The Tipping Point
Photo credit: Spencer Finnley’s Photostream
“But He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.’ And she said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’ Matthew 15:27.
The conversation is between Jesus, the Jew, and the Syro-Phoenician woman, a Gentile. He is in her territory…on her turf. But He is there “to take a break”…to find respite from the demanding ministry to the people of His calling. The Gospel of Mark tells us that “…He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden.” (Mark 7:24)
He finds on his doorstep a woman He is not called to minister to…a person outside the scope of His purpose…a Gentile invading His personal space. She has come with a need…and she won’t go away. Mark lets us know she’s bothersome with her persistence: “…and she kept asking Him…” An irritant which ‘got to’ the disciples; they urged Jesus to end the matter by sending her away. Not grant her request…just get rid of her through dismissal.
He could have done that…but instead, He engages her in conversation. But His words appear harsh, don’t they? Cold. Unfeeling. Jarring. Disconcerting. Lacking grace. Words so outside His character. But they were words that defined what He was about and to whom He was about. His mission was to the covenant people, the Jewish nation. A race God had called out with a promise: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:2,3. This people were His target audience…and she was outside that perimeter.
This woman’s response I find interesting. It’s loaded with self-assessment that is healthy and faith that is dynamic. She knew who she was…but also who He was. She’s marginalized…He’s merciful. She’s impotent…He’s all-powerful. She has no claim…He has no limit to His grace. She’s outside the covenant relationship…He’s Master of all.
Where did that faith come from? Well, believe it or not, it came from having a need that was so compelling it forced her to transparency…before Jesus and herself. Her need brought her to confession of soul and faith of spirit. Her need of a demon-possessed daughter sent her beyond her ethnic boundaries to ask for something that wasn’t rightfully hers. And in asking for Jesus’ help, she acknowledged the scope of His authority: all authority in heaven and in earth. Matthew 28:18. He had the ability to do what she was asking…and would do it. Not because He’s all-powerful…but because He’s merciful. She’s counting on who He is. She has no other base for her appeal.
The tipping point that brought her to worship and petition was the heart-wrenching condition of her precious daughter. Could she have gotten there without that? Probably not…for usually it is ‘need’ that pushes us past our barriers to something…Someone bigger than ourselves. So, ‘need’ is actually a vehicle God uses to bring us to glory: the majesty of His person that is greater than our need.
But tipping points can tip us away from Him as well. It all depends on our perspective. Do we see them as God’s gifts to us or as indictments of His love for us?
What is my tipping point…and which way am I tipping?
Photo credit:Jozsef Molnar
“And it came to pass, when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, that I said to her, ‘This is your kindness that you should do for me: in every place, wherever we go, say of me, “He is my brother.” ’ ” Genesis 20:13
The story line is this: Sarah is so beautiful that Abraham fears for his life in his wanderings. In a self-protective manner, he lies about his relationship with her. He zeros in on a partial truth and makes that the whole truth: she is my sister. He did it to Pharaoh when he went down to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan and he does it again to King Abimelech of Gerar. In the context of the above testimony, Abraham is being confronted by this angry king who demands to know why the deception?
Humanly speaking, you can understand Abraham’s fear…and his reasoning; both are legit. BUT, the journey Abraham is on is not a human one…it is divine. He said it himself: “…when God caused me to wander….” It isn’t wanderlust that motivated Abraham to pilgrimage. It is God who put His hand on Abraham’s shoulder and said ‘You are Mine.’ It is God who called him to something new…a call that would impact his location, his family loyalties, his sphere of influence, his scope of name. Yes, it is God who initiated the wanderings…because He is calling out a people for Himself through this one man, Abraham. Genesis 12.
In view of that, King Abimelech’s demand is also legit. Why, indeed, Abraham did you resort to human deception when it is God who called you to wander? If God is the genesis of your wanderings, is He not the process as well? If the beginning was Divine, why use human means to accomplish its ends? Why start in the spirit then move into the flesh?
