply personal for public consumption.

    If you are a pastor, you might actually find a seed for a sermon or two amongst my quiet time postings but they aren't shared for that purpose.  If they edify you and give you fodder for a message, I would love to hear how you used it.  Since this is a blog, the quiet times are in reverse order.  If I'm impressed by God to explore a subject, you may wish to reverse the order of your use of these quiet times to better understand how the quiet times regarding that subject are linked together.
 
 
    If God ever uses my quiet time meditations to edify you in your walk with the Lord I'm gratified.  Let me encourage you to listen to God twice as much as you talk to Him.  He did after all give us two ears & but one mouth.  Soli Deo Gloria.
 

"Earthrise" and Eternal Redemption

posted Jul 19, 2019, 11:45 AM by Michael Bell   [ updated Jul 19, 2019, 1:07 PM ]

“When I look at your heavens, the
work of your fingers, the moon
and the stars, which you have set
in place, what is man that you are
mindful of him, and the son of
man that you care for him?”
- Psalms 8:3-4 [ESV]

Today my mind goes back to perhaps the most significant historical event in my lifetime – at least in terms of scientific advancement.  50 years ago tomorrow, man stepped on the moon for the first time.  I recall as a child looking up at the moon and wondering: “I wonder if we’ll make it there someday?”  Then, at the age of 10 years old, I (along with the rest of the world) watched the shadowy figure of Neil Armstrong come down a ladder, set foot on the moon and heard him say:  “That’s one small step for a man.  One giant leap for mankind.”  I was definitely a space program enthusiast – so much so, that my friends gave me the nickname “Rocket.”  I’m still called that when I return to my hometown and see old friends.  The space program captured the imagination of myself and billions of others across the globe.  Unfortunately, however, one by-product of the conquest of space was a diminishing (in many people’s minds) of the awe and mystery of passages dealing with signs in the heavens of God’s handiwork.  Even in outer space, one has to look with the eyes of faith to see the overwhelming evidence of God’s existence.

The Soviet cosmonauts were first in space.  Yet because of their atheistic beliefs, they could not comprehend God’s handiwork.  Meanwhile, American astronauts, (though many of them were unsaved too) at least experienced a sense of overwhelming awe at the sight of the vast universe above.  Seven months prior to the Apollo 11 moon mission, the Apollo 8 astronauts orbited the moon for the first time and saw the breathtaking sight of the “Earthrise.”  I remember hearing the words: “For all the people back on the earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message.  ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…’” and they continued reciting the creation narrative from the first chapter of Genesis.  Such would be politically incorrect today.  Even then, a famous atheist brought a lawsuit against NASA for allowing that religious transmission from the astronauts.

What many didn’t know was that the first meal on the moon consisted of the bread and wine of a personal Lord’s Supper which astronaut Buzz Aldrin consumed in an act of personal worship of his Lord Jesus from the lunar surface.  Armstrong was not a Christian, and therefore, did not partake of the supper. 

Some other astronauts were believers, though, and at least one became a Christian later in life.  Charlie Duke, from Lancaster, South Carolina (where I served in my fourth pastorate), was the CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator) of the first moon mission (and he himself walked on the moon in Apollos 16) and had an interesting testimony that he later shared with churches in the Lancaster area and elsewhere:


“After walking on the moon, I was bored. Fame, fortune, a spot in the history books: I had it all. But if you had been a fly on the wall in my home, you would have seen that I wasn’t so hot. I was failing miserably as a husband and father. Though I had gone to church all my life, I had all of God I needed in that one hour every Sunday morning. Even the moon had not been a spiritual experience. I wasn’t looking for God. I only knew Jesus the way you know the U.S. Presidents--in name only. My business succeeded, and the money rolled in, but I was bored again.
   But Dottie wasn’t. She had changed. Her depression had lifted, and she demonstrated a new, believing faith. She turned to God--not me--for answers to her problems. One night I attended a Bible Study with her that focused on one penetrating question, 'Who was Jesus?' All my life I had said the words 'Son of God' but had never trusted Him. That night I came face-to-face with the opportunity to follow Him. I prayed with Dottie in the front seat of our car and gave my life over to Christ. I didn’t see angels. I didn’t hear music. No blinding lights. But I knew what I knew. It was real.
   The next day I awoke with an insatiable desire to read the Bible. It cost the government $400 million for me to walk three days on the moon--and it’s over. But to walk with Jesus is free and it lasts forever!”


All Scripture is inspired by God and therefore applicable to all generations.  The psalmist's words transcend time.  After his expression of awe at God’s heavenly work of the creation of the universe, he asks the rhetorical question: What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Great question.  The believer should be no less in awe of God’s condescension than he is of the vast expanse of the universe!  A infinitely wide gulf did God span for He even came to dwell with sinners living in rebellion against Him.  The Psalmist uses the word ‏מה אנוש  [mah enosh] meaning “A wretched, miserable man in his fallen state, full of infirmity, ignorance, and sin.” (Adam Clarke's Commentary)  As I read that definition, I feel as though I’m looking in a mirror.  Pascal captures my feelings: “Oh the grandeur and littleness, the excellence in the corruption, the majesty and meanness of man!”  

Even today as I consider my personal sin and God's redeeming grace,  I’m reminded of the words of Spurgeon: “None is so great that he could stoop so low.”  That God would humble Himself for the purpose of dying on the cross to pay for my sin (and the sin of all others who come to Him by faith) boggles my mind and humbles my heart.  The thought of the incarnation transcends any journey that men can ever take into outer space.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I confess to You my sin of pride, a wagging tongue, envy, rebellion, and quenching the work of Your Spirit in my life.  Thank You for Your compassion on this wayward sinner.  Your forbearance came at great cost – the blood of Your son shed on the cross of Calvary.

Someone has said: “We make a living by what we get, but we make the life by what we give.”  You disarmed the powers and principalities of this universe “and openly displayed them as (Christ’s) trophies, when He triumphed over them in the cross.” (Colossians 2:15b [Montgomery]Let not Your gift be given in vain.  I will seek to make the redeemed life that You have given me a gift back to You – not for recompense (which would be blasphemy), but with gratitude.  Amen!

