WHY DO SOME PEOPLE STRUGGLE TO BELIEVE?

 Remember the disciple Thomas? He was dug in. I will not believe. “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I WILL NEVER BELIEVE!” (John 20:24-25). This guy rubbed elbows with Jesus, had conversations with him, traveled with him, listened to him, ate with him, and saw all the miraculous stuff Jesus did, yet after Jesus died, he categorically refused to believe that anything like the resurrection could really occur. Why the unbelief? Oh, I know the heart is deceitful and desperately incurable, our friend Jeremiah tells us (Jer. 17:9). That explains part of the unbelief struggle. Don’t trust your heart. It is wicked. God alone really knows the heart! But I think there is more that goes on in the unbelief struggle.

Think about this. When you are not sure about someone, then you are reluctant to believe what the say, promise, state, or do. You will recall that Philip asked Jesus to show he and the other disciples the Father and he/they would be at rest…satisfied (John 14:8-11). Jesus answers with an astounding question: ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? In other words, he is saying ‘you still cannot wrap your head around who I am? You cannot see God in me?’ Then He says forthrightly: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is is me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” The struggle to believe is wrapped in the package of being sure of Jesus. If you cannot get Jesus right you have no basis to believe. We must keep that in mind as we share the Gospel with our fellow men. Jesus must always be the starting point on the path of faith. Of course that means going to the record with confidence…ie the Bible… so that we can know about who Jesus is and what He has done.

Perhaps there is another reason for the struggle to believe. Is good news reliable and believable in our skeptical and jaded world of constant turmoil, trouble and wickedness? Every day we are bombarded with bombings, shootings, devastating storms, riots, hunger, cheaters, liars, murderers, etc. and on the list goes. So when we bring up the matter of there being “good news” you can see the disbelief on the faces of those to whom we speak. True good news is rare, seldom seen or experienced, so no wonder there is a struggle to believe in such a “fairy tale.” Yet the transforming power of the Gospel in real life is testimony that there is good news and it is real. Our own stories of redemption from our sins through Christ needs to be shared not as a pipe dream but as an experienced reality. Jesus did save us from our sins. The Gospel does work. We must be ready to show the results of the Gospel in our own lives as we face the daily challenges of life in this fallen world. Paul was right. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation” (II Cor. 5:17).
Just because there is a struggle to believe does not mean that many will not come to faith in Christ. That is why Paul went on to say: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (II Cor. 5:20).

Finally, let’s not forget our enemy who sows constant seeds of doubt when it comes to believing the word and promises of God. He has had a lot of experience in this practice (starting in Genesis 3 with our first parents). That is why the man in the Gospels cried out to Jesus with great honesty about the battle raging in his soul (no doubt sowed by the enemy of souls): “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). The struggle for belief is not a rare or unusual thing in our world. But victory is possible.  Paul says that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Face unbelief with the Bible and its claims about Christ. Unbelief cannot stand before an honest reception of God’s Word.

The end of the story for Thomas is recorded in John 20:26-29. Thomas was invited in the presence of the risen Christ to indeed put his fingers into the wounds. But strangely he did not. Unbelief vanished when he got Jesus right. He just said: “My Lord and my God!” The struggle to believe is over. Christ is Lord! Think it thru

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DOES TOMORROW LOOM TOO LARGE?

Let’s face it. We are a couple of weeks into the new year already and looking ahead to our next day’s journey. The danger is that we can try to live tomorrow before it gets here. Tomorrow looms large to us. Perhaps too large. I am not saying that we shouldn’t  plan for tomorrow as much as our limited life allows. But we must realize that we only have strength for the day imparted and so we cannot live tomorrow on today’s energy (God promised Israel: “As your days, so will your strength be” – Deut. 33:25). But when tomorrow looms large especially when it promises something we dread (I think I have a dental appointment looming on the horizon–get what I mean?), then we find ourselves a bit shaky in the strength & courage department.

I am reading a rather heavy tome called “The Christian’s Reasonable Service” by Wilhelmus A’Brakel. (Just the name intimidated me at first). It is in volume 2 that the author talks about the need for spiritual strength for our journey into tomorrow. He said this: “Spiritual strength is an undaunted steadfastness of heart, given by God to His children, whereby they, while entertaining a lively hope of acquiring the promised benefits, overcome fear of all danger and opposition, unyieldingly engage in warfare, and courageously persevere in obedience toward God.”  Now that is a mouthful. What is he saying that is so helpful to us?