Though the circumstances are certainly different, I think we can all identify with the struggle. God puts His hand on our shoulder and says “I want a relationship with you. You are Mine.” He offers us Jesus and we take Him…because we need Him. And in that heartbeat, faith starts us on a journey into the call of God on our lives.
But as we walk the journey, we find struggle seems to characterize that walk; and because of that struggle, we begin to resort to the ‘human’. Human reasonings… human responses…human ‘outs’…human manipulations…human deceptions. It isn’t long before faith no longer characterizes our relational walk with Father God.
If our initial response to the ‘call of God’ was one of faith, then our journeying into that call must be one of faith as well. The ‘call of God’ will always demand from us a capacity larger than our human resources; faith is the only commodity adequate for that demand.
When we find our faith much too small for the demands of our walk, we need to do what the Hebrew Christians were exhorted to do in the midst of their insurmountable struggles: “…Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1, 2.
“Looking unto Jesus”…seeing Him. He alone keeps us in the way of faith as we journey our walk with God.
In the Presence of Glory
Picture credit: James Tissot (Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum)
“And Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.’ ” Luke 1:18
Zacharias always intrigues me…no matter how often I ponder his part in the history of Jesus’ birth. Whenever I read what went on between Gabriel and Zacharias, I have a litany of questions.
Zacharias had spent his entire life in the priesthood. Twice a year, one week at a time, he went to the temple to serve his God; this time, his place of service was in the Holy Place of the temple. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, literally. His lot had been chosen…in his old age…to burn incense on the Altar of Incense, that last piece of furniture before going through the veil into the Most Holy Place.
What he finds in the Holy Place is an angel standing on the right side of the altar. This hasn’t happened for 425 years. This isn’t what he expected in the burning of incense. This is beyond his frame of reference. He had never seen an angel before. Had never seen glory before…and angels mirrored glory, particularly this one because Gabriel stands in the very presence of God.
Glory is magnificence and splendor…majesty and greatness..wonder and phenomenon. A profoundness that shatters shallowness. A reverence that hushes the soul. Glory is a disturbing thing; it is pure light that exposes the soul of man. The word “troubled” often describes the emotions of one experiencing the glory of an angelic visitation. And Zacharias was troubled.
However, there is no divine rebuke for such human response. Gabriel reassures this fearful priest that his coming is with good news: Zacharias and Elizabeth will become proud parents of a baby boy who will play a pivotal part in Messiah’s coming.
Standing in the Holy Place, in the presence of glory, with good news ringing in his ears, Zacharias does the unthinkable: he questions the validity of the message…and in so doing, questions the integrity of the messenger. Is it the seeming impossibility of the situation? Is it the physical having more influence than the spiritual in Zacharias’ thinking?
He was a righteous man: “…walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Luke 1:6. Why didn’t that walk have bearing on this moment? Was it that this moment required a greater depth of spirituality than Zacharias possessed?
From heaven’s point of view, this moment was to be a moment of joy and rejoicing…of euphoria because a long-held prayer was to be answered. Instead, it becomes a moment of rebuke and chastisement. Had the years of waiting for prayer to be answered muted hope and faith? Had Zacharias and Elizabeth settled down to “childlessness is our lot in life” and ceased to believe any more?
How do you know when to hang on to a dream and when to let it go? To persevere in faith or lay it on the altar?
I don’t have answers to those questions; but it is clear that God expected more from Zacharias. He expected joy and jubilation. The ingredients were there for that: the presence of glory, the news of answered prayer, the environment of the Holy Place; but none of it made any difference. Zacharias doubted.
Barrenness and old age. Immovable barriers that defied probability. Zacharias’ faith level couldn’t get past them; yet the present moment demanded faith. The externals were there for faith. But faith is internal…a condition of the heart. And in spite of Zacharias’ long life in the “commandments and ordinances of the Lord”, the condition of his heart was faithlessness…the inability to believe what was promised.
