Archive | March 2018

I thank God for “Doubting Thomas”

Thomas and Jesus

We so easily put negative tags on people.

We’ve done that with one of Jesus’ disciples.  We tag Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.”  But Jesus didn’t tag him that way.  Jesus didn’t mock Thomas or criticize him or shame him for his hesitancy to believe his friends’ report of Jesus’ resurrection.  Jesus treats Thomas’ hesitancy to believe with understanding, acceptance, and respect.

It all begins the day Jesus died.  Apparently Thomas saw Jesus die, or he received reports about what happened to Jesus.  He was keenly aware of the nails that were driven into Jesus’ hands and feet to impale to a cross.  He knew that the centurion vouched for Jesus’ death but took the extra measure of driving a spear into His heart.  He knew that Jesus was taken down from the cross, and that His lifeless body was wrapped in grave clothes and placed in a sealed tomb.  He knew that Jesus was dead, and dead people do not come back to life.  He was not about to be fooled by some mirage or by somebody’s wishful illusion.  Thomas had lost too great a treasure when Jesus was killed, and he was not going to settle for some fairytale story of mystical new life.

He stated the obvious.  He wouldn’t believe that Jesus had actually risen from the dead unless he could see with his own eyes the nail holes in Jesus’ hands, and unless he could touch with his own fingers the holes in Jesus’ hands and the hole in His side.  Too much was at stake.  He had to know for sure!

A week later, Thomas is with the other disciples when Jesus appears again.  He greets them all with the words, “Peace be with you!”  Then He says to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.”

Jesus doesn’t strike Thomas down for doubting.  Nor does He shame Thomas or cast him aside.  Nor does He demand that Thomas believe without seeing.  He graciously answers Thomas’ request; He shows Thomas the holes in His hands an in His side.  Then He calls Thomas to make the move from doubt to belief.

I am so glad that John shares with us the story of Thomas.

If it wasn’t for Thomas, I would be left with the same questions and skepticism.  But because of Thomas, I know that my objections have been adequately addressed.  Because of Thomas, I can trust in the reliability of Jesus’ resurrection.  And because of Thomas, I know that God will always deal with my questions in an understanding, gracious, and respectful way.

This leaves me with the freedom to doubt and to ask my questions, which, in turn, gives me the opportunity to genuinely believe, and to say, with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”  And it inspires me to seek to follow Christ as boldly as Thomas did.  For in the years that followed, Thomas brought the good news about Jesus all the way to India, where he died as a martyr, knowing he could trust the resurrected Savior through this life and unto the life to come!

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The Generosity of God

Matthew 7.7

Each year our community is invited to read a book together for the “Virginia Yerxa Read” program.  This year’s book is The Book of Joy, based on conversations between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.  According to the book, one of the foundations of joy is generosity.

Archbishop Tutu comments, “I’ve sometimes joked and said God doesn’t know very much math, because when you give to others, it should be that you are subtracting from yourself.  But in this incredible kind of way—I’ve certainly found that to be the case so many times—you gave and it then seems like in fact you are making space for more to be given to you.”

The two spiritual leaders go on to stress that we are wired for generosity.  The author of the book, Douglas Abrams points out, “The reward centers of our brain light up as strongly when we give as when we receive, sometimes even more so…. Richard Davidson and his colleagues have identified that generosity is one of the four fundamental brain circuits that map with long-term well-being…. Generosity is even associated with better health and longer life expectancy.  Generosity seems to be so powerful that, according to researchers David McClelland and Carol Kirshnit, just thinking about it ‘significantly increases the protective antibody salivary immunoglobulin A, a protein used by the immune system.’”

Abrams adds, “So it seems that money can buy happiness, if we spend it on other people.  Researcher Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues found that people experience greater happiness when they spend money on others than when they spend it on themselves.” (p. 263-265)

I share this because of what Jesus says to us in Matthew 7:7-11: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”

If we are, as Scripture stresses, made in the image of God, and if we, though fallen and scarred by sin, are wired for generosity, how much more is God by nature inclined to share generously His goodness with us!

What this tells me is that I need to take to heart that I am the beloved child of a heavenly Father who delights in sharing generously with me all that I may need for each day—not necessarily material blessings, for God is concerned with things that are far more important and essential to me than material blessings.  I need to live each day in trust that God loves me, is with me, and will provide for my needs for the day.

