An encounter on the street with James

The other day I met James. I had just finished a last minute Christmas purchase of art supplies for my wife and was sitting in my car scrolling up my GPS to get me to my next extravagant expenditure. My car was facing out onto the street, and as I looked up from my cell phone, my eyes met the gaze of a thin man in a rumpled coat. He looked directly into my eyes and, after giving me the universal motions of imaginary feeding, he shrugged his shoulders and held up his hands, clearly indicating he needed me to provide money for his food.

His gesture was not done belligerently, and I did not feel like he was just pan-handling me, but I was locked into task mode and his appearance was unexpected and a little unwanted, so, in a blatant display of selfishness, I shook my head, “no.”

“Why not?” His question startled me. “Why not? Why won’t you help me out?”

“I don’t feel like it,” was my heartless answer.

“Why won’t you help out a hungry veteran?” he shouted in reply. “You have a chance to help out a fellow human being.” Then he pointed to a hole in the side of his neck and said, “That’s where a bullet went through my neck. I have served my country and now you won’t even help me out!” And he turned to walk away from me across the street, disgusted with my stubborn stinginess.

I jumped out of my car and yelled, “You’re right! You make a very good case. Hey, come back here! You are right!”

By now the man had crossed the main traffic lane and was in the turn lane, shouting at the cars as they drove past, too close for his comfort. “Hey, you almost hit me!”

Now I was on the curb, and he was in the street but walking toward me. He was thin, but not quite gaunt, with a full brown beard. His speech was sober, and I sensed he was an intelligent man. “You seem to be angry,” I said. “Why are you angry?”

Why was he angry? What a naïve question! The answer was obvious. He was angry because life had been cruel to him. He hadn’t planned to be homeless and living in trash dumpsters as he begs for food on the streets of the city. Every plan had failed, and each road had been a dead end. It was a life of opportunities squandered, of unwise choices, and of hard providences. Now this human being, this highest of God’s creatures, this one created in the image of God, was dodging cars to try and scrounge his next meal. Who wouldn’t be angry?

He was now only a couple of feet away from me, but he was still in the edge of the traffic lane. “You need to get out of the street,” I said as I put my hand on his shoulder and pulled him onto the sidewalk.

“Well, you were right to ask me for some money for food. You do need money, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yes, I need money for food.”

I pulled out my wallet and handed him a twenty dollar bill. “Are you able to find work? Or are you looking for work?” It turns out that, because he did not have a cell phone, he was not able to find employment.

“I do have a place to live, though,” he said. “I live in that storage bin beside that shop over there. You want to see it? It doesn’t smell too good.”

“No, thanks. What’s your name?”

“James.”

“How old are you, James?”

“I’m fifty.”

“Has faith ever been a part of your life?”

“Faith is part of my life now. Faith that I will be restored. Faith in Jesus Christ.” His words had a ring of sincerity to them, not the usual “faith talk” that you here from beggars who know that talking about Jesus with people is sort of expected. “Do you know John 1:1?” he asked. “Go ahead, James, tell me John 1:1.” And he quoted it verbatim. I added John 1:2. “Wait here for a second, James.”

I ran over to my car and grabbed a “Who is Jesus?” tract and gave it to him.

“Oh. ‘Who is Jesus?’” he said. “Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. John 14:6.”

I affirmed his quote of Scripture and encouraged him to read the tract and think about what it said. We talked a little more, then I shook his hand and said, “I have to get moving, but God bless you, brother.” As I got in my car, I shouted, “Maybe you can find a church that needs a good preacher!” Then we waved goodbye, and James disappeared into my rear view mirror.

The first thing I learned from my encounter with James is that I can still be self-centered and greedy and heartless. There are evidently times when my heart is hard and when I feel inconvenienced because a fellow human being pleads for my compassion and assistance. O, how I need to repent of my greediness! Our Lord Jesus commanded me to “Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30), and I reject them because I am slightly inconvenienced or just don’t feel like helping. “Lord, please change me more into the image of Jesus with the heart of Jesus! Amen.”

