“For an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.” John 5:4 NASB
One of the joys of starting a New Year is the opportunity it affords to initiate a long overdue and much needed change. It is a season ripe for a breakthrough – that will free us from the inertia of the past while propelling us to possess a preferred future – that will break us free from the old while enabling us to lay hold of the new. That is the essence of what we call turning over a new leaf.
When it comes to finally doing what we have hoped and longed to do, many of us can sound like the lame man laying at the Pool of Bethesda. He had a paralytic condition that hindered him from being able to respond in time to the stirring-of-the-water seasons that periodically came along for his healing. As a result, year after year rolled by with their missed opportunities, and his excuse for his inability to change became his testimony – “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (John 5:5 NIV).
Excuses abound when desired change is not forthcoming. We easily can become fixated on the things that seem to be holding us back. Not unlike the man stuck at the edge of the pool, just feet away from his breakthrough, most are quick to cling to excuses rather than seriously consider what it will take to overcome them and make the change. Or more precisely, WHO it will take to overcome them and make the change.
Can you identify with any of these common excuses as to when you’ll finally make that change and turn over a new leaf?
- When my circumstances change.
- When so and so changes – my parent, my spouse, my child, my boss, my adversary etc.
- When it’s more convenient and not so hard.
- When I have the time.
- When I feel like it.
- When I’m convinced it’s the best thing for me and worth the sacrifice.
- When I’m finally sick and tired of being sick and tired.
- When I can get some help.
- When God finally answers my prayer.
- When? Mañana! – Sometime in the future, anytime but now.
Nobody specializes in change more than Jesus. The first thing He does is to challenge us to move beyond our excuses, no matter how genuine or heart wrenching they may be. Excuses hold us back and keep us in a state of unbelief and doubt. They produce a paralysis of analysis. That is because the focus of excuses is always on our limitations. The antidote for excuses however is faith. Faith obliterates limitations and focuses our attention instead on possibilities. This is exactly what Jesus did with the lame man. He cut through years of accumulating discouragement and excuses with just one question – “Do you want to get well” (John 5:6 NIV)? And then, Jesus called him to express his faith with this simple command – “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:8 NIV). The result was a life changing breakthrough. “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked” (John 5:9 NIV).
Three times in the book of Hebrews we are told “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart” (3:7, 15 & 4:7 NIV). The reason for this emphatic exhortation is to encourage us not to miss out on an intended blessing from God. The very fact that you are hearing Him speak to you, should convince you that He is present and standing ready to hear and answer you.
With the start of this New Year, what change would you love to see take place in your life? If you can identify with that man, perched way too long on the edge of his miracle, could Jesus be asking you the same question? “Do you want to change?” Pause . . . listen . . . consider – D-o y-o-u w-a-n-t t-o c-h-a-n-g-e?
If you hear God speaking to you – what is your answer? How serious are you? Tell Him. Are you prepared to muster up the faith and courage to do what He tells you to do? If so, do it! The journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step and the daunting resistance to tackling a long delayed project is overcome in the first ten minutes. Jesus stands ready to help you with both! Determine to lay hold of His grace to take that step of faith and give it the ten minute try.
No more excuses – just confessions and actions of faith!
Link to the TomStuart.org Website & Blog
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” Psalm 51:11-12 NLT
For the believer, the Christmas season is always an invitation to revisit the humble manger scene in which the Savior was first born into our lives. One of the great wonders of Christmas is the miracle of our own salvation. What can compare in eternal significance to when we first came on bended knee before our Lord Jesus and humbly offered the gift of our very lives to Him?
Pause now and think back to that time in your life, that day when you first experienced the awe of meeting Jesus face to face, and found your soul unalterably changed. Recall to mind the beckoning circumstances that drew you to that penitent place of recognizing your need for a Savior and yielding to His Lordship to rescue you from your own sinful nature and self-destructive lifestyle. Do you remember the immense relief and accompanying joy that washed over your soul as you were given a “new birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3 NIV)?
Revisiting the humble beginnings and immediate transformative evidences of our initial encounter with Jesus is a key to what the Bible refers to as “restoring the joy of our salvation.” It is an all too common experience for Christians to forget the wonder and import of our redemptive experience. Life, with its worldly lusts of the flesh, lust of eyes, and pride of life has a way of dulling our spiritual sensibilities and robbing us of our devotion for Jesus. It is worth noting that the early church faced the same temptations and tendencies to a waning zeal for God.
