Refuge

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

Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Cost of Truth

            Does truth have a price tag? Sometimes the Truth offends. Recorded In Acts 7 is a story of one of the first Christian martyrs. I encourage you to read in for yourself right now beginning with Acts 6:8 through to the end of Acts 7.

The story begins, “Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). It is clear Stephen had a following of people who greatly appreciated his ministry. This created jealousy among the high-ranking religious leaders of his day. They dragged him in before the Council to be tried and most of Acts 7 is his defense statement. His defense gives a overview of the ancient Israelite people, from the calling of Abraham up to the present. God’s people were on a journey, not unlike each God follower’s call and journey we are on as individuals today.

Stephen’s hearers seemed to track with his message until he spoke truth about Jesus as the true Messiah. Stephen boldly pointed out where his hearers were mistaken in their beliefs, and they became indignant. He reminded them of how their ancestors persecuted prophets who spoke of Messiah, and then Stephen spoke these words, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.  Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;  you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53).  The “Righteous One” referred to is Jesus, who is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

            The narrative goes on, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.  But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God;  and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.  When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him ….” (Acts 7:54-58).

            Declaring the truth sometimes has a cost to our personal preferences, comforts, and  livelihood. Even Jesus, as the very embodiment of Truth, gave up his life on earth to accomplish God’s higher purposes. Is Truth worth the cost? Ask Jesus. I think his answer is an obvious, yes.

            Truth is truth whether people believe it or not. Stephen’s hearers were okay believing the truth of their Jewish heritage, but when he declared them “stiff-necked,” their Belief turned to disbelief, which turned to anger, rage, and bitterness. In truth, Stephen’s hearers were murderers, and they proved it once again, by murdering Stephen. Their denial of truth set them up to act wickedly. In God’s eyes they were bringing condemnation upon themselves. Stephen  lost his life, but by knowing Jesus, he entered into eternal glory. Without repentance, it cost Stephen’s murderers much more dearly; eternal damnation in hell. Even if they believed they were doing the world a favor by getting rid of Stephen, God’s reality (truth) was just the opposite.

            As religious leaders, Stephen’s adversaries were leading people away from God, not towards him. Because Stephen bore witness to the Truth, regardless of the outcome, his leadership was authentic and authoritative. Truth always wins. Wisdom never shrinks back from the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.   

            The culture we live in seems to have lost its respect for truth. Although this is a display of darkness, as Christ followers we much shine the light of truth everywhere we go and with everyone we meet. The Truth of the Word is our standard, and if we do not lift the standard high, who will?

            May the Lord keep us from being “stiff-necked” in our worldly wisdom. May our hunger for truth keep us searching for more satisfying measures of truth.  May we be proclaimers of truth. May we value the truth enough to point out when someone is being untruthful (like Stephen did, even at the cost of his own life). The cost of  rebellion, denial, or silence is far greater than any imagined price tag on Truth.

 by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

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