John the Baptist and Doubt

It is perfectly normal to have our doubts about people and situations. If we face a difficult life decision such as a career change, getting married, or seeking help to overcome a problem, we can and will have our doubts as to whether or not we are doing the right thing. Doubt, if it is allowed to run free in our minds can be crippling and lead us to indecision and inaction. Doubt is corrosive like an acid that eats away at our faith.

In matters of faith, doubt can make us think and say such things as “Have I missed God’s call on my life?” “How can I be sure the Bible is God’s word?” “If I took a stand for God, why am I going through this?” If you have ever struggled with these questions or others like it, you are in good company.

John the Baptist was one person who struggled with doubt. John the Baptist reached a point in his life where he even began to doubt who Jesus was. John the Baptist was imprisoned for speaking out against the relationship of King Herod and his wife, Herodias, who was the former wife of Herod’s brother. Old Testament law forbid one brother from marrying another brother’s wife while that brother was alive. It was while John was in prison that he began to doubt.

“After Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples, He went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” (Matthew 11:1-3, NIV, see also Luke 7:18-20).

“Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Me.’” (Matthew 11:4-6, NIV, see also Luke 7:21-23).

Throughout the Old Testament, there are miracles recorded, but not miracles on the scale of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus did not condemn John for his doubt, but reminded him of all that was taking place. The Gospels record only a small portion of Jesus’ miracles, but they are sufficient to make anyone believe that Jesus was the Messiah. John the Baptist was later executed by King Herod (Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-29, and Luke 9:7-9), but let us examine John’s life prior to his imprisonment:

*John preached repentance and baptized people in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:1-6, Mark 1:1-8, Luke 3:1-17).

*John criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees for their religious hypocrisy (Matthew 3:7-10).

*John said the Messiah was coming after him (Matthew 3:11-12, Mark 1:7-8, John 1:15, John 1:19-28).

*John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River and witnessed the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and heard the voice of God (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22).

*John stated that his ministry would lose influence when Jesus came on the scene (John 3:27-36).

*John declared Jesus to be the Messiah (John 1:29-34).

John’s disciples posed his question as Jesus was ministering. Think for a moment the impact this question would have had on the crowd. “John the Baptist is having his doubts?” “Is this Jesus really the Messiah?” However, Jesus used this moment to confirm John’s ministry as the forerunner to Jesus as the Messiah.

“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare the way before you. Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he…And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.’” (Matthew 11:7-11; 11:14-15, NIV).

Notice that the Scripture says as John’s disciples were leaving, meaning there is the possibility they overheard Jesus talking about John the Baptist. John’s disciples relaying not only Jesus’ miracles but His statements about John would have encouraged John’s spirit and confirmed John’s ministry.

Jude 1:22 says to “Be merciful to those who doubt.” (NIV). When we come across a doubting brother or sister, do not belittle what they are battling. If John the Baptist can have his doubts, then no one is immune from doubt. However, we must remember that doubt and faith cannot co-exist. If we come to God with doubts while we pray, we will be what James calls “double-minded” (James 1:6-8).

Just as Jesus told John’s disciples to tell of the miracles, so too we must remember the greatest miracle Jesus ever performed in our lives: our salvation. What has God already done in your life? What does God’s Word say about you? (I would encourage you to read Ephesians). If we feed our faith, we will starve our doubt. Meditate on the goodness of God and place His Word in your heart. God bless you all.

 

Navigating through the Detours

Have you ever taken a trip using the global positioning system (GPS) in your car or on your phone? If your trip requires you to be on one stretch of road for a long period of time, the voice on the GPS will be silent until you get to the next stage of the trip. That “radio silence” can be a time of great peace as we can enjoy the trip or we can allow doubt and distrust to come in and make us wonder if the GPS is working. If we decide to take a different route, the GPS will reconfigure our trip based on our current location. We will eventually arrive at our destination, but it may take longer than anticipated. What about the “trip” we are taking with God? Has God been silent for a long time? Have you encountered detours? Is your life “under construction”?

Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world and all of us have been hurt by someone’s words or actions. Sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is to place our faith and trust in another person or even God. Have you ever been in a car with someone whose driving scared you a bit? Do you always insist on driving? It is human nature for us to feel like we are in control. While there are some things we can control- our actions, our diets, our attitudes, who we have in our lives, etc., there are large parts of our lives that are beyond our control. During these times, we must simply have faith that everything will work out for the best. Although the GPS or even a handheld map are far from infallible, we can take our trip knowing that someone went before us and mapped out the trip.

The Bible teaches that God sees the end from the beginning and that He has a plan for our lives before we are even born. We serve a God who cared so much about our “final destination” that He came to earth, lived as a man, paid the price for our sins, died, and rose from the grave. We serve a God who can relate to our suffering and the painful directions our lives can take.

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NKJV).

We may not understand the trip we are on, but we must keep faith in God that He is guiding and directing us.

“The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth, to such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.” (Psalm 25:9-10, NKJV).

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with my eye.” (Psalm 32:8, KNJV).

“They shall neither hunger nor thirst, neither heat nor sun shall strike them; For He who has mercy on them will lead them, even by the springs of water He will guide them. I will make each of My mountains a road, and My highways shall be elevated.” (Isaiah 49:10-11, NKJV).

As for New Testament believers, we have a much better covenant because we have accepted the finished work of Christ on the cross and we have not only the Word, but the Holy Spirit as well.

[Speaking of Christ] “To give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:77-79, KJV).

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (John 16:13, NKJV).

Over the course of this last year, my journey has taken me to places I never thought I would be in life. It seems like more than once God’s GPS has reconfigured my trip. I have at times found the trip to be difficult, but I know I am not alone. I have resolved to try and enjoy the ride because these matters are out of my control. I serve a God who loved me and cared for me to take care of eternity, how can I not trust Him to guide me through a brief detour?

The Horn of our Salvation

There’s a popular expression in the United States that says, “You have to grab the bull by the horns.” The expression is not meant to be taken literally because grabbing a bull by its horns would be a dangerous- if not deadly proposition. Rather, “take the bull by the horns” symbolizes taking control of a situation. However, as we all know, there are situations we cannot take control of, but we must place our faith in God and let Him guide us.

             In Scripture, horns represent many things including:

             *Ram’s horns were used to make shofars.

             *Horns were used to carry anointing oil.

             *Horns symbolized a ruler or nation’s authority or power.

             *Horns indicated physical strength.

For any horned animal-whether it be a bull, a ram, a goat, an elk, or deer, horns can represent strength. In the Old Testament, there is an expression “The horn of my salvation” that we will examine. Throughout the Old Testament and even in the New Testament, people such as Moses, Miriam, Deborah and Barak, Hannah, and even Mary, the Mother of Jesus, sang songs of victory and deliverance that the Lord had provided.

Hannah, after many years of being barren, gave birth to a son named Samuel, who became the last judge of Israel. After Hannah dedicated Samuel to the service of the priesthood, she sang a song, rejoicing in what the Lord had done

 “And Hannah prayed and said: ‘My heart rejoices in the Lord; My horn is exalted in the Lord. I smile at my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.” (1 Samuel 2:1, NKJV, emphasis mine).

Hannah realized that her strength did not come from within herself, but her strength was exalted in the Lord. As Hannah prayed and praised God, God strengthened her and brought forth the miracle of Samuel’s birth.

King David was another person who relied and trusted in God during difficult times in his life. Anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel after God rejected Saul, David spent a decade on the run from Saul, who wanted to kill him. David wrote songs and psalms to the Lord, praising Him for all He had done. David, like Hannah, realized that his strength did not rest in his abilities, but depended upon the Lord.

“The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; My Savior, You save me from violence.” (2 Samuel 22:3, NKJV, emphasis mine).

 “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2, NKJV, emphasis mine).

“For You are the glory of their strength, and in Your favor our horn is exalted…But My faithfulness and My mercy shall be with him, and in My name his horn shall be exalted.” (Psalm 89:17, 24, NKJV, emphasis mine).

There are also other places in the Psalms, where the word “horn” is mentioned concerning strength and our salvation.

“But my horn You have exalted like a wild ox; I have been anointed with fresh oil.” (Psalm 92:10, NKJV, emphasis mine).

 Speaking of the person who fears the Lord, Psalm 112:9 states, “He has dispersed abroad, he has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever; His horn will be exalted with honor.” (NKJV, emphasis mine).

