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"...faith that moves mountains."
If only, we think, we had such faith.
Jesus was very gentle with His disciples when they humbly and simply acknowledged their lack of faith in Luke 17:5: "Increase our faith." Jesus' response was encouraging--"If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."
Cryptic as this sounds, it is the same response that Jesus gave to the father of the demon-possessed son in Mark 9:14-29. This father was at his wit's end; exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster the disciples had put him on--getting his hopes up yet again, the bitterness of disappointment, the hopelessness of failure, the pain of seeing his son suffering still. He was hurting. He was confused, broken, and needy. "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
He wasn't even asking for healing, now. He did not know how much he could expect--or how much more disappointment he could take.
Like that father, many of us struggle with disillusionment, disappointment, bitterness, pain. Perhaps we feel betrayed by the church or let down by its people. Perhaps it seems foolish to cling to the belief that God is good, and will continue to be good, when our lives seem dark and hopeless. Perhaps we have been hurt deeply. Perhaps we feel like we have to sacrifice our desires and dreams to follow Christ. Perhaps we feel like God has not provided for us, has not blessed us, has ignored our most heartfelt prayers.
The answer is not looking for an explanation in reason, in theology even. Feeling guilty for struggling to trust, for struggling to have faith, yet being unable to emotionally and mentally reconcile what we feel and what we claim to believe. Becoming cynical and bitter, and telling ourselves we were naive to expect anything else. Or shrugging it off in despair as "something only reallyyy spiritually mature people will be able to have."
Jesus challenged the father directly on the root of the problem. Not assuring him He could heal his son, not explaining why His disciples couldn't, or demanding why he couldn't trust more, but probing him to examine his heart. "If you believe, all things are possible for those who believe."
At times like this, there is no shame in coming to Jesus exactly as we are. Confessing our doubts, our wounds, our lack of faith--but most importantly, our desire not to stay this way.
"I believe; help my unbelief!"
And with that--more of a plea for help, a confession, than a declaration of faith as we might expect--Jesus answered him. He healed the boy, with one sentence.
At first, the healing was not obvious. A terrific struggle. A brief moment of stunned tension.
"Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, 'He is dead.'"
Is my son dead? Has God, after all, shown that He cannot be trusted? Has God, after all, struck me with the blow I cannot bear, shown a merciless hand to me at my most vulnerable point?
"But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose."
The dramatic effect of this line reminds me forcefully of that other (famous) verse in the Bible: "Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5)
It is not "how much" faith we have, as we tend to think. In both cases Jesus' reply subverted what we would expect by reinforcing that it was not how much, but more of are you willing. It was not an equation, a recipe, where x amount of faith was required to produce a reaction; but an attitude of the heart.
Even if it is only as much as a mustard seed. Even if there is a good dose of unbelief struggling mightily with it. Are we willing to bring it all humbly before Him, to show it to Him, to ask Him for his help to supply not just our need but the faith we lack?
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Sometimes life seems too much to bear.
We want to give up. Hide. Escape. A great weariness fills us--weary of struggling, persevering, labouring on.
I dreaded these times because that weariness itself often made me feel worse about myself. Was this proof that I was a wimp, that I was weak, fragile, and incapable of dealing with life like everyone else seemed to be? Proof that I was a feeble Christian, lacking the peace and assurance that we ought to have in Christ. That my faith was a flimsy thing, wilting at the first breath of trouble. Why was I so easily plunged into despair?
In 2 Corinthians 1:8, Paul talks about this exact same feeling: "burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life." However, he goes on to identify what this feeling is--the "sentence of death," or sin, in us: "Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us." (verse 9-10)
Times like these remind us that this body--and this earth--are mortal ones. Sickness. Damaged relationships. Failures. Disappointments, in ourselves or others. They make us see the pervasive effects of sin everywhere, and teach us to long for things as they should be; for Heaven.
But more than that, they teach us not to trust in ourselves, not to think that the outcome of our lives depends wholly on ourselves. Which leads to enormous pressure to ensure that every decision is the right one and that no mistakes can be afforded, feeling that failure is always lurking around the corner; a crippling and intimidating mindset to approach life with. Instead, we learn to trust in God, Who in sending Christ delivered us from the ultimate death, and since then ceaselessly, tirelessly, continues to deliver us daily from the power of sin, from the sentence of death that continues to plague us in the old man. Since His power over sin and death was proven once and for all in Christ, we are enabled to hope that this is not a losing battle, as much as it may feel like it at times.
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The valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37 is one of the most graphic and powerful visions given to us in the Bible.
I've always been fascinated by the imagery of that scene. Imagine seeing it come to life on the big screen. It gives me vibes reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean and Qin Shi-huang's terracotta warriors for reasons I can't explain. Slightly creepy surreal; yet without the horror element.
For the context of this vision: the people were unable to believe Ezekiel's prophecies of restoration in chp 36, because the bleakness of their external situations made them lose hope. There was a general atmosphere of despair, hopelessness, pessimism, even bitterness.
