Faith and humility is required

Our wonderful Savior would never ignore us, would He? It appears that is exactly what Jesus did to a Canaanite woman. Was Jesus prejudice or insensitive? The woman came chasing after the disciples and Jesus. The bible specifically says “Jesus did not answer a word.” (Matthew 15:23) The disciples then complained to Jesus “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us” (Matthew 15:23)

Jesus finally responds to her and it doesn’t seem very nice “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24) Are we to assume that Jesus would only help fellow Jews? In actuality Jesus provided many miracles for those who were not of the nation of Israel. There was the centurion who had great faith (Matthew 8:5-13) and the one leper who came back (Luke 17:11-19). Jesus also told a parable where the central character and hero was the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37). He also taught that God’s purpose was to bring salvation to the whole world. (John 3:16)

The woman then begs again “Lord help me!” Jesus then says what some might consider insulting “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26) Was this Jesus or an impostor?

Then the woman said some very special words “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:27) The woman from the beginning showed desperation, due to her great need, as anyone would. However desperation does not move the hand of God. Faith and humility moves the hand of God. When we truly believe and yet understand that we are not worthy, God is willing to act. This is when we understand that it is not our will but his will that matters. Upon hearing these words Jesus immediately grants her request and confirms the importance of her faith when he says “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” (Matthew 15:28)

Although desperation may cause us to seek God, God is waiting for us to truly believe and humble ourselves. We must realize the sovereignty of God and accept that it is His will that will be done.

 

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Hannah calls upon God

Hannah was a tortured woman, who was ridiculed by her husband’s other wife. She suffered one of the great disgraces of her time, she was barren. Her rival, Peninnah, had many sons and daughters and often took the opportunity to ridicule her. Why do some feel the need to elevate themselves by putting down others? Hannah had no other recourse but to end her days in tears and would even go without eating. The bible makes it clear that she suffered this abuse for years. (1 Samuel 1:1-7) There are times when we too suffer under hardships for years. We may even begin to doubt God.

Since the bible doesn’t say, it is possible that Hannah had previously not presented this most horrific problem to our Lord. How sad when we believers do not trust in God to care for our needs. Finally after years Hannah is seen praying to God in supplication. She is heartbroken and can’t take it anymore. (1 Samuel 1:10) This is the moment when we are all forced to turn to God. God never fails. He hears her prayers and many months later she gives birth to one of Israel’s greatest men, Samuel. Hannah was faithful to God and dedicated Samuel to His service. (1 Samuel 1:27-28) He became the High Priest, a judge, a prophet, and anointer of kings; the only man recorded to hold all four positions. Not a single criticism would be written of this great man.

Suffering for years under hardships is unfortunately part of the human experience but it is awesome to know that God is faithful, and if we call upon Him he will answer. Hannah, in addition may have failed to come to God quickly with her plea. We must not wait to call upon God. The reasons for this failure may be multiple. Sometime we may believe that we are not important to God or perhaps it is our pride that causes us to carry our burden alone. But God is faithful and is overjoyed to see his people turn to Him in faith. Do not wait to present your condition to the Lord; believe in Him who can do all things.

 

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God’s strategy

The mighty warrior Joshua was in the midst of a great campaign in the promise land seizing territories and completing God’s plan; however he experienced a minor setback. The city Ai defeated him. This really seemed to shake Joshua who was not used to defeat. Scripture relates that he “tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening”. (Joshua 7:6) Then he did what all wise men do who fear the Lord, he prayed and pleaded before God.

God provided all the wisdom Joshua would need. Not exactly what a confident and independent generation wants to hear. It wasn’t that Joshua did it his way. His wisdom came from God. God’s plan was to coax the army of Ai out of the city and with a strategically placed ambush, take the city and destroy its army. Simple enough and yet like Joshua we often do not see the solution to our challenges until we humbly present them to the Lord.

