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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Walking on the Water

Walking on the Water

It was the wee hours of the morning and I was lying in the darkness of my hospital room watching the screen above my head. My nurse had explained that the numbers on the screen were way out of line. The top numbers were showing how many times my heart was beating per minute. An average heart beats between 70 and 80 times per minute he explained but my heart was beating 189-190 times per minute, and that wasn’t good. And to add to that, my heart beat was irregular. I was in what is called “atrial fibrillation” a dangerous irregularity that is the cause of many strokes. My nurse would call a doctor and get medication to bring the heart rate down. It was an emergency.

I had just undergone a five hour back surgery and was now lying flat on my back unable to move. I felt worried and helpless there in the night waiting for the doctor to call back and prescribe the medicine that could bring the heart rate down. Two long hours passed before the doctor finally responded and those two hours seemed like an eternity.

In the darkness of night I continued to watch the screen with its’ scary numbers as they continued rising even higher and I began thinking about death. What if I died before morning? I am a Christian so why should I be afraid of dying? The lady in the room next to mine began to moan loudly in the night and fear began closing in around me. I prayed for the moaning woman in the room next door. And then I prayed for myself. “God, my heart won’t beat right! They say I could have a stroke. Please, help me!” “Father, what can I do? I’m afraid!” And then the answer came. The words floated right across my brain. “Just walk on the water.”

“Walk on the water!” What does that mean? My foggy brain didn’t comprehend right away. It wasn’t until morning when I asked my husband what he thought those words could mean that it began to come together in my mind.

That old familiar Bible story of Jesus calling Peter to come to Him across the water. (Matthew 14:29) Of course I remembered it. Peter gets out of the boat and while looking over to Jesus he walks towards Him on the water. But then Peter looks down at the water and realizes the impossible is happening - there’s nothing there to hold him up – just water. So Peter begins to sink. Jesus reaches out and grabs his hand. Nothing is impossible if Jesus is there to pick him up.

But we all find ourselves in situations like Peter’s more often than we would like to admit. We are in over our heads and sinking and we call out “Help” and Jesus is there to answer. The cry for survival develops into the shout of the saved. Prayer gets started in the time of trouble. Eugene Peterson in his book, “Answering God, the Psalms as Tools for Prayer” says that “the entire theology of prayer is that the world and I can be changed and that God is the One to do it,” (Pg. 41). Dr. Peterson states that the theme of so many prayers consists of just two elemental words – “Help” and “Thanks” and also two elemental emotions, one of terror and then one of trust.

Dr. Peterson points to Psalms 3 as an example of a prayer that goes from terror to trust, and from “Help” to “Thanks”. The opening cry in Psalms 3 goes like this: “O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, his God will not deliver him.” (Ps. 3:1-2) ” but then the Psalm continues “But thou, O Lord, art a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and He answers me from his holy hill.” (Ps. 3:3-4)

There are three dimensions of trouble in Psalms 3 : 1. How many are my foes! 2. The enemies are aggressive and make the situation urgent! 3. And the enemies are mocking and debunking my faith! But these three dimensions of trouble \ are matched with God’s salvation that is experienced in the same three dimensions; ( 1. God covers his vulnerability and becomes his shield, 2. the enemies’ scorn is countered with God being his “glory”, and 3. His discouragement is reversed by the experience of God raising up his head in hope.

The center of Psalm 3 shows this person (David) going to sleep - unafraid even though surrounded by ten thousand enemies. His fears have been replaced by faith in God. “I lie down and sleep: I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” (Psalms 3:5-6)

And the last verses of Psalm 3 again show David asking God to change the course of events. “Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.” (Psalms 3:7-8) The violent language here may be disturbing. But we share all of our feelings to God in prayer and sometimes those feelings aren’t “nice”. There is an honest disclosure of the human spirit in this Psalm as in others as well.

Everything in Psalms 3 is personal. God is personal and the one praying (David) is personal. This prayer (Psalm) was prayed by David when he was fleeing from his own son Absalom, who had gathered an army against his father and was coming in for the kill. This Psalm ends with the exclamation, “Deliverance belongs to the Lord, thy blessing be upon thy people!” (Psalms 3:8) There is great comfort and peace for David in knowing that God is with him during this terrible trial. But even though David’s life was spared and his kingdom restored during this battle, David’s heart was forever broken by the betrayal and death of his son, Absalom.

We don’t have any guarantees in this life. Our children, like David’s’, can betray us. Our health can fail. Our finances can run out. God doesn’t promise to keep us free from trouble here on earth, but He promises to be with us in our troubles. And He also promises to bring us through them all. There will be victory in the end. All we need to do is look to Jesus and keep walking on the water.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Faith Alone (Sola Fide)

Faith Alone (Sola Fide)

Paul was upset. He had spent several years with the Galatians teaching them about how much God loved them. He had taught them that God had given each one of them a gift – the gift of His grace. Because of God’s grace (His unmerited favor), a gift was waiting for each one of them (and us)– the gift of eternal life in Christ. All they needed to do was to receive the gift. Christ had died to take away their sins. If they trusted Him and tried to follow Him they would be saved. The Galatians loved Paul and thousands of Galatians believed Paul and took God’s free gift. They joyfully gave their lives to Christ and the very first Christian churches in Galatia were born.