"It can't happen here...can it?"

posted Jul 18, 2019, 4:46 PM by Michael Bell   [ updated Jul 18, 2019, 6:10 PM ]

“This is the interpretation of the
matter: Mene, God has numbered
the days of your kingdom and
brought it to an end;”
- Daniel 5:26 [ESV]

 

History is littered with once great empires that have fallen.  This is the account of the fall of Babylon.  The historical evidence reveals monuments which demonstrate that the Babylonians were a cruel and violent race of people.  God permitted the Babylonians to grow and thrive for a time and to be used to bring judgment upon His covenant people for their sins.  He even brought one of the Kings of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, to at least a nominal understanding of divine sovereignty and respect for YHWH.  The contrast between Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4) and Belshazzar (Daniel 5) is stark.  No king to this point in the prophetic history book of Daniel had stooped to the level of depravity that Belshazzar was sinking.  He foolishly gave orders to profane the vessels dedicated to the worship of the true God YHWH and proposed toasts to the false deities of bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

God responded immediately.  A hand appears writing on the wall a message that needed interpretation.  Daniel is summoned and begins to explain the meaning of the writing in the passage above.  If I might paraphrase Daniel, he is telling Belshazzar: “Your kingdom is history!” 

The news must’ve come as a shock because Babylon seemed well nigh invincible.  The city was fortified magnificently.  It was surrounded by a huge moat and a double wall that was 85 feet thick and almost 350 feet high.  There were as many as 100 towers built along the wall which afforded the Babylonian forces a considerable strategic advantage.  It is no wonder that the thought of the kingdom’s defeat was almost laughable to this king as he flouted God and made merry with wine.

As I consider this ancient scene, I cannot help but ponder the fate of my country.  Sometimes we are referred to as the “lone superpower” in the world.  It is easy for us to think that we are invincible.  “Surely, the same fate that befell Babylon could not happen here.” we muse.  “We would never elect people into positions of power as foolish as King Belshazzar.”  The four last words of the dying civilization may well be: “It can’t happen here.”  When we make such a diagnosis of our place in history, we reveal not only our ignorance of history, but also our ignorance regarding the consequences of national sin.

Some 40 years ago, I recall a man by the name of Simon Wiesenthal who was famous for his ceaseless pursuit of the NAZI war criminals who carried out the Holocaust against the Jews during World War 2.  Wiesenthal often spoke to college audiences about his experiences.  One of the questions he often fielded from students was: “Could it happen again, even in the United States?”   Wiesenthal’s response was sobering.  “Yes” he said,  “All you need is a government program of hatred and a crisis.  If it happened in a civilized nation like Germany, which was a cultural superpower, it can happen anywhere.  When I was a young man in the 1920s, our answer to Hitler was to laugh and make jokes.  How could a man with such a crazy ideas succeed?”

Indeed, crazy ideas seem to be the order of the day in the country in which I live.  I never thought that I would live to see a day when politicians openly advocated the killing of babies even after they are born (though such is the logical outcome when slaughtering them inside the womb by abortion became acceptable.)  I never thought that the intellectual elites would propagate such ridiculous nonsense that “there are more than two genders” and that “gender is a social construct” not a biological reality.  I never thought that I would live to see the day that politicians would argue that illegal invaders pouring over our porous borders from other lands should be given free goverment benefits  and the privilege of voting. 

I was so naïve when I sent my children to college that I had no idea that they would be indoctrinated with leftist dogma, a hatred of America, and the poison of class envy that fosters a resentment ridden ideology that is fertile soil for political division and dissolution.  There’s an old saying: “United we stand.  Divided we fall.”  We were once united but now we’re divided and our doom seems certain.

What amazes me is that we don’t even see it happening.  We don’t even recognize what is going on right before our very eyes.  I used to wonder how the German people could countenance the holocaust.  Now I see the same thing going on in my country.  More black babies are aborted than born in New York City and yet, we sit back and cloak the reality of the genocide taking place by employing euphemisms like “women’s health” or “choice.”  History will not look favorably on this period of our nation’s history – which may very well be our final period.

Even as Belshazzar was blaspheming God and getting drunk with holy vessels that night, the end of his kingdom had already begun.  The ancient historian Herodotus wrote the following:

 

Owing to the vast size of the place, the inhabitants of the central parts (as the residents at Babylon declare) long after the outer portions of the town were taken, knew nothing of what had chanced, but as they were engaged in a festival, continued dancing and reveling until they learned the capture but too certainly.  Such, then, were the circumstances of the first taking of Babylon.  (The history of Herodotus Book One)


Have the seeds of ungodliness, class envy, and brutality reached the point that my nation is on the verge of collapse and extinction?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as I ponder the madness, the division, and the morally bankrupt leadership of my country, I confess to You my fear.  Why am I afraid?  Will not the Lord of the universe do what is right?  If You do choose to bring my country to an end, I suspect a moral blood bath and the persecution of the church in earnest by moral revolutionaries who flout Your absolute standards.  Guard me from equivocation due to fear.  Help me to stand for truth no matter what the cost is to me or to those I whom I shepherd.  Grant me the courage and integrity to be a Daniel in my day.  Amen!

"Someday" has arrived!

posted Jul 12, 2019, 3:43 PM by Michael Bell   [ updated Jul 13, 2019, 5:29 AM ]

Then I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest, and
I shall multiply my days as the sand, my roots
spread out to the waters, with the dew all night
on my branches, my glory fresh with me, and
my bow ever new in my hand.’”
- Job 29:18-20 [ESV]

 

My bout with shingles has me in the book of Job today.  If one wishes to count their blessings, they need only read the book of Job and their sufferings seem quite small in comparison.  As I read Job, his testimony ministers to me in a way I didn’t expect.  I find him experiencing the same kind of denial that I have been experiencing recently.  I saw my dad experience this denial as well and it makes me wonder how many other men (or women for that matter) go through a sudden “Ah-ha experience” of becoming a senior adult.