In the Apostle John’s letters to two of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation he spoke directly to this very concern. They provide a prescription for restoring the joy of one’s salvation. To the Ephesians, arguably the most mature Christians of that age, he says “You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5 NIV). Similarly, to the church at Sardis he writes “you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up and strengthen what remains. . . Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” (Revelation 3:1-3 ESV).
Here then are three questions to ask and a simple prayer to pray as we revisit the manger and recapture the awe of so great a salvation.
- Does my reputation as a Christ follower match the reality of my present walk with Him?
- Am I as intensely in love with Jesus now as I was when I first met Him?
- Am I obeying and serving Him as faithfully now as when I first met Him?
My prayer at the manger: Lord Jesus, please “restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” Awaken me from the slumber of living on reputation rather than reality. I repent for how far I have fallen from my initial commitment to obeying you and doing the works I did at first. Ignite my heart once again with first love devotion to you. Strengthen me to keep in constant remembrance your gift of redemption and the promise of an eternal inheritance to be revealed at your second appearing in glory. Amen!
Have a Merry Christmas & Prosperous New Year!
Link to the TomStuart.org Website & Blog
“Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16 Holman Christian Standard Bible
Forty five seconds – that is how long most award shows, including the Oscars, give recipients to say “Thanks!” Conveying thanks to the people in our lives who have blessed us and contributed to our success is of paramount importance. We dare not leave anyone out, especially mom, dad, our spouse and God.
I think the 45 second rule is a good one to incorporate in our everyday lives. Giving immediate and heartfelt thanks to those who bless us with some kindness, however great or small, has a multiplied benefit. It is not only an expression of common decency to our fellow human beings, but it is also an acknowledgement of the presence in each of us of the divine. As those who believe in God, we know that “every good and perfect gift is from above” originating from our Heavenly Father (James 1:17 NIV). When others are kind to us, it is a tangible indication of God Himself showering us with His goodness. What better use of the next forty-five seconds is there than to say “thanks,” to both our human and divine benefactors?
This is one of the most transformative ways there is to cultivate a thankful heart to God. Imagine how different our world would be if we made the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to “give thanks in everything” a 45 second rule in our lives. What if we made it our practice to not let any time lapse between an act of kindness shown and a heartfelt expression of thanks to those who show it?
There is no better opportunity to begin to put the 45 second rule into effect than during the celebration of the Thanksgiving season. I want to be the first to put into practice what I am preaching.
Thank you for being a faithful reader of this blog! And thank you God from whom all blessings flow!
Have a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!
“One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” John 9:25 NIV
What do you as a believer say to an unbeliever who is adept at poking holes in any case you present as evidence for the existence of God? How do you counter their rejection of your appeal to a standard of absolute truth (the Bible)? What do you say to their demand for scientific proof in dismissing your claims to the reality of a spiritual dimension to this life and beyond?
Thankfully, there are Biblical precedents and strategies for answering such objections. One line of approach which I’ve found to be very helpful can be summed up in one word – “history.” The power behind this approach in countering atheistic opposition to truth is in sharing the “HisStory” aspect of history. Emphasizing God’s role, both prophetically and instrumentally, in the writing of His story presents factual evidence that is difficult to dispute. In this vein of reasoning, I share here three appeals to history as undeniable facts that are associated with some form of Divine foreknowledge and supernatural intervention.
1. PERSONAL HISTORY – Our personal testimony, the sharing of HisStory in our lives, is one of the most convincing arguments we can put forward for the existence of God. The testimony of a changed life is incredibly powerful because no one can effectively argue against the reality and impact of a personal experience. For this reason, it seems wise to make the sharing of some aspect of one’s testimony as a default response whenever stiff opposition to Biblical truth is encountered. We see the scriptural paradigm for this throughout the New Testament. When the blind man whom Jesus healed was grilled by the Pharisees in their attempt to dismiss reasons to believe, they were confounded by the healed man’s simple testimony. “One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25 NIV)! When the apostle Paul met with vociferous opposition, sometimes accompanied with threats to his very life, he repeatedly defaulted to the sharing of his dramatic conversion testimony (Acts 22, 26, Galatians 1, 1 Corinthians 15, Philippians 3, 1 Timothy 1).