At Christmas time in particular, I think we’re not much different from Zacharias. We celebrate what the angels sang to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Luke 2:14. We sing that theme ourselves in our Christmas carols. But we look at our outer world and loose hope in that promise. We look at our personal world and know peace eludes us. We look at our inner world and see a restlessness of soul. Peace? You must be kidding!
I wonder if we need to pause at the manger long enough to see glory…God’s almightiness wrapped in a newborn babe? God ‘fleshed out’ in the humble surroundings of an animal’s stall. God’s promise taking a shape and form that can be seen with human eyes…touched with calloused hands.
This babe is God’s glory. His profoundness that offers us hope. Can we believe?
Own Your Faith
Photo credit: JordyR
A few weeks ago, I had a graphic illustration given to me on the matter of ownership. My six-soon-to-be-seven year old granddaughter had recently attended the opening of My American Doll store. With excitement in her voice and delight in her eyes, she displayed her treasures from that opening. Amongst several items were two adorable animals…a kitten and a puppy. She picked up the kitten and said with awe in her voice “We have to take very good care of this…because I paid for it with my own money.” I was impressed with her sense of responsibility…but more, her sense of learning the value of hard earned cash! An hour later, I watched her bat a ball in the cul-de-sac with her brother and an also-six-year-old friend. Realizing they were dangerously close to the car belonging to the friend’s parents, I told them to move further away. ”Oh, that’s alright,” said the little friend, “my parents are going to sell the car.” Value is all in the ownership!
I’ve thought of that several times since…how valuable is our faith? It all depends on our ownership of it. And ownership is reflected in how we nurture it…cultivate it…protect it. How we give it opportunities to grow…deepen. How we prioritize it in our decision-making…in our lifestyle choices.
The apostle Peter understood its value when he wrote:
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6, 7.
Our faith will one day yield a reward. Yes, for us personally; but greater, for the One who purchased our salvation with His own broken body and poured out blood. One day, myriads upon myriads will stand before His throne and proclaim:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” Revelation 5:12
In that day, Jesus will see the travail of His soul…our faith…and be satisfied. (Isaiah 53:11)
So, own your faith this day…it has immeasurable worth!
Photo credit: bubbo.etsy.com
Because fear seems to be a nagging reality these days, God counters that with the word “believe”. It is as much ‘in my face’ as the word ‘fear’. I heard it in church last week. I read it in my quiet time the other day. I met it through looking up references around another word. It became a conversation point with a friend.
And that conversation reminded me of a time I chose not to believe. It was many, many years ago. Our circumstances had been very difficult for a long time. I was weary in body, soul and spirit. The God whom I had lived for and served seemed very far away. In fact, I came to the conclusion that He wasn’t there at all! That He never had been.
Because we had children who trusted Jesus, I wasn’t prepared to jeopardize their faith because I had thrown mine aside. So, I continued the status quo of what faith looks like, without the “I believe this!” inside.
Over a period of time, I realized that I really couldn’t justify the ‘no God’ theory. I looked at the created world and knew that it would take more faith to believe in ‘no God’ than it took to believe that there was a God. So, I believed…but I didn’t believe that this God was a good God.
Then one day, I read: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Heb. 11:6
My circumstances didn’t tell me He was a rewarder. My feelings didn’t tell me He was a rewarder. So, just where was I going to find this sort of faith…that not only says God is but also that He is a good God?
I realized it had to be in something outside myself…something that would not change…something that had a proven track record. And I knew instinctively that the base for that kind of faith was God’s word.
And I knew that God’s word says over and over again that God is good…that He cares for His own…that He is a Father…that He loves me…that He will never leave me nor forsake me.
That day I chose to believe God’s word, regardless of my feelings and circumstances. I acknowledged my circumstances and what they were shouting to me. I acknowledged my feelings and how contradictory they were to faith. But I chose to believe what God’s word says about Himself, letting Him take care of my circumstances and feelings.
And He did just that. Over a period of weeks significant change took place in both arenas. But most of all, a solid base had been laid in me which holds me to this day.
