God Looks On The Inside

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John 7:14 – 24

14 Then, midway through the festival, Jesus went up to the Temple and began to teach. 15 The people were surprised when they heard him. “How does he know so much when he hasn’t been trained?” they asked.

16 So Jesus told them, “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. 17 Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. 18 Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. 19 Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.”

20 The crowd replied, “You’re demon possessed! Who’s trying to kill you?”

21 Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. 22 But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) 23 For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? 24 Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”

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In the section of John chapter 7 just before this passage, we saw that Jesus was trying to keep a low key profile.  As some would say today, it looked like he was trying to “fly under the radar”.  It must have been difficult for him seeing as the annual “Feast of Tabernacles” was meant to be a joyous time for all Jews, and especially in Jerusalem.

And then suddenly during the middle of the week of celebration, we see Jesus marching straight up to the Temple and beginning to teach.  I wonder what was going on in his mind.  Could it be that he saw the shallowness and superficiality of the faith of many of his countrymen and he wanted them to come to know his Father like he did?  Or more probably, he could no longer stand the hypocrisy and the abuse of religious power that the Jewish leaders exercised over the people and Jesus finally had to speak up against this.

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The encounter that followed was very dramatic.  Jesus taught with great boldness concerning God and His Kingdom and the people were amazed at this.  They saw that his message was full of spiritual power, but they had always been led to believe that a person had to go through the Rabbinical schools (their form of theological seminaries) to have such power and authority to teach and preach like Jesus did.

But Jesus points out that religious pedigrees and positions are things that are important to men, but not to God.  What is really important is to lead people back into a living relationship with God.  Even if it means pointing out the sin in one’s life that is keeping that person away from God.  Jesus knew that his teachings struck at the hearts of those selfish hypocrites of his day, and he calls them out to the table by stating that they even have it in their heart to kill Jesus, and thus kill his message that would convict them.

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The truth is laid bare when Jesus revealed their hypocrisy over actions done on the Sabbath.  They claimed that no one could do any work of any kind on the Jewish day of rest.  And yet they had the command of God for circumcision, which was older than the Law, that they said allowed them to break the Sabbath rest.  In other words they used one law to break another law.  And they felt quite justified in their rigid legalism.

On the other hand, Jesus did a tremendous act of compassion by healing a lame man on the Sabbath.  But rather then praise Jesus for his action, they accused him of breaking a religious law.  To God, this is so absurd!  To allow a religious rule to overshadow meeting the needs of hurting people goes against the very nature of God.

Jesus pointed out what the real issue was when he said, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”  Whenever we put the focus on conformity to external behavior (which is what legalism is all about), we lose sight of what is really important, the true condition of the person’s heart.  It is not difficult for a person to do “all the right things” and still be miles away from God in his heart.  But if a person’s heart is pure and open and receptive to God and His grace, then all his external actions will match the inner beauty of his heart.

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And that brings us to some important application here.  Let us be very slow to judge and condemn another person simply on the external behaviors that we might see.  We must instead take the time to get to know that person and what is going on in the inside of him or her.  We do not need to promote conformity to rules to be the basis of thinking that person is right with God.  We need to help nurture a person’s relationship with God.  That is a heart issue.

In closing, let me remind us all that Jesus gave a stern warning to us in his analogy that we might have a plank sticking out of our eye (metaphorically speaking) while we judge someone else’s sin (which he compared to as a speck of dust in their eyes).  Let us clean up our own heart before we think we can help clean up someone else’s heart.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

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Jesus Can Do Much With Little

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John 6:1 – 13

6 1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

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This event occurred just after the half way point of Jesus’ ministry.  Previously, we saw Jesus was getting into more and more trouble with the Jewish authorities.  But many of the people were still amazed at the miracles He performed and followed after Him to hear Him teach.  This was the height of Jesus’ popularity with the crowds.

Jesus and His disciples had been actively ministering to people and then went across the Sea of Galilee to get a short reprieve.  But the crowds find out where He is going and hurry around the lake to meet them on the other side.

Considering how tired Jesus and the disciples must have been, it is quite amazing that Jesus immediately began to heal the sick and to teach the crowds again about the Kingdom of God.  Once more, Jesus modelled for us true servanthood by giving of Himself, even when He sought out some peace and quiet.  The needs of people always came first for Jesus.

