Tag Archives: faith

His eye is on the sparrow

“What is the price of two sparrows – one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Matthew 120:29,30)

“Mrs. Civilla Martin, author of this gospel hymn text, tells of a visit in 1904 to a bedridden Christian friend. Mrs. Martin asked the woman if she ever got discouraged because of her physical condition. Her friend responded quickly: ‘Mrs. Martin, how can I be discouraged when my heavenly Father watches over each little sparrow and I know He loves and cares for me.’”

What song would you write about your response to the circumstances of your life? With much to complain about or to grieve over or to be terrified by, it might seem that our lyrics might display our disenchantment or disgust or anxiety. Or we could live in trust and faith …

God said to Joshua: “Be strong and very courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged . For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

David said to Goliath: “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies – the God of Israel. This is the Lord’s battle and He will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

Nehemiah said to the residents of Jerusalem: “Don’t’ be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Paul said to the church at Rome: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky about or in the earth below – indeed nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

Jesus said to His disciples: “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give you is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

John Henry Howett wrote: “Let us sing even when we do not feel like it, for in this way we give wings to heavy feet and turn weariness into strength.”

Civilla Martin wrote: “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He’s watches me.”

What song will you sing?

What a mismatch!

Udonis Haslem has had quite a career. While a senior at Miami Senior High School, he led his team to two state titles. He played at the University of Florida where he was a significant part of four UF tournament teams. After a year of professional ball in France, he signed with the Miami Heat of the NBA. The Heat have won three NBA titles while Udonis has played for them. He now has thirteen years with the team, a remarkable achievement in a not-for-long league.

Before moving to Miami to finish high school, Udonis attended Wolfson High School in Jacksonville. He was a formidable presence in a really good high school basketball program. My oldest son and my nephew were on those teams. They also played on a youth church league team when rules allowed such things.

So use your imagination. Think of your average youth church league basketball team and envision one of those kids dribbling down the court to face a 6’8” guy waiting for him in the paint. David and Goliath come to mind … only every time David shot, Goliath swatted the ball into the bleachers. What a mismatch!

The classic story of the shepherd boy against the giant of Gath is known by almost everyone. What a mismatch! Goliath never had a chance. David didn’t just come to the battle armed with a sling and 5 stones; he came in the power of the God he represented.

Sometimes we can be overwhelmingly intimidated by our opposition. We may feel we have no chance for success. Who wants to go into challenge with no confidence of a positive outcome?

The David and Goliath story reminds us of a great truth. You plus God makes a majority, no matter who or what is standing in your way. When Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” he wasn’t relying on his own might. He knew better. I hope we do, too.

Take a deep breath

Good-bye 2016. You brought a plethora of experiences and events that touched every human emotion. We have known grief, despair, anger, confusion, disappointment, and fear. Our world has been rocked by disaster, violence, displacement, and loss. Notable people died this past year. Some of them had obtained celebrity status. Many perhaps mattered more to some of us because they were family and friends. We can be overcome by all that went wrong, all that hurt us, and all that we would change. We turn the page and engage a new year.

Greetings 2017. We refuse to take our first steps into the uncertainty of the days ahead terrorized by the darkness and destruction of evil. We are a people of hope who know the Creator of life personally, who claim an eternal relationship with the King of kings, who believe that we have a purpose to fulfill and a mission to accomplish. The path we will walk will not be without difficulty or pain. We know that we will need more than inner strength to face what will come our way. We claim the comfort, support, and faithfulness of family, friends, neighbors, fellow believers. Even more, we rely on the One who promised to be always with us.

Let His Word speak …

“Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9); “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your friends, your families, and your homes. The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 4:14; 8:10); “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear.” (Psalm 46:1); “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13); “He who is faithful to all these things says, ‘I am coming soon!’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 21:20)

Halftime

In the world of sports, there are certain points in a competitive environment when scheduled or called breaks occur. In a basketball game, there are periods dictated by the clock. There are also timeouts called to correct a team’s play or stop the other team’s momentum. The same is true of other sports. Some coaches are known for their ability to react to what is happening on the field of play and make necessary adjustments.

I have given away a number of books in my ministry. One book stands apart as the one I have given away most often. It was written by Bob Buford, a man whose success in business ventures was unquestioned. But he came to a point in life when he realized all of his success wasn’t fulfilling. He became convinced that there had to be more.

His book, Halftime, is a classic. If you have not read it, you should. I’ll even give you a copy. The premise of the book, in my estimation, is quite simple. Living a life that is large in the ways God intended is about significance, not success.

While it does not always involve crisis, the search for meaning and fulfillment for Buford was impacted by the tragic death of his son. He could have surrendered to the overwhelming grief that broke his heart. He had reached one of those pivotal moments when he had to make adjustments. He had to recalibrate. He chose to do so from an eternal perspective. He chose to make a Kingdom difference. Today, his influence and the networks he has built with the help of other significance champions are impacting the world.