“And He has exalted the horn of His people, the praise of all His saints- of the children of Israel, a people near to Him. Praise the Lord.” (Psalm 148:14, NKJV, emphasis mine).

As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, how much more do we have to celebrate and rejoice in what our Lord has done for us? No matter the trial- whether you have been battling it for a long time or you were blindsided by it- God will strengthen you. Lift up His Name. Pray. Seek His Face. God‘s presence dwells in the praises of His people. Grace and peace to all of you.

When the Brook dries up

The timing could not have been worse. Weeks before the 2015 holidays I learned that my contract employer was underbid by a new company. I found myself in the awkward position of applying for a job I held for over seven years. The uncertain days turned into weeks and the anxiety and tension cranked up to eleven for everyone from senior management, to those like myself in management, and down to every regular employee. To be completely honest, I spent equal times in prayer, trusting in God’s provision, and worrying as this burden weighed heavily on me. I know Scripture says not to worry, but for anyone who provides for their family, your family’s well-being is always on the forefront of your mind- that is why you carry health insurance and life insurance- to try and protect against life’s “what ifs.”

The word finally came on December 23, 2015 as I received a letter from the new company stating I would not be hired. I was stunned, as I have never been let go from a job, for I always left on my own terms. The new company had decided to cut the management staff in half and other long-term managers had been let go as well. The managers who stayed received drastic pay cuts. People around the office were just as shocked as I was about the changes. I knew deep in my heart that I had done nothing deserving of being let go, as I did my absolute best to serve the Lord and my employer and did all I was asked and expected to do. I even uttered the phrase, “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.”

I don’t know what the Lord has in store for me at this point, but I know He is faithful and will lead me in the right direction. I leave with no hard feelings or bitterness toward anyone; my conscience is clear. God always opens up another door for His children when one door closes. God always has a purpose, even if we don’t know what it is or can’t see it. Our lives are solely in God’s hands and He is sovereign over everything that happens to us. He has a purpose for everything and can use good and bad times to draw us closer to Him. Our assignments may change, but God’s purposes stay the same.

The life of the Old Testament prophet Elijah illustrates this point. God had sent Elijah before Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, to pronounce judgment in the form of a drought.

“As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1b, NKJV).

Scripture later states that this drought lasted for three years. In the midst of this drought, God gave Elijah a new assignment:

“Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’” (1 Kings 17:2-4, NKJV).

The Bible says that Elijah went to the brook and was fed by the ravens morning and night.

Elijah’s assignment was temporary

  In the Book of James, Scripture states that our lives are just a mist that is here and is gone (James 4:14). Elijah was never meant to settle permanently at the Brook Cherith, as God had another assignment:

“And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.’” (1 Kings 17:7-9, NKJV).

How many times in our lives have we tried to make something work that is no longer meant to work? When we ignore the signs, we can waste a lot of time, energy, and money trying to make something work- whether it is a relationship, a car, home repairs, or a job. In Elijah’s case, one day the birds stopped bringing the bread and meat and the brook dried up. Elijah could have chosen not to listen to the Lord’s instructions or study the signs it was time to move onto the next assignment. Elijah could have prayed, “Oh Lord, please send the birds and make a stream in the desert.” If Elijah prayed like that day after day, he would have died of starvation and dehydration. The brook was not Elijah’s final destination, because there was a widow and her son who needed help. The rest of 1 King’s chapter 17 details Elijah’s interactions with the widow- from her feeding him her last meal, to her and her son not running out of food during the drought, and ultimately to her son being raised from the dead.

Our assignments are temporary

 The Bible teaches us that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world. We are not meant to get attached to the worldly possessions around us. There are times when we must let go of what is in our hand and allow God to give us what is in His hand. Everything belongs to the Lord anyway and we are merely stewards. We may not understand why the situation changed, but we must listen for the Lord’s voice to direct us where we need to go. Elijah was sent to a temporary brook, but we must remember that Jesus offers a permanent stream of water from which we can drink.

“Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.’” (John 4:13-14, NKJV).

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37b-38, NKJV).

“Behold God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For YAH, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation. Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2-3, NKJV).

As I begin this journey, I place my trust in the Lord and will allow Him to direct my path. May God bless you all.