Sunday, May 13, 2018

Difficult, Freeing, Exhilarating Faith

May 13 (2 Corinthians 5:7)

For we walk by faith, not by sight.  (ESV)

Do you realize how difficult it is to walk by faith and not by sight?  You certainly do if you’ve ever tried it.  We cannot see God, but we have faith in Him.  His ways are not our ways, but we have faith that His ways are right.  We will experience suffering, but we have faith because Jesus said He overcame it all.  It is no wonder that people look at us and say, “Are you kidding?”

Let’s be clear.  Everything we do in our daily existence is based on our physical sensations.  We see a line of traffic and take a different route.  We hear about an interesting book and go to buy it.  We smell bacon frying and know the day is off to a good start.  Yet everything about our relationship with God is based on something else.  As the writer of Hebrews 11:1 puts it, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  It is assurance.  It is conviction.  It is not namby-pamby, wishful thinking, but because it has nothing to do with our physical senses, which form the basis for how we interact with every other aspect of our lives, faith is a different way of knowing, and a difficult one.

Yet faith in God is the single most freeing force in the world!  Think about something that scares you, something that just terrifies the living daylights out of you.  Maybe it is standing on the diving board and looking into water that seems about a thousand feet away.  Maybe it is facing a job decision or the prospect of losing a job.  Picture that thing that gives you the sweats.  Now, what if you didn’t have to rely on your senses?  What if all the things that terrify you because you have seen them or heard about them or experienced them in some way just weren’t there?  What if you could ignore all that?  Would that not be the most exhilarating feeling in the world?  That, my friends, is faith.

Jesus, whenever You call me, I look around at the wind and waves the way Peter did and start to sink.  Remember that I am dust, Jesus, and prone to fear and weakness.  Help me to strengthen my faith so that I may operate more by it and less by my physical senses, for I truly do believe in You.  Amen.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven R. Perkins

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Yes, But...

May 6 (John 6:28-29)

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  (ESV)

Yes, but….  The non-believer says no to the call of God, and the believer who says yes often falls into the pride of the Pharisee who thanked God for not being like others (Luke 18:11).  If truth were told, however, the yes of the believer is often conditional.  We say yes and then hurry on to an objection.  “Yes, yes, I get it, Lord.  You want me to believe in Jesus.  But what do you really want me to do?  Shouldn’t I be out there saving the world with the wonderful talents you have given me?”

Belief in Jesus leads to following Him, and following Him leads to acts of service through which He does indeed change the world.  Yet when we rush to the acts of service and forget Jesus Himself, we fall prey to pride that we are the ones actually making the difference.  We begin to believe that it is all up to us, and this turns into a deadly perfectionism that leaves us exhausted from carrying burdens we were never meant to carry.  Remember, it was Jesus who said that His burden was light (Matthew 11:30).

Are you experiencing the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that are the fruits of the Spirit?  If yes, then thank God and savor the true life in Christ.  If not, don’t double down on your own efforts to force those fruits into existence.  That is likely what you are doing anyhow and is the cause of the problem.  Instead, turn back to Jesus.  Let Him become once again your all in all.  When you let Him become your life, you are truly doing the work of God.

Jesus, pry my fingers from the tight grip I maintain on life.  Open my hands so that I may receive You.  May You direct my paths and not my agenda, however many good things it may contain.  Amen.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven R. Perkins

Sunday, April 22, 2018

I Don't Believe God Loves Me

April 22 (Hebrews 11:1, Mark 9:24)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  (ESV)

“I believe; help my unbelief!”  (ESV)

For the person who does not believe that God loves him, there is little in Scripture that can help.  Oh, there are plenty of verses that speak of God’s love toward us, but the person who is struggling to accept that love will likely not take much comfort in them.  At best they form a foundation for logical acknowledgment.  I am a human being.  God loves human beings.  Therefore, God loves me.  That is hardly the sort of thing we reach for in the blackness of despair.

A person cries out to God, “Do you love me…ME?”  She wants to know she is loved because God sees her and knows her and loves her, not because she is loved by her default status as a member of the human race, and this requires faith.  Faith is assurance and conviction even in, especially in, the face of overwhelming feelings or evidence to the contrary, and if we’re already doubting God’s love, such faith can be rather difficult to muster on our own.

So, what do we do?  We cry out with the man to whom Jesus had said all things were possible for those who believe.  “I do believe, Lord, but help my unbelief!”  We hurl our doubts and fears and frustrations at Jesus.  We fling them at Him angrily, because, if we are honest, we are angry with Him.  We want to feel His love so badly, something is blocking that, and we are just tired, worn out, and…well…angry.  Where are You, Lord?  This is not a time to theologize that what is blocking our experience is sin or Satan and that we really should be angry at ourselves or at the devil.  Jesus will take care of all that in due course.  For now, take it all to Him in tears and rage.  His love will not come, for it has always been there and always will be, and because that is true, He will help you experience it again.

Jesus, I don’t know where to begin.  I need You.  I need to feel and know Your love as never before.  That much I do know.  I don’t need a platitude or empty words.  I need You, Jesus.  Today, right now, I need Your love.  Help my unbelief and restore me to a place of confidence and assurance in You.  Amen.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven R. Perkins

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Power To Speak

April 15 (Acts 2:4)

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  (ESV)

The last words of Jesus before He ascended into heaven were that His disciples were to go into all the world and teach all that He had taught them (Matthew 28:19-20).  He told them they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish that mission (Acts 1:8).  And guess what?  He told the truth, for that is exactly what happened when the Holy Spirit filled the disciples with the power to speak in other languages so that everyone could understand the good news.

