How Much Confidence Do You Have in God?

“Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these.” (John 14:12)

In a 2016 Gallup poll, 89% of Americans said they believed in God. While this widespread belief may seem remarkable given recent trends in our pop culture, a more telling question might be how much confidence do we have in God with respect to our day-to-day actions?

Do we seek his guidance for both large and small decisions? Do we tell the boss what he or she wants to hear or speak the truth? Do we correct a teenage son or daughter even though it may provoke an extreme reaction? Do we offer to pray with a co-worker who has just learned that he or she has been diagnosed with cancer?

In Hope for the Workplace – Christ in You, there is the story of Dr. Sheri Donaldson, a physical therapist whose co-worker, Ashley, was scheduled for an MRI to check on a piece of brain tumor that could not be removed from a prior surgery. Every time Ashley would have an MRI to check on the status of the tumor, she would get very anxious. On this occasion it turns out that Sheri was able to see Ashley right before she was leaving for her appointment. Sheri sensed that the Lord wanted her to pray with Ashley that this time the MRI would show that the tumor was gone. While Sheri had reservations about whether she should follow what she deemed a prompting from the Holy Spirit, she nevertheless placed her hand on Ashley’s forehead and prayed in the name of Jesus that the tumor would be gone.

Sheri reports, “The next time we saw each other, I was walking down the hallway past Ashley’s office when she yelled, ‘Sheri, THE TUMOR IS GONE!’ Not a trace of it on the MRI, even though it had been present on every MRI for several years.”

We see in Sheri’s story someone who not only believes in God, but also has the confidence in God to step out and boldly offer to pray with her friend that God would heal her and take away all trace of the remaining piece of brain tumor. ( – p.105)

In connection with Jesus’ promise above, he also says, “And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13) Our motivation, in addition to helping someone or some situation, should always be to bring glory to God.

The Bible has many promises like this one. How much confidence do we have in them?

How Long Will You Live?

“If a man dies will he live again?” (Job 14:14)

One characteristic common to all living things is that they eventually die. People, animals, birds, microbes, plants, even the giant redwoods that can live a thousand years, die at some point. The cycle of birth, life and death may vary, but the sequence remains the same for all. The Psalmist says, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth.” (Psalm 39:5)

But then Jesus says, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25, 26) This, of course, runs counter to what we experience in being born into this physical world, living the life we see, hear and touch.

Many years ago a secretary with whom I worked was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. Her name was Rita. She went through multiple surgeries and treatments. I watched her as she went from this vibrant woman in her prime, full of life, grace and happiness, literally shrink physically before my eyes as the cancer and treatments sapped the life from her. In visiting her a few days before she died, I was shocked at her physically deteriorated state.

That evening, while reflecting on her condition, the thought came to me that while the cancer was destroying her physical body, it could not destroy her because who she was included so much more than her physical body. Yes, her physical nature had a part in defining who she was, but the most important part of her was her personality, her gracious and loving manner, her kindness, her willingness to listen to a co-worker with a problem, her diligence in her work, her quiet peace and joy when our office was experiencing a chaotic moment, her inclination to love no matter who was standing in front of her.

These non-physical characteristics of Rita were what really made her who she was. They would not die with her body. They would live on. As physical beings we struggle with defining the non-physical. We use words like soul and spirit that have the potential to transcend the physical realm. The writer of Ecclesiastes observes, “He has set eternity into the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Eccl. 33:11)

Jesus answers Job’s question. We die to this physical world in the current age, but if we believe in him, the best part of us lives on — soul and spirit. Just as God raised Jesus to new life with a different kind of body, he promises to do the same for those who believe.

“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?’”               (1 Cor. 15:53-55)

Are You Patient with God

“I will drive them out little by little before you, until you have grown numerous enough to take possession of the land.” (Exodus 23:30)

We live in a fast-food, express lane world. We have instant cash machines in grocery stores, drive-through banking, one hour cleaning, jiffy lubrication for our cars and overnight delivery of mail. We seem to be in a constant rush. The virtue of patience and waiting holds little value, considered more a distraction than an attribute.

In the Exodus 23, God is giving instructions to the Israelites about how he is going to help them overcome the people who occupy the land he has prepared for them. He says he is not going to drive out the occupiers in a single year. Instead he will drive them out little by little until the Israelites become numerous enough to take possession of the land. He explains that if he drove out the occupiers immediately, the land would become desolate and the wild animals would be too numerous for the Israelites to handle.