Emily Dickinson once said: “Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought.”  Her words are existential for me.  Four months ago when I shaved my beard, I looked in the mirror and saw an “old man.”  Since then, I am hearing more and more of my friends talking about retirement.  Retirement!?  Gracious, I’m not that age!  Well, come to think of it, I am. 

I don’t grieve aging.  I’m not depressed.  I’m simply perplexed.  Because I was the youngest child, I have always felt “young.”   Even in my so-called “adult years” I used to quip: “I wonder what I’ll be when I grow up.”  It was more than a joke to me.  I just never felt as though I had attained the “maturity” I expected of adulthood.  There just seemed to be no “rite of passage.”  Someone has said: “Maturity is a myth.”  I bought into that philosophy “hook, line and sinker.”  As a result, I find myself shocked by this sudden revelation that I’m now an “old man,” a “has been.”  Did I miss my “midlife crisis?”  Is this a delayed “midlife crisis?”  Or is there such a thing as a “late-life crisis?”

Unfortunately, I’ve never considered myself an optimist, but I do think that I inherited a trait from my optimistic dad that is coming back to bite me as a senior adult.  No matter how many infirmities that came with the aging my dad experienced, he always assumed that “in just a few months I’ll be as good as new.”  Hope springs eternal and perhaps that was the secret to his longevity of life. 

It is helpful for me to know that even Job experienced similar denial.  Note the words: “Then I thought” – they reveal an erroneous assumption that Job had entertained.  He speaks of the bow being “ever new in his hand.”   Yet, I find him resigned to the reality of aging in the next chapter saying: “Now that God has unstrung my bow…” (30:11)  One of the things that I am learning as I grow older is that aging is a process of giving up things you used to be able to do.  I never sufficiently prepared myself emotionally for the limitations that would inevitably come with aging because, frankly, I’ve never thought of myself as being “grown up.”  Old age was something in “the distant future.” 

On my tombstone my wife will have the words: “I never thought it would happen to me” inscribed.  If I’ve made that statement once, I’ve made it 1,000 times in the last 15 or so years as I experience each new revelation that I am in fact, aging, and cannot do some things that I used to be able to do.  She marvels at my delusional assumption that I am immune to the aging process that is the common lot of all men who were blessed enough to live a long life.  I'm not the first man to experience such a delusion.  James Thurber said: “Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that can happen to a man.”

This brief sampling of Job’s lamentation in his old age has not brought me to a passage that is didactic in nature.  Rather, the passage has been for me today God’s expression of empathy from a much godlier man who experienced the same disillusionment that I feel – to the umpteenth power!  Nevertheless, a couple of thoughts come to mind as I try to finish this life well to glorify God. 

I’m reminded of a statement I read years ago.  I’m unsure of the author’s identity, but he wrote: “Esteem age and you’ll always have life to look forward to.  Esteem youth and you proclaim your own obsolescence.”

It is sobering to think that I am likely in the fourth quarter of my life at best.  I live in an age where people with biblical morals are considered repressive anachronisms who are hopelessly “on the wrong side of history” and therefore obsolete.  I may be marginalized by culture, but I dare not capitulate with the narrative that I’m “on the wrong side of history” when, in fact,  “History is His story!”  God is the Author of history and by His grace, He has included me in His story of redemption.  I needn’t fear death.  Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.

I’m reminded of the story of the famous scientist and Christian Sir Michael Faraday.  When he was dying, some journalists questioned him about his speculations for a life after death.  Obviously with Job 19:25 in mind, he reportedly replied: “Speculations!  I know nothing about speculations.  I’m resting on certainties.  I know that my redeemer liveth, and because he lives, I shall live also.” 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, infirmity drove me to Your word today seeking encouragement.  Thank You for the encouragement of knowing that a great man of faith struggled with some of the same issues that I am dealing with.  I’m mindful of the words of Muriel Spark who said: “When a noble life has prepared old age, it is not decline that it reveals, but the first days of immortality.”  Forgive me for not preparing myself better spiritually for the aging experience.  Fill me with Your Spirit that I might glorify You as long as You give me breath.  Grant that I experience an attitude of immortality even before I leave this world.  And heal me of these shingles soon.  Amen.

"Jesus Only"

posted Jul 11, 2019, 8:10 AM by Michael Bell   [ updated Jul 11, 2019, 12:52 PM ]

“And suddenly, looking around,
they no longer saw anyone with
them but Jesus only.”
- Mark 9:8 [ESV]
 

Here in the account of the transfiguration, my thoughts are arrested by the words “Jesus only.”  After their encounter with Moses and Elijah and Jesus being transfigured before them, suddenly the light was gone, the Old Testament heroes gone, and the spectacular event was over.  The disciples saw only Jesus.

Some years ago I recall reading a story about Leonardo Da Vinci soliciting the critique of his painting, The Last Supper,  from one of his most trusted friends.

Da Vinci’s portrait captured the reaction of the disciples after they learned that one of them would betray Jesus.  The expressions on their faces show shock, horror, and even anger.  You have to stare at the painting for a long time to really take it all in, because at first glance all that your eyes are drawn to is Jesus.  At least that was Da Vinci’s intent.  Da Vinci had painstakingly labored for three years on this painting and after revealing the masterpiece, he waited for his friend’s reaction.  His friend was particularly impressed by the exquisite golden chalice out of which Jesus drank.  His praise was effusive about how real it looked, as if he could reach out and take it.  He was mesmerized by the gold glistening and the light from its finish.  He commented on how the cup shown like a jewel.


Da Vinci listened to his friend’s critique and then, without saying a word, took his paintbrush and painted over the cup to smudge it out.  The chalice was completely taken out of the painting.  His friend gasped and asked, “Why did you do that?!” Leonardo responded, “Nothing must take away from Jesus.”

How much do I allow other things – even good things – to interfere with what should have my total focus – the Person of my Lord Jesus Christ?  There was nothing wrong with that chalice.  The artist in me would’ve had a lot of trouble painting over it.  Indeed, my temptation would have been to cut it out, patch the canvas, and repaint a less conspicuous chalice.