    

As we see the story unfold, the day is nearly over and the people are still there seeking to be blessed by Jesus.  After giving so much of Himself, He decided that He needed to help feed them an evening meal too and miraculously multiplied a small boy’s meal to feed the thousands.  It’s a wonderful story about Jesus’ compassion for the people, and His divine power to multiply the food, but I believe there is much more we can take away from this story.

One of the things that captures my attention is that this is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus.  We know that Jesus performed many miracles in His 3 ½ years of ministry.  John only recounts a few of them in his book, and usually for an important theological reason.  So why would John pick this one, and what makes it so important that it is found in all four Gospels?

    

There are three things that I think are worth mentioning that we can learn important truths from.  First of all, as John tells us here, this event took place near the time that was the special celebration of the Passover.  Why would he point that out?  Well, at the very next Passover, Jesus would offer up His life on the cross, and by that means, offer spiritual life to all who would believe in Him.

Jesus then is to be seen as the Source of Life.  In just a few more verses (starting at verse 25) Jesus will teach one of His greatest lessons, that He is the “Bread of Life”.  By multiplying the bread for the people here, Jesus showed that He can grant sustenance for our physical bodies.  But very quickly, we will learn that He is the One who grants us sustenance for our spiritual lives.

    

The second lesson I see is that Jesus begins to show us that He wants to work through His disciples to minister to the world.  First Jesus challenges His disciples to see how they might find the solution to feed the crowds.  Then, as we read all the accounts of this miracle, we see that Jesus broke the bread and gave it to the disciples, and then they gave the pieces to the people.  Beginning then, and up until now, Jesus wants to work through His people, namely you and me, to bless the world.

And finally, what should be obvious, is that Jesus can do much with little.  The boy’s lunch was so small for such a large crowd.  But it was offered in faith, and Jesus turned it around to make it into a feast for all.  By extension, what do you have, even if you consider it to be to small, to offer to Jesus.  Scripture tells us to offer God our time (moments of each day), our talents (the natural gifts He gave to us), and our treasure (our financial resources) to Him.  He will bless and multiply what we give Him and use it to bless others.  Amen?  Amen!!!

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Christian Compassion vs. Religious Criticism

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John 5:1 – 15

5  1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.  2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 

6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 

9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

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In this story which records for us how Jesus heals a man who had been an invalid for 38 years, we get our first glimpse in John’s Gospel of the tension between Him and the Jewish authorities which ultimately led to His crucifixion.  In this event, we see the compassion that Jesus has for those who suffer.  On the other hand, we see the Jewish leaders lack of concern for the sufferer who had been healed as they criticize Jesus for breaking their religious rules and regulations.

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To more fully understand this story, let me first unpack some of the cultural and religious aspects that are going on here.  The story opens with Jesus leaving the province of Galilee and going up to Jerusalem.  (The city of Jerusalem is situated on the top of a mountain ridge, so almost all biblical writers talk about going “up” to get to Jerusalem.  There were three major Jewish festivals that occurred in a year that caused many thousands of Jews to come to Jerusalem in order to celebrate and worship God.)

We don’t know for sure which festival this was here in chapter five, but in any case, we see Jesus coming to attend, partly I think to fulfill the requirement to come to Jerusalem for this festival, but also I’m sure to continue doing God’s Kingdom work among His people.  What we do know from this text is that many sick and disease stricken people were also there lying beside a pool of water which was near one of the large entry gates into Jerusalem.

(The footnote in some versions, which is considered to be verse four, states that when the water was stirred up for some reason, the people believed that an angel had come down and was causing this and that by going into the water, a person could be healed.)

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So when Jesus entered the city, even though He would have been surrounded by thousands of people, His attention was immediately drawn toward this man who had been paralyzed for so many years.  Jesus went over to him and then asked him, “Do you want to be well?”  Now that might seem like a dumb question to ask a paralyzed man, but really, I think that Jesus was basically asking the man if he wanted Jesus to help him to be healed.

The man misunderstood Jesus, thinking He was offering to help him get down into the water once the water would begin to stir.  But Jesus was going to bypass the use of an intermediary agent and by His own authority He healed the man.  He then basically asked the man to trust His word by standing up (something he hadn’t done by himself in 38 years), picking up his mat and walking away with it.  When compassion and Divine Will come together, amazing and miraculous things happen.