So fear, though daunting at times, has no power to way-lay me again. I choose to believe…God and His word. I run into that shelter, shadow myself with His great reality and let Him be my God.
The Place of Faith
Photo credit: WTL photos’ photostream
Yep, it’s that season again…Robin and I are making quantum leaps: starting up a new ministry and selling our beautiful home. They are unrelated apart from their timing and the challenge to believe God.
I say “challenge” because the onslaught of fear and uncertainty are abiding companions. They are ‘in our face’…unsettling our spirits, disturbing our sleep and shadowing our day.
It’s times like these, I need a word from God…something that will peg my soul, put rock beneath my feet. And sure enough, God gives it! Actually, three separate words the same day:
- “For the vision is yet for an appointed time…though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” Habakkuk 2:3
- “By your patience, possess your souls.” Luke 21:19
- “…The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:17
It is the latter that has captured my attention: the place of faith in our lives. Paul tells us in verse 16 of Romans 1 that it is faith that connects us to the saving power of God. He goes on to say in verse 17 that it is “by faith” we live in that saving power everyday, through all kinds of situations, in every pressing need.
The faith that activates the saving power of God in our lives is the faith that enables us to live – fully, completely, animatedly…for that is what the Hebrew word for “shall live” means.
So, is lack of faith due to challenging circumstances an option? No…not really. We started this journey of walking with God through faith; we are to continue that journey by faith.
And as I write, we have a potential buyer for our house!
Fear and Faith
Photo credit: Jinto!’s photostream
There have been times when Robin and I have had to make quantum leaps of faith. We left the mission field because God called us to pastoral ministry…but with no church to go to. Ten years later (in pastoral ministry in the U.S.), we committed ourselves to move back to New Zealand…again without a church to go to. Eight years after that, we left the pastorate to start our own business…not knowing the viability of that business, just knowing God’s leading. Seven years down track, we left that thriving business to immigrate to the States (because our children had settled there)…but with two probing questions: how are we going to live and what will we do?
Each leap was in response to the perceived call of God on our lives…but that did not negate the human responses of fear, insecurity, doubt, questions and uncertainty. I look back to those quantum leaps and know two things: they were significant to our personal growth, and God was always faithful to provide, open doors, bless.
What I find interesting is that in spite of the journey and its ‘track record’, each time Robin and I step out in faith we find the same earmarking: the challenge to trust and the cacophony of fear, doubt, insecurity. You would think that it gets easier…that we would be ‘seasoned saints’ by now. But no…we find the same journey needs to be travelled again. Trust must win over fear. Certainty over doubt. Confidence over insecurity.
David was quite familiar with these conflicting positions: “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.” (Psalm 56:3)
I wonder if this ‘life of faith’ can only be lived with these two contradictions part of the package? That fear and trust are integral components of ‘living by faith’? That the fear is a vindication of God calling you to something bigger? To a life that needs your trust in Him… for Him to fulfill all His good purposes for you?
If fear is there, look at it ‘square in the face’…test it out. Is it God’s check that you are moving in the wrong direction? Or is it your human response to God’s greater call on your life? If the latter, be as David: “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.”
I Stumbled (well almost)
photo credit: hellabella
So wrote king David during his life time. He says, “…But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped.” Psalm 73:2. On this occasion, the cause of his ‘almost stumbling’ was envy…of the boastful, especially as he sees the wealth of the wicked. Verses 4-12 describe their seemingly carefree life. David even wonders whether it is worth while being righteous, verse 13. However, the two words; “almost” and “nearly” are worth our consideration, because they convey an important constraint. They convey a check and balance. David didn’t do what he almost did! What stopped him going over the edge? Verse 17 gives the answer. It starts with the word, “until.” David went into the sanctuary of God. In God’s presence, he understood their end. They are the ones in slippery places. Verse 18. Then he realizes how foolish and ignorant he has been. Verse 22. This in turn leads him back to faith and trust in God.
“God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” verse 26. That’s a good place to be! Go there today. Read the whole Psalm.