Paul stayed with the Galatians long enough to make sure they all knew that there is a freedom in Christ and that the gift of salvation was free. It couldn’t be earned- just taken by faith. It was all so simple. Faith was the key, not works. “For by grace you are saved through faith and not of yourselves it is the gift from God, not of works lest any person should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Paul had to say “goodbye” to his beloved Galatians, but he had promised to be back again as soon as he could. He felt like he was their spiritual father since he had been the one to bring them to faith in Christ.

But before many months had passed, Paul heard some bad news about his beloved Galatians. Some Jewish Christians had come to visit the Galatians after Paul had left and they had taught them that just having faith in Jesus wasn’t enough. These Jewish Christians had insisted that the Galatians follow certain Old Testament ceremonies along with believing in Christ. And they argued that the Galatians had to be circumcised in order to be saved. The Galatians were confused by these legalistic Jews and they started trying to follow the law and become circumcised along with believing in Christ.

So Paul was upset! Worried about his beloved Galatians! Had they really believed the legalistic Jewish Christians? Did they think they needed to work or do religious things in order to earn God’s gift of salvation? Paul wrote a long letter to the Galatians (and to us). The entire book of Galatians is about just one problem – the problem of believing you need to add your religious deeds to Jesus’ sacrifice in order to make it to heaven.

Listen to Paul as he pleads. “Do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through religious law, then Christ died in vain. Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you ?…” (Galatians 2:21-3:1a) And: “But that no one is justified by the works of the law, for the just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11)

More than fifteen hundred years later Martin Luther insisted that Galatians was his favorite book in the Bible because Paul had argued so passionately about the importance of trusting Jesus alone for salvation. As a young Augustine monk Luther wrote the words, “Sola Fide” or “Only by Faith” in the margins of his Bible. And the Protestant Reformation was started with this cry.

Paul (and the Bible) clearly states that salvation is by faith and not works (sola fide). But the Bible (and Paul) also often mentions works. Whenever Paul says that salvation is by faith, he is speaking in the past tense about our deliverance from sin and our new birth in Christ. We can never work to achieve our own salvation. It is a free Gift.

However after we become Christians we definitely can add our part and do our bit. We can follow Christ, do good deeds, study God’s Word and grow and mature in the faith. Or we can disobey and remain baby Christians. There is work for us to do after we accept God’s grace and receive the gift of salvation through Christ. But in the beginning when we become a Christian we just receive.

Here in 1 Peter 1:17-20 we are encouraged to work and live a good life and then we are reminded that our salvation comes from Christ alone and not from works or human strivings (perishable things). “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives (work) as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed …but with the precious blood of Christ…”

The Galatian Christians are not the only Christians who have been tempted to believe that faith alone (sola fide) in Christ is not enough. It has been a temptation down through the ages. A temptation to believe that just trusting in Jesus is “too easy”. That we need to give more money or attend more religious ceremonies or do more good deeds to earn our own way. This is a common temptation that Christians seem to have.

So let’s not fall for this lie - make the same mistake as the Galatians. God has given a Gift to us (salvation through Jesus) and all we have to do is receive it. Just have faith - faith in Jesus. Martin Luther had it right. “Sola Fide” Faith Alone.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My Operation

My Operation

I just wrote a Christian lesson for this week, but then I decided to maybe put it up next week instead of now. I may not get around to writing a lesson next week because I will be in the hospital for a few days. So I will save this week’s lesson for next.

Next Wednesday I am going to have an operation on my lower back. The large nerve that runs down the spine is being pinched so badly that it will die if something isn’t done soon. The discs in the spine are there to protect the nerve, but when they wear out they quit doing their job. And several of my discs have given up.

The doctor showed us the images on the mri and the X Ray and we could easily see where the discs had moved out of line and had cut off the poor nerve. My right leg hurts badly so I have no other choice than to have the operation.

The doctor will fuse four discs in my lower spine. I will have metal rods and screws put in the spine to keep it in place. He will grind up part of my bone and mix it in a grinder with my bone marrow and then put it back in the spine to help fuse the new bone with rods and screws all together. All sounds a bit macabre.

Hopefully then the poor pinched nerve will not be pinched anymore and it will finally have enough room to be a nerve again. The operation should take five hours but then I will have a new lower back.

I am so glad that we have good doctors and medical techniques and medicines and hospitals. I ask any of you who would be willing to remember me in your prayers - that the surgery will go well next Wednesday. Thank you so much. And I will be back next week with another lesson.