But then religious ritualism reared its ugly head.  When the Jewish leaders saw the man carrying his mat on the Sabbath (the day set apart to only worship God), they accused him of doing work on the Sabbath, which they proclaimed to be forbidden by God in their laws.  (In reality, this was their narrow human interpretation regarding this law which we know to be part of God’s “Ten Commandments”.

The problem is that the Jewish leaders were so zealous to observe religious rituals that they could not see the hand of God working in this man’s life.  They thought that “proper” human behaviour took precedence over the needs of the human soul which needed deliverance from the curse and bondage of extreme physical sickness and disease.

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We must all remember that God’s compassion extends itself to mankind in order to bring honour to Him and freedom to us to willingly return our love and submission back to Him.  Rules will never save a person from sin and bondage.  If that was true back then, it is still true for us today.  Let us now be careful not to impose religious ritualism on fellow believers in hopes to make them more “acceptable” to God.  God already accepts us just as we are, if we have turned to Him in faith.

Faith to Believe The Impossible

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John 4:46 – 54

46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.

 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.

 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54  This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.

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Over the past month, we have been looking at the encounter that Jesus had with the Samaritan woman living in Sychar in the Province of Samaria.  Actually, we should say it the other way around, the Samaritan woman had an encounter with Jesus when she went to get water at the well.  And what an amazing, incredible encounter it was.  This woman went from social outcast to the town evangelist and from a woman of shame to a woman of faith.

As we conclude our thoughts on this event, I think that Jesus must have been very refreshed from this encounter with the woman and the people of that town.  He and his disciples had come there tired, hungry and thirsty.  But after ministering there for those few days and seeing so many people come to a faith in Him, I really believe that Jesus probably left there with a lighter feeling and an encouraged heart himself.

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But then Jesus moved on, and so must we in our study of the Gospel of John.  Jesus returned back to the town of Cana in the northern province of Galilee.  Recall in chapter 2 how Jesus had demonstrated his divine power by turning water into wine at a wedding.  That was a miracle.  Or as John writes, it was “the first of his signs”.

Before we go on, let’s make sure that we are clear about something very important.  When Jesus turned the water into wine, this was not some “parlour trick”, it was not “magic”, nor was it meant it any way to be a performance whereby people would recognize Jesus as the “Miracle Man”.  No, there was a very important reason for when, why and how Jesus did miracles.

As amazing and wonderful as miracles are, like the blind being able to see and the lame being able to walk again, miracles were never meant to be the focus of attention.  Rather, miracles were to point to the One who was able to do the miraculous.  That is why John calls them “signs”.  The miracles were to point people to Jesus, and to open their eyes and their hearts to believe in the Doer of the miracles.

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Knowing this will help us to see why Jesus seems so frustrated and irritated when this official greets him at Cana and asks for Jesus’ help to heal his very sick child.  As a parent myself who has seen a son suffer from leukemia, I can really identify with the father’s one great request, “Lord, please heal my son!”  But it is not our pleading and begging that will get the attention of Jesus and the answer we want.  It is faith in Him as the Great Physician.

Notice what happens next.  The official is desperate to have Jesus come to his house to take a look at his son.  Perhaps he thought that if Jesus could just see how much suffering the child was going through, then maybe He might heal the boy out of compassion.  But what does Jesus do?  He tells the father to go, and that the boy will live.

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Now here comes the critical moment in this story.  The father could have kept begging Jesus to come, maybe even taking his arm and trying to pull him along with him.  But no, this is the true moment of decision.  Does the man have enough faith to take Jesus at his word?  Can he actually believe the impossible, that simply by speaking a word, Jesus has the ability to heal his son?

And you know the rest of the story.  The man does have faith.  He goes home to find his son well.  And it is made quite clear that the healing happened at exactly the time that Jesus spoke.  Or should I say, it happened at exactly the time that the man demonstrated his faith by accepting Jesus’ word that the boy would live.