Joshua set 30,000 men behind the city and told them to wait patiently. He then led 5,000 men against the city. When the army of Ai came against them, Joshua and his men fled. Every last soldier in Ai abandoned the city to chase Joshua. The 30,000 who were waiting in ambush entered the city and torched it. Now those chasing Joshua looked back to see their city in flames. They turned and tried their best to take back the city. But now their own defenses could be used against them by the Israelite Army that occupied the city. In addition they had Joshua and his 5,000 to deal with. The Army of Ai was sandwiched between both forces and was completely destroyed.(Joshua 8:10-22)

Sometimes no matter how much success we have, life can present unexpected setbacks. We need not to give up. We should do like Joshua. Not that we should tear our clothes! Clothes can be expensive, and if made well, difficult to tear anyway. However we should present our challenges and difficulties before the Lord and trust that He will give us the wisdom to be victorious.

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Surviving the wilderness

No Walmart, no Costco and plenty of empty stomachs! (Exodus 16)The Israelites couldn’t even find a 7 eleven. Naturally they began to complain that life was better in Egypt where their masters provided everything they needed for their pitiful existence. (Exodus 16:3)The fact that they had no freedom, no rights and could suffer all types of imaginable abuse without any protection was incidental. The point is that they had plenty to eat as long as they depended on their Egyptian masters.

Why had God taken His people to the middle of the dessert and given them nothing to eat?  The Israelites had grown dependent on their cruel masters. It was time for them to learn to depend on their God, the God who with His mighty hand freed them and whose purpose was to make a great nation of them in the Promise land.

In the desert there was nothing. No distraction, no help, and no way for the Israelites to provide for themselves. It was a wasteland perfectly designed to cause God’s people to look to heaven for help. Sometimes in our lives we too are going through the desert or wasteland.  Life seems to offer little hope. We are starving for the satisfaction of some of our most basic needs, such as love, health, comfort, companionship, perhaps food and even a roof over our head. Only God can save us and we finally turn to Him.

It is no wonder that God made it necessary for the Israelites to freshly gather manna every day.  They could not save for the next day and were forced to repeat the same lesson of dependency on their divine maker. God is the most remarkable teacher. It took more than a generation but the Israelites did learn to trust in God and a mighty nation of faith was formed, able to conquer the promise land. God is still making men and women of faith, capable of great achievements. But to do this we must pass through the wilderness of pain, problems and challenges, where there is little that can be found. Alas we are left alone and must learn to turn to the one that will forever be faithful and will never leave us. He will supply every need as the shepherd boy said “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1)

 

 

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Stubborn Unbelief

Moses stood before the mighty Pharaoh and asked rather politely to let his people go. Pharaoh was not interested in losing his wealth of slaves, forcing Moses to perform the first of many miracles. He had his brother Aaron cast his rod on the ground and it turned into a serpent. Pharaoh must have thought it a simple trick and did not believe. (Exodus 7:1-8)

Moses then met pharaoh by the Nile where with Aaron’s rod he turned the Nile into blood. That was a major trick and must have been devastating for the Egyptian economy and the health of their people. However Pharaoh still would not believe. (Exodus 7:14-24)

Many plagues later Pharaoh still would not change his mind. Then came the most devastating lost of all for Egypt, the slaying of the first born. Finally Pharaoh would let them go. But he rescinded only temporarily, still not accepting or understanding the power of God. He would send his army against the defenseless Israelites most likely expecting an easy victory. Was he surprised when he witnessed what had never been seen before? God had made a path through the sea. There were the lowly Israelites, former slaves, passing through the midst of the sea on dry land and on either side of them a high wall of water. Surely now pharaoh would believe that these people were God’s people and that perhaps he should just let them go. Perhaps he would wake up to the reality that slavery was just wrong or that people do not have the right to make subjects of other people just because they have a stronger army.

Pharaoh did not have any of these great revelations. Instead he was consistent in his unbelief. He ordered his army to pursue the Israelites through this path created by God. Then he would witness the collapse of water on his army. They were destroyed. (Exodus 14) Pharaoh could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he would have believed from the very beginning. However the price of unbelief can be even higher.

The price of unbelief can be as high as all eternity. John 3:18 says “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Christ is still trying to reach the most stubborn hearts, so do not be dismayed. Our responsibility is simply to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15)

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A slave to fear

Acting on fear is the downfall of so many of us. In the bible the Israelites are the perfect example. Several times in their history they acted on fear instead of having courage and faith in God.