God designed us to grow little by little from infancy to childhood, from childhood to puberty, from puberty to adulthood, from early adulthood to maturity. Shortening the process will not lead to the desired outcome of maturity and wisdom. How often have we seen the fame accompanying a child actress or the instant wealth accruing to a gifted collegiate athlete gone professional lead to a disastrous result?

Our daughter Emily was born with Down syndrome. One of the characteristics of children with Down syndrome is that they experience delays in their development. That first step takes a little longer. First words come a little slower and physical coordination can take time, but each milestone is accompanied with much rejoicing and a sure sense of achievement.

Ironically, the Lord calls each of us to seek him eagerly, but then often has us wait to see the fruit. St. Paul acknowledges that even “creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…in hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19, 21)

We who accept God’s offer to dwell in us are the sons and daughters of God being revealed generation upon generation to liberate this created world from its bondage to sin and decay. It is a long term process, but the benefits can last an eternity — for us, our families, our colleagues, our workplaces and the world around us. It is noteworthy that of the fifteen characteristics St. Paul uses to define love in 1 Corinthians 13, the first is patience. He says, “Love is patient, love is kind…”

The question is can we abide by God’s timing of what he wants to accomplish through us? While we are looking for instant success, God realizes that we often need preparation to do what he has put before us. “Little by little” he prepares us, and the hearts of the people he wants us to reach, so we need to be patient with God to provide the circumstances for us to act.

Several years ago, one of our daughters made a plaque with beautiful calligraphy for my den. It reads, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) I gaze on it each morning while I meet Jesus for coffee and wait on the quiet whisper of his will.

Do You Hear Jesus Say Your Name?

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (John 20:16)

On the first day of the week following Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb where Jesus had been laid. She sees that Jesus’ body is not in the tomb and she is distraught. She encounters Jesus, but does not recognize him, thinking he is the gardener. Though she does not recognize him by sight, she does by the way he says her name. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’”   It was a sound familiar to her and exclusive to their relationship.

When I was a young boy, my mother called me, “Billy.” When I heard her call me, I didn’t have to see her to know that it was her. My father used to call me “son.” Again, I didn’t have to see him when he addressed me to know that it was him. There was a special relationship and familiarity there. The same is true with my wife, members of my family and close friends.

This is the kind of relationship Jesus wants to have with us – one that is so close, so familiar, and so intimate, we don’t need to see him to know he is there. At every moment he stands at the door of our heart waiting to be invited in, ready to embrace us and to offer his friendship, ready to listen to our deepest concerns and offer his wisdom — ready to say our name. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.” He says, “I know mine and mine know me.” (John 10:3, 4, 14)

It is easy for me to let the noise and many distractions in my life drown out the gentle whisper of Jesus. It requires a deliberate choice on my part to stop and listen for his presence.

How close is your relationship with Jesus? Do you hear his gentle whisper in your thoughts? Do you recognize him when he calls your name or seeks to offer guidance to your path?

Faith is Not Private and Separate from Life

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Colossians 3:17)

The idea that faith should be separated from living out most of the rest of our lives appears to have become conventional wisdom over the last 50 years. We hear the phrase, “separation of church and state” and apply it to other venues in our lives such as the workplace and the public square. We are told that that our faith should be private and personal, not to be shared with others.

This perspective is 180 degrees contrary to God’s intention as evidenced in the words of Scripture and Jesus. St. Paul’s exhortation quoted above is not confined to what happens at church on Sundays, but to everything we do. Later he says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as if you are working for the Lord.” (Colossians 3:23)

This is a 24/7 exhortation meant for Monday as well as Sunday, the workplace as well as church or where we may have a daily prayer time. There are no boundary lines to Christ living in us, and we in him. Once we invite him in, he is present in everything we do – working for our employer, taking our children to soccer practice, helping with the dishes, assisting a sick friend with yard work, testifying at a City Council hearing, helping our children with their homework, listening to a work colleague share a personal problem – “whatever you do in word or deed.”

God created us to work and take care of the garden of his creation, including the physical world and one another. (Genesis: 2:15) Our work is how we make ourselves useful to one another and thus to God. It is a divine assignment.

From the time God became one of us through his incarnation in Jesus and the pouring out of his Holy Spirit on the people of his early church, his intention has been to dwell not in temples or buildings, but in us individually and personally, assuming we accept his invitation. I met him one evening many years ago in an individual and personal way, and accepted his invitation to dwell in me. Today, I experience his presence in many ways – the sacraments of my church, my prayer time (we meet for coffee every morning), and in many of the people he places in my life.

