Refuge

Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Believing Is Obeying

Do you believe in Jesus?  How do you know you believe? The Gospel of John has a clear answer.

John 3:16 is an often quoted verse in the Bible.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16; NASB).  How do we have eternal life?  The answer is believing in Jesus as the Son of God for the salvation of our soul. But, what does it mean to “believe?” The Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines believe as “to expect or hope with confidence; to trust.” Webster defines trust as “Confidence; a reliance or resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship or other sound principle of another person.” To believe in Jesus is to put our complete trust in his Way, his Truth, and his Life (John 14:6). When we rely totally on him as the way to Truth, we find life.

            By aligning our thinking, feeling, and actions with the teachings of Jesus, we can rest assured we believe in Him. Obeying is the way to believing as John chapter 3 is summed up in the last verse, “The one who believes in the Son has everlasting life. And the one who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36; RSV). This also tells us when we’re NOT believing. If we are not obeying Jesus, we are not believing, and therefore, will NOT have eternal life.

            Even the Old Testament links the idea of showing one’s devotion to God by submission to his ways. Prior to Jesus’ arrival on earth (as the ultimate sacrifice), the Jews following God’s commands, used animal sacrifice for remission of sin.  The Bible also says, “What is more pleasing to the Lord:  your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice?  Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). The purest tangible offering to God, is not as valuable as the intangible devotion of heart. Our affections,  motivations, and attitudes toward his ways, reflect what God really means to us. We esteem God by showing our submission to His divine order for all things.

Believing is Jesus shows our gratitude for what He accomplished as the Savior from our sin and shame condition. Not all people believe, and therefore, not all will have eternal life. The reason why is also mentioned by Jesus, “ … men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:19b-21, NASB).

            Aligning our hearts with the Truth is a process. We are all born with a broken (unbelieving) heart. Only Jesus can put our hearts together to become whole (believing) persons. We are born into darkness, but believing in Jesus brings us into the Light.  “He who practices the truth, comes into the Light.” Being “born again” (described at the beginning of John 3) starts the process. As we “practice” our believing, more and more of the dark, broken pieces of our hearts come into the Light.  As we obey more, we trust more, and our belief becomes stronger.

             The daily, sometimes moment to moment decision to obey Jesus, is the only path to believing. Whether we were born again yesterday or many years ago, believing is obeying, and obeying is believing.  And if you’re not born again? Why not start believing right now.

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, July 4, 2021

A Packed Lunch

           The Bible doesn’t have much to say about the Jesus before his public ministry started in adulthood. But, like any other person, Jesus grew from the womb, to boyhood, to manhood. Early in his ministry he chose 12 other men to train and become the first disciples who would train other disciples and spread the Good News of the Messiah’s arrival on earth.

            Jesus taught with stories using everyday experiences as illustrations. Sometimes he made these stories literally come alive with miraculous power to demonstrate his point. As a boy myself, I grew up hearing the story of Jesus feeding a whole crowd of people from a child attendee’s packed lunch. Recently while reading it again in John 6, some insights struck me that can help us on our own journeys in following Jesus.  

            The story begins by explaining how a crowd was forming because many people were hearing of the “signs” (miracles) and healing of sick people. A Jewish holiday feast was an occasion that brought even more people on this particular day.  Jesus always followed Father God’s instructions, and wasn’t solely driven by the needs of the people. In fact, John records that even while they saw people assembling (specifically seeking Jesus out), he took his 12 trainees aside and had a special session with them. He had a really cool plan to teach them a lesson in followership so they wouldn’t forget.

            Jesus starts with a bit of a trick question of Philip, ““Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” (John 6:5).  In his natural mind, Philip isn’t even ready to think about “where” to buy, but “how” to buy with no money. He knows they don’t have any funds, yet a quick crunch of the numbers in his mind tells him this is an impossible situation. He answers Jesus (perhaps with a bit of sarcasm) that even one person’s salary for many years wouldn’t even provide a snack for everyone. Then another “smart remark” from another disciple, Andrew, is spoken. He mentions that he saw a lad 5 pieces of break and 2 fish sticks that he brought for his lunch. I think he was probably joking when he asked Jesus, “but what are these for so many people?” (John 6:9). 

