Thursday, November 9, 2023

Life's Test Questions 101

Ever get confused when circumstances don't seem to line up with God's promises? I do. In fact, I not only get confused, but I can get discouraged too.

Like when Psalm 105 says to "seek the Lord and his strength" (v.4) because he promises to be "the Lord our God" (v.7) who "remembers his covenant forever" (v.8). That's a big deal. The psalmist is referring to an "everlasting covenant" God made with Abraham and his descendants (vv.8-11). It sounds pretty encouraging! And I'm super grateful that God has welcomed me into an everlasting covenant with him through the faith I have in Jesus.

But wait a minute... The psalmist then suddenly starts talking about God summoning "a famine on the land" in which Abraham's descendants were living (v.17). A famine summoned by God? What's up with that? What happened to that blissful "everlasting covenant"?

Questions like these pop into my mind when things go wrong – when things go sideways – or when I just can't reconcile my circumstances with what God promised me. Maybe you wonder the same. 

Oh, but it gets worse! ...Or so it seems. One of Abraham's descendants (Joseph) is betrayed and sold into slavery as "the Lord tested him" (vv.17-19). Wow. God's wonderful covenant is followed by famine, slavery, and testing. That's not what I thought I signed up for in my covenant-relationship with Jesus.

But the truth is that being in a covenant with God doesn't mean there'll be no troubles, because it seems that God sends troubles as tests. And testing isn't a sign of God's disapproval, but a means to growth in the midst of God's covenant promises. 

In other words, God tests his children in the context of covenant. That's why troubles don't mean God is distant, but can actually be a sign of God's love as he helps us to grow.

I'm personally experiencing a time of testing right now, and I can feel tempted to get discouraged. But the tests that Joseph went through were meant to make him ready for God's purposes to be fulfilled in his life. The famine and the slavery were ordained by God to further the will of God in Joseph's life and in the lives of people around him. 

So when we face troubles in life, rather than doubting God's love and promises, this psalm encourages us to embrace such circumstances as tests to help us to grow in our trust and dependence on God. Nobody grows without testing. And testing happens in the context of an eternal covenant – like being in the arms of God as he gives us a difficult exam to write.

So exam Question #1 is: What circumstance are you facing right now that seems contrary to God's promises? Whatever the answer, Question #2 is: What character trait is God trying to help me to grow in right now. Bingo. Now it's our turn to ask our loving Father to help us to grow in that area by his great grace in our lives!

© 2023 Ken Peters

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The Battle of the Very Great vs. Nothing

There's an epic battle going on in many people's lives. Maybe that includes you. It's the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing."

You know, like when a problem is "very great," and you've got nuthin. You feel like there's nothing you can do. It's overwhelming. It seems insurmountable. The "very great" always overpowers "nothing." Not much of a battle, it would seem. 

That is, until Jesus shows up. In Mark 8:1, we're told that "In those days..." ...Wait a minute... What days? Well, how about the days Mark was just writing about in Mark 7 where he wrote, "And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, 'He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak'" (Mark 7:37). "Those" days! "In those days," there was a battle raging: the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing." Mark described "the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat..." (Mark 8:1). There's the battle! The multitude was very great in number, and the food was scarce. Worse than scarce. There was "nothing to eat."

Perhaps you're facing a situation where a huge expense is worrying you, or a major health issue has caught you by surprise, or a relational difficulty feels hopeless. Whatever the challenge is that you're facing, it can feel "very great." I know because I've had that feeling.

But then Mark continues: ""In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, 'I have compassion on the multitude, because they have... nothing to eat" (Mark 8:1-2).

If you're in the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing," you need Jesus. He makes all the difference. He clearly sees the situation, and he knows how overwhelming the challenges feel to us. He also sees how small our resources are, and he lovingly longs to intervene.

But we might look at Jesus and say, "How can anything be done?!" That's what the disciples asked. They asked, "How can one satisfy these people [4,000 people!] with bread here in the wilderness?" (8:4). And you might be asking, "How can I cover these huge expenses, or solve this health issue, or resolve this relational difficulty with the nuthin that I've got?"

Jesus is calm through it all. He simply asks, "What do you have, however little it may seem?" As a bustling multitude of 4,000 people crowded around him, Jesus calmly asked his disciples, "'How many loaves do you have?' And they said, 'Seven.'" (8:5). In other words, Nuthin. Not enough to feed four thousand people! But Jesus still told those 4,000 people to have a seat – it's chow time. It's time to show all these people how much God loves them.  

Perhaps Jesus is asking you what you have. It seem as small as seven loaves for 4,000 people. It may be a shrunken bank account. It may be an empty parking space that comes with your apartment but doesn't come with a car! It may be nothing more than a small act of kindness you can offer to an estranged family member. Even your prayers may feel like a weakened cry to a God who seems far away. 

Jesus can do something big with anything small that's offered in faith. When Jesus arrives on the scene in the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing," he can multiply your "nothing" until "they ate and were filled" and there was much "leftover" (8:8). So in fact, the "very great" does not always overpower "nothing" – not when Jesus shows up.

So bring Jesus your seven fish today. Bring him what seems like nothing. And even if your faith feels weak, bring that and ask him to multiply that too! He doesn't reject us for having our doubts. The disciples had their doubts as they objected to Jesus' desire to feed a multitude with nothing. But that didn't sway Jesus. He loves us too much for that. Bring him your nothing, and let him leave you "astonished beyond measure" in these days as well.

© 2023 Ken Peters