I wonder how many times I have obscured Jesus by my behavior, my pride, even my so-called “acts of ministry” and, yes, even my preaching?  How Jesus-centered is my life?  I’m afraid it is not as much as it should be.  All too often, I wonder what people thought of my sermon.  A far better question to ask is:  “Did people have an existential encounter with Jesus during the sermon?”  When a first-time visitor comes to my church, do they leave praising the message, the messenger, or the One to whom every message should point?  If it is not the latter – “Jesus only,” then my sermon was worthless.


The famous preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon once gave his philosophy for preaching and said: “I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross.”  I am challenged by those words to do the same.  But such a challenge goes way beyond preaching.  It applies to all of life for every believer.


If Christ is to be my Lord and Master, then every other consideration becomes subservient to my calling as a Christian to exalt Him in every way.  At my age, I sometimes lament at the “what might have beens” in my Christian experience and ministry.  I should be less concerned with accomplishments and more focused on the One who accomplished my redemption - without Whom none of my so-called “accomplishments” would have any redeeming value.  As someone has rightly said: “If Christ as Lord is the center of our lives, the circumference will take care of itself.”


Prayer:  Heavenly Father, someone has said: “Youth is a folly and age a regret.”  I am reaching an age in which I look back at opportunity’s missed, dreams unfulfilled, and ministries started that died after I left a church field of ministry.  If those ministries had really been “of God,” would they not have continued?  When this life is over, will I leave behind anything of lasting value that screams “Jesus only” for all eternity?  Or will my ministry have been the trivialization of the gospel?

 

Whatever the circumference of my influence, it has been provided by You.  Use me as You see fit and if anything is accomplished of lasting value, may the Glory go to “Jesus only.”  Amen! 

"A Nice Place to Visit?"

posted Jul 9, 2019, 3:39 PM by Michael Bell   [ updated Jul 10, 2019, 10:18 AM ]

“but for those who are self-seeking and do
not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,
there will be wrath and fury.”
– Romans 2:8 [ESV]

 

The doctrine of hell is the most detested doctrine of Christendom.  The unbeliever often asks: “How could a good God send people to an eternal hell for temporal sins committed in a brief lifetime?”  Victor Hugo tersely responded to the idea of hell, saying: Hell is an outrage on humanity. When you tell me that your deity made you in his image, I reply that he must have been very ugly. Many Christians aren’t prepared to answer the question of God’s goodness in light of the existence of hell.

Historically, believers have attempted to answer such a criticism of the faith by “air-conditioning hell” to be something less than it is described in Scripture.  They attempt to explain it away, temporalize it, or demythologize it in a vain attempt to defend the character of God.  However, no one preached on the subject of hell more than Jesus and the imagery of the Bible is pretty straightforward:  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” - Matthew 25:41 [ESV]

In the gospels and elsewhere, hell is described as a place of fire prepared for those who reject the grace of God.  But there are other descriptions in the Bible that refer to hell as a place of “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12),  and a “bottomless pit” ( Revelation 9:1-2, 11).  Hell is a place in which the wrath of God is meted out against sinners who experience the “second death” (Revelation 21:8) and are eternally excluded from the face of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:9).  It is to this final characteristic of hell that the Lord directs my attention today.  Hell is for the "self-seeking" who have no desire for fulfilling God's will.  It is a place where the unbeliever experiences eternal separation from God!  Of all the other horrible pictures of hell, this is the worst.  Charles Spurgeon said: “Hell has for its fiercest flame the separation of the soul from God.”

If one truly believes in hell, that ought to be all the motivation they need to share the gospel with others.  Yet, the gospel should not be reduced to a mere “get out of hell free card.”  I cut my teeth on an evangelistic presentation that began with the exploratory question: “Do you know for certain if you died tonight that you would go to heaven?”  Of course, such a question presumes an accurate corollary premise that the alternative is hell for those who will not come to Christ for salvation.  Is “fire insurance” the sum and substance of the gospel?  Perish the thought!  Transformation is!  God desires for us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

In human relationships, a person who seeks self-pleasure most of all is not motivated by love of another but love of self.  A person who chooses to “accept Jesus” merely out of what Jesus brings to the table (i.e. escape from hell) doesn’t love Jesus, but rather loves the benefits of Jesus.  A person whose life is actuated by the satisfaction of self-will doesn’t love Jesus.  And those who don’t love Jesus don’t have a relationship with Jesus.

Every person likes to have their desires fulfilled.  And it is that very characteristic of mankind that makes him susceptible to bondage to those things that he covets in this life.  Simon Peter said of the false teachers in his day:  “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” – 2 Peter 2:19 [ESV]

The natural man is at enmity with God.  I fear that sometimes the gospel is preached so poorly to him or her that he or she is incapable of saying “no” to the offer of eternal life.  He is told that it requires nothing of him but “faith.”  Yet Jesus defined the essence of following Him through faith as self-denial.  Therefore, those who have been so poorly evangelized (that a mere profession of faith “seals the deal”) populate churches, and we wonder why immorality is prevalent in the membership.  They were lured to the church by a sales pitch rather than a call to commitment to Christ.  They are satisfied with the gifts that Jesus gives more than they are the Giver.  This is precisely why a self-righteous “religious” person can be hopelessly lost.  Their satisfaction is not in Christ but in their own profession.  They are enslaved by their desire for perceived rewards gained by their own ostentatious good works.

Therefore, it behooves every person to ask the question: “Who or what am I serving?”  Do I freely serve Christ?  Or deep down inside do I serve myself?  Is my life and decision process actuated by a desire to glorify Christ?  Or am I content to have Christ as a “lifeboat” while choosing to live autonomously according to my own desires?  If the latter is true then I am not a Christian.  And at the final judgment, I will not hear “well done my good and faithful servant” but rather “depart from me you who worketh iniquity.” How many so-called “Christian people” will be horrified to find themselves in hell because they never truly gave their heart to Christ?  Instead they were enslaved by their own desires.