            Then comes the response from Jesus that really struck me reading the story this time.  Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.  Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted” (John 6:10-11). Jesus didn’t chastise his trainees for having little faith (not this time at least), but he gave them a task to do. Before he could perform the miracle of multiplying the bread and fish, he needed the disciples to create a functional distribution system to carry it out. The Bible doesn’t record the methods, but some strategic planning and logistics would have been necessary for several thousand people to eat their fill in one sitting.

            Executing Jesus’ order to “have the people sit down” was no small task. Do you think they did it buffet style or special delivery with volunteers? What did they do for drinks?  There was no bottled water in those days. What about the mood of the people? I’m sure such a huge group of hungry and thirsty people showed some impatience and ungratefulness. Besides the crowd control, Jesus’ helpers might have had to handle emergencies and run other errands. John records part of the cleanup duties which included gathering up all the leftovers.

            In looking at how this story unfolds, what impresses me the most is the response of Jesus’ first 12 disciples. There may have been some reluctance at first, but even so, when Jesus gave the instruction to prepare the people for a large feast, they sprang into action. Although they initially saw no means to pull off a mass feeding, they stayed the course. They may even have had some fear that people would retaliate if they were told their dinner is on its way, but it never arrives. It took some faith to ask thousands of people to be seated and prepare to eat, when all that was in the kitchen was 5 pieces of bread and 2 fish. But Jesus needed their obedience before he could do his part. After the preparations were made, THEN he took the one packed lunch and turned it into a lunch for each person in the packed crowd. The disciples had one lunch in their hand, and Jesus turned it into thousands of lunches. Jesus took what was “in their hand” and used it to supply a multitude of people.

            That’s the kind of God we serve. When we obey his instructions with what we find “in our hands,” he is released to do his miraculous work. In this way, God receives all the glory, and we are not as tempted to take credit for the good results. God deserves the glory. Our desire should be to make his name great, and not our own.

            In a similar way that we need food for nourishment to feed our physical body, we need spiritual food to nourish our soul. The spiritual part of our being is fed through revelation from God himself. Our personal spirit needs a continuous flow of new input from God to sustain our spiritual life. This happens through the process of transformation and sanctification. As we surrender our hearts to God and receive his spiritual “food,” we change from the inside out, and grow into the spiritual persons we were created to become.

            As Jesus commanded to “have the people sit down” to prepare for the physical food God was about to provide, so God direct us to “wait” on him for spiritual feedling. Numerous are the exhortations in the Bible to “wait on the Lord.” For example, Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord.” The prophet Isaiah declares, “Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength” (Isaiah 40:31).  The book of Acts records the instructions of Jesus to the twelve apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promised revealing of the Holy Spirit’s work.  He specifically said “to wait for what the Father had promised” (Acts 1:4),

As we “wait” (actively listen), God speaks in many ways. It may be directly through revelation in the Scripture, or it may be through the message spoken by another person or form of media. The creation itself speaks of the wonders of God (see Romans 1:20). Sometimes the “word” (message) we hear may seem insignificant (like the lad’s lunch in the story). But God always provides the amount of revelation needed for the task at hand. He wants us to believe in his ability to provide.

            Answering a few questions might help us receive more spiritual nutrition from the One who will never allow us to go hungry (see John 6:35). What important message(s) might I have missed (be missing) because I failed to “wait” for God’s answer (or complete answer)? How might I better position myself to prepare to feed on God’s truth? (eg. scheduling in things like prayer and Bible feeding). Is my heart truly open to whomever and whatever God chooses to use to speak truth into my life and learn my lessons through it?

