Throughout the years many have attempted to paint a picture of God. Some see God as angry. Some see him as fatherly. Some see him with lightning bolts in his hands, others as a pointing, judging finger. He is often seen as a man with a white beard who sits in the clouds.
But when the Bible paints a picture of God, it is often very different. When God chooses the words that paint a portrait of himself that he wants to give us, it often looks like the following words, Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In the thought today, I simply want to say this: the last few days I have been saying this psalm throughout the day. It has brought me closer to God and opened up the relationship I have with God. I realized that often my walk with God is attempting to encourage God to guarantee an outcome I want, even altruistic outcomes. This psalm reminds me it is walking with God that is most important. If for us walking with God is a success, then no one and nothing can prevent a successful life.
May Psalm 23 guide your walk with God today and every day.
For the last few weeks, I have been thinking a great deal about faith and how important it is for the Christian. Jesus certainly talked about it a great deal. The book of Romans even tells us we are saved by our faith.
Just what is faith and why is it so important? For many, their efforts are spent — usually uselessly— trying to get all their ducks in a row, that if they can get every part of their lives in perfect order and then get their future as secure as possible, then they can have peace, be happy and go on and live their lives. Unfortunately, this pretty much never happens. The ducks refuse to get in a row, and the future still looks uncertain to us. We find fear our way more than peace, anxiety more than confidence. This way of being impacts us, our relationships and the choices we make. The future becomes our enemy, and this enemy is always just in front of us, not a fun way to live.
Faith makes the future your friend
The Bible tells us we are to “walk by faith and not by sight.” This is hard. We practice every day living by what we can see, getting our bearings, focusing on landmarks, making sure we don’t trip, etc. We practice a great deal walking by our sight. But we typically don’t practice faith very much — until we need it — then we are not very good walking by it.
What is faith?
It is trust in God, a God who holds us and our future in his hand. Trust is as good as what we place it in. “Is God trustworthy?” might be the question. Is God all-wise? I think he is. Is God all-loving? I think he is. Is God all-powerful? I think he is. If so, God must be trustworthy. How does God let us know he is all-loving, powerful and wise? How does God let us know he can be trusted with our future?
God intersected our world and our lives at our point of greatest need and greatest weakness. He came in Christ and healed the sick, cast out demons, calmed storms and fed the hungry. He taught the good news of God’s kingdom. He, as God’s perfect Son, died willingly on the cross for our sins, and then three days later his broken body was raised from the dead, a resurrection that now changes the future.
This God has proven we can trust him with our future. Even death does not win for those who place their faith in God.
To me, this means that if God can be trusted to save me from my sins and with the certainty of my own death, then God can be trusted with all my future. Peace.
I practice this because I want to be good at it. I need to get better at it, but I am trying.
Faith makes the future your friend.
Matthew 6:33 says, “Look for the kingdom of God first, and you will discover everything you really need.” This is my paraphrase, but I think it reflects well the heart of the entire chapter, a chapter written to people who have a tendency to worry too much, a people who have a tendency to live in fear of the uncertainty of tomorrow.
Jesus gave us many commands, but three stand out that are often missed:
- Do not be afraid.
- Do not be anxious.
- Do not doubt.
The Bible teaches a different way, teaching ideas like “we walk by faith and not by sight,” “the just shall live by faith,” “now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” This is just a flavoring of many verses about faith in the Bible.
I think many people are driven by fear and worry, often making their decisions and operating their lives based on their fear of a seeming uncertain future and their worry that they might lose what they have. This grips too many people today and sometimes leaves them in a quagmire, makes them feel helpless and causes them to stagnate in their faith.
Jesus addressed this very human bent in Matthew Chapter 6, and here I offer again a paraphrase of the last verse.
“Look for the kingdom of God first, and you will find everything that really matters.”
If we think we can deal with fear by running away from the things we are afraid of, if we think we can deal with worry by finding complete security, if we think we can overcome doubt by having everything we want happen as we want, then we have missed the point of faith.
But when we realize nothing prevents us from experiencing the life in Christ that really matters — a life of faith, an eternal life, a life that makes a difference, a life that loves God and our neighbor, the life that Jesus teaches under the banner of faith . . .
It is looking for the kingdom of God; it is walking with God. The fallback position for fear, worry and doubt is to just walk with God, to trust God, to live for God, to serve God. Just walk with God. This is the one place where there is no room for fear and worry. It is where the Christ-life is to be lived. The one-word definition — faith.
Just walk with God, you will find everything that really matters.