An excellent illustration of this truth was seen years ago in a Twilight Zone television show episode entitled: A Nice Place to Visit.”  The protagonist in that story was a selfish crook named Rocky Valentine who is shot and killed in a burglary attempt.  He wakes up pleasantly surprised thinking that he is in heaven as he is attended to by his “guide” (played by Sebastian Cabot) dressed in white. Valentine supposes the "Guide" to be his "guardian angel" who grants his every wish.  Soon he finds that getting everything he wants is not as fulfilling as he thought – in fact, it is hell.  A brief video summary follows:


A Nice Place to Visit


G. K. Chesterton once said: “Hell is God’s great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice.”  God does not consign mankind to hell.  Man freely chooses to go there because he desires self-autonomy over subservience to his redeemer to Whom he owes his very existence.  C. S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain wrote: “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the gates of hell are locked on the inside.”  Later in that book, Lewis cites George MacDonald making the following observation:

 “There are only two kinds of people in the end: 

those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’  and those 

to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”

The absolute worst experience in my life occurred in a ministry that I coveted for all the wrong reasons.  Growth is no indication of success in God’s kingdom.  God does not call us to be successful but faithful.  God does not call us to be known but to know Him.  God does not call us to ease but to self-denial and cross-bearing.  How often do I fail to ask God for His will - secretly fearing that His will for me will not align with mine?


Prayer:  Heavenly Father, it’s time to “fess up.”  All too often, my prayer is “Thy will be changed” rather than “Thy will be done.”  I want what is deemed by others to be “success” rather than a destiny that meets Your definition of success.  Forgive me for the ease in which I find myself captive by the desires of this world.  My autonomy be damned!  Captivate my heart again such that I am Your slave who delights to do Your will and is thankful for Your ownership.    Amen!

Heavenly Withdrawels and Grassy Paths

posted Jun 24, 2019, 12:49 PM by Michael Bell   [ updated Jun 24, 2019, 12:52 PM ]

“But Jesus often withdrew to
the wilderness for prayer.”
- Luke 5:16 [NLT]
 

Theologically speaking, the Lord Jesus is the second person of the Trinity.  He is, in fact, God and the gospels give an account of His humiliation in becoming fully human for a short period of time.  Sometimes I am afraid that I’m guilty of so elevating the deity of Christ that I fail to relate to Him not only as fully God but fully human as well.  Indeed, I see this often in evangelical circles.  One can become dangerously close to the ancient heresy of Docetic Gnosticism when Jesus’ deity is emphasized at the expense of his humanity.  He didn’t just appear to be human as the Gnostics taught.  He was human.  The writer of Hebrews wrote that Jesus in every “…respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” - Hebrews 4:15 [ESV]  This is a greater feat then we might expect.  The temptation of Jesus was likely much fiercer than the temptation we sinners face.  William Barclay writes:

 

The fact that Jesus was without sin means that he knew depths and tensions and assaults of temptation which we never can know. So far from his battle being easier it was immeasurably harder. Why? For this reason--we fall to temptation long before the tempter has put out the whole of his power. We never know temptation at its fiercest because we fall long before that stage is reached. But Jesus was tempted far beyond what we are; for in his case the tempter put everything he possessed into the assault. (DSB. Hebrews pg. 38)

 

The closer we are to God, the fiercer the attacks of the devil become in order to entrap us in sin and ruin our witness. Every word of this verse in Luke’s gospel is important.  The word “often” speaks to the frequency with which Jesus withdraws for prayer.  If the sinless Son of God needed a quiet time with the Father frequently, how much more should sinning saints like myself prioritize a time to “withdraw” daily and pray.  It is little wonder that Jesus maintained a disciplined daily communion with his Heavenly Father.

I live in a noisy world.  It is difficult to find a place of peace and quiet.  Nevertheless the word “wilderness” speaks to the importance of solitude in prayer in communion with God. 

Spiritual warfare is exhausting and stressful.  Discipleship is not for sissies.  If the Lord needed to rest in the presence of God, how much more does this sinner need the rejuvenation that comes with rest.  I must confess my sin of failing to jealously guard my time with God.  Workaholicism doesn’t glorify God and busyness is not next to godliness. 

I’m reminded of a well-worn story of a man in Athens, Greece who noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys. He laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity. Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string, and placing it on the ground. Then he said, “Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bow implies.”  The man looked at the bow but had no idea of the point Aesop was making. Aesop said:  “If you keep a bow always bent, it’ll break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it’ll be more fit for use when you want it.”

Vance Havner once wisely said: “If we don’t come apart and rest, we’ll just come apart.”  From time to time vacations are necessary.  I’m glad that I’m having the opportunity to take one.  Nevertheless, withdrawal from the world on a daily basis is even more important.  I’ve heard it said: “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.”  I dare not take a vacation from my quiet time.  Physical rest without spiritual rest leads to a powerless walk with God.

Some years ago I heard about a powerful movement of God in the lives of people in a small African Village.  A missionary serving there recounted how the villagers had such a palpable zeal for the Lord that each would withdraw into the jungle by themselves for lengthy times of prayer each day. They were so consistent in their prayer lives following the spiritual awakening that over time paths formed due to the frequent use by these Christians devoted to solitude in their individual special place in the jungle set apart for quiet time with God.  If any of these young Christians became complacent and neglectful of their personal time in communion with God, a Godly Christian accountability partner would say to them: “My brother, grass is growing on your path.”

I’ve heard it said that “idleness is the devil’s workshop.”  Idleness in prayer certainly is!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, where else would I rather be than in Your presence communing with You?  Unfortunately, oftentimes my practice of neglect belies my confession of devotion to You.  I find other trivial things to occupy my time.  Grass does indeed grow in my path.  How foolish I am to desire anything less than the rest and strength that only You can give.  As the result of the example I see today in Jesus’ prayer life, I echo the words of a hymn writer who penned: “Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.  I need Thee, Oh need Thee.  Every hour I need Thee.  Oh bless me now my Savior.  I come to Thee.”  Amen!