We don't have to look far to see traces of that same attitude in our world today. It's hard not to be depressed. It's hard not to be overwhelmed by the vast problems in our lives, our immediate situations, or on a larger scale; in our communities and countries.
God gave Ezekiel this vision for a reason--to show them that hope lay not in how conducive or hopeful their external situation was, but in Him.
He did not comfort them by saying, "oh, it's not that bad, you shouldn't be so pessimistic!" He did not present a strategy after analyzing all the pros and cons of their situation, the statistics for success, the potential actions they could take. "Never say die. Believe in yourself. Here are the odds, and here's what we can try." He didn't encourage them to work harder, to put in more effort: "You just have to push yourself harder for what you want! You got to fight for this! The real war is in your mind! The only place left to go now is up!" and all the other motivational pep talk phrases you can find on laminated posters in bookstores, in capitalized Times New Roman font.
God showed the people of Israel exactly what their external situation was like--dry. Bleak. A valley of bones; not just dead bodies with traces of life still visible on them. Dry bones, all the signs of life and potential evaporated from them. God showed Ezekiel, not in one isolated action but in a specifically ordered process, how He restored those dry bones. He caused them to connect to each other, the skeleton army to reform; He caused the sinews and flesh to appear on them in a grotesque rewind.
And finally, most importantly of all, He breathed life into them.
The external situation was not the determining factor; no matter how dry the bones were, how impossible it seemed for life, God's power to transform and restore remained the same. Instead of obsessing over the bleakness of their situation and wallowing in despair--"Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!"--they should have sought God, looking to His ability to restore when human hope seemed impossible. It was not a question of whether God could restore them, but a question of whether they believed He could.
Similarly, even when all the apparent signs of life were there, when the external situation was promising,
He showed them that it wasn't what really mattered. They were still dead, despite the skin, the hair, the muscles; "...but there was no breath in them." It was still a valley of death, as surely as when they had been heaps of dry, disconnected, random bones lying around. Without God, even the best, most ideal external situations cannot disguise the fact that we are still dead. Spiritually dead, surrounded by death, despite the deceptive appearance of life.
It was God's breath of life upon them that transformed a valley of bones--of bodies--into "an exceedingly great army," a force to be reckoned with. With this symbolism, God introduced His promise of transformation and restoration from within, not just externally: "Then you shall know that I am the Lord...I will put my Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it." (v13-14)
If your life is going amazingly well, if you're flushed with success and pleasure and you have no griefs or anxieties driving you to seek God--please don't forget that we can still be like Snow White in her glass coffin; life-like to all appearances, but virtually dead.
If you're struggling with despair and hopelessness, feeling like you're one of the dry bones in the valley-God calls you through Ezekiel, exactly as you are: "O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live." He promises you what may seem impossible right now. Peace. Joy. Fulfilment. Forgiveness. Grace.
To both of us, He offers the same promise: "...I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore...I will be their God, and they shall be My people."
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"Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
Okay, so that was the desert.
Why did Moses make so many excuses when God finally, after what must have seemed years of silence, revealed Himself to him?
God told him, in words that couldn't be any clearer, that yes, He had chosen him to save the people of Israel. After years of self-doubt and disappointment, Moses' pet dream and life goal suddenly exploded into reality. Why didn't he scream "YESSSSS FINALLY I KNEW ITTT"?
After the humbling desert phase he went through, Moses had fallen into the other extreme--the crippling fear of unworthiness and failure.
Like Moses, the excuse of unworthiness often keeps us from serving God.
We don't need to look far. A common protest when it comes to finding new Sunday School teachers/Bible study leaders is always "But I'm not spiritually mature enough!"
Humility, as we can also see in Moses' life, is an essential quality for every servant of God.
Yet often when it comes to serving God we can be manipulated by fear disguising itself under the pious cloak of humility.
When we feel crippled by a sense of self-doubt and unworthiness, instead of panicking we need to ask ourselves several questions:
1. Are we willing? Under all our fears, are we even willing to serve God in the first place? That should be our first self-examination, because that after all is what matters most to God. Our flesh is weak, and will always be weak; but is our spirit willing?
2. God, if He sends us, is sending us with His presence and His help. As with Moses, He promises to be our sufficiency. He repeatedly tells Moses: I will be with you; I will help you; I will help you speak, I will teach you what to say.
(and yet, Moses' fears are louder than the Living God speaking directly to him--actually out loud at that!)
3. It's not just us. Everyone is unworthy to serve God. Let that sink in. God delights in using and transforming unworthy people. He has always used common, unskilled people to do His work. It is the process, not the end--or He would not bother using us at all, since He has the power to accomplish His plans without us.
Hence, we see God's patience in addressing all Moses' fears, as this is also part of God's plan for Moses' own spiritual life, for growth in his relationship with God.
God's outburst was not the irritated banging of a sticky TV remote, but anger against Moses' overwhelming fear and lack of faith, even in the face of God Himself.
God was not just prepping a clumsy tool for His great plan; God was shaping His child.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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