Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 5

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In the article two weeks ago, I mentioned that I struggled quite a bit during my first long-term period of being a missionary.  That was when I was serving with Teen Missions and my summer experience turned out to be 18 months in length as I kept extending my time with the mission group.  There were so many new issues to deal with, both cross-culturally and in the relationships I had with my fellow missionaries.

It is now coming up to 35 years for me of being involved in mission experiences, so I guess you could say that I am a “veteran” missionary.  I think I can say that I have grown quite a bit over the years and am able to handle the hard issues that a missionary faces on a regular basis.  And yet at the same time, there are some things that don’t change.  Life is still challenging on the mission field, the Enemy does not let up on his assault, and people can still be difficult to work with.

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I just recently shared with some of my colleagues that there are times when it is good to have a focused time of prayer and fasting.  This would be true when we seem to be facing difficulties that are physically and emotionally challenging, but also when we sense that there is spiritual opposition and/or oppression that is coming against us.

I reminded the group that fasting was a spiritual discipline that was regularly practiced by God’s people throughout the Old Testament period and has continued up until today.  As you might already know, Jesus Himself did not say, “If you fast…” but rather “When you fast….”  One of my translator resources said that “the three primary expressions of piety [for Jews] were charity, prayer and fasting.” (Translator’s Handbook on Matthew for Mt. 6:16-18)

Fasting is normally considered to be a voluntary abstinence from food for the purpose of dedicating one’s self to a time of prayer and drawing close to God.  I certainly recommend this practice as a way to face the difficulties of life and the attacks of the enemy.  James 4:7-8 aptly ties two important spiritual truths together: when we resist the Devil, he will flee from us, and when we draw close to God, He will draw close to us.

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We are encouraged in Scripture to have faith in God, to worship Him and be a praying people when we face difficult times.  James 5:13-15 mentions all of these things as a means to deal with sicknesses that can hit us and sins that we may have committed.  We are also encouraged in Scripture to do battle with our spiritual enemy, the Devil.  Read Ephesians 6:10-18 to understand that many battles we face in life may be spiritual in nature and must be dealt with spiritually.

There are so many more verses that could be mentioned in this whole topic of learning how to stand strong and do battle against the forces that hit us and wear us down.  We must always be ready in our prayers to fight against sickness that disables us, sin that entangles us, and Satan who want to destroy us and our faith in God.

All of this is true, but we must not keep our attention focused solely on the negative side of this great battle that we are in.  If we were to only think about the challenges and difficulties that we face when sickness, sin or Satan come at us, then we probably would end up feeling spiritually fatigued all the time.  I believe that we must also have our focus centered in on the positive side of the victory that is provided for us in Christ.

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When we face great difficulties (whether physically, spiritually or emotionally), we need to pray like Elisha did for his servant when the vast armies of Aram were totally surrounding the city they were in.  Elisha asked God to open the eyes of his servant to see the “REAL” reality of the battle.  God heard that prayer and suddenly the servant saw the vast army of God’s angels who would win the battle for them.

We also need to have our minds opened and attuned to God’s way of thinking.  Romans 12:2 says that we must no longer be conformed to the pattern of this world.  That means that when it is natural to worry, to be afraid, to seek for power, wealth or fame, we are acting in a worldly way.  Instead, the verse says that we can be transformed people when we have our minds renewed by God, and then we will see and understand how good God’s will and God’s ways are and we will be able to follow in that path.

The third part of our selves that we need to focus in on to have a victorious life is to open up our hearts to the full measure of the love of God.  Read Ephesians 3:16-19.  Paul is praying that we all might come to understand just how broad, deep and wide the love of God is for us.  And when we do immerse ourselves into His love, accepting all that the Father has done for us and will do for us out of that love, then Scripture says that our inner being, our heart and soul, will be strengthen by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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So what am I saying in all of this?  I do understand that all of us will face difficult periods in our lives due to the effects of sickness, sin in the world, and the attacks of Satan against us.  But we must not keep our attention focused in on just these problems.  We need to open up our eyes, our mind and our hearts, not physically, but spiritually, to see the victory that God through Christ has obtained for us.  And then we need to walk in the power of that victory as a transformed person, able to overcome these discouragements by our faith.