I have a “Lot” to lose.

posted Jun 20, 2019, 11:42 AM by Michael Bell   [ updated Jun 20, 2019, 7:17 PM ]

“and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly
distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked
who resided there (for as that righteous man lived
among them day after day, he was tormenting
his righteous soul over their lawless deeds
that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows
how to rescue the godly from trials,”
- 2 Peter 2:7-9a [ESV]
 

When I read the Old Testament account of Lot’s behavior in the book of Genesis, I’m shocked that Simon Peter could refer to such an unsavory character as “righteous Lot.”  Here was a man whose behavior was anything but righteous – at least according to a cursory reading of Genesis 18-19.  The adjective “righteous” doesn’t match the behavior of a man who chose to settle in Sodom.  When wicked Sodomites surrounded Lot’s house demanding that he deliver his angelic guests over to them in order that they could engage in what amounted to the wanton homosexual rape of them, Lot instead offered them his two virgin daughters!  What kind of a wicked father does that to his daughters?  Later, those same daughters would cause Lot to get drunk for the purpose of enticing him to commit incest with them in order to perpetuate the family line.  (Genesis 19:30-38)  This is the man characterized by Peter as “righteous” three times and used him as an example of a “godly” man rescued from trouble?

Peter might be forgiven for what appears to be an inaccurate characterization of an obviously flawed individual like Lot based upon his familiarity with both Jewish tradition (Wisdom of Solomon 10:6;19:17) and the usage of Lot as an example by Jesus of rescue from divine judgment and destruction. (Luke 17:28) Still, it seems counterintuitive to call an egregious sinner like Lot a “righteous man.”  What does Peter’s favorable estimation of Lot’s character have to teach me?

Apparently, however imperfectly, he followed the Lord, Lot had been positively impacted by the faith of his uncle Abraham.  Though Lot chose to live in Sodom to accumulate wealth, he did come to the point of maturity that he became “distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked” who resided there.  Peter goes so far as to describe Lot as tormented over the lawless behavior of the Sodomites.  The imperfect verb ebasanizen (ebasanizen) translated “tormenting” indicates that Lot’s revulsion of the wickedness of the populace in Sodom had become a continuous state of mind. 

Thus, I suspect that an accurate narrative of Lot’s spiritual pilgrimage would be:

 

1.) Lot chose Sodom because he was enticed by its potential prosperity. 

2.) Sodom moved in to the heart of his wife while Lot’s conscience was disturbed by the den of iniquity in which she resided. 

3.) When told to flee Sodom, Lot, however reluctantly, obeyed the Lord, warned his family thereby rescuing his daughters, while his wife’s reluctance to leave Sodom behind resulted in her death.

 

As I ponder any parallels between Lot’s life and my own, I recognize that I have little room to criticize him.  Yes, he committed some pretty deplorable sins, but so have I.  While I would never offer my daughter to rapists in order to placate their desires for sexual assault, I’m afraid that I failed to protect my children from the spiritual assault that they received in college.

On a more spiritually intimate level, I can think back on some sins in my life that I did not commit merely for want of opportunity – not because of personal purity.  I can also think of times that I traded my integrity for personal gain – even gain that likely appeared noble in the sight of others.  There have been times in my life where I “pitched my tent toward Sodom” only to regret it later. 

I guess the fact that I grieve for both my own sins and the increasing depravity in my country and seek God’s forgiveness is an indication that, though the world once moved into my heart, God is in the process of evicting it and replacing the world with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

So like Lot, this sinner stands “righteous” before God.  But my “righteousness” has not been earned by me.  No, it is a “righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:9)  Therefore, I must blush at my self-righteousness in judging others and instead glory in the grace and mercy of God who gave His Son for an unsavory character like me.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I marvel at Your patience in dealing with flawed sinners such as I.  While this sinner laments the depravity into which this world has plunged – blaspheming You and Your created order, I recognize that I am in as much need has anyone else of forgiveness and Your sanctifying presence in my life.  Cleanse my heart of impure motives and self-righteousness.  Grant me the ability to be compassionate with sinners for they are my peers.  I still have a “Lot” to lose before my “condition” measures up to my “position” of righteousness in Your presence.  Amen!

A Sinner’s Self-Portrait

posted Jun 19, 2019, 10:42 AM by Michael Bell   [ updated Jun 19, 2019, 10:46 AM ]

“A motive in the human heart is
like deep water, and a person who
has understanding draws it out.”
- Proverbs 20:5 [GW]
 

Why do I do what I do?  My motive for ministry is as important as my actions of ministry in God’s sight.  It is possible to do something savory (good and praiseworthy) in the eyes of others and yet it be a stench in the nostrils of God.  How often are my deeds sullied with mixed motives in my heart?  Indeed, how often am I unaware of my duplicity?  I suspect that I’m guilty of duplicity in my motives far more often than I recognize. 

The writer of Proverbs likens one’s motives to “deep water.”  I’m a decent swimmer but reticent to dive too deeply into the water for fear that I might not make it back up in time to breathe.  I suspect that, spiritually, I neglect the discipline of self-examination for fear that my self-righteousness might not survive the plunge.  In a perverse way, self-knowledge and spiritual ignorance is bliss.  But such a calloused attitude towards sin is not characteristic of a person who desires to please God – however much that person appears to be pleasing God in the sight of others.

The challenge issued by the writer of Proverbs is implicit.  If I deign to be “a person who has understanding” (and any genuine believer should have that as his goal) then I must probe the deepest recesses of my heart for any impure motives in order to bring them to light.  However much I seek to justify myself, I cannot hide my purposes from God.  Elsewhere, the writer of Proverbs states: “All a man’s ways seen innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” - Proverbs 16:2[NIV] As I think about my behavior the last couple of days, I see that I am a pretty wretched sinner full of pride and anger when slighted.  With a painful understanding of my sin, I must draw out my sin before God, agree with Him that it is sin, and repent.  If I “sweep it under the rug” of my ego, I stunt my spiritual growth and frustrate my sanctification.

I’m reminded of a story I heard about a former manager of a Jack in the Box restaurant in Oroville, California named Thomas Martin.  In 1996, he reported a robbery in which the crook stole $307 as the store was closing.  When questioned about the suspect, Martin provided the police sketch artist with a detailed description of the assailant.  After the sketch artist completed his sketch, he observed how the drawing looked just like Martin.  When investigators noticed the similarity, Martin confessed his guilt for the crime.  Right now, in my mind’s eye, I am sketching the portrait of a sinner.  And that sinner is me.  I need to confess it and to keep short accounts with God lest I fail to fulfill His calling due to the secret sins in my life.