I still think about James, and here’s why. I know that, except for the grace and providence of God, I could be where James is. If at certain critical points in my life, the Lord had not turned events in His providential and favorable direction, I would be sleeping in a storage bin and asking cruel strangers to give me the means of survival. If God had not been merciful and generous to me (And why has He been so good to me, the one who deserves His wrath and who should receive the consequences of so many foolish choices?), I would be living like James with no plans for the future and no hope for the present. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us . . .” (Ephesians 2:4). “Lord, let me ever praise You for Your mercy and grace.”

Finally, I pray that James reads the tract and that causes him to get a Bible and read it. I pray that his reading of the Bible creates the spark of faith in his heart and mind, and that he seeks the Lord with all his heart. I pray that he believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and that he finds a good church. How James’ life can be restored and straightened out so that it is useful again and that he is useful to the Master, I have no clue. Those things are too difficult for me (Psalm 131:1), but there is nothing too difficult for God (Jeremiah 32:17; Luke 18:27). I know that Jesus Christ is the only hope for James. Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He finds the prodigals in the pigsty and restores them to a joyful life in the Father’s house. If Jesus is willing, He can and will save (Matthew 8:2). So, I pray that James seeks Jesus with his whole heart.

SDG                 rmb                 12/26/2021                 #475

The God who creates spiders and welcomes sinners

“For that which may be known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen through what has been made so that men are without excuse.” – Romans 1:19-20

This morning I noticed that the spider, whose web is in the corner of our kitchen window, had captured a rather large bug in its web and appeared to be feeding on that captured bug.

And I again marveled. God designed and created insects of a certain size with an exoskeleton that keeps all of their vital fluids within that hard case. And God designed and created the spider of a certain size who creates a web that is sticky and allows the insect to be caught in the web. The spider who created the web can run back and forth on the same web that traps the spider’s prey in a sticky tomb. But also, not only did God design and create the spider to produce the material for its web, but He also designed and created the spider with the ability to create webs with the web material its body continuously produces, webs of the perfect shape to capture the spider’s prey. And God designed and created the spider to build the same web repeatedly. And God designed and created each species of spider with its own unique web design, such that, if you see the web, you can know the species of spider. But also, God designed and created the spider such that its mouth can penetrate the exoskeleton of the insects which are captured by its perfectly created web and thus feed on its prey.

And there are myriad other details of this infinitely complex drama of spider and prey, this drama that unfolds in the corners of kitchen windows all over the world every morning. And this drama of spider and prey, in all its infinite complexity, has gone on virtually unnoticed since God designed and created the heavens and the earth.

But this infinitely complex drama of spider and prey is an infinitely minute and insignificant component of an uncountable number of similarly infinitely complex dramas that interact with one another in perfect unison day after day and year after year. Such is the nature of God’s creation.

And it all began with nothing.

Our God created all this infinite beauty and complexity “ex nihilo.”

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” from nothing.

God spoke, and nothing became everything.

Try to grasp that with your finite mind and you will quickly be driven to overload.

But there is something more mind-bending than that.

This same Creator-God has put on human flesh and has visited this planet that He created. Earth is the visited planet. Jesus Christ has visited this planet. The God-Man has come down to dwell with the people He created.

And this God has made a way for the very humans who have disobeyed Him and who have killed His Son, Jesus, whom He sent, and who have broken His laws and have disobeyed His commands, to be reconciled to Him and to be rescued from His holy, righteous wrath by trusting His Son Jesus for eternal life.

This is the God whom I serve and love and worship, the one true and living God, who has created the world out of nothing and who now invites every sinner to come to His throne and receive eternal life.

“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, nor has the eye seen a God besides You, who acts on behalf of the one who waits for Him.” Isaiah 64:4

God is worthy of all praise!

SDG                 rmb                 9/2/2021                     #430

Disappointment and Grumbling (Exodus 16:8)

“Disappointment comes from unmet expectations.” Most people will accept this statement as true. If I have pictured my life (or this relationship or this decision or this investment or this whatever) turning out in a certain way, when my plans do not work out according to my wishes and when my expectations are not met, I am disappointed.

