WHEN THINGS DON’T PAN OUT: DON’T GIVE UP

We all like to have things our way. It’s a natural and normal thing that comes with being human. It’s not necessarily the best, safest, or healthiest thing for us. God has a better way. His way. But sometimes people just can’t tell us differently or convince us otherwise: our way is the best way! It’s this stubborn, inextinguishable belief that’s a huge part of the reason why we like having our way.

As you know full well by now,  things don’t always go the way we planned. It’s a real downer and a source of frustration, disappointment, anger, and tears. But that’s life. And we find a way to go on.

But when things don’t pan out the way God said they would, then that becomes a really really difficult thing for me. I’m a believer. I take God at His Word. When He makes me a promise and I take Him up on that promise, I fully expect Him to do what He said He would do. And when He doesn’t, I go through a serious time of reflection and questioning. Is God’s Word true or not? Of course it is, silly! Then why didn’t it work?

I like to have answers. Sometimes, the answers are easy. Sometimes hard to fathom or digest. Sometimes there aren’t any answers. At least, not right now. Maybe down the road. Maybe never. But whether I understand the reasons or not, I’m still a believer. God expects me to continue believing Him. Continue serving Him. Continue praising Him. And since I’m a preacher, God expects me to continue preaching the Word of truth and life.

The Biblical characters were very much like you and me. They were, in fact, totally human. Just like you and me. Life didn’t always pan out for them too. How they responded and dealt with the mess they were faced with  can be a compass or a lighthouse to get us back on track with the Lord. So, from beyond the grave, as it were, the dead speak and show us how to continue being faithful when it looks as if God isn’t.

DON’T GIVE UP

Acts 3 tells the story of a beggar who was healed at the Temple. Instead of telling you the story myself, I’m gonna let the Bible do it this time. Take a trip back in time and see yourself as this beggar. You really can’t appreciate the full range of his emotions—his despair, hope, and finally uncontained joy—unless you put yourself in his sandals.

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service.  (2)  As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple.  (3)  When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.  (4)  Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” (5)  The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money.  (6)  But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”  (7)  Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened.  (8)  He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them (Acts 3:1-8).

I worked for a time with handicapped people in a group home. It was there that I gained a new-found, and now life-long, appreciation for everything handicapped people go through. There would be an occasional complaint, but for the most part, they just concentrated on doing the things that we able-bodied people take for granted and do so easily and thoughtlessly. Everything they did, like getting dressed, took a lot of time and effort. But they just kept on plugging away until they did what needed to be done.

Life never really panned out for this lame beggar in our Scripture text. He was born with a deformity in his feet and ankles that kept him from walking. He lived without the hope of healing, at least the medical kind. For the rest of his life, from birth, he was stuck with having to be carried about everywhere he wanted to go. (Why did it take sooo long to invent the wheelchair?) He lived with the stigma of being a beggar. Do you realize how incredibly humbling and humiliating it is to beg? Yet, this fellow did it everyday except the Sabbath, at one of the Temple gates.

Luke tells us that he begged at the Beautiful Gate. Now the Temple had nine gates, eight of which were plated or overlaid with silver and gold. They were all gorgeous and grandiose. But the Beautiful Gate excelled the others in sheer beauty and magnificence. The doors of the gate were overlaid with Corinthian brass of the most expensive and exquisite kind that even gold and silver paled by comparison. It was the main and the largest of the Temple gates. Most of the people who went into the Temple went through this gate. So it was a busy place, and a good place, for a beggar to beg.

What amazes me about this beggar, like the handicapped people of our day, is the guy’s daily routine. His determination. His perseverance. He forced himself to get to the Temple every day, except Sabbath, to beg. He could’ve felt sorry for himself, stayed home, and pine away. Give up on life. Hate God. Turn away from Him. Just wither away and die. It’s tough, really really tough, living everyday when you haven’t got a hope for a better life. But the guy just kept on going, living life the best he could.

But, far and away, what’s even more amazing to me about this guy is what isn’t explicitly said in Scripture. How many times did Jesus pass by this beggar and didn’t heal him? How many times did the apostles do likewise? Jesus was the great Miracle Worker. The renowned Healer. Everybody in Jerusalem knew Him. Everybody recognized Him. Jesus healed gobs and gobs of people throughout Palestine. Even in Jerusalem. He went to the Temple gobs of time. He even healed some folks in the Temple! And some of these folks were lame (Matthew 21:14, John 5:1-9, 9:1-7)! Do you seriously think this beggar was ignorant of Jesus? Not on your life! THIS GUY HAD ONE HOPE OF HEALING AND THAT WAS JESUS. YET, FOR ALL THE TIMES THAT JESUS PASSED HIM JESUS NEVER HEALED HIM!

How disheartening is that? This just isn’t fair! Jesus healed lots of folks, but not me! Why not me? How do you answer these questions? How do you explain the fact that Jesus never healed him when He had the chance to do it?