Christian testimonies are rooted in the redeeming grace and overcoming power of Jesus’ victory over sin and Satan at the cross. We dare not underestimate the spiritual impact of our testimony. Since the very word “testimony” begins with the word “test” it can rightly be said that there can be no testimony without first encountering and overcoming a test. Our testimony exalts God’s supernatural power enabling us to conquer the various “tests” in our lives. Giving our testimony affirms afresh both the all sufficiency of Christ’s triumph and the refutation of every foe of truth. Not surprisingly it is one of just three weapons that the church has been given to overcome the Devil. “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11 Emphasis added ESV).
2. JEWISH HISTORY – The HisStory of the Jewish people, encapsulated in the fulfillment of numerous promises concerning them and the land of Israel, is a uniquely compelling case for the existence of God. Considering the sheer volume and variety of prophecies spanning thousands of years that have come to fruition before our very eyes within the past 70 years, it is in a word – miraculous. Apart from the supernatural intervention of God, there is little or no ground for a dismissal as mere coincidence, or a rational explanation of such specific predictions coming to pass. The restoration of the nation of Israel in 1947, after 2500 years of occupation and the ongoing return of the Jewish people, stand out as a stunning fulfillment to over fifty Old Testament prophecies (Jeremiah 30:3, Ezekiel 11:17, Amos 9:15, Jeremiah 16:14-16, Isaiah 43:5-5). It is so remarkable that God invites us to marvel at the thought of it. “Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment” (Isaiah 66:8 NIV)?
The history of the Jewish people up to and beyond the birth of Christ is well documented. Every critical turn of events in their ongoing saga was accurately foretold in the Old Testament – including their growth as a people descending from Abraham, their slavery and eventual deliverance from Egypt, their conquest of the land of Canaan and the establishment of throne of David, the Babylonian captivity and restoration of the temple (Genesis 15:5, 13, 18; 2 Kings, 7:16, Leviticus 26:32-33, Jeremiah 29:10). Even the New Testament prediction of Jesus regarding the destruction of Herod’s temple came to pass in 70 AD (Mark 13:1-4). The scattering and hatred of the Jewish people among the nations since that time, was also foretold, finding its culmination in the horrors of the Holocaust that God used to restore them to the Land of Promise (Deuteronomy 28:37, Jeremiah 29:18, Daniel 7). Even since then, HisStory continues to unfold according prophecies of Scripture. As promised, God has blessed the land as never before with economic prosperity (Ezekiel 36:11). Among other things Israel abounds in natural resources and is a world leader in technological innovation. Trees are growing in the desert and wastelands have become like a ”well-watered” “Garden of Eden” with its fruit exported to the world (Isaiah 41:18-20, 51:3 & 58:11, 27:8). Just rehearsing HisStory of the Jewish people should fill us with praise and quicken faith in our hearts in sharing that God not only exists but is the sovereign Lord of history.
3. CHRISTIAN HISTORY – HisStory of Christianity, in and of itself, provides several great arguments for the existence of God. This is especially true when we consider Jesus’ own predictions regarding its growth, influence, and rejection by the world, all of which have come to pass. In this article, for simplicity’s sake, I will focus on just one, the history of world’s rejection of Christianity. Amongst all the religions and isms of the world, the singular and persistent hatred of Christianity has always been most striking. Providentially the persecution and martyrdom of Christians were clearly foretold by Jesus. “Don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13 NLT). “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” (John 15:18 NLT). “You will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers” (Matthew 24:9 NLT).
Over the past two millennia beginning with the early church, the degree to which we have seen fulfillment of these predictions of Jesus is both startling and mind numbing. Foxes Book of Martyrs first published in 1563, offers an early historical record of the persecution of believers from Roman times up through the Reformation. We live in an age where there is now an unprecedented escalation of the persecution of Christians. Statisticians of such things report that half of all the Christians who have died for their faith did so within the last century. Open Doors USA reports that over 100 million Christians in more than 60 countries are presently suffering some form of persecution for their faith. Each month, on average, 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed, and 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians (such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrest and forced marriages).