There is an old saying: “It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out, it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”  Many a man, worried for fear that he would not be able to cross a mountain, has had to stop some miles before he crossed the foothills because he had not taken time to clean out his shoes before the journey.  That has been the source of failure in many a believer’s life.  Eager to avoid major conspicuous sins, one’s life may outwardly be one of extreme piety in the eyes of others.  But if there are hidden and confessed sins, like the little pebbles in one’s shoe, one’s walk with God is hindered and he or she is in danger of lagging behind in the journey to holiness to which Christ calls his people.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, lately I have been lagging behind in my call to follow Christ because there is secret sin hidden in my soul.  I’m reminded of the statement I heard: “If you want to see what is in your basement, you have to surprise your basement.”  My basement was surprised this week and I saw the ugliness that resides within me.  Forgive me for failing to be diligent in daily self-examination, confession, and repentance. 

Through Your Holy Spirit, sanctify me such that I become “a person who has understanding” that sees my sin and “draws it out” to deal with it. 

Let not the shame of confessed sin stymie my walk with You by causing me to forget Your amazing grace and forgiveness.  In the name of the only one who can save me from myself and my secret sins, Jesus Christ, I ask this.  Amen!

Surviving a Society's Spiritual Dementia

posted Jun 14, 2019, 3:22 PM by Michael Bell   [ updated Jun 14, 2019, 4:44 PM ]

“And the people will oppress one
another, every one his fellow and
every one his neighbor; the youth
will be insolent to the elder, and
the despised to the honorable.”
- Isaiah 3:5 [ESV]
 

At the site of the Dachau concentration camp near Munich, Germany, is a museum containing relics from the camp, as well as grim photos depicting conditions there during the war years.  There is a sign next to the exit that reads: “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat its mistakes.”

As I read this passage, I’m lamenting the passage of the most permissive abortion laws in history in two states of my land.  I used to wonder how the Germans could stand idly by and watch the extermination of four million Jews in the holocaust.  Now, I know how it happened because I see the same thing occurring in my country.  We have drifted so far from God that our consciences, uninformed by scripture, no longer regard little babies as human beings worthy of protection.  We’ve reached the point that feminists actually take pride in the number of abortions they have had! 

This was unthinkable in my childhood.  Mothers had a naturally maternal and protective attitude toward their children.  What changed?  My nation has “shown God the door” and without God all things are permissible.

Isaiah’s words are directed towards a society in decline.  Indeed he is foretelling the destruction of the nation from within and their eventual captivity by the Babylonian empire.  Nations come and go.  History teaches us that no empire, regardless of their apparent invincibility, is immune to conquest.  However, usually a powerful nation’s destruction begins at least with self-destructive behavior. 

No nation that I’m aware of has ever survived very long when factions and divisions began to permeate the populace.  This passage describes the conditions prevalent in the southern kingdom of Judah after they had forgotten their godly heritage and the lessons of history they had witnessed in the destruction of their northern neighbor Israel some 130 years prior.  155 years ago, my nation was embroiled in a civil war.  Both political and moral disagreements led to that war.  History is repeating itself because one of the issues of contention was whether or not the black slave was considered a human being worthy of protection.  Now, the question is whether pre-born human babies are worthy of protection. 

During the period of the Civil War, lines were drawn between the sides geopolitically.  Now, the lines between the sides have less to do with territory and more to do with two conflicting worldviews, though it is interesting that the states lining up to support the slaughter of innocent babies and those which oppose abortion largely match the geopolitical landscape of the civil war.  Northern, more secular states, advocate the slaughter of human babies up to the point of birth.  Southern states in what used to be called “the Bible Belt” are lining up to defend the lives of the unborn.

The debate on what I see as the seminal moral issue of our time has become increasingly heated and characterized by incivility.  Isaiah’s words could not be more germane: “People will oppress each other - man against man, neighbor against neighbor.” [NLT]  This sexagenarian has never seen his nation so divided. 

The incivility I am witnessing today was not the “norm” during my childhood.  One of the advantages that this senior citizen has over young people is that I have an existential understanding of the last half century of history.  Even still, I find that people in my own generation forget the lessons of history – or participate in historical revisionism for political purposes resulting in the tearing down of statues and monuments built to keep us reminded of the past.  It amazes me that in this so-called “Information Age” the majority of the populace suffers from the loss of even short-term historical memory.  Indeed, we are becoming historically and spiritually demented!  

We continue to push God further and further away and then wonder why immorality is the order of the day.  Another prophet who diagnosed the decline of his nation in a way that fits the spirit of this age wrote: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” - Hosea 4:6 [ESV]

So-called “Institutions of higher learning” don’t train our children in critical thinking skills anymore.  Instead they produce arrogant, leftist, neophytes (indoctrinated with divisive attitudes of class envy, race warfare, intersectionality and identity politics) who honestly believe that they are wiser than their elders.  Such an incendiary worldview produces youthful disciples who further foment societal and generational acrimony.  As Isaiah put it: “the youth will be insolent to the elder.”  I have come to loathe modern academia.  The words of a Russian Orthodox Christian philosopher Nikolaĭ Fedorovich Fedorov come to mind: “The educated are a class which exhibits alienation from its kin in an extreme form.” 

Meanwhile, those who indoctrinate the youth instill an attitude of “moral superiority” into them such that they think verbal abuse and even violence against their opponents is permissible if it attains their desired political end.  Isaiah foresaw this behavior in his own country as well and he wrote: “vulgar people will sneer at the honorable.” [NLT]   

Karl Marx is attributed with a saying: “Accuse the victim of what you do.”  This tactic of shifting blame is alive and well in my country today.  If one is racist or intolerant, they accuse their opponent of it.  Indeed, some even stage an incident to lend credibility to their accusation.  Recently, an actor, (Jesse Smollett) staged an assault in order to advance a racial stereotype of an opposing politician.  This kind of Machiavellian tactic is not new.  Several years ago, I heard a politician say: “In Chicago, there was an old tradition of throwing a brick through your own campaign office window, and then calling a press conference to say that you’ve been attacked.”