Churches have such moments. It is time to make adjustments, to recalibrate, to choose integration not segregation. One quote is appropriate here regarding churches that reinvent themselves to have maximum Gospel impact. He called them 50/50 churches – churches who allocate 50% of their resources to themselves and the other half to serving their community and the world: “The 50/50 church reaches out to serve its surrounding community, living out its proclamation of the Gospel rather than imposing an unwelcome ideology on others. Its witness is first by example, then by proclamation. It places carriers of faith back into all of the contradictions, tensions, and paradoxes of the community, rather than isolate people in an unrealistic, cloistered atmosphere for a couple of hours on Sunday morning.”

Hmmm. I think he is on to something …

Who would you rather be?

Peter had a reputation. Always mentioned first in any list of the disciples, he was the acknowledged spokesman of the group. His eagerness to speak got him into trouble occasionally. There were times when he suffered from sandal-in-the-mouth disease: speak first then think about it.

He might have been brash and impulsive but you have to give the guy credit. He stuck his neck out. He also stuck his foot out. In a book I hope you have read, John Ortberg wrote about the risks and rewards of stepping into unknown adventure out of our comfort zones: “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to get out of the Boat.”

You can read the story in Matthew14:22-33. Peter’s impetuous first step was followed by sheer terror. At first, all he could see was Jesus. He asked, Jesus answered: “Come.” He came … until he noticed the wind ripping at his hair, the waves dousing his body, the noise of a dangerous storm. He started sinking when he took his eyes off Jesus. In panic, he screamed for help, “Save me, Lord!”

He could have been like his eleven companions. He could have stayed in the boat. The storm was still raging so they were still in danger. It is interesting to note a couple of things. First, Peter didn’t die. Jesus did save him. The safest place to be in the storm is where Christ can grab you. Staying close to Christ seems to be a good idea.

Second, the storm ended after Peter had taken the risk. Jesus had already assured them, “It’s all right. I am here! Don’t be afraid.” I think it’s important to be confident that we will never meet a storm so strong Christ can’t see us through. Sometimes He stills the storm, but always He is willing to go with us through it.

Was it worth the risk Peter took? Perhaps faltering faith is better than no faith at all. Like the father whose son was desperately ill (Mark 9:24), sometimes all we can say is “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

 

Tapestry

Corrie ten Boom was a remarkable woman. Her Dutch family took great and costly risks to hide Jews from the Nazis during the occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. Helping a number of Jewish neighbors to escape, the Ten Booms were determine to provide a hiding place while the German Gestapo and Dutch collaborators hunted them.

Betrayed by a Dutch informer, the entire family was arrested on February 28, 1944. Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were transported to several camps until arriving at the infamous Ravensbrück women’s labor camp. They endured the horrors of their captivity while leading worship services with a Bible they had snuck into the camp. Betsie grew weaker and it became obvious that she would not survive. On December 16, 1944, Betsie ten Boom died. Just before slipping away, she told her sister: “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.”

Corrie would learn of the death of her father and other family members. After the war, she returned home to set up a rehabilitation center for camp survivors and collaborators. Traveling the world to tell her story, she even came face to face with one of her guards. She overcame her feelings of anger and resentment to offer the man forgiveness.

She had a victorious perspective of a life of suffering and hardship. She chose to trust God with a larger picture than she could see. One of her poems demonstrates her amazing faith:

“My life is but a weaving between God and me.

I cannot choose the colors He weaveth steadily.

Oft times He weaveth sorrow; and I in foolish pride

Forget He sees the upper and I the underside.”

Few of us will ever be exposed to such deprivation and devastation. Even so, we can choose to trust the Weaver of our tapestry. O God, help us to lean on You!

Shallow Places

In her book, A Beautiful Mess, Danielle Strickland wrote: “God doesn’t normally shed light that leads us to shallow places.” She then offered an example. The shepherds around Bethlehem were going about their daily routine. Caring for the flocks on the hillsides outside the town was business as usual. Strickland: “They were living small lives, wrapped up in the little drama of their existence. Angels, accompanied by a symphony of light and revelation, invited them into something eternally more grand and wonderful than their puny lives.”

It is interesting to examine their reaction to the heavenly interruption. Shock and fear are understandable. They could have been overwhelmed into inaction, shrinking from the moment in terror. They chose something else … after they gathered their wits. Strickland: “They ran to take the invitation and, in running, plunged into a dimension that was perpetually bigger than anything they could have dreamed of. They ran into the depth of the re-creation of the world.”

How can you retreat into shallow places after God speaks? The birth of Christ changed history. The Eternal Word became flesh and lived among us. The shepherds were the first to hear the good news that would bring joy to the world. They refused to remain in shallow places.

I don’t think God is through speaking … I don’t think He is through shedding light. Desperately, the world needs light and those of us entrusted with His light cannot retreat to shallow places.

The Nativity stories contrast two very different reactions. First, we have the shepherds who leave their flocks to race to Bethlehem to see what God had done. Second, we have the scribes of Herod who were ordered to search the scrolls for scriptural evidence of a new-born king, find the truth, and report. Then they promptly ignored it, perhaps because of fear or uncertainty or lack of faith.

Perhaps today we are being confronted by the shed light of God as we seek to discern His will for our church. No shallow places for us. We would rather be shepherds than scribes!