Disappointment is a big deal. It is a danger to your emotional well-being. Disappointment can lead to feelings of regret or failure or anger, and the nasty brew of these emotions can lead you into depression. But for the believer, of vastly more significance is the spiritual danger of lingering disappointment. Disappointment is a spiritual acid that erodes your walk with the Lord. It acts like a ball-and-chain that prevents your running the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). Disappointment puts a low ceiling on your spiritual growth. And sooner or later it results in grumbling.

The sons of Israel are sort of the “poster children” of grumbling. As the book of Exodus begins, they are oppressed slaves of the cruel Egyptians, scavenging around Egypt for straw to make bricks. They had not heard from Yahweh for a long time and had no real hope that anything about their situation would change. Then Yahweh found a washed-up shepherd in Midian and, through this Moses, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, He had decimated the land of Egypt and drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea after the children of Israel had walked through the sea on dry ground. Not only that, but this great God, Yahweh, had promised them a land flowing with milk and honey, a land that He was giving them for free. Despite this, within a week or so, the sons of Israel are grumbling because of unmet expectations. And grumbling is a big deal.

“For the LORD hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. Your grumblings are not against us, but against the LORD.” – Exodus 16:8

Grumbling is a big deal because our grumbling is against the Lord. By my grumbling, I am letting God know that my expectations have not been met, and He needs to do something about it or else! I may protest that my grumbling and complaining is not against the Lord but is against some circumstance, but the Scripture makes clear that all my grumbling is against the Lord. He has promised to supply all my needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19),” but with my grumbling I question that. I call God’s faithfulness into question. And that is a big deal.

I have been found out! I am a grumbler and a complainer. Wretched man that I am! What is a grumbler to do? How can I overcome this sin? Well, I have some thoughts.

First, cut off the source of our grumbling, which is unmet expectations. How do we cut off that source? Keep my personal expectations to a minimum. The disciple is the Lord’s bondservant. As bondservants we have very few of our own plans because our goal and role in life is to serve our Master and to obey His commands.

Next, read your Bible and model the heroes you find there. For example, consider the apostle Paul. How different were his expectations from mine! His goal was to exalt Christ “by life or by death (Philippians 1:20).” It is difficult to disappoint a man who expects to die for his faith and to suffer for the name of Jesus while he lives. (Philippians 1:21) It would be an interesting exercise to go from listening to Paul in the Philippian jail in Acts 16, after he has been beaten and thrown in the stocks, and then traveling to the hill overlooking Nineveh in Jonah 4 and listening to the prophet Jonah. In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Savior, the Lord Jesus, prayed to His Father, “Not My will, but Your will be done (Matthew 26:39).” Taking that same attitude will radically reduce your disappointments.

Third, replace worldly expectations with biblical ones. Before I make my plans for my glory, I need to remember that “I am not my own; I have been bought with a price, to glorify God with my life (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).” I am called to “present my body (meaning my life) as a living and holy sacrifice, which is my spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).” Therefore, my goal is to use my life, not for my pleasure, but for God’s glory. This mindset effectively erases expectations. In Romans 8:36, the apostle Paul declares, “We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” A sheep appointed for the sacrificial slaughter would have modest expectations, and it would be difficult to be disappointed.

Finally, be thankful. An attitude of thankfulness and gratitude will crowd out disappointment and grumbling. “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:18).” There is no disappointment if you are always content with the outcome. God has delivered you from the domain of darkness and seated you in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He has separated your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. He has wrapped you with a robe of righteousness. He has sealed you with His Spirit and He has promised you an eternity with Him in heaven. Now, tell me again, what is the source of your grumbling?

SDG                 rmb                 2/2/2021

Be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

            Our world is a factory of anxiety and worry, and the production of this factory has radically increased in 2020. Reasons for anxiety bombard us from every side, and the bombing is constant. Yet Paul tells the believer to be anxious for nothing. How are we supposed to do that? Many people today have a natural bent toward anxiety and worry. Is it realistic to suppose that someone living in this dangerous day and age can be free of anxiety, or was that just for people who lived in the simpler times of the first century?