            We are called his disciples for a reason. We must obey before we see the results. We must “prepare the way” for the feeding (for ourselves and others). We are disciples not just for our food, but to help feed others. Our inner journey of transforming the soul becomes the food for Jesus working through us in transforming the world!

 by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Trading the Will for the Well - Part 2

In the previous article we began a discussion of the role of willpower in a Christ  follower. 

Living a life that glorifies God is far less about willpower than most people have been conditioned to believe.  Trading our will for the Well takes a lifetime of commitment to the process of transformation of our inner person.  Therefore, a “deeper” look into the topic here in Part Two seems warranted (pun intended). 

Understanding the difference between willfulness and willingness helps in understanding how it can be so difficult to drink from Christ’s well instead of trying to create our own.    Psychiatrist and author Gerald May, MD in chapter one of a book called Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology writes,

“Willingness and willfulness cannot be explained in a few words, for they are very subtle qualities, often overlapping and very easily confused with each other. But we can begin by saying that willingness implies a surrendering of one’s self-separateness, an entering-into, an immersion in the deepest processes of life itself. It is a realization that one already is a part of some ultimate cosmic process and it is a commitment to participation in that process. In contrast, willfulness is the setting of oneself apart from the fundamental essence of life in an attempt to master, direct, control, or otherwise manipulate existence. More simply, willingness is saying yes to the mystery of being alive in each moment. Willfulness is saying no, or perhaps more commonly, “Yes, but ...”

It is obvious that we cannot say yes to everything we encounter; many specific things and situations in life are terribly destructive and must be resisted. But willingness and willfulness do not apply to specific things or situations. They reflect instead the underlying attitude one has toward the wonder of life itself. Willingness notices this wonder and bows in some kind of reverence to it. Willfulness forgets it, ignores it, or at its worst, actively tries to destroy it. Thus willingness can sometimes seem very active and assertive, even aggressive. And willfulness can appear in the guise of passivity.”   

When we say “yes” to God (by believing in Jesus as our Savior), we take a first drink from the well of salvation.  The sacrifice that Jesus made is enough.  By spilling his blood on the cross, the provision for forgiveness of sin is completely taken care of.  Our willingness to accept this provision is demonstrated by confessing, repenting, and accepting the free gift of forgiveness.  Willingness to surrender delivers us from the slavery of willfulness.     

We give up mastery for mystery.   We begin a journey of self-surrender to relinquish self-will, self-determination, self-sufficiency, and any other part of “self” in opposition to the rule of God.  Our journey is like traveling on a two rail train track.  We root out and let go of willfulness as it comes to light, and we cling to willingness to be transformed into the image of Jesus for more useful service and meaning in life.  

Peaking further into the psychological realm discussed in the previous article, we find two parts that seem to battle at times.  The psycho-somatic is the part of our soul most connected to our physical body.  It manifests with physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings centered around the body.  The psycho-spiritual is the part of our soul most connected with our personal spirit.  It is far less sensory and more intuitive as it is centered around the spirit.  When we believe in Jesus, and begin drinking from the well of “living water” as Jesus called it, the source of our life becomes more psycho-spiritual (spirit oriented) and less psycho-somatic (body oriented).  The spirit part of our being becomes more and more dominant.  This is a key characteristic of the transformation of the inner man. 

The Holy Spirit is the well we are tapping into.  The Holy Spirit becomes a greater and greater influencer of our whole being.  As our willingness to surrender our soul to the Holy Spirit increases, our soul becomes more and more infused by the Holy Spirit.  As our soul is filled more by the Holy Spirit, there is less space for the body-centered activity to operate.  It’s like clean water being continuously poured into a pitcher of contaminated water.  Under a spigot (or fountain) of fresh clean water, the dirt (and dirty water) will eventually all spill out and be washed away as it is replaced by the clean.   Willfulness is woefully inadequate to accomplish this transformation in our lives.  We need the fresh fountain of the Holy Spirit rejuvenating our lives on a continual basis pouring the cleanness into our being. 