It is also noteworthy that the end time predictions in the Book of Revelation tell us that the Devil, knowing that his time is short will in his anger seek to wreak havoc upon the church (Revelation 12). This fact, coupled with the sheer numbers stated above, and the fact that no other religion is so persecuted, all testify to the reality of a God whose eternal purposes are being unfolded in a world that will eventually see the return and rule of His Son Jesus Christ.
These three indisputable reasons to believe are by no means exhaustive. What reasons to believe have you relied upon to further the reception of the Gospel with those unbelievers you encounter?
“Do you love me more than these?” … “Follow me!” Jesus – John 21:15, 19 NIV
“God I love you.” What would happen if you traded all your personal prayers for that simple four word prayer? What if you made a commitment to stop praying for yourself, your health, your wealth, and your safety and made it the only prayer you prayed for an entire year? We dare not underestimate the transforming power of a simple prayer, breathed repeatedly from an earnest heart.
Like many, I always marvel at the way God chooses to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things. The stories of such people are both intriguing and inspirational because of the unlikely series of circumstances that catapults them from a life on the couch to life on the edge, from a life consumed by the world to life as a world changer. Their testimonies capture our imagination since most of us can identify with the ordinariness of their lives before God called and transformed them into heroes of the faith.
One such hero of the faith for me is a new found friend named George Sisneros. When I met George during a month long visit to Guatemala last February 2016, I was immediately attracted to his no holds barred love for Jesus and passion to pour his life out for the gospel and the Glory of God. I was fascinated how he and his wife Vonda along with their children, in just three years as independent missionaries, were strategically investing their lives in several orphanages, serving the poor, and adopting a remote mountain village where among other things they have built a boys academy to teach English and Bible.
How could a single family, in such a short amount of time in a foreign culture, be having such kingdom impact? It could only be God and I was enthralled hearing George tell his story.
Five years ago George was just an ordinary American male, spending a Sunday afternoon sitting at home in front of the TV cheering on his home football team, which just happened to be the Denver Broncos. Typical in so many ways, George was living the idyllic American life as the husband of a loving wife, father of four, owner of two successful businesses, and settled in a comfortable home. Little did he know that it was all about to change.
At the end of the game, suddenly out of the blue, he heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him – “Do you love Me?” “Yes! Of course I love You” he replied. It was quiet. “Do you love Me more than you love your wife?” George paused. As he thought about it, he knew the answer. “I love my wife more” he acknowledged. “Do you love Me more than your love your kids?” came the Lord’s reply. This time, the answer came more easily, George had to admit “I love my kids more than I love You Father.” And then, just one more question “Do you love Me more than your love the Denver Broncos?” No sooner had the Lord asked that question and He was gone. George was left alone to ponder this one.
George began to wonder if he really did love God. He had just watched three hours of football, but could not ignore the fact that he had never spent three hours alone with God or prayed and read the Bible for three straight hours. He was undone. He talked to his wife that night about it and they prayed together. That’s when he made the “God I love You” prayer commitment.
Almost a year later, at the invitation of some friends from his church, George found himself in Guatemala on a short term mission trip. Unbeknownst to George it was a setup from God in answer to his yearlong “God I love You” prayer. At the end of the week, he was standing at the back of an orphanage watching 200 kids with their hands raised, engaged in praise and worship. Seeing their obvious love for God and feeling His love in that place, overwhelmed him. It was there, in that moment, he realized he loved God too. God had answered his prayer. It would change the trajectory of George’s life. He could sense God was saying “I don’t want you on Sundays. I don’t want you when you have time. I want ALL of you. Follow me.” From a heart overflowing with love for God, George gave an unequivocal “yes” to God’s call.
Seven months later, having sold their house and businesses to follow Jesus, the Sisneros family landed in Guatemala City with just two suitcases each and no idea what God wanted them to do. George determined to set aside the next six months to read the Bible and study Spanish while they sought God’s direction. The rest, as they say is “His story.” The Sisneros are now planning to open a Christian middle school and building a medical clinic in their adopted village of El Rosario.
To meet George and get a video update on his ministry click here.
I love to tell George’s story whenever I teach on prayer. It offers hope to those who want a deeper relationship with God in prayer and want to see their life transformed in the process. It illustrates how uncomplicated our communication with God is really meant to be and how even the simplest of prayers can change the world.
Is there a prayer, stirring in you, that you need to pray to see a longed for change in your life? If so, maybe it’s time to make that your primary focus until you see a breakthrough.