First, he tells us that strength has to have a spiritual source. God has to give it. And He gives it to us in Christ (I Cor. 1:30 – Christ is made to us among other things strength). Only in Christ can I have this strength that  breeds a steadfastness of heart  for tomorrow’s events.  The Psalmist said in 31:34 “He shall strengthen your heart.” The prophet Isaiah speaks assuredly about this to his people as they faced an uncertain tomorrow when he says: “He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increases strength” (Isa. 40:39).  A’Brakel really opened my eyes when he observed: “The benefits hoped for are so desirable that they can endure all that is uncomfortable…Hope in the faithfulness and truthfulness of the promising God makes acquisition such a steadfast and unquestionable fact, that the stronger the believer is in this respect, the stronger his courage will be.” Those promised benefits may not come in our time and in our way, and we may have to face some opposition and trial, but they will come enabling us to have steadfastness of heart and courage to persevere. Those promises give us strength for tomorrow. God told Habakkuk he would have to wait for awhile until God unfolded what he had promised in the vision: “…if it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).

Second, he tells us that this spiritual strength is an overcoming kind of thing.  The courageous believer is made so because he realizes that “…everything which is in opposition has no power to conquer him and prevent him from reaching his objective, omnipotent help being on his side.”  I think this is what the Psalmist was talking about when he said in Ps. 27:1: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” The tomorrow that looms before us in such a foreboding way is no match for the omnipotent help we have been promised by our Lord.  Fear must go away in light of what we have been promised. When we feel our courage slipping away remember what Isaiah said in Isaiah 27:5 “Let him take hold of My strength.” Tomorrow loomed big in David’s eyes as he realized the people were planning on stoning him because the Amalekites had raided his headquarters in Ziklag.  How did he deal with that potential disaster?  The text tells us “But David encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (I Sam. 30:6). He counted on God’s strength to be there in his tomorrow!

Third, he reminds us that spiritual strength is maintained by our obedience. God has given us grace to obey. We have to know that something desirable is at stake in tomorrow’s battle and that desirable thing is for us to persevere in obeying our Lord no matter what the enemy chooses to use against us.  We should know our enemy. We are acquainted with the Devil, the world, and our own flesh. On the flip side, our enemies are well acquainted with us too! That is why we need this strength from God. We not only desire to defeat our enemies but at the same time we also want to stay obedient. As we experience God’s strength,wait for it, and rely on its promise  we are able to persevere in obedience. Paul reminds us in II Cor. 10:4-5 of this:  “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power (strength) to destroy strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

David got it. In  Ps. 119:115 he declares: “Depart from me, you evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God.”

Don’t let tomorrow loom too large!  Omnipotence has gone ahead of us! Take courage and draw on his strength. Take the psalmists words into your soul:“Be of good courage,and He will strengthen your heart” Ps. 27:14.  Think it thru

 

HOW DO WE HANDLE “THE POST-ELECTION SYNDROME?”

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Kevin DeYoung in a recent blog entitled A Prayer on Election Day concluded with these words:

Grant us the courage to stand up for what is right, the strength to try to make a difference, and the gospel-formed humility to accept that there are no Messiahs except for Jesus and no heaven on earth except the one awaiting us at the end of the age.”


Our new president is no Messiah and no elected official can deliver heaven on earth.   In fact according to Paul’s words to Timothy in II Timothy  3:1ff there will be a continued downward spiral in our world:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty for people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power….”

The challenge before us is not to put our hopes in Washington, but our confidence in the power of the Gospel to bring lasting change to the hearts of men and women.  That does not mean we are to abandon our prayers for our leaders. In fact…just the opposite. If we believe the Gospel is the answer for our culture then that very truth will drive us to our knees to pray for their salvation and that God would bring decisions from their hands that will further the Gospel in our land.  The story of the two eagles in Ezekiel 17 reminds us of the sovereign hand of God over the governmental affairs of nations [look it up and read it some time] where God brings change in spite of those who rule.

Our hope for the future is grounded in the triumph of the resurrection.  If God conquered death in Jesus Christ, then the rest is a “piece of cake.”  The darkness on the earthly horizon now  is always eclipsed by the glory of the future horizon yet to come! God isn’t done! The Spirit isn’t done! The Church isn’t done! Think it thru