There are times when I have neglected his presence, or separated my words and deeds form his presence because I have put him in a box. The unfortunate thing when that happens is that his presence may not then be available to the people in my life who would otherwise be blessed by him. God created us with the freedom to accept or reject his invitation to dwell in us, but his desire for his creation and for his created, is that we not separate him from our lives and work.

Do we imprison God, only to be released on Sunday, or do we let him be manifested in every aspect of our life?

God’s Presence Today

“For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?” (Deut. 4:7)

These are the words of Moses reminding the Israelites how faithful their God had been by being present to them as they left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea to Mt. Sanai and wandered in the desert for forty years. This was in contrast to all other nations where the presence of their so-called gods was governed by the location of their temple or an idol representing them.

As unusual as God’s presence to Israel was at that point in history, we are blessed today by even a greater closeness to God as a result of his becoming one of us in the person of Jesus. God is available to us today through Jesus and the power of his Holy Spirit far beyond what people could have dreamed in Moses’ day and even what many of us may expect today.

We remember Jesus’s promise to the disciples just before his ascension. “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) But even more specific, he promised at the last supper, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14:23)

Think of it. The God of all creation wants to take up residence in us! Not in a temple or an idol or on top of a high place; he wants to be present in us at all times! Then, there are of course the sacraments where we can experience Jesus’s presence such as in the Eucharist. He wants us to love him and the people in our lives as we love ourselves.

On some weekends, I have the blessing of taking communion to the sick, and to the residents of a local nursing home and the county jail. While I am bringing the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist to them, I also pray that his presence in me through the Holy Spirit will be evident by my listening, encouraging and praying with them.

Among those I visit is a beautiful lady who is 105 and lives with her granddaughter. For the sake of this post, let me call her Dottie. Even though Dottie doesn’t hear well she loves to talk and share experiences from her long life. She has a note pad with a felt pen for people to ask questions or write what they want to say to her, but mostly I listen. Here are some of the things she has shared with me.

“Love covers a lot of wrongs. I am not a perfect person, but God gives me a lot of love, so I love and that makes up for me not being perfect. I have found that it is easier to be happy than sad, and it’s also more fun. So, at my age, I just think happy thoughts.

“Satan is always hanging around to cause us trouble, but I just tell him, ‘Satan, be gone!’ And he runs from me. He is very tricky. He tries to get us to do things we shouldn’t do, but I tell him, ‘You get out of here.’” Her observations are in fact quite scriptural. (1Peter 5:8; James 4:7)

So, here we have God’s presence not only in the Eucharist, but also in Dottie and me, both bringing his love and presence to one another.

Separating Ourselves and Others from Jesus

“Send the crowds away.” (Mt. 14:15)

These words were spoken by the disciples to Jesus because they were concerned about the crowds needing to get something to eat. Jesus responded that they did not need to go away, that the disciples should give them something to eat. The disciples protested that they only had five loaves and two fish. Jesus asked that the loaves and the fish be brought to him. He gave thanks, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. Matthew reports that “they all ate and were satisfied,” a crowd of five thousand men, besides women and children.

This was not the first time that the disciples tried to keep people from getting to Jesus. We might recall the time when people were bringing their little children to Jesus to have him touch them. “When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” Luke 18:15-17)

The disciples rebuked Bartimaeus and told him to be quiet as he shouted out to Jesus to heal his blindness. (Mark 10:46-52) In another incident they told Jairus, who had asked Jesus to come and heal his daughter, not to bother Jesus any longer after word came that his daughter had died.   But Jesus went on to raise his daughter to life. (Luke 8:49-50)

How often do we unwittingly seek to separate others or ourselves from Jesus?

The possibilities are numerous — letting our kid’s soccer game or an invitation to play golf on Sunday morning get in the way of attending church; sleeping in and missing a time we had set aside for prayer; being a bad example to our children on an issue of integrity; holding on to anger and refusing to forgive another for some slight or wrong done to us; any kind of sin that tends to drive a wedge between us and God. Even though we may not realize it, all of these examples tend to build separation between us or others and God.

Rather, our actions should be like the friends of the paralytic who carried him on a mat and tried to lay him before Jesus to heal him. When they could not break through the crowd to get to Jesus, they carried the paralytic up on the roof, removed the tiles and lowered him down in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith and the efforts to which they had gone, he healed the paralytic and forgave him of his sins. (Luke 5:17-26)

One of our prime responsibilities as Christian parents is to introduce our children to Jesus. We should encourage them by our word and example to grow in their faith so that they will be able to live out that faith in their own lives.

Jesus called us to make disciples and teach them everything he commanded. Then he promised his presence would always be with us.

“I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.” (Psalm 119:58)