As we talked about this recently with the second through fifth graders at our church, the children began talking about the super powers they would like to have.  I was squarely in the camp of those wanting super speed or the ability to fly.  Yet notice that when God gave the power of the Holy Spirit to His people, it was not to accomplish a comic book feat of heroism.  With all the power of God Almighty, what was it they were able to do?  They were able to speak so that others could know about Jesus.

Of all the wonderful things you may be able to do, things that please God because He gave you the ability to do them, nothing pleases Him more than when you tell others about His love for them through Jesus Christ.  That’s it.  That is what the first disciples did when the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them.  They started talking.  And as one disciple told someone and that person became a disciple, too, the conversation has never stopped.  If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you, too, have the same Holy Spirit living in you, and God has given Him to you for the same reason, so that you may have the power to tell others about Him.

Lord, I often ask You for more of this or that, but when it comes to being equipped to tell others about the love, forgiveness, and redemption available through Jesus, I already have all that I need.  May I use this amazing power so that every single person who knows me may know the love You have in store for them.  I ask this in the name of Jesus, Who has commanded me to speak.  Amen.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven R. Perkins

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Stopping God

April 8 (1 Corinthians 2:13)

[W]e speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.  (ESV)

Do you realize how much power human beings have?  We can be laid low by a cold or a papercut, but we are so powerful that we can actually stop God from accomplishing His will.  We only have to say no.

Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, and so He did.  The Holy Spirit lives within us and, among other things, He speaks to us the words of God.  When we need to offer a word of encouragement or rebuke, when we need to explain or teach a matter of spiritual significance, God does not leave us on our own.  He speaks through the Holy Spirit and gives us what we need to say.  Yet unbelievably we thwart this divine guidance with our second-guessing.  We waffle, we reconsider, and we hesitate.  We become Prufrock, the pathetic character in Eliot’s poem, for whom “in a minute there is time/For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”

Bold is the life lived in Jesus Christ.  When we are fully surrendered to Him, when we see everyone and everything through His gaze, we can speak and act confidently in this world, for it will not be we who speak and act, but rather God working through us.  Yet we can always resort to weakness, and with fear and timidity halt the very plans of God.

Lord, may every inspiration of the Holy Spirit find its fulfillment in my words and deeds.  May I die to myself so that, fully alive in You, I may be Your willing servant on earth.  When I pray as You taught, that Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, may I be Your good instrument and never an obstacle to the working out of that will.  In the name of Jesus, Who was obedient even to the cross, amen.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven R. Perkins

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Final Word

April 1 (Matthew 28:30)

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  (ESV)

There will come a day when I will eat my last slice of New York style pizza.  It is a melancholy thought, but that day will come, as will the day I listen to a favorite song or watch a favorite movie for the last time.  It is likely I will not realize my enjoyment of a particular activity is indeed my last, but when I have died, people can identify that final pizza, song, and movie for what they were.  And the same will be true for Scripture.

Many of us have our favorite parts, and the final words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s gospel are cherished by countless Christians.  We know them by heart, but we love to hear and read them again and again.  Yet there will come a time for each of us when we will read those final words of Jesus for the final time, and then the Word Who was made flesh and dwelled among us, Jesus Himself, will speak those words back to us, but perhaps with a slight change.  “I told you I would be with you always!”  I can imagine Him saying it with a broadening smile, a twinkle in His eye, and arms outstretched.

The things of earth will grow dim and vanish for every person.  Our prized possessions will pass into another’s keeping, and while the paper and binding of our Bibles will not go with us from this life to the next, the words of their truth will carry us on and open into truth as we have never experienced it, for then we will know even as we are known.  We will no longer read and listen to our favorite words, but will be in the presence of the One Who is the Word, our risen Lord Jesus, waiting for us in proof of His final word.

Thank You, Lord, for the words You have spoken in Scripture and directly to my heart.  May they continue to nourish me with Your promises until the time they are promises no more, but my everlasting reality with You.  Amen.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven R. Perkins

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Cosmic Import of Easter

March 25 (John 17:5)

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.  (ESV)

Today is Palm Sunday.  Later this week Christians will celebrate the other holy days of Easter Week with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday itself.  Yet celebrating days associated with a certain person can become routine.  We have days to honor Presidents and days to honor great public servants like Martin Luther King, Jr.  We honor mothers, fathers, and grandparents.  Then there are the wacky celebrations like National Hot Dog Day, which this year is July 18th, and National Sock Day on December 4th.  And let’s face it.  The year in, year out celebrations around Easter can numb us with their regularity to what is really going on.

The holy days of Easter do not mark important moments in a man’s life.  They acknowledge unparalleled moments in the history of human beings when God intervened and walked among us.  Consider the verse above, which comes from the last meal that Jesus shared with His disciples.  Scripture says that God knew us before we were born (see Jeremiah 1:5), but neither you nor I existed before the world began, and we certainly did not share in the Father’s glory.  The words Jesus uses here speak clearly to His divine nature.

Easter is about the awe-inspiring, indescribable work of God, Who is transcendent past all our understanding, yet became one of us that we might know Him fully.  These are days of truly cosmic import, for the Greek word used for “world” in this verse is kosmos, which indicates all of the created order, the entire universe.  There have been many good people who have done wonderful things, and we put their names on buildings and dedicate days to their remembrance.  The days of Easter are about so much more than that.  We set them aside to enter once again into the mysterious interaction of the divine and the human, the heavenly and the earthly, when God Himself was man and changed our experience of reality forever.

O Lord, as the poet John Donne once wrote, You were immensity cloistered in Your mother’s womb, You Who created Your mother and then were born through her.  The very thought of You expands my heart and soul and mind past all the feelings and wisdom and knowledge of this world.  May Your praise be ever on my lips and Your worship the very fabric of my life, both in these days of the Easter season and in all the days of my life.  In the name of King Jesus, my risen Savior, amen.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven R. Perkins