Two people in a pew, which one are you?

November 29, 2016

“There we saw the giants… and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight.”  (Numbers 13:33)

The book of Numbers records the death of an entire generation. Twelve spies were sent to do reconnaissance in the land of Canaan. Ten of the spies gave a report focusing on the giants. Only two spoke of the greatness of the land and exhorted the Israelites to invade Canaan. While Joshua and Caleb were men of great faith, the other ten were experts in Giantology.

The entire generation who listened to the ten perished in the wilderness; only two people survived the most tragic judgment of God recorded in the Bible. An old spiritual put it this way: “Others saw the giants. Caleb (and Joshua) saw the Lord!” We read that they followed the Lord because they believed God well able to conquer those giants.

I have spent most of my adult life as a pastor. I cannot help but allow the thought that the twelve spies resemble a board of Elders, a Session, a Vestry, or a board of Stewards. Sometimes when a church is facing a huge challenge two will have the faith of Caleb and Joshua and ten will be expert giantologists.

We all have “giants” in our lives. As a bed-fast quadriplegic with a wife in a wheelchair, I certainly have mine. I’m sure you have yours. We also have choices. We can choose to see the giants and spend much time talking about how big they are. Or we can choose to see the Lord conquering our giants. We might call this: “Two people in a pew — which one are you?”

Are you a Caleb with conquering-the-giants faith, or are you getting your Ph.D. in Giantology?

Dick Woodward, 27 November 2013


Triumphant Faith

October 14, 2016

“…whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance… If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting.”   James 1:2-6

When you encounter a storm in your life, that trial will often bring you to the place where you just don’t know what to do.  You realize you need more wisdom than you have.  James writes that we must let the test of faith lead us to the trust of faith.  When we lack wisdom, we must ask God, Who will be delighted to share God’s wisdom with us.  In the Old Testament when the people of God were fighting against overwhelming numbers, their frantic prayer of faith was, “nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You!” (2 Chronicles 20:12)  Ask God for the wisdom we do not have, and believe our loving Heavenly Father wants to give us that wisdom.

The J.B. Phillips translation writes that we should not treat our trials as intruders but welcome them as friends. The process of working through our trials will teach us the test of faith, which leads to the trust of faith, and brings us to the triumph of faith.  I have been in a wheelchair since 1984 and a bedfast quadriplegic since the late 1990’s.  I have, therefore, thought much about the suffering of disciples.  God is not in denial about the hard reality His people suffer.

In the Bible we are warned that God does not think as we think, nor does God do as we do. (Isaiah 55)  If the desire of my heart is to know God’s will and to live my life in alignment with the will and ways of God, wouldn’t it logically follow that I should not always expect to understand the way I’m going?  Obviously, that includes our suffering.

…Where did we ever get the idea we should expect to understand everything that happens to us? If God gave us an explanation for everything and the answers to all of our why questions, the very essence of faith, the need for faith, would be eliminated.

Almighty God has willed that without faith, we cannot please Him or come to Him (Hebrews 1:6.)  God is pleased when we come to Him in our crucibles of suffering and cry, “if you heal me, that’s all right.  But, if You don’t heal me, that’s all right too, because YOU are all right!”

Dick Woodward, Marketplace Disciples (p.278-281)


Finding Peace – In Christ Jesus

July 15, 2016

The peace of God…will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:7, 12-13)

According to Paul, to attain and maintain the peace of God we must rest in Christ Jesus.

What does it mean to rest in Christ Jesus? What does it mean to be in Christ? Describing the relationship we have with the risen Christ, the authors of the New Testament say it’s to be “in Christ.”  Paul uses this description ninety-seven times in his writings.

According to Jesus, the expression means that we are in union with Him, as a branch is in union with a vine. If we are involved in the work of Jesus, then all day long we are going to be faced with the impossible – things we cannot do – because it’s His work. We can only be vehicles through which Jesus does His work.  If we think it all depends on us, we lose our peace, big time!

Perhaps the greatest “peace thief” devout disciples of Jesus experience is doing the work of Christ in our own strength. What I call “Four Spiritual Secrets” is the solution to that problem. These Four Secrets are my way of expressing what it means to “rest in Christ Jesus.”

I’m not, but He is.
And I am in Him, and He is in me.

I can’t, but He can.

And I am in Him, and He is in me.

I don’t want to, but He wants to.

And I am in Him, and He is in me.

I didn’t, but He did.
Because I was in Him and He was in me.

Dick Woodward, 01 July 2009


Spiritual Compass: Trust and Obey

July 12, 2016

“…the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32)

The purpose of a compass is not just to give us knowledge about where we are when we are lost but to also guide us into the way we need to go.  If you think about it – a compass is worthless if we do not comply with what our compass shows us.

In the Gospels Jesus introduces the apostles to the Holy Spirit.  He tells them (& us) that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth.  He calls the Holy Spirit the “Paraclete.”  This word means: “One who comes along side us and attaches to us for the purpose of assisting us.”

Jesus tells us that if we love Him and keep His commandments He will ask the Father to give us the Holy Spirit (John 14: 15, 16).  So many believers miss this.  The operative word when it comes to implementing salvation is “believe.” But the operative word when it comes to knowing God through the Holy Spirit is “obey.”