And what this tells me is that I should be sharing generously with others.  No wonder Jesus goes on, in the next verse, to say, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

 

 

The Power of Encouragement

Encouragement

“Encouragement is oxygen for the soul,” says John Maxwell.  As much as our lungs need oxygen for our physical survival, our souls need encouragement if we hope to blossom in life.

One of my favorite characters in the Bible is introduced in Acts 4:36 as Joseph.  But that is the only time his given name is mentioned.  He is consistently referred to as Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”  The apostles gave him that nickname because that’s the kind of person he was.  He was an encourager of others.

When the apostles feared Saul (who became Paul) because of his reputation for persecuting Christians, it was Barnabas who reached out to Saul then brought him into the company of the apostles (Acts 9:27).  When new Christians in Antioch needed some encouragement, the apostles sent Barnabas to them (Acts 11:22).  When the early church didn’t know what to do about non-Jewish converts, it was Barnabas and Paul who advocated for their full inclusion in the family of believers (Acts 15:12).  When Paul ostracized Mark for having failed him once, Barnabas took Mark under his arm (Acts 15:37).

People like Barnabas—sons or daughters of encouragement—can mean the world to us!

Jeanne Zornes tells of her experience with encouragement: “I learned about the power of encouragement during one of the lowest times of my life.  I was 30 and single, attending Bible College on my meager savings, fighting sickness, facing constant car repairs, and watching my parents battle cancer and heart problems.  Then one morning, a professor asked for our prayers for some overwhelming things in his life.  We were stunned to action.  Several of us formed an anonymous ‘Barnabas Committee,’ named for the New Testament’s ‘Son of Encouragement.’  Throughout that semester, we sent our professor notes (attached to little gifts like candy bars) to remind him that we were still praying for him.  We did the same for other professors facing personal challenges.  As I helped encourage these teachers, I discovered the truth of Proverbs 11:25: ‘He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.’”  She discovered that encouragement is oxygen for our souls.

As a young man in the English Parliament in 1791, fighting for the abolition of slavery, William Wilberforce grew discouraged and was about to give up.  When the elderly John Wesley heard about this, he called for a pen and paper to be brought to him—even upon his deathbed.  With trembling hand, Wesley wrote, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils.  But if God be for you, who can be against you?  Are all of them stronger than God?  Oh be not weary of well-doing!  Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery shall vanish away before it.”  Six days later, Wesley died, but taking Wesley’s encouragement to heart, Wilberforce battled on for abolition for 42 more years.  The English Parliament finally abolished slavery three days before Wilberforce died.  Wesley’s encouraging letter was oxygen for Wilberforce’s soul.

William Barclay explains how Benjamin West, the great early American artist became a painter: “One day his mother went out, leaving him in charge of his little sister Sally.  In his mother’s absence he discovered some bottles of colored ink and began to paint Sally’s portrait. In the doing so he made a very considerable mess of things with ink blots all over.  His mother came back.  She saw the mess, but she said nothing.  She picked up the piece of paper and saw the drawing.  ‘Why,’ she said, ‘It’s Sally!’ and she stooped and kiss him.  Ever after, Benjamin West used to say: ‘My mother’s kiss made me a painter.’  Encouragement did more than rebuke could ever do.”  His mother’s encouragement was oxygen for his soul.

When we become aware of someone who is in need of encouragement, may we not hold it back, for as Proverbs 11:25 says, “The one who refreshes others will also be refreshed.”

 

 

The problem with jumping to judgment

Matthew 7.1-2

I am a great “athlete” in only one “sport.”  I excel at jumping to the wrong conclusions about people who irritate me.

Hal Becker shares a hypothetical story that captures me well.  He writes,

“You are in your neighborhood department store, where you’ve gone to buy some clothes.  The guy in front of you has two little boys, and they are having the time of their lives.  They are playing hide-and-seek behind the clothing racks.  They are screaming, laughing, being really, really loud.  They are acting as though they are on a playground.

“As you wait in line, you give the father some dirty looks, since he should be a better father and manage his kids with more discipline.  When the father completes his shopping and motions to the kids that it is time to go, you give him one more dirty look as he walks away, leaving clothes on the floor that fell off the display racks where the kids were playing catch-me-if-you-can.

“You step up to the counter, ready to unload to the clerk, ‘Can you believe that father and the way he let his kids just run amok in this store?’