A nation that uses euphemisms such as “social justice” to advance a gospel of “class envy” to advance wealth redistribution and reparations is doomed, for its metanarrative is rooted in anger and resentment of others as though each bears no responsibility for their own state of being.  The natural result is a toxic public discourse in which people blame others for their own economic, vocational or moral failures.  Professor Thomas Sowell was prophetic when he wrote: “In various countries and times, leaders of groups that lagged behind, economically and educationally, have taught their followers to blame all their problems on other people - and to hate those other people.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said: “To accuse others for one's own misfortunes is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one's education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one's education is complete.”  Our society can only survive if the populace repents of its narcissism and entitlement mentality and seeks Christ.  Only He can educate us about the humility necessary for reconciliation, unity, and a revival.

Given the current state of affairs and the bleak outlook based on historical precedent of other nations which have fallen due to disunity, what should the Christian do?  Are we to throw up our hands and give up?  Are we to write our nation off as hopeless and irredeemable?  Or are we to trust God through what may be an act of his loving discipline? 

After indicting early Christians with the words: You have forgotten the encouraging words that God speaks to you as his children” the writer of Hebrews reminds them: “My child, pay attention when the Lord disciplines you. Don't give up when he corrects you. The Lord disciplines everyone he loves. He severely disciplines everyone he accepts as his child.” Hebrews 12:5-6 [GW]

In my heart of hearts, I believe that God is disciplining His people.  By “His people,” I do not mean my country (America.)  I’m referring to the church in this land.  We have failed to be salt and light in our culture and we’re going to reap what we have sown.  We must see the hardship we will suffer as the Lord’s loving discipline.  Even if our nation collapses from within or is taken captive, we dare not think that God has forsaken us as His people.  As the Scripture says, true Christians are his beloved children and He “severely disciplines everyone he accepts as his child.”  

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the peace that comes from recognizing that I am Your child no matter what circumstances in which I find myself.  I am Yours in prosperity and in poverty.  I am Yours in freedom and captivity.  You have not revoked my prophetic call to proclaim Your Word in season and out of season.  Your divine forbearance for this sinner and for the sins of the nation that has forsaken You never ceases to amaze me.  When the time comes that You withhold Your mercy from this land and allow it to self-destruct, keep me mindful that my hope is not based upon my citizenship in an earthly kingdom, but in my citizenship in Your heavenly kingdom.  Come what may, help me to be “salt” and “light” in the culture and society in which You have placed me.  Educate my children’s generation in the discipline of humility in order that they may seek You and be instruments of peace in a toxic society full of incivility and ingratitude.  Whether or not it is too late for our nation’s survival, revive us, O Lord, for the sake of Your kingdom.  In the name of Your Son, the King of kings, I ask this.  Amen!

Lesson from a Syrian Soldier: "Beggars can't be Choosers"

posted Jun 11, 2019, 1:22 PM by Michael Bell   [ updated Jun 12, 2019, 7:40 AM ]

“But Naaman was angry and went away,
saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely
come out to me and stand and call upon the name
of the Lord his God, and wave his hand
over the place and cure the leper.’”
- 2 Kings 5:11 [ESV]
 

There is an old saying: “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”  I don’t know the source of that quote or the date of it, but it was certainly advice that Naaman could’ve used.  Thankfully for him, some of his underlings at least understood the principle behind that saying, and they urged him to do what Elisha had commanded, and dip himself in the Jordon seven times in order to be healed of his leprosy. (vs. 13)

The shorthand story of this text is about a Syrian soldier named Naaman who suffered with leprosy.  By the grace of God, a servant girl knew of a miracle-working prophet by the name of Elisha who could cure Naaman.  Naaman sent for Elisha.  Elisha sent back a message saying: “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” (vs. 10)

Naaman was surprised and angered by the fact that Elisha didn’t follow his imagined standard operating procedure for healing.  Naaman’s expectations were dashed and he almost missed the opportunity to be healed because of his anger.  Had he persisted, Naaman what have continued to suffer with leprosy.  Canadian lawyer Robin S. Sharma once said: “Remember, we see the world not as it is but as we are. Most of us see through the eyes of our fears and our limiting beliefs and our false assumptions.”  Such was surely the case with Naaman.

God does not always work in the way we think He will or should.  He has any number of ways of dealing with men and women and tailors His grace to an individual’s spiritual need.  Naaman needed to be humbled before he could be healed.  His faith had to be proven by obedience before he would see the blessing of God. 

Thankfully, his story ends well.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of many who miss God’s blessings because of false expectations or refusal to accept God’s grace as He offers it to them.

 As a pastor, I am grappling with the question: “How do you minister to a person who refuses your help?”  Or better, how can I turn a Christian away from a self-destructive behavior to receive the help that they need?  I suspect some tough love is in order. 

From the totality of this story, Elisha’s example would indicate that I must convince those who are reticent to receive my ministry that I have nothing personal to gain if they obey my directions. (vs. 16)  I also should keep any act of ministry God-centered and God-glorifying when dealing with the needy. (vs. 15)  Any help that a person receives from my hand is ultimately from the sovereign hand of God and I deserve no credit.  I must convince the recipient of grace that God is their benefactor, not me.

The solution to a needy person’s problem may be hard for them to swallow.  However   “beggars can’t be choosers.”  They may indeed stare a “gift horse in the mouth” and reject God’s graceful provision.  I am learning the truth of the old saying: “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.”  I need God to hurry up and give me patience and persuasiveness as I minister to the needy – some of whom are their own worst enemy.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, there are people who are hurting and this shepherd feels powerless to help.  It occurs to me that the essence of the gospel story is that of You, O God, mercifully reaching down to an obstinate people living self-destructive lives.  Thank you for the blessing of knowing that I speak not to a god who is unaware of my frustration.  Help me to win the confidence of those that I try to help.  Use me as an instrument of Your grace in the lives of the needy.  Keep me mindful that this is Your ministry, not mine.  In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ my Lord, I make these requests.  Amen!

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