In profound simplicity the hymn writer expressed it this way: “But we never can prove the delights of His love until all on the altar we lay.  For the favor He shows and the joy He bestows are for them who will trust and obey.  Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”

Jesus said it even more simply and profoundly when He offered this invitation: “Follow Me and I will make you.” (Matthew 4:19)

Are you willing to comply with what your spiritual compass shows you?

Dick Woodward, 06 October 2012


Psalm 23: Sheep Talking

February 3, 2015

“The Lord is my Shepherd…”   (Psalm 23:1)

God created you and me to be men and women who make choices.  God very much wants to be our Shepherd, but we must choose to make God our Shepherd.  We must deliberately choose to say, “baa!” and become one of the sheep of His pasture.

Can you declare the first five words of this great Shepherd Psalm as a personal confession of faith? Can you, yourself, personally confess with authentic faith, “the Lord is my Shepherd?”

People touch  me as they describe the way the Lord came into their lives, made them lie down and say, “baa!”  I am frequently concerned, however, when I fail to hear how that relationship is working in their lives today.  One of David’s most remarkable declarations in this psalm is that the blessings provided by his Shepherd-God are in place ‘all the days of my life.’

Be sure to make the observation that David’s great profession of faith is not, “The Lord was my Shepherd,” but that “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

When the Lord makes you to lie down and confess, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” you are also confessing that you are a sheep.  It’s  not very flattering when God tells us we are like sheep.  Sheep are not very smart… they are so ignorant they are completely helpless and hopeless without their shepherd. Yet, the Word of God clearly tells us that God wants to hear us agree with His appraisal of ourselves and confess, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.”  (Isaiah 53:6)

Years ago, I was out of bed at an early hour.  When my wife woke up, she asked why I was getting up at 4:30a.m.  I told her what I had read during my devotions: “When you wake up, get up, and when  you get up, do something for God and for His lambs!”  She responded, “baa!”  She was reminding me of something busy pastors often forget – that she and our five children are also His lambs.

Psalm 23 is filled with sheep talk that shows us that God wants to hear every one of us say, “baa!”

Dick Woodward, from Psalm 23 Sheep Talk

 

 


A Christmas Challenge (all year long!)

December 19, 2014

“So the Word became human and made his home among us…And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”  (John 1:14 NLT)

God became human and made His home among us so we could see and not just read what He wrote in the 39 books of the Old Testament.  We should find a Christmas challenge in the words of the Apostle Paul which tell us “… that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2Corinthians 4:11).

One of the reasons God did Christmas was because He felt that a written Word was not enough.  He wanted us to see as well as read His Word to us.  Everything Jesus was, said, and did was one great spoken Word from God to you and me (John 1: 1, 14, 18).

It is the plan of God that unbelievers in this world today should see as well as read His Word through your mortal flesh and mine.  That truth, which is clearly articulated by the Apostle Paul, moved me to make an important decision in my ministry as a Bible pastor/teacher.  In the early sixties I was praying about accepting an opportunity presented to me to be a radio Bible teacher.  Those words of Paul were used by God to direct me to be the pastor of a church where people could see as well as hear the Word of God in my mortal flesh.

“We’re writing a Gospel a chapter each day by things that we do and things that we say.  Men read what we write whether faithless or true.  Say, what is the Gospel according to you?”

That should be our Christmas challenge all year long.

Dick Woodward, 16 December 2011


Indwelling Love = Outpouring Love

October 14, 2014

“…And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (ICorinthians 13:13)

How does love fit into this trio of lasting qualities Paul writes of? The Apostle John answered that question for us when he wrote:  “God is love and he who dwells in love dwells in God and God dwells in him.”  (I John 4;16)  When we dwell in the love Paul prescribed (in I Corinthians 13), we dwell in God, and He dwells in us.

By application, this means when we go where the hurting people are, as His love is passing through us and addressing their pain, we are touching God and He is touching us.  Since the agape love passing through us is God, we are dwelling in God and He is dwelling in us while His love is passing through us.

Jesus gave us love perspective when He exhorted the apostles to look up before they look on the fields that are over ripe for harvest. (John 4:35)  The Lord was focusing on two perspectives we must master as His authentic disciples.  Before we look around and relate to the people who intersect our lives every day, we are to look up and then look at them. We should see them through the same “love lenses” God uses when He sees them.  If we do, we will never see anyone we cannot love.

Jesus also taught that all the commandments of the Scriptures are fulfilled when we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:35-40) His parable of the Good Samaritan answered the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?’ by stating any hurting person who intersects my life and needs my help is my neighbor.  (Luke 10:29-37)

I was seeking a relationship with God when I first discovered these profound teachings.  As a social worker in a large city, I volunteered to be on night call every night for an entire year.  That year I discovered  it is possible to touch God and be touched by God while being a conduit of His love.

I learned that seeking God is not an either/or, but a both/and proposition.  We are liars if we say we love God, Whom we cannot see, and do not love the people we can see.  Each time I was called out at night to be with hurting people, I asked God to pass His love through me and address their pain.   My experience can be described this way:  “I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God but my God eluded me. I met my neighbor and I found all three.” 

Dick Woodward, from A Prescription for Love