“But before you can open your mouth, the clerk says, ‘Sir, I am so sorry for the gentleman and his two boys.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.  That father told me that they had just come from their mother’s funeral.  She died from cancer a few days ago after a difficult time on Hospice care.  It was tough on the family to watch her wither away and die.”

“The clerk goes on to tell you what the father said to her: ‘This is the first time in weeks that I have seen my boys actually laugh and try to have fun after such a long and trying ordeal.  I could not bring myself to take away their enjoyment.  Here is my Visa card.  If there is any damage to the displays or the clothes, just charge it to my account.  I just needed to give my boys a few moments to laugh and enjoy themselves after so many months of sadness.’”

Like the man in line, I have a tendency to jump to the wrong conclusions about people who irritate me.  Therefore, Jesus warns me (in Matthew 7:1-2), “Do not judge, or you will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Discussing the inappropriateness of the judgments we pass on others, Max Lucado writes,

“Not only are we unworthy, we are unqualified.  We don’t know enough about the person to judge him.  We don’t know enough about his past.  We condemn a man for stumbling this morning, but we didn’t see the blows he took yesterday.  We judge a woman for the limp in her walk but cannot see the tack in her shoe.  We mock the fear in their eyes but have no idea how many stones they have ducked or darts they have dodged.

“Are they too loud?  Perhaps they fear being neglected again.  Are they too timid?  Perhaps they fear failing again.  Too slow?  Perhaps they fell the last time they hurried.  You don’t know.  Only one who has followed yesterday’s steps can be their judge.

“Not only are we ignorant about yesterday, we are ignorant about tomorrow.  Dare we judge a book while chapters are yet unwritten?  Should we pass a verdict on a painting while the artist still holds the brush?  How can you dismiss a soul until God’s work is complete?….

“Be careful!  The Peter who denies Jesus at tonight’s fire may proclaim him with fire at tomorrow’s Pentecost.  The Samson who is blind and weak today may use his final strength to level the pillars of godlessness.  A stammering shepherd in this generation may be the mighty Moses of the next.” (In the Grip of Grace, p. 40-41)

 

“Do not worry”

worry

The word worry appears six times in Matthew 6:25-34.  Apparently Jesus knows that worry is something we struggle with and that we need to hear what He has to say on this subject.

Our English word worry comes from the old German word wurgen which became the English word wyrgan which meant to “strangle” or “to choke” or “to harass by tearing or biting—especially tearing or biting at the throat.”  Indeed, worry is the kind of anxiousness over something that strangles the life out of us, that chokes the energy from us, that harasses us by tearing or biting at our peace and well-being.

Rosalind Ryan explains,

“When you worry, your body responds to your anxiety the same way it would react to physical danger…. [Y]our brain releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream.  They trigger a range of physical reactions that will equip your body for action.

“Your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes heavier and you may sweat more.  You may also become pale as the blood moves away from the skin towards the muscles to help them prepare for the ‘fight or flight’ situation your worry has created.

“The ‘fight or flight’ response is your body’s instinctive reaction to danger.  Unconsciously your body prepares itself to either run away from danger or becomes very alert in order to fight predators….

“Because your body has tensed ready to respond to the threat you are feeling, this muscle tension can turn into aches and pains causing headaches, back pain, weak legs and trembling.  This tension can also affect your digestive system triggering bouts of constipation or diarrhea.

“You may also become more prone to infections.  It is widely accepted that stress and anxiety can lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to picking up colds or more serious illnesses.  With excessive worry, our immune systems have little time to recover so you become even more tired and lethargic.”

Corrie ten Boom sums it up, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrows; it empties today of strength.”

What does Jesus tell us in these verses to help us with our worries?

He tells us two key things:

#1: He stresses that we need to know how much we matter to God.

In his book What’s So Amazing about Grace Philip Yancey writes,

“Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are.  How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?

“Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying.  Impressed, the priest says to the man, ‘You must be very close to God.’  The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, ‘Yes, He’s very fond of me.’” (p. 69)

When we truly come to know how “much more valuable” (Matthew 6:26) we are in the heart of God, we will worry less, for we will be able to rest more securely in the confidence of God’s love for us.

#2: Jesus calls us to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.”

The Greek verb here, zeteite (seek), implies being absorbed in the search for something.  It implies a persevering and strenuous effort to obtain that for which you are searching.

The more our attention and energy become absorbed in searching for the things of God and the ways of God and the person of God, the less we will worry about other things in life.