First they were in Egypt for centuries getting stronger. Pharaoh himself claimed that the Israelites were stronger than the Egyptians. (Exodus 1:8-10) However when the decision was made to enslave Israel, according to biblical records, Israel did nothing. For centuries they were enslaved without a rebellion recorded. (Exodus 12:40-41). After God used Moses with a mighty hand to free them and bring them through the desert, they were confronted with the Canaanites who were living in the promise land.

Once again they lacked faith and reacted with fear. They declared that they could not defeat the Giants who live there. They did even worst. They wished they had died in the wilderness or had never left their masters in Egypt. (Numbers 14:1-4)Their fear was truly remarkable considering they had seen a multitude of miracles provided by an almighty God with the sole purpose of freeing them and delivering to them the promise land.

Many centuries later, after the Israelites had seen many more miracles, fear would show its ugly face again. The Israelites would once again act out of fear and demand a King that could protect them against their enemies. For centuries God had lifted up men who for the most part were good, wise, moral, who feared Him and were dedicated to Him and whose sole purpose was defending Israel, but Israel’s fear was so intense that they were willing to surrender their freedom. Instead of being slaves to Egypt they would now be slaves to a king.

The prophet Samuel explains that the king would take their land, their earnings, their sons and daughters and force them to serve him. But they still wanted to be slaves in exchange for protection. (1 Samuel 8)

Fear has turned many into slaves. Fear stops us and keeps us from doing all we can and from putting our abilities to use. Opportunities can be lost and in the worst case scenarios we can remain trapped in a place that God does not want for us.

Let us all keep in mind what Paul told one of his young leaders, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) God does not want us to fear, but trust in Him and believe or as Jesus said “with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

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The only true limitation is our faith

Mr. Smith entered the bathroom flustered and disappointed again. He was an excellent Science teacher who had developed a great relationship with his students. He often stood after school many hours tutoring and helping with extracurricular activities. However every now and then you could sense a bit of disappointment. I could only speculate, perhaps it was struggles with a particular student, disagreements with administration or perhaps another possibility. Mr. Smith once upon a time had hoped to be a police officer.  However when he applied at the age of 28 they told him he was too old. He tells me that at the time he was ripped and in the best shape of his entire life. He absolutely knew that with proper exercise and eating right he could stay in pretty good shape for the next 20 to 25 years. But they simply said no. One time he explained how the guy behind the desk telling him of his ineligibility was overweight and obviously in no condition to be an officer himself. Sometimes limitations are hard to live with, especially when artificially imposed on us by some authority. However the human experience is filled with such limitations. Too old, too young, too small, too sick, not enough education, not enough preparation, not enough experience and the list goes on and on. Even in the natural world around us we experience limitations.  It is too hot, too cold, too snowy or perhaps too dark outside. By the time we are adults we expect limitations and assume that we cannot escape them. We sometimes go as far as to place limitations on God.

Jesus understood this. He knew that this overwhelming acceptance of limitations was a real faith killer. He also knew that if a person could just believe, great things would be possible, God willing. It is why he said “I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) On many occasions Jesus would tell a person the miracle was due to faith. (Matthew 9:22, Luke 18:42, Luke 17:19) However at times there was still a lack of faith, even among the disciples.

Jesus stood before an attentive crowd of people, (4000 men, perhaps more woman and children as well), Hungry to hear God’s word, hungry to see miracles, hungry for hope and hungry for FOOD. Jesus explained to His disciples the compassion he felt for the people who had faithfully stayed with Him for three days and were now hungry. (Mark 8:1-10) The disciples complained, “But we are far away from any town. Where can we get enough bread to feed all these people?” (Mark 8:4) I can only imagine what Jesus was thinking, “What have I been doing all this time with these disciples? Have they not seen me raise the dead, walk on water, heal the sick and countless other miracles. Do they not understand that God is capable of anything and everything?” God has no limits!

Jesus did not address their lack of faith this time, He simply asked for what little bread they had, seven loaves of bread and a few pieces of fish, blessed them and told the disciple to begin distributing. Matthew explains that after everyone had eaten they were still able to collect 7 baskets full of food from the leftovers.

This is a God that can start with nothing and make everything. A God that breathes life into the dead, makes whole the sick, stops the Universe and holds still the sun in the sky. This is the God that can raise Kings from shepherd boys and bring them down just as easily. He has no limitations and He can do all that is needed and more in each and every one of our lives. Sometimes the only true limitation is our faith.

 

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