What we have here is a story that teaches us what true faith is all about.  Hebrews 11:1 says it so well, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Without any real tangible evidence in front of him, this man believed the impossible, and believed in the One to whom he was speaking.  And this miracle, this “sign” led not only this man, but his whole household into a faith relationship with Jesus.  Now that is a miracle.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

A Heart-Felt Prayer (Phil. 1:8-11)

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A Heart Felt Prayer

Philippians 1:8-11  God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.  I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.  For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.  May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.

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In this short passage, Paul speaks about the great love that he has for the Philippian believers.  Although Paul was instrumental in bringing the Gospel of Christ to the Island of Cyprus at the port of Paphos, then on to the lower mainland of Asia to such cities as Perga, Antioch, and Iconium, Lysrta and Derbe, I believe that the visit to Philippi had to have been one of Paul’s most memorable events and was certainly directed by God’s Spirit in a powerful way.

Think about the idea that when Paul preached near Philippi and Lydia and her household members believed and were baptized, that this was the first time the Good News of Christ had taken a foothold into the continent of Europe.  It was a very resistant city towards anything religious, and so it was at a great cost of perspiration, perseverance and persecution that the new church was birthed.

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Paul talks in verse 5 about how they had been partners together in spreading this Good News.  And in verse 7, Paul speaks of the intimacy he had with the Philippian believers as they shared the experience of also being mistreated, and perhaps jailed along with him, and that they too took a stand publicly by making it known that they believed in the truthfulness of God’s Word.

In fact, in verse 8, Paul goes to the greatest possible lengths to express just how much he loved the Philippians.  He calls upon God to be his “witness” that it is true Paul has a great love for them.  This word comes from the Greek word, “martus“.  This is the root word for “martyr” as well as “testimony” or “one who testifies“.  In other words, Paul calls upon God himself to testify, and Him be willing to die to prove the fact that Paul loves the Philippians in all the depths of his heart.

Now actually, the Greek word for this expression “the depths of his heart” can be literally translated as “inner parts” or “intestines“.  This was their idiomatic way of saying “I love you with all my heart and soul, my very being“.  In old English, they talked about having “bowels of compassion” for someone else.  Today we say we love “with all our heart“.

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It is interesting to see the various body parts being used metaphorically to express the center of our very being, the deepest level of emotional love and commitment to another.  Over in Papua New Guinea, one will say that his inner most being is “the stomach“, “the liver“, or “the throat“.  In any case, the Philippians could not doubt that what Paul was sharing came from the depths of his inner most being.

It is at this point, when Paul was able to reflect on the intimate relationship he had with the people, that he then is able to offer up his heart-felt prayer, and the Philippians would receive it at this deep inner intimate level.  In verse 9 then, he begins his prayer for them and he prays for two important things to happen in their lives.

First, Paul prays that the people would increase more and more in their love for other people.  Think back to all the teachings of Christ, and you will recall that “love for others” is the greatest command, second only to loving God.  And then Paul prays that the people would increase in their knowledge and depth of insight, which most likely referred to them having a greater knowledge of God and how He wanted them to live.

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This brings us to verses 10 and 11, and I believe there is a powerful prayer tucked away in these two verses.  They can be brought out and stated as four distinct things that Paul prays for the believers:

  1. That they would understand/approve/discern the things that are best or excellent, or to basically “discern what really matters“.  This leads to the second thing Paul prayed.
  2. If the people came to know what really matters in this life, what things are truly excellent, then one result from this is that they would live pure lives.  They would be able to discern evil, even in its many disguises, and turn away from it before it touched and polluted them.
  3. The second thing they would discern is that when they know and do what is pure and true, then these people would be seen by God as being blameless or without guilt.
  4. By consistently following these practices above, this provides something that is more valuable than gold itself.  According to verse 12, the people described above would produce spiritual fruit in their lives, and have a consistently righteous character, and by means of their faith in Christ, one day would see the salvation of their souls.

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Now after examining the passage, I turn briefly to ask some practical questions.  Do you have anyone in your life that would pray a prayer like this for you on a regular basis?  Or is there someone for whom you could be praying this prayer for them?  Remember the example of Paul, that it was never a half-hearted prayer he made.  So we too must say our prayers for others from the deepest part of our being for another, whether that be from our heart, our liver, or our intestines.

May we always honor God and may we take up this example and know and practice how we can and ought to be praying for one another.  Amen.