Sunset Cross

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Death And Christian Faith

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John 11: 1 – 16

11 1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

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11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

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The opening sentence of John chapter 11 is quite brief and to the point, “Now a man named Lazarus was sick.  It almost sounds very impersonal, like some kind of fictional story.  It might go like this: “There once was a man called Lazarus.  He was a very sick man.”  That sounds more like a fable than a historical narrative, doesn’t it?

To make sure that his readers knew we are dealing with a real story, John gave us some important historical context as background to this story.  We learn that Lazarus had two sisters, Martha and Mary, the latter sister being well known by early Christians as the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and wiped his feet with her hair and her tears.

We also learn that Jesus loved this man Lazarus.  Not in a bad or inappropriate way, but as one who had become a very dear and close personal friend, along with his two sisters.  It is in light of this close personal friendship that Jesus had with this family that makes some of Jesus’ words and His actions so strange, and yet also so wonderful and miraculous.

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You would think that once Jesus received the news that Lazarus was deathly sick that He would immediately set out to go and be with the family.  Instead, He states that his sickness would not end in death, and He delayed His departure for two more days.

The second incredible thing that Jesus said was that out of this situation both God the Father, and He, God the Son, would receive glory out of what was happening.  And what exactly does that mean?  Probably a better way to translate this is to say that people would give praise to God and His Son because of what was happening and what was about to happen.

Wow!! How contrary this is to how many of us respond to sickness and death today.  Isn’t it true that when we or someone we care about gets extremely sick that we quickly send frantic worried messages to others and ask people to fervently pray?  Now don’t get me wrong, we do need to pray for one another, and ask God for their healing.  But sometimes we come begging for God’s help, and acting like sickness and death are the worst things that can happen to us.

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Jesus blows this idea right out of the water though.  Jesus knew what was going to happen.  He was in control of the situation, rather than the situation controlling Him.  And Jesus called death “sleep”, for He saw that death is simply a passing from this life of pain and suffering into a new and glorious life with God forever.  We will all “wake up” one day after dying in this temporary world and enter into the eternal world

And so Jesus went back into Judea, where all His religious enemies were waiting for Him.  Jesus, whom we know from John 8:12 and 9:5 as “the light of the world”, would only have a short time to complete His work on Earth.  This helps explain verses 9 and 10.  Jesus wanted to show clearly to His followers that He possessed power over death itself and that by conquering death, His disciples would more fully put their faith in Him.

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And what about you my friend?  How do you view death?  Is sickness and death something to be feared?  Or do you see them as a normal part of our lives which allows us to step through the door of this life and enter into the glorious life that God has in store for those who believe in Jesus.

I pray that you will be ready to stand before God when your day should arrive when death comes to you.  I know I am ready, and I give praise to Jesus for this hope of faith that I have in Him.

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Jesus Heals To Show God’s Power

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John 9:1 – 12

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing! His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!”

But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!” 10 They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?” 11 He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!” 12 “Where is he now?” they asked. “I don’t know,” he replied.

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Chapter nine of John’s Gospel is a very long and intricately woven story, but it is still one single story.  It does reveal the power of God working through Jesus.  But more importantly, it will show us the progression of faith of the man who had been blind, as well as the progression of disbelief and rejection of Jesus’ healing ministry by the Pharisees.

It is very significant that the one who was born physically blind would end up being the one who could see spiritually.  And on the opposite side, the Pharisees, who were the primary religious teachers in Jesus’ day, are shown that they who ought to have recognized Jesus for who He really was, were in fact the very ones themselves who were spiritually blind.

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When Jesus and his disciples noticed a man who had been blind since birth, the disciples asked a question that reflects the beliefs of a great many cultural groups.  Especially in non-western countries, and in animistic societies like what we lived within Papua New Guinea, many people believe that sickness is the direct result of some sin or wrong doing.  Since this man had been born blind, they naturally assumed that either the parents or the man himself were guilty of some sin.