Like I said at the start, you really can’t feel this guy’s pain unless you put yourself in his sandals. Maybe some of you already have his sandals on. You’ve lived with the pain and the disease for years. You’ve said your prayers. You’ve cried your endless rivers of tears. You’ve held tightly to the hope of healing. Only to have them dashed, time after time, when Jesus passed you by and didn’t heal you like He healed so many others, even others in your very same condition. How do you go on with life without the bitterness?Disappointment. Resentment. Criticism. Complaint. Disillusionment. Hopelessness. Self-pity. Depression. And despair. It’s tough to go on!

But you’ve got to do it! You’ve got to find a way to get past the heartache of unanswered prayer, the pain of an unhealed disease. Somehow, this beggar found a way to do that. He cried himself to bed that night after Jesus passed him by. He got up the next morning. And by some miracle of persistence, he got his clothes on, ate, then went back to the Temple to beg. HE DIDN’T LET UNANSWERED PRAYER STOP HIM FROM LIVING. STOP HIM FROM GOING ON. STOP HIM FROM BELIEVING IN GOD! Look at verse 8 once again. What did the guy do after he was healed? He praised God, loudly I’m sure, with excitement and enthusiasm. People who’ve given up on God, who hate God, who are mad at God, don’t praise or acknowledge God. The fact that this beggar went into the Temple, praising God, tells me he was faithful and true to God even when God didn’t heal him.

Do you see what I’m trying to say? WHEN THINGS DON’T PAN OUT DON’T GIVE UP! PERSEVERE! KEEP ON GOING! You may not understand why God didn’t heal you. Why He hasn’t healed you. You’re tempted to think you’re an exception. He’s never gonna heal you. It’s not His will to heal you. A thousand questions, doubts, and thoughts race through you mind. The devil’s talking to you, trying to keep you stuck in bed and let the world, let life, pass you by. Friends, he’ll rob you of your faith, your hope, your joy, your strength, your life…if you let him. DON’T LET HIM! HOLD ON TO YOUR HOPE. AS LONG AS YOU’RE ALIVE, AS LONG AS JESUS IS ALIVE, YOU’VE GOT HOPE!  How do I know that? Because you’ve got His Word! Heaven and earth may pass away, but My Word will never pass away (Matthew 24:35).

Granted, we all have a time to die. When it’s time to die it’s time to die and no promise of healing , no amount of faith and praying, will keep you from dying. Death’s promised too and that’s one promise that God’s gotta keep too (Hebrews 9:27). But I’m not talking about the promise of dying. I’m talking about the promise of healing. God gave you His promise of healing (Exodus 15:26, Mark 16:18, James 5:14-15). If you don’t want it or don’t believe it, that’s between you and God. So, at this point, I’m not talking to you. But if you’re believing for healing, if you once believed for healing, if you want to believe for healing, then believe and don’t give up believing. GOD MADE YOU A PROMISE AND YOU HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO BELIEVE AND EXPECT HIM TO KEEP IT NO MATTER HOW DIFFICULT OR IMPOSSIBLE YOUR SITUATION MAY BE! GOD IS NO LIAR! HE WILL KEEP HIS WORD IF YOU HOLD FAST TO THE END AND BELIEVE!

In hindsight, knowing everything we know, knowing how history later panned out and Peter eventually healed this beggar; we can say IT WAS A MATTER OF TIMING. GOD HAS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING TO HAPPEN. HE HAS AN EXACT TIME FOR HEALING. AND UNTIL THAT RIGHT AND PERFECT TIME COMES YOU’RE NOT GONNA GET HEALED. NOT YET. BUT DON’T WORRY! DON’T BE DISHEARTENED! DON’T GIVE UP HOPE! CHIN UP! CHEER UP! GOD KEEPS HIS PROMISE! May God bless you, dear saint of God, and fill you with all hope, grace, and peace in believing.

BEST DECISION EVER: HANGIN’ AROUND

In the course of a twenty-four hour period we make gobs of decisions. Some of these we make with a serious amount of forethought and prayer. Others we make spontaneously with little or no thought as to the consequences or impact our decisions will have—not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives are intertwined with ours.

Have you ever thought much about how a single decision can change your life forever? For better or worse?

In these blog posts I’d like to look at the one good decision that some people in the Bible made that changed the course of their life for the better. By looking at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word I hope we’ll all take comfort, courage, and hope in the fact that, despite the mess we’re presently faced with, we can still turn things around. A lousy past or dismal present doesn’t have to give us the same future. By God’s grace, our future and life can be changed for the better…if we only make the right decision today. May God help us do that on a daily basis!

HANGIN’ AROUND

Many of us are familiar with the trials and triumphs of the apostle Peter. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, just hours prior to that, Jesus prophesied that all His disciples would fail and desert Him that very night (Matthew 26:31). No way!, Peter vowed.  He’d never deny the Lord (Matthew 26:35). He’d rather go to prison and die for Jesus than deny Him (John 13:37). In fact, at that very moment, he was all pumped up and ready to follow Jesus to the very end (Luke 22:33). Come what may, Peter was going to be supremely faithful to his Lord. No way was he ever going to deny the Lord! The poor guy was surely intent on proving the Lord wrong!