That’s What Friends Are For

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Hard Road Journey – Part 6

Today we want to continue our study of Mark Atteberry’s book, “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“.  So far, we have learned that difficult times come to everyone at some point in their lives.  And as much as we may want and try to figure out how we got to that point, or who may be at fault, it is more important to learn good strategies that will help us get through a difficult period in our lives.

(If you have not read previous articles on this book, then click here to go back to “A Hard Road Journey – Part 1“.)

In the last article, we looked at the important strategy of  “Travel With a Friend” when traveling on a hard-road journey.  When choosing what kind of friend to travel with, Atteberry suggests four qualities to be looking for in them that would make a person a good friend, someone  who would probably be the most helpful to you as you travel your difficult road.  He recommends that you choose:

  • someone who also has experienced traveling on a hard-road journey
  • someone who has an intimate connection with God
  • someone who has a heart of compassion
  • someone who will be loyal and be around long after the initial crisis is over

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At the end of the last article (“God Given Friends”), I had started to tell you about the friendship that developed between me and my friend Christian.  (That is his name, and I think that is so neat to have a friend with that name.)  As I look over the list of qualities in a good friendship, I believe that he fits the bill in some wonderful ways that only God could have orchestrated.

In 2002, when our family was just starting to walk the hard road of dealing with Eric’s cancer (leukemia), Christian himself had just undergone treatment for a rare form of eye cancer.  From what I understand, he could have lost his sight, and it could have been life threatening.  So when he heard about our son’s battle with leukemia, he understood the fears we had about cancer and the survival of our son.

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What started our relationship is actually quite interesting.  The Wish Foundation had been talking to us about what wish Eric had as a cancer child and they would try to make it happen.  Well, Eric had a very strong interest in Nintendo, and one of his thoughts was to meet the top man from Nintendo who was the creator of so many of his video “heroes”.  So I did some web surfing and finally saw a link to where I could submit a question.

As far as I know, the question I sent about Eric meeting this famous man from Nintendo never got to the company.  But Christian worked for a subsidiary video company and somehow he saw it.  He wrote back and shared how he was also in this battle with cancer, but he wanted to know how he might encourage us.  So I knew from the start that this would be a person who knew something about the hard road journey we were on at that time.

That is how I happened to mention Eric’s other big wish, to have the newest console, the Game Cube.  And Christian, with a compassionate heart and great enthusiasm, immediately went about finding a Game Cube and sent it up by Express Mail so that it came to Eric just in time for his birthday.  And he even made sure he got Eric’s favorite color back then, purple.

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As time went on, I found that Christian also had a belief in God.  And he found our ministry of Bible translation work to be most fascinating.  He appreciates how the Bible is able to speak to the needs of our soul, and so we found we had another area, an important area of life that we could share with each other.   And for almost 10 years now, Christian has been very supportive to what our family is doing and is interested in how we are doing.  That’s the loyalty factor that Atteberry talks about.

Now jump ahead with me to more recent times, the past year and a half or more.  Christian knew of my strong faith in God, and we had shared a journey together as friends for a number of years.  And then a recent development came up in his life that was rocking his world, and he needed a hard-road journey friend.  What looked like a perfect relationship match for him turned out to be anything but that, and it was crushing his soul and spirit.

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So what was he to do?  He could have done a lot of things that would have been harmful to himself.  He could have lashed out at the other person.  He could have just sunk into a deep depression and stayed there.  But he didn’t.  He reached out to God.  And he reached out to me.  For he felt confident that I would be that loyal, compassionate, and godly person who could walk beside him through this difficult time.  And that is what I did.

We sent many emails back and forth to each other.  We talked on the phone.  We prayed.  We shared uplifting passages of Scripture with each other.  It has been a couple of hard years for Christian, but he is a stronger, more godly and grounded person now than he was before.  What made the difference?  He turned to God who answered his cries, and he turned to me who could share in his tears.

This is the message of this article.  If you are on a hard-road journey, then ask God to help you, and He will.  But one of the best things that God often does, is He provides that special friend who will help you through this difficult time.  So pray to God, and ask Him to send you such a person.  And He will.