            Of course, worry is a huge topic and there are those who have much more expertise in this field than I have, but I wanted to take a few minutes to consider this topic of anxiety (I will use worry and anxiety interchangeably) and see how the believer can slay this dragon by obeying the Bible’s teaching on the subject.

JESUS’ TEACHING ON WORRY – FIRST STRATEGY

            In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches His disciples that they are not to worry because their heavenly Father cares for them. If the Father cares for them, then worry makes no sense. In the end, Jesus commands a change of focus. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (6:33).” Focus on the kingdom of God first and foremost, and then trust God to take care of you. This may be a bit oversimplified, but that is the basic point.

IS IT FEAR OR IS IT WORRY?

            For the purposes of this article, I am going to make a distinction between “fear” and “anxiety” to make sure that we know what we are discussing. You may see that some of what you call “fears” are actually nothing but justified worries.

            Fear is objective, meaning that all people can see the danger. Anxiety is subjective. It is unique to the possessor and other people have difficulty feeling your anxiety.

            Fear is adrenal. It causes feelings of “fight or flight.” It demands action. Worry is cerebral. It festers inside your head and there are no courses of action that seem to help.

            Fear is spontaneous, rising suddenly to a high pitch, whereas worry is prolonged, droning on and on at a fairly low level of constant negative stress.

            Fear bypasses the mind, but anxiety flourishes in the mind.

            Fear is a rational response to a genuine, imminent danger, a response that rises within us before we have a chance to bring up our defenses or bring our faith out of the sheath. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a prolonged sense of nervousness and unease when a person is concerned about an undefined or relatively insignificant or very unlikely threat.

THE PROBLEMS WITH WORRY

            “Everyone deals with worry, especially in this crazy world. Have you never heard of COVID-19?” This comment about worry is completely justified coming from an unbeliever. They should be anxious and worried about almost everything because they are all alone in this world.  But, despite many attempts and much poor teaching on the subject, worry is a source of serious spiritual problems for the believer. Here are some of them.

            Worry is a spiritual cancer that will hobble your spiritual life because worry is ongoing, persistent lack of trust toward God. Any lack of trust toward God is dangerous.

            No spiritual fruit flourishes in the soil of anxiety. “The worry of the world chokes the Word, and it becomes unfruitful (Matthew 13:22).” Anxiety will choke out your spiritual life.

            When the believer has anxiety, he is living as an orphan. Having been adopted into God’s family as a fellow heir with Christ, he now lives as a street urchin who does not know where he will sleep or what he will eat.

            To continue to live in anxiety and worry is to openly distrust the Lord and to despise His faithfulness. God has displayed His faithfulness countless times:

  • In the Scriptures by His power over enemies, by His promises of protection, and, supremely, by His salvation through Jesus Christ.
  • In our own lives by His providence, by His answered prayer, and by His patience.

Anxiety is living as if none of God’s displays of power and none of His promises are good enough to have you trust Him. This is serious.

Do you see the point? Anxiety is sin, and the disciple of Jesus must master anxiety and worry at all costs.

PAUL’S TEACHING ON ANXIETY – SECOND STRATEGY

            Here in Philippians 4:6, Paul gives us a two-fold strategy for combatting anxiety and replacing it with the peace of God. Paul gives a command to be obeyed and a means for obeying.

            First, Paul commands that we be anxious for nothing. Do not miss this essential first step. The disciple is to repent of anxiety. We are not to coddle it or condone it or to cuddle up with it. Rather we are to repent of our anxiety. Have a loathing for all anxiety as you would for any other sin and any other threat to your spiritual vigor. Put worry to death (Colossians 3:5). When you sense anxiety is trying to rear its ugly head, shoot to kill.

            Step two, we are to cry out to God in prayer and supplication in a spirit of thanksgiving. We are to bring whatever it is that is causing the worry directly into the light of God. We are to expose it to the light (Ephesians 4:13). Confess it to God for what it is – sin. Thank the Lord that He is mighty to save and “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20)” and ask Him to act on your behalf. Your job is to kill the worry and then to trust God for everything. His promise is to bring you to heaven and let you spend eternity with Him.

            In this way, “the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7

SDG                 rmb                 12/14/2020