I found an excellent quote in the Translator’s Handbook on John which considered Jesus’ response to the question:

Jesus’ answer to the disciples then becomes a rejection of their belief that the man’s blindness was due either to his parents’ sin or to his own sin, but he makes no judgement as to the reason that the man was born blind. He simply says that the man’s blindness offers an opportunity to show God’s power at work in him, and that Jesus himself has come to reveal that power at work in history.

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Even in our modern western culture, I do not think that we have a good and proper understanding when it comes to acute sickness and suffering.  Many people ask, “How could a loving God cause, or even allow, such terrible things like the pain and suffering we see in the world?”  Jesus does not really address this question, and I think maybe we should not either.

Instead, we need to accept that part of living within a fallen world means that most, if not all people will experience some terrible forms of suffering and loss in their lifetime.  The question really is what do we do when we encounter these kinds of circumstances.  In the life of this blind man, Jesus saw that He had an opportunity to display the power of God, which is certainly greater than any kind of sickness.

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This brings me to Romans 8:28, which I have referred to in other articles:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

I’ve written in many of my articles about my older son and his journey through his cancer years of his leukemia, as well as my present journey over the last four years of my muscular disease called Mitochondrial Myopathy.  But in all these difficult years, I never asked the question of “Why did You allow this to hit my son or happen to me?”

Rather, I have taken the promise of Romans 8:28 that God will bring good out of every situation for those who love God, no matter how bad the situation might look.  If I had the time and the space, I would be able to tell you how true and real this promise is, for we saw time and time again God’s goodness and His power coming through our health situations to bless us and to bless others around us.

So what is your belief about pain and suffering?  Is God an evil and uncaring God?  Or can you see the hand of God in the midst of the suffering, revealing the power and the goodness of God towards those who know and love God.  If you have not experienced this, perhaps it is because you have not taken the first step to invite God and His love into your heart.  I encourage you to do so friend, and then I pray you would experience God’s grace and power in your life as I have in mine.

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God Will Watch Over Me

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I have arrived safely here at the mission center here in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.  I would say the whole trip from Canada to PNG went very smoothly.  Except for the takeoff from LA to Brisbane.

The guy in the middle seat next to me was acting kind of strange I thought.  He came in and sat down quite a while after the young woman had come and sat down at the window seat.  He had pierced ears and wild tattoos running down his arm.  And then I thought he was trying “hit” on the woman.  It turned out that they were together.

So then while we were taxiing up to take off, suddenly he reached for the bag and threw up three times.  YUCK!!  And then he jumped up and went down the aisle to the bathroom while we were moving towards the runway.  Well…you should have heard the male flight attendant yell out, “YOU…GET BACK TO YOUR SEAT!!”  But they did help him at the bathroom.

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Then after we got to cruising altitude, the Captain came to our row.  He wanted to know if the man was okay.  He was not too bad at that point.  Then the Captain asked if he had felt sick before the flight started.  The man said he had felt poor for two days.

So then the Captain said to him in a very stern tone, “You’ve been sick for two days and came on MY plane?  It would not be very good if we have to divert and land in Hong Kong.  There would be a lot of very unhappy passengers.  And don’t you EVER get up and run down the aisle on a plane again when it is taxiing to take off.  Do you understand me?!!”

Well, just when I thought he was starting to look well, after this tongue lashing, the man looked a bit pale again and just said, “Yes Sir.”  Meanwhile, as the Captain was leaning over me to talk to this man, I was desperately trying to look away and appear invisible.  If I could have whistled nonchalantly and gotten away with it without getting a glare from the Captain, I would have.  Whew….what an awkward moment.

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I felt bad for the man.  And then it hit me.  What if he had some kind of “bug” and was contagious?  Could he pass on to me his illness?  And I would have to share his space for the next 13 hours!  So I sent up a prayer and asked God to protect me from any illness this man might have.  The last thing I would want would be to get to my PNG destination and then come down with some sickness.

