Wednesday, November 29, 2017

You Are the Light of the World...

     I have been thinking a lot lately about the world we live in. I don't understand why people get so worked up about football players exercising their right to free speech by kneeling during the national anthem. It bothers me that we as a nation have grown somewhat comfortable trying to strong arm others out of their freedoms, by suggesting they be fired for exercising them.  I can't wrap my mind around how we look the other way when others are victimized. I struggle to understand the way people talk themselves into continued support of a politician running for office, who has a list a mile long of women that accuse him of rape. I have no frame of reference for the kind of evil that walks pew by pew executing children...whole families, as they duck for cover.

     My Facebook feed blows up at least once a week with friends and family arguing over the best solution to these problems. No one really listens to each other anymore. We're too busy pointing out the "flawed" thinking of the other side. The volatile issues of the world we live in and the hate that fuels them, have rendered many of us unable to see the humanity in the other. It's a dark world, and I believe people are longing for some light. So where is it?

     Matthew 5:14-16 tells us where we can find it.  "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."  These are the words of Jesus as he taught the disciples. The Church is the light of the world, or at least we are supposed to be...but are we really??

     Light can only shine brightly through clear vessels. Put a light bulb under a dark colored lamp shade, and the light still shines but it shines dimly. Put the same light bulb under a white lamp shade and and it shines brightly. My question is this, how pure, how clear is the vessel of the Church that the light of Christ is supposed to be shining through? Are we truly a town on a hill that cannot be hidden? A warm, bright glow that beckons a weary, dark world to find out more about Jesus... the Light that lives within us? Or are we more like a light dimly glowing through a dark colored lamp shade, colored by the things and the thinking of the world we live in? As I consider this, some questions come to mind that I believe are worth asking ourselves.

     Does the way we spend our time, the way we spend our money, and  the way we make decisions magnify the light of Christ living in us? Do the things we post on social media, and the politicians and policies we support mirror the heart of God? Does the way we give, how we serve others, and the conversations we have with them make people walk away feeling better or broken for having been with us? Do people feel as though they have just spent time with Christ Himself, because His light shines so brightly through us?

     1 Peter 2:9 declares, " But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."  This is what God says we are...but are we living it? If we really were, the darkness would not be so great in our nation right now. It's time. It's time to ask God to illuminate the darkness in our own lives and to purify us so that we can shine brightly in this dark world. It's time to cast aside sin, the bondage that weighs us down, and the things that keep the world from recognizing any resemblance of Christ in us. It's time for the Church to rise up and be that town on a hill that cannot be hidden!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Help My Unbelief...

     The doctor said she probably had an enlarged uterus or a tumor of some kind inside her abdomen, that her stomach looked distended. With these words and a script for an ultrasound, the doctor unwittingly set the wheels in motion for a life lesson I will never forget!

     During the week leading up to my mom's ultrasound I prayed hard. I prayed that it wouldn't be anything serious, that it would just be something simple that could be monitored. I prayed that it wouldn't require surgery. I prayed that if there was a tumor there, it wouldn't be cancerous. I spoke often to God about how much she had been through already, the shape she is in now, and that I could not imagine how she could manage one more serious thing. I asked for mercy. We went for the ultrasound on a Wednesday. In the days that followed, as we waited for the results I prayed the same way. Friday that week, I had just finished praying when I heard God say, "You haven't prayed that nothing is wrong. You haven't prayed that the results would come back normal."  I sat there in stunned silence for a moment. I truly am in the habit of asking for normal test results and asking for miracles, so why hadn't I?  I figured that if God was bringing this to my attention it must mean I needed to pray this way, so I did. I did...but there was still a small part of me that was so battle worn from endless unfavorable diagnoses of long term illnesses...that I wondered if we might still receive another one!

     At the end of that very day, we got a phone call. No tumors. No enlarged organs. Normal results. I was dumbfounded! I felt very much like the man in Matthew 9. He brings his son to Jesus for deliverance from a demonic spirit and says, "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." Jesus replies, " 'If you can?'  Everything is possible for one who believes." The man immediately exclaims " I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"  This man's son had been tormented since childhood. I imagine as a father, he had prayed many times for his son to be set free. He had probably tried everything he could to help his son, only to see terrible things happen over and over again. He comes to Jesus and says "If you can do anything"  not because he doubts, but because he has seen so much suffering he is not sure what Jesus will do. He must have believed that Jesus could do something or he would not have come at all. Jesus says, "If you can?" I imagine a slight smirk on Jesus' face, and understanding in His eyes as He lovingly brings the usage of the word "if" to the man's attention. Much like He lovingly reminded me, of what I did not ask Him for regarding my mom. I understand why the father responds the way he does. It's not that he does not's that his faith is tired. He has believed before and not seen his son delivered. But because of the loving nudge Jesus gives him, he exercises his faith one more time and wisely asks for help filling in the gaps "help me overcome my unbelief".  Just like that, Jesus casts out the demon and the man's son is made whole.

     I've been thinking about these things a lot lately.  How many times do we count God out? Maybe like me, you have consistently prayed for miracles for a loved one and received added suffering instead. Maybe like the man in Matthew, you believe but your faith is tired and you too need to ask for help to overcome the parts of you that harbor unbelief. Sometimes we pray so long and so hard without seeing answers, that we begin to pray smaller prayers. We trust God will see us through but we stop praying for deliverance. Some of us have been praying for the salvation of our loved ones for decades...and are still waiting. Others are faithfully pleading with God for deliverance from addictions or the return of a prodigal child...still waiting. Maybe you've been praying for changes in your church, a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a revival of sorts...and you are still waiting. Or...maybe you have been praying for yourself. You feel distant from God, haven't heard His voice in what seems like forever, and wonder when you will ever get out of the desert you are are still waiting.

  In a sense, I had counted God out. I was not counting on Him for any miracles or normal test results. Based on the prayers I was praying, I was only counting on God to see my mom through whatever was coming next. It happened subtly without me realizing it. I am so thankful that He has brought it to my attention. In the three weeks since then, I have had many opportunities to pray. There have been some more medical tests to pray through, serious illnesses, and long term prayers for freedom and healing for friends and family. Just like the man in Matthew, I don't hesitate to say "help me overcome my unbelief"  and I will continue to do this until the "if You can" in my heart turns into "when You do" because I refuse to count God out! He still heals, restores, redeems, and delivers.

Don't be like me. Don't get so worn or discouraged from consistently praying for the same impossible things, that you start praying in such a way as to just get by. Pray the big and seemingly impossible prayers for as long as it takes for them to be answered. In our finite human vision it often looks like God is doing nothing....when really He is hard at work setting things in motion. I sit here writing this...the same person who says "help me overcome my unbelief" praising God for an answer to a prayer I prayed well over a year ago...and kept praying. Never count Him out!