Sunday I spoke about the Run with Heart 2014 one-mile fun run/walk, the 5K run/walk and the half marathon sponsored by Methodist Mansfield Medical Center. Once again I am on the steering team for the second year of this event that attracted well over 1,000 people last year.
Some have asked how to sign up, so I wanted to share a few instructions.
First, I am excited that Pastor Caesar Rentie will be running with me along with many other friends.
Can you walk?
Yes, you can walk or run, though walking the half marathon will take a long time.
Where do you sign up?
Go to the Run with Heart 2014 website:
- Click on the “register now” link.
- Sign in.
- Select half marathon team, 5K team or one-mile fun run team.
- Enter the team name "First Methodist Church."
- Fill in the form.
- Make your payment as requested.
- At that point, you can add other family or friends as prompted.
Email me if you have any problems. We will be giving those running or walking the 5K or one mile a soft red In the City for the City shirt and those running the half marathon a bright red In the City for the City shirt.
You might ask why I am committed to this event. First, I love the idea of bringing a run like this to our own area, the first at this level. Second, I am on the Advisory Board of the hospital, as well as part of the steering team for Run with Heart 2014. Third, two summers ago my life was saved by the care of Methodist Mansfield Medical Center when I was suffering a heart attack. And of course, I believe in the cause — cardiac services — and a cause that is close to home. Emergency services for heart issues that are close by can make all the difference. So, this event makes a difference. Finally, I believe in activity at almost any level. In our sedentary world, many of us experience health issues because we are not living as God designed. We sit too much, eat too much and work too hard. These moments can get us kick-started enough to add healthy exercise and diet to our lives. This means we can serve each other, our families and God better.
I hope to see many of you this weekend as we celebrate the last of the message series, Saved, to Be a Disciple, the message is Good and Evil.
When Jesus came, the world was in a difficult and dangerous place. Israel, where Jesus began his ministry, was occupied by Rome. Enemy soldiers were everywhere. They had to pay taxes through traitors to their own country. The economy was in the pits. Poverty was rampant. There were no good doctors, so people with ill health were most often left to suffer with little hope. A large number of people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Only a few enjoyed the rights of citizenship. To add to this, Rome itself was constantly at war, either threatened by so-called barbarians or attacking them to expand their territory. The religious beliefs of Israel were at direct odds with the pagan idolatry of the Roman Empire. Fear and anxiety were a constant for everyone.
In the middle of this, God sent his Son, who said to people, “Come unto me,” “Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men,” “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor like you love yourself.” He never addressed the chaos of that world other than saying, “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Rather than attempt to explain the world they lived in, he just said, “Follow me.”
Jesus was already well-known, having worked a number of miracles and becoming an important rabbi in Nazareth, Capernaum and around the Sea of Galilee. A rabbi was another name for a Jewish teacher. There were many rabbis in Israel, but not like Jesus. When he entered the synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, he was asked to read the scripture, a common practice for visiting rabbis. He read the words from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
Then after he gave the scroll back, he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
There is no mistaking what Jesus meant. This was a prophecy applied only to the Messiah when he would come. Jesus is saying “I am the Messiah, and this is what God sent me to do.”
Rabbis had disciples. A disciple was simply a follower of that rabbi, men who would learn from the teacher by seeing what he did and learning from his teaching. There were 12 who were early disciples, men who would be taught to be fishers of men, who would preach good news, set prisoners free, give people their sight back, release the oppressed, who would proclaim the good news of God. There were also women followers, Mary Magdalene, Mary, his mother, another Mary and Martha.
After three years, Jesus would die, be raised from the dead and give one last command, “Go make disciples of all nations, teaching to observe all that I have taught you.” The Church would be born a few weeks later at Pentecost with 120 then 3,000, and now 2,000 years later, 2,180,000,000 of them. Now I know that not all are that good of a disciple, but not all those in that day were that great either, Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied him, Thomas doubted him, Philip questioned him, etc. It’s the nature of a disciple to always be learning and the nature of the teacher to always be teaching. I am still learning, I hope. But I am his disciple because he invited me, and I said “yes.”
The center was, is and will be the same — following the life, example and teaching of Jesus Christ. This is what a Christian is, someone who has accepted and believed in Jesus as Savior and then committed to learn from and follow him. Romans calls us to this full place in Christ, where we accept him as our Savior and then make the decision to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, meaning we live for God.
When we experience chaos and confusion in our world — as we always seem to — what do we do? What Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest,” and, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
The invitation still stands.