And then it got me thinking.  I have a muscle disease that has weakened my entire body, and probably has weakened some of my natural immune system.  I think in many ways I have learned to live with my disease, and using mechanical aids like crutches and walkers, getting wheelchair assistance, and adapting my environment to help me to function and live more comfortably has become second nature.

But the idea of getting some secondary illness, one that could seriously jeopardize my health, is a thought that lurks in the back of my mind and occasionally surfaces.  It causes me to think about the death of my grandmother, and my sister.  Their situations were quite different from each other, but there is one thing that they do have in common.  It was a secondary cause to something else that killed them.

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In my grandmother’s case, she was generally healthy as far as I know for most of her life, and she didn’t die until she was 88.  In fact, she was very active in life, then as a retiree doing hundreds of hours as a Volunteer at the hospital, and then she was always going around her nursing home and cheering others up.  She always seemed to be on the move.

But then one day, she got a cut or a break in her skin that she didn’t take too seriously.  This small area got infected and became a skin sore.  In her usual way of not wanting to bother anyone, she didn’t tell anyone about it until it became a very bad sore.  By this time it was very infected and had gotten into her system.  The doctors tried to cure it with strong antibiotics, but it was too late.  She gave herself blood poisoning and died within a very short period after being admitted to the hospital.  It could have been avoided.

In my sister’s case, she had the same or very similar muscle disease that I have.  The main difference between her and me is that she had always been weak from the time she was a teenager, but thankfully for her, she did not suffer the intense pain that I have.  What led to my sister’s death was a reaction she had to some aloe juices that she mixed up from raw ingredients.

But in truth, it was her weakened body, and the fact that she had had a string of bronchial problems and a case of pneumonia in the winter, that combined with the allergic reaction that overwhelmed her body and she died at age 32 from congestive heart failure.

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So how does this all relate to me today?  I know that right now I have a serious muscle disease.  And unless God heals me, there is likely going to be a day that the weakness will be compounded by some other illness, or some organ that starts to fail.  The question is this:  will I live my life in fear of what may happen one day?  No, I refuse to do this.

I would much rather trust God that He is always in control of my life until the day He decides to take me Home.  I want to be like David who wrote these words:

The LORD will protect you from all danger; he will keep you safe.                                    He will protect you as you come and go, now and forever.

Psalm 121:7-8

“It’s Not My Fault!”

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Hard Road Journey – Part 2

“It’s Not My Fault!”

This is the second part of a series that summarizes the key points in Mark Atteberry’s book “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel.”  As I wrote in Part 1, we want to try to avoid looking so much at the “why” of how we got here, and focus more on the “how do we get through” these difficult times.  But before we can, we need to briefly consider the question of whose “fault” it might be, and the answer to this may surprise us and even help us to get through the difficult times.

Atteberry suggests that we may want to carefully, and as much as possible objectively, answer the question of whether it is my fault or someone else’s fault or perhaps even no one’s fault that we are in the mess that we are in.  I would suggest that as Christians, that no matter which one of these three options might be the answer, we might even point some blame at God in our anger since we can say within ourselves, “Why did God cause / allow this to happen to me?”  I will try to address that too.

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It’s No One’s Fault: I want to start with the third option and go backwards.  I think this can be easier for some, but harder for others to accept that some things just happen.  One of the toughest situations that deeply affected our family is that our first-born son, Eric, had leukemia.  We had to leave Papua New Guinea where we were doing mission work to get him diagnosed in Australia.  Once the diagnosis was confirmed, he immediately started treatment, and then as soon as we could we headed back to Canada for 2 1/2 more years of chemotherapy.

Eric’s cancer didn’t just pull us out of the village where we worked, but it caused us to have to abandon our work there.  Since we came back to Canada in February 2002, none of us have ever been back to our PNG village.  Some of our belongings were shipped back to us, but many things have been lost forever.  Was it Eric’s fault that this happened?  Of course not.  Did this hurt us emotionally, psychologically, materially and financially?  It most certainly did.  But it still was nobody’s fault.