But, as surely as the Lord prophesied, Peter and the rest of the disciples all forsook and deserted our Lord that evening. To his credit, however, Peter followed the arresting party to the High Priest’s house and watched from a distance what would become of Jesus. He hid himself, as it were, as he wandered fearfully about the lion’s den. When folks recognized him as one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter would deny the charge, brush his accusers aside, then go to some other dark corner of the courtyard to hide. Alas, when the cock crew, he caught a glance of Jesus just as Jesus turned and looked him straight in the eyes. He’d just denied the Lord thrice, just as Jesus said he would. And with the shameful realization of what he’d just done, Peter left the courtyard and went out into the night, weeping profusely in condemnation and sorrow (Luke 22:62).

I feel so sorry for Peter at that very moment of realization because that’s exactly what I would have done. I’d be so condemned that, apart from God’s grace, I’d have killed myself. There’s no way I could have lived with the guilt and shame of denying my precious Lord. I’d rather die than live with the torments and haunts of my cowardice and guilt.

Honestly, if you were in Peter’s sandals, feeling everything he was feeling, what would you have done that night after you left the High Priest’s house? Some of us would opt for suicide. Others among us would have left the city immediately: no way am I gonna hang around and see my precious Jesus get Himself crucified and killed. That would only be adding infinitely more grief and unbearable guilt to that which were already killing me.

My first thought would be to go back home to Capernaum, my adopted hometown; or back to Bethsaida where I originally came from. But then, on second thought, I’d probably not go anywhere where I’d be recognized as being one of Jesus’ disciples. I couldn’t bear the people’s scorn and ridicule.

No, I’ll buy me a one-way ticket to nowhere where I would be a complete stranger, go on with life, and find a way to live with myself. In any wise, I definitely wouldn’t hang around Jerusalem. I wouldn’t go back to my friends and the other apostles. I just couldn’t handle the shame and guilt that were sure to come from them. No, just let me leave on a jet plane, I’ll not be back again. I’m done. I’m through. I’m all washed up. I’m a has-been. And that’s what I’ll always be.

But to Peter’s credit, he didn’t kill himself or leave. Just like he did at the High Priest’s home, Peter decided to hang around. He stayed put in Jerusalem. Presumably, he was in the crowd of Jesus’ followers who stood afar off at Calvary and watched the agony of Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 23:49). On Resurrection Sunday when the women found the empty tomb, they hurried back into the city and relayed the news to the eleven apostles (Luke 24:9). Peter was there. And both he and John ran to the empty tomb to ascertain the truth of the women’s incredible report (Luke 24:12). It wasn’t until later that same night when Peter and the other apostles saw Jesus alive for the very first time after His crucifixion (Luke 24:33,36). I’m sure all the disciples were reinvigorated when they saw the risen Lord for themselves. The depression and guilt that hung on their shoulders weighed heavily upon them. I’m so totally sure that they got things right with Jesus and went on to have a fabulous time with the Lord for the remainder of the evening.

Peter, however, was not totally healed or relieved of his guilt—not as far as he was concerned. Just a few days later, he decided to go fishing (John 21:3). The sense in the Greek text of the Scripture is that he was going back to fishing as a livelihood. He was abandoning his apostolic calling and ministry. He was calling it quits. He was walking out on the Lord and the apostles. He was through being an apostle. That’s when the Lord showed up on Galilee’s shores and called him back to the ministry (John 21:15-19). Thankfully, Peter acceded and the rest is history.

Think about Peter’s fiery Pentecostal sermon that resulted in the conversion of thousands of Jews (Acts 2). His bold stance against the the religious leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 3-4). His judgment of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). By him the first Gentiles were saved (Acts 10). When the apostles questioned his ministry among the Gentiles, it was Peter who convinced them to open the doors of the church to the Gentiles (Acts 11). Peter didn’t stay put in Jerusalem. He went out and became a travelling missionary in Asia Minor. And he wrote a couple of letters that became a permanent part of the Holy Scriptures.

Wow! What an amazing comeback from a guy who sobbed bucket loads of tears, got buried ‘neathe a load of guilt and shame, survived the worst case of self-condemnation and depression, and went on to become a shining light of the early church. Man oh man! What happened to him? What changed him? How did he do it? Here’s the answer. Instead of Peter killing himself or splitting the scene, he decided to hang around town and stay with the rest of the disciples. I’m very sure this was a difficult thing for him to decide and do. It took guts and loads of humility. But he made the decision to stay put. And, in doing so, he put himself in a position where Jesus could crown him the comeback kid.

Have you ever made a mistake that just killed you? Are you tempted to run off and forsake the Lord and the church? Are you wanting to fall into some dark hole and die? Dear friends, look at Peter. Hang tight. Hang tough. Hang around. God’s not done with you. Resurrection Sunday’s coming round for you and Jesus is coming to crown you the next comeback kid. So cry out to God, get back to church, and make this your best decision ever. God bless you and help you be the next comeback kid.