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God Given Friends

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Hard Road Journey – Part 5

We now begin a look into chapter three of Mark Atteberry’s book entitled “Walking With God on the Road you Never Wanted to Travel“.  We continue to study and learn together how to keep on walking forward when we find ourselves in a difficult place in life.  Often the journey is difficult and the road is long, but let us see what Atteberry’s next strategy is that can help us get through.  (If you have not read previous articles on this book, then click here to go back to “A Hard Road Journey – Part 1“.

The title of chapter three is “Travel With a Friend“, a principle that I totally agree with.  Whenever we go through tough times, often what happens is one of two things.  Either we withdraw and don’t open up to others about the difficult things that are happening in our lives (and then sometimes we wonder why “no one cares” because they do not call or visit).  Or, we approach people and are ready to talk about the tough things happening in our lives, but the people we approach are living such rapid and ragged lives themselves, it is nearly impossible for them to slow down to listen and to care for us.

The result is that for many of us, we live very lonely lives, even while we are surrounded by millions of people.  Now some godly people may offer truly genuine compassion when they tell the suffering person, “You are not alone!  God will never leave you nor abandon you.”  And they are right, God is with us at all times.  But for many of us who walk these hard road journeys, this spiritual truth and answer is just not quite satisfying in and of itself.

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I truly believe that for most people, and maybe I can be bold enough to say for all people, along with the Lord we need a real flesh-and-blood person to whom we can turn for help in times of great difficulty.  Atteberry says:

The hard roads of life are best traveled with a friend.  Even though God will be walking with you every step of the way, there’s a benefit to human companionship that cannot be denied.                                                                                                                                                          (pg. 28)

And then he says further:

And if it wasn’t good for him [Adam] to be alone in the safe haven of the Garden of Eden, how much more dangerous is it for him to be alone in a fallen world where the roads are hard and evil lurks in every shadow?”                                                                                                                     (pg. 30)

These words of Atteberry are quite wise.  And he expands on this thought of how important it is to find a friend to be with you while you walk through these dark valleys and difficult roads by giving us advise on exactly what kinds of friends we should be looking for.  Although there may be an abundance of friends who might look like good candidates of a person you might choose to have with you on this journey, not all friends are equal, and in fact some friends may actually be harmful to you.

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And so Atteberry tells us that there are four good qualities that people should have if they are to be the perfect friends for us, friends that can truly be helpful to us in our times of need.  First of all, it would be most helpful if your friend has also walked through a “wilderness experience”.  That person can empathize with us when life suddenly turns upside down for us.  Secondly, the “perfect” friend must have an intimate and daily relationship with God.  He or she can help you tap into spiritual truth and spiritual practices which will lighten the terrible load which you carry along your hard road journey.

The third quality that is so important for someone to be the perfect friend is that this hard-road companion must have a heart of compassion.  It is rather easy for people to say to others who are emotionally hurting something like, “Well, your husband isn’t suffering any more.”  That statement is true, but shows no compassion to the person who has just lost their spouse of 45+ years.

And the last good quality of a hard-road journey companion is that of loyalty.  Many friends will be there for you when you first encounter that great trial of life or experience the difficulty that turns your world upside down.  Long after all the other well-wishers have gone and are once again caught up in their busy lives, there are still some who decide to continue to stay by your side, and these are the kinds of quality friends that you need to associate with.  Then the hard-road journey you are on suddenly gets easier to walk upon and the burden gets lighter to carry.

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As I write this article, I think about a man whom we had never met before but who was there for us during a difficult period for our family.  His name is Christian.  (Pretty cool name, eh?)  At the time that I am thinking about, our first-born son Eric had been diagnosed with leukemia which caused us to leave the mission work in PNG and return to Canada.  While going through treatment, and by means of fascinating circumstances, Christian became aware of Eric’s situation.

And at that point, Eric had become a great fan of all Nintendo consoles and games and the Game Cube had just been released.  So as a surprise, and remember that Christian was a total stranger to us, he wanted to encourage Eric’s spirits, and he sent one of the first available Game Cubes to my son to help him (and us) face the hard-road journey that we were on, and would last for 33+ months of treatment.

Christian came alongside and became a hard-road companion to our family at the exact time we needed it.  Thankfully, I have been able to return the favor in recent years.  So stay tuned.  Two Saturdays from now (March 26) I will pick up this story about me and Christian.

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