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It’s Someone Else’s Fault: There is no question that there are bad people out there in the world who do bad things to us.  We can be cheated, abused, ridiculed and harmed by others.  We cannot always avoid these things from happening, though sometimes we do have the choice to avoid places and times where bad things are more apt to happen.

I remember a situation where I was fired from my job and how devastating that event was to me.  I was only 16 and my manager called me into the back of the store where I saw a woman crying.  She had told the manager that I had insulted her baby the day before and she wanted me to be fired.

The truth is that I had made a comment spoken out of compassion, but also out of ignorance.  Her baby had a large purple area on the side of the face, and I had thought it was either from a burn, or some baby illness.  So I had said something like, “I hope your baby feels better soon. ”  Little did I know it was a permanent birth mark.  But there was no way to explain myself, and the manager chose siding with the customer rather than let me speak.  I had the choice then to be bitter, or learn to be more careful in comments I made.  I chose the latter.

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It’s My Fault: There are the times where we must take responsibility for our own actions and decisions, and we may be surprised at how many times in whole or in part it is our own fault for the mess we find ourselves in.  This is true for me when Jill and I left Texas after living one year there to return to Canada.

We had good reasons to come back, seeing as we had lost one pregnancy at 29 weeks while we were in Texas, and now with Jill pregnant with Eric, we felt we needed the extra support of the Canadian health system to make sure we could handle this pregnancy.  The problem wasn’t coming home, it was the way I decided as to where we lived next.

I thought living in Toronto in 1988 was a smart move, since the “hottest” economy was there.  But rents were so high, we had to live in such a crummy place that I ended up getting so sick (and reacted to medicine) that I nearly died there.  And whose fault was that?  It was mine, because I don’t remember ever seeking God’s help on this decision.  I just made a decision that was “right in my own eyes”.

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It’s God’s Fault: If we can’t explain it any other way, then we may be tempted to say it is God’s fault since He either caused it to happen or at least allowed it to happen.  But let me close by giving a quote from Atteberry’s book as he reflects on Jeremiah 29:11 where God says, “I know the plans I have for you, … plans for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope”.  Atteberry then says on page 12:

That verse, along with countless others, simply will not allow me to picture God as a temperamental bully who beats His children.  I cannot imagine Him toying with us, inflicting pain and suffering just because He can.  Yes, I know that He occasionally disciplines His children and that His disciplinary actions can be very painful. ….But even when He takes such measures, His motivation is love and His desire is to make a better future for His people.

(See Hebrews 12:7-11)

Sickness or Satan?

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Please pray for me today.  (And also in the next week and a half.)

My legs are fine (thank you God) which I believe is due to this new narcotic patch the doctor has me on.  But either I am sick (but don’t quite feel that way), or the narcotic patch is affecting me negatively, or the Enemy is oppressing me.

I have not slept well for about 6 nights, but last night was terrible.  (I’ve been up and down to bed 5 times in the last 13 hours, and the most I can rest is 2 hours at a time.  When I try to focus on anything other than my Bible translation consultant prep work, I feel fine and can focus.  But as soon as I start focusing on the translation work, my eyes start to cross, my stomach starts to heave, and within an hour I have to go lie down in bed again.

I want to be careful not to give too much credit (or blame) to the Enemy.  It could very well be sickness or drug imbalance.  But it is interesting to note that I am only 4 days away from flying to California to help teach a one-week mission course, and I am only four weeks away from my trip to Papua New Guinea to do the consultant checking of 7 books of the Bible.

I have been in ministry long enough to know that Satan will definitely try to oppose God’s people from doing God’s work.  I know I am on the right path doing the right things for God right now.  So even if I was not feeling the way I am feeling right now, I would be asking you to be praying for me for good health, strength and spiritual protection.

The bottom line right now is that I ask you to please pray for me.  I am only a frail human trying to do a momentous work of God.  I cannot do it apart from God’s empowering Holy Spirit.  But I also cannot do it without the support of covering prayer from the saints, believers like yourself.

Thank you for your prayers.

Norm Weatherhead