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be disciple-makers.   Staying connected to the well (fountain) gives empowerment for pouring out to others.   The Bible says, “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ (John  7:37-38).  This is not only good news for our own soul, but every soul we come in contact with.  God pours into us so we can pour into others.   The truth is, we have nothing to give to others of redeeming value, that we have not first received from God.  Our willful accomplishments have human limits, but willing surrender produces fruit beyond measure. 

This is illustrated clearly by one of Christ’s disciples, Peter.  On the last night before his crucifixion, while in his earthly body, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.  As John 13 records, Peter willfully resisted this physical and spiritual interaction with Jesus (see John 13:5-8).  After Peter said “never shall you wash my feet,” Jesus answered, ““If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”  Simon Peter *said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head” (John 13:8-9).  Peter’s willfulness changed to willingness and demonstrated true discipleship.   Jesus said to the disciples, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (John 13:14-15).   Jesus was about to leave the earth, and for his message to be carried on, he needed his disciples to teach and do as he taught and did.  

In these intimate moments at the “last supper” (as it is called) Jesus revealed to his closest 12 disciples that one among them is a betrayer.  It soon became apparent that Judas was the one whose willfulness won out over willingness.  Even one of Christ’s closest disciples lost the battle within.  Nevertheless, to the other eleven Jesus also used this opportunity to explain the foot washing ceremony in more detail.  He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).  As Jesus was surrendered to His Father’s will, he is so commanding his disciples to do likewise. The way surrender is expressed is through love.  Love demonstrates a willing heart.  Love keeps the cycle of disciple making going.   

Forgiveness is one of the primary ways to express love.   In other articles I discuss what Jesus means when he says “forgive from the heart” in Matthew 18 (see article Forgiveness http://authoredhersh.blogspot.com/2014/01/forgiveness.html). 

Forgiveness is one of the most practical examples of the need for practicing well power over willpower.  Surrendering to God the ultimate rights of judgment requires a spiritual transaction that willpower cannot produce.  Forgiveness is more than a willful decision.  It is a decision to cooperate with God’s means of justice and mercy.  But the part of forgiving that requires surrender has to come through spiritual transformation and willingness to trust God to be the rightful Judge in any and every situation.  Deciding to forgive is incomplete without following through to receive and carry out God’s direction on how to show his love to the offender.  I can speak from hard learned lessons that showing love to an offender takes great well power.  

We may think willpower is enough for a season, but sooner or later an offense becomes so big that we discover our need for a deeper well than we can ever will to dig on our own. 

One caution is not to equate or confuse our spiritual condition with so-called spiritual disciplines.  Engaging in activity that attaches the word “discipline” to Bible reading, meditation, or prayer does not automatically (willfully) translate to transformation of the heart.  I don’t mean to minimize the importance of practicing self-discipline (especially in these practices), but the enormity of our need for divine intervention requires discipleship (following after Christ), not discipline (self-determined followership). 

Relating to God as all three in One, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, requires more than exercising the parts of our being over which we have direct control.  It is impossible for a human in one lifetime to experience everything about God there is to experience.  But what gives purpose and meaning in each day he gives us to live on this earth, is to experience as much of God’s nature and character as we possibly can.  The Bible further clarifies what it means to “drink from the well” of salvation when Jesus said, “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).  God is not a concept to be understood.  God is a person to be known and be known by.

To practice greater well power, here are some questions to ask ourselves.  To what degree overall might I be relying on will over well?  What specific areas of my life?  What might I need to surrender to show willingness to engage the process to transform from willpower to well power?  Do I need more well power to forgive (a person, group, or situation)?   How might I be a more devoted worshiper in spirit and truth?  Is there something(s) in my life I need to give up that is in the way of gaining access to God (the Well)?  What is the next step I need to take in surrendering it to God?

            May all who are thirsty have their thirst quenched at the Well of Christ Jesus the Lord.

 by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry