Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Can God's Mind Be Changed?

Can we alter what God has planned? If God decides to go ahead and do something, can we make Him stop? If the answer is yes, then it would imply that that we, as humans, as mortal creatures, as small as a grain of sand relatively speaking, have the power to change the mind of the Almighty, All-Powerful God! Could this be possible? Isn't there a so called "destiny" that is laid out for us? Or do we have a part to play in how our journey through life unfolds?

First of all, is there any documentation that this idea, changing the mind of God, has ever happened throughout history? Well....let's stop with all the questions, and start looking for answers! Actually, there is documentation! Changing the mind of God has happened, and therefore can happen even now!

Let's look at the story of Jonah. God sent Jonah, the prophet, to warn the people of Nineveh that God planned to destroy their city because of their wickedness. Jonah relayed God's message to the people of the city, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” That was God's plan, and the city would have been wiped out, but something changed God's mind and altered the destiny of the people of Nineveh!  The reaction of the king and all the people caused God to rethink His plan.

"The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust." (Jonah 3:5-6)

The Bible describes that even the animals were made to fast - not permitted to eat or drink anything. Not only that, the animals were also dressed in sackcloth (a coarse, black cloth made from goat's hair that was worn together with the burnt ashes of wood as a sign of mourning for personal and national disaster; as a sign of repentance; and as a sincere request for deliverance)!

Here is the result of their obvious, sincere actions: "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened." (Jonah 3:10)

Amazing! They changed God's mind! And it was done by their actions, by their repentance. Because the nation turned from their evil ways, God showed mercy toward them and backed away from His original plan.

Another example of a man altering God's plans is documented in the book of Genesis. Here, in Genesis chapter 18, we find God ready to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sin and corruption.

Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? (Genesis 18:24)

Notice how God responded.  The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” (Genesis 18:23-26)

What's amazing here is how Abraham negotiates with God! Abraham knew how corrupt the city was, but he also knew his nephew, Lot, lived there with his wife and two daughters. So, he tires to get God to change His mind about destroying everyone in Sodom, and spare the city instead, if only 50 righteous people are found. God agrees.

But even more amazing, Abraham continues to negotiate (knowing that there are probably not even 50 righteous people in the whole city). He convinces God to agree to spare the city if only 45 righteous people are found, then 40, then 30, then 20, then 10. Wow! Of course, as the story goes, not even 10 people could be found righteous, so God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah anyway, but not before Lot and his family were rescued.

God was definitely influenced by Abraham's requests, and that's more confirmation that God's mind can be changed, or at least influenced. Because of Abraham's persistent pleas, God showed Him grace and gave in.

So in the above two examples, both mercy and grace are displayed by God. And both are His response to man's interaction with Him. And that's the key. We can actually interact with God! Perhaps the best and most powerful way is through prayer.

Here's the point....God interacts with us in real time. You could say He is a "real-time" God. He is relational. He listens to us and intervenes when He chooses to. He has an open ear, and we have the privilege of making our requests to Him.

And what's really comforting is the fact that whatever our requests are, God will at least consider them. And if He considers our payers, that means He will do what's best for us in the long run as far as how He answers them, or if He answers them, or when He answers them.

So keep on asking, keep on praying, and know that God is listening. And you never know, through His mercy and grace, you may convince Him to take action!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Ransom Of Captain Charlie Spade

The story of Captain Charlie Spade is similar to what happened to Captain Richard Phillips, the ship captain who was taken hostage by the Somali pirates in 2009 in the Indian Ocean, off the dreaded northeast African coast.

Picture this... the Estonia Emperor, with Charlie Spade at the helm. A 950 foot cargo container ship, cruising in the dark of night off the coast of Somalia, Africa. Things were going fine until they made a foolish mistake. They tried to make better time by taking a shorter route that brought them dangerously close to the shoreline, a practice that the shipping company prohibited. Nonetheless, Captain Charlie Spade and his crew took their chances, thought they could get away with it, and gambled that in the dark of night, while at full speed, they could avoid any possible pirate attack.

Sure enough, the worst case scenario unfolded. A small blip showed up on the radar, closing in fast. Armed pirates were chasing them down with the intent to board the ship, take the crew as hostages, and hold the ship until a large ransom was paid. Captain Spade tried to outrun them, but the huge vessel could only max out at about 28 knots. That's about 32 mph, no match for the pirate speed boat. 

The pirates reached the ship in no time. The crew had been alerted and was ready to try some evasive tactics such as turning on high power water canons which blasted water from the top of the ship toward the surface of the sea. However, the pirates were able to maneuver around that, and successfully throw hook and ladders to the side deck. Unlike the crew of the Estonia Emperor, who had no weapons on board, the pirates were heavily armed with machine guns, grenade launchers, and rifles. The crew had no recourse but surrender with their hands up as soon as the pirates spotted them. 

The pirates ordered Charlie to slowly bring the ship in close to the shore, anchor it, and wait for a ransom to be paid for the release of the ship as well as the crew. They were in trouble, not only because they were being held hostage, but also because they disobeyed company policy. The shipping company ended up paying a very large ransom...7 million dollars. After receiving the payment, the pirates released the ship and its crew, and they were set free. And even after discovering his illegal route, the shipping company reconciled their relationship with Captain Charlie Spade, and he continued to serve as a captain, convinced to never disregard any shipping company policy ever again. 

The story of Charlie Spade is an illustration of Biblical redemption. Charlie's disobedience got him in trouble, similar to how our sinful nature, early on in our lives, gets us in trouble. Charlie was held hostage. Similarly, we are held hostage by sin which can entangle us, shackle us, take us captive, and separate us from God. 

There's no way Charlie was going to be released by the pirates unless either force was taken or a ransom was paid. The definition of a ransom is this....."money that is paid in order to free someone who has been captured or kidnapped". In a sense, we are captured or kidnapped by sin, become separated from God, and there's no way to be released from sin except by God's own doing. 

The shipping company paid the high ransom price which freed Charlie Spade. Likewise, God paid our ransom price - the price to free us from the bondage of sin. It cost God a lot. This payment that freed Charlie redeemed him. To redeem is essentially to 'buy back' or better yet, to 'trade for payment', like redeeming a coupon at a department store. That coupon is as good as money.

Regarding the ship, the captain, and the crew, the shipping company said to the pirates, "They are mine!" And the company was willing to pay the price. Regarding us, as sinners, God says, "You are mine!" And He is willing to pay the price.

God must see every person as extremely valuable, even when it may seem that we are undeserving, unworthy, and sinful. That's proven by the astronomical price that He is willing to pay. The price God is willing to pay is the life of His one and only Son. But we must accept God's offer of the 'payment'. That's done through faith and obedience in Christ, committing our life to Him as our Redeemer, Savior, and Lord. If we accept the offer, Jesus trades His life for ours! The sacrifice of Jesus redeems us, frees us, forgives us, and reconciles us with God.

We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. It's true of every human. Still, because of His love and His grace, God's payment of ransom, through Jesus, is available to anyone. And just as Charlie Spade needed to be rescued, and just as his relationship with the shipping company needed to be reconciled, we can be rescued, and our relationship with God can be reconciled. Have you accepted God's offer to be redeemed, to be bought back? If so, walk faithfully. If you haven't yet, will you accept His offer to pay your ransom?

"For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory. You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart. For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God." (1 Peter 1:18-23)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Christian Zombies

Warning! - there may be Christian zombies in your midst! Even worse, you may be one yourself! What is a Christian zombie? Well, first of all, what is a zombie? It can be defined as "the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose". In other words.....the walking dead!

So how does this apply to Christians? Well, as Christians, we are supposed to die to our 'old self', our 'sinful nature', our selfishness, our worldly ways. Christianity is all about new life - a new life of forgiveness and grace through Christ. So a Christian zombie is a Christian whose old self, the pre-Christian person you once were, the self-centered sinful-natured person you don’t want to be, keeps trying to come back. And as a Christian, we are supposed to bury our old self, not bring it back! There's no better picture of this than Christian baptism, especially baptism by immersion.

"Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives." (Romans 6:3-4 NLT)

At our baptism, our old self dies and is buried, and we rise to walk in a new life, joined with Christ, united with Him. Over the years, I’ve seen dozens and dozens of people, hearing and understanding this concept for the first time, become so convicted that they are compelled to be baptized - many for the first time, and many re-baptized for the right reasons.

“For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12 NLT)

This new life is only possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins, and our belief and obedience to Him. New life = New start. 

"This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)

To illustrate further, when we decide to become a Christ follower, not only are we to undergo a spiritual death, burial, and resurrection, but we also go through a spiritual crucifixion! That’s right, we crucify our old life style, our old self. You see, it's one thing to believe in the crucifixion of Jesus as simply a historical event, it’s another thing to personally identify with it! 

''We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin." (Romans 6:6 NLT)

So what does being crucified with Christ look like? It’s a process of transformation from living for self into living righteously for God. It’s becoming not just a “Christian”, but a Christ follower - not just believing, but learning from Him and walking with Him, for life.

“Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.” (Galatians 6:14b NLT)

So....if we crucified our old self, why would we want to resurrect it? Well, we don’t!! - at least intentionally. It’s when we slip up, yield to temptation, and fall back into our old ways, that our old self tries to return. That’s why we need to be on guard. When we have a tendency to resurrect our old self, it makes you wonder if Satan has his hand in it. Remember the definition of a zombie?...."the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose". I would bet that supernatural force is Satan tempting us, trying to convince us to resurrect that old self. But don't do it!

Some horror movies depict a grave yard scene where during a dark, rainy night, in the solitude of a lonely graveyard, a hand pops up from a grave, usually with some freakish music! Yikes! If you find this happening, spiritually, to you, stomp that hand back into the ground!

There are some ways to avoid becoming a Christian zombie. Below are five:

1. Stay Connected with the Word (the Scriptures)
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2a) 

2. Stay Obedient to God's Commands
"If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love." (John 15:10)

3. Stay focused on Jesus
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:1-2)

4. Stay in tune with the Spirit
"Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives." (Galatians 5:24-25)

5. Stay in fellowship with other Believers.
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)

Keep doing those 5 things, and you will never need to worry about becoming a Christian zombie!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Man Who Astonished Jesus!

I'm sure Jesus experienced all kinds of people while He was on earth. People who surprised Him. People who disappointed Him. People who even made Him angry. But there's a particular man who astonished Him -  in a good way! 

You see, Jesus, while He was on earth, was specifically looking for something. He was searching intensely. He was always on the lookout it. Everywhere He went, and every moment He was awake, He was searching and searching, trying to pick it up on His radar screen. And unfortunately, most of the time, it wasn't there. Time after time, He was disappointed. Yet, He kept on anxiously looking. 

Before I tell you what it is that Jesus was so earnestly desiring to find, let me introduce to you the man who had it. Jesus was well into His ministry when He met a Gentile man, an unlikely one to have what Jesus was looking for. That's because you would think that Jesus would find it among the Jews, His people, the chosen people. But no, it was a Gentile man, a non-Jew.

This Gentile man was a military commander in the Roman army. This, however, was not what impressed Jesus. And it wasn't that he was a man of authority. That didn't impress Him either. What astonished Jesus was what this Gentile man possessed....great faith! That's right, Jesus was astonished by the degree of faith he had. That's because Jesus had not found anyone in Israel, not anyone among what was supposedly God's people, who had such great faith as this man! This Gentile commander, called a centurion, absolutely believed that Jesus had the power of God, and that Jesus was able to do all things. Here's how the story goes:

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. (Matthew 8:5-10)

There are at least 4 things that must have certainly impressed Jesus about the centurion.

1. He was a Gentile but still believed in Jesus, regardless.
Of all people, it was a Gentile who turned out to have great faith! Impressive. Jesus was a Jew, and came into the world as the long awaited Jewish Messiah, but as a whole, was rejected by His own people. So for a Gentile to have such great faith was amazing. He may not have understood that Jesus was God in the flesh, but he knew that Jesus was an authentic man of God, regardless if he was a Jew or a Gentile.
2. He was humble. 
The centurion could have been one prideful person considering the position he held. Yet, he displayed humility. He obviously regarded the authority and sovereignty of Jesus as much greater than his. He told Jesus that he did not deserve to have Him come to his house. This statement reveals that he was underserving of the miracle he was asking for. He was totally relying on the Lord's grace, and was at the mercy of Jesus.
3. He was a compassionate man
The centurion was so sincerely concerned about his servant, that he didn't just send a messenger to Jesus, but he personally went to plead with Jesus himself. It shows his love and compassion for those around him, including his servant. And he was relying on the love and compassion of Jesus for healing.
4. He was absolutely confident that Jesus could do it.
The centurion knew all about authority, and all about giving commands. He believed Jesus, without a doubt, had the power to heal. Not only that, the centurion was so sure Jesus had the power to heal, he believed all Jesus had to do was say the word, from a distance, and his servant would be healed immediately without even Jesus being at the house where the servant was. And that's exactly what happened! "Then Jesus said to the centurion, 'Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.' And his servant was healed at that moment." (Matthew 8:13)

The centurion, in the eyes of Jesus, had great faith. Jesus, while on earth, was always looking for great faith. Unfortunately, He was disappointed time and again. Remember when Jesus calmed the sea, and the disciples were scared that they were going to die? "He replied, 'You of little faith, why are you so afraid?' Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm." (Matthew 8:26) Or the time Jesus walked on water, and Peter began to go to Him but took his eyes off Jesus? "Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?'" (Matthew 14:31)

There are many more examples of doubt and lack of faith, however, that doesn't mean there were not any examples of people who did have faith. There were many. As a matter of fact, Jesus even performed several healing miracles as a response to a person's faith. There's one other example of 'great faith' besides the centurion, and it's by a Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, a Gentile! (The 2 examples of 'great faith' were by Gentiles, not Jews!)

Jesus was always looking for faith when He was on earth. But it doesn't stop there. Jesus asked a question that should rock you:  "....when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (The words of Jesus in Luke 18:8b) Jesus is still looking, even today, and until He comes back, for people who have faith.

I suppose the real question is whether or not He sees faith in you and I. Even if we start with faith a small as a mustard seed, it can grow if we water it. He is always searching, looking for those who have faith, hoping to find it. Will He?

"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

5 Ways God Still Shows Up

Have you taken time lately to reflect back on how God has worked in your life? Maybe you should, because when you look back, you can see more clearly His intervention. And as you reflect on it, maybe you should take a moment to praise and worship Him for it.

God is alive and well. He is an interactive God - a real-time God. His involvement in our lives can be explained under the umbrella term: “Providence”. Providence can be defined as divine intervention, made possible by the authority and sovereignty of God. In other words, God is in control.

I know for me, many things have happened, and continue to happen, that go far beyond coincidence. And I always give God the benefit of the doubt when it comes to who is responsible for the things that fall in my favor.

Hopefully, you also recognize and experience the hand of God moving in your life. When God decides to intervene, here are five ways that He does it. 

1. Timing
Through His providence, God can arrange certain things to happen at just the right time. This might be done in microseconds, or it might be done in years. And sometimes God’s timing is nowhere near how we would have arranged things to happen. In other words, our timing is not always the same as God’s timing. One thing is for sure, God is a God of timing, and His timing is perfect. We need to trust in that. Consider this verse:  "But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law." (Galatians 4:4)

2. People
Sometimes God's use of timing involves people. Through providence, He can line up people with people, and line up people with opportunities.  For example, sometimes He lines you up with another person, perhaps for the purpose of encouraging or witnessing or serving. The problem is that sometimes we miss the opportunity, don’t recognize it, and therefore don’t take advantage of it. I’m sure it’s not hard for you to look back at situations in your life when you ran into someone just at the right moment. Or sadly, in retrospect, when you've seemed to have missed an opportunity that God may have lined up. In that case, I can just imagine God saying, "I'm trying to help you out, can't you see? Oh well, maybe next time. I'll try again soon."

3. Angels
Ever have any close calls? It could be that an angel was involved in helping you out! Angels certainly can be one of the means by which God intervenes in our lives. Yes, angels are for real, it’s just that we can’t see them. Or can we? I love this interesting verse: "Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!" (Hebrews 13:2). Not sure if this still happens today, like it did in Bible times, but it does make you wonder. One thing is for sure, God has used angels ever since man was created, and continues to use them even today. "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14)

4. Physical Nature
I believe that if God is creator, and if He calmed the raging sea, and did all sorts of miracles (altering the laws of physics, science, and nature), then He can still do miraculous things in this world today. Sometimes during a storm, I pray that God will change the course of the wind, or calm it. I believe He is able to do that, as well as being able to alter the physical realm in any way He chooses. He is able to do all things if He desires. Think of this example...if a car had loose wheel lug nuts, do you think that God can hold the loose tire on the car, not letting it fall off, but allowing it to be noticed before it's too late? I say yes. Can He heal physical sickness and disease if He wants to? I say yes. He is able.

5. The Holy Spirit 
I believe in the Holy Spirit, and if you do too, then you must believe the Holy Spirit is active in our lives. It’s another way how God is with us, and how His intervention works. I like to think that the Holy Spirit affects our conscience, as well as our intuition. The Holy Spirit can guide us. And if we try to be perceptive to it, the Holy Spirit can give us nudges to do something, or say something. Or perhaps, not to do something or not to say something. 

To summarize, God still moves in our lives. He does it in many ways -  through timing, through people, through angels, through altering the physical laws of nature, and through influence by the Holy Spirit.  

Sometimes He intervenes as a response to our prayer. Sometimes He initiates the intervention Himself simply to work things in our favor. Sometimes He intervenes for purposes that we can't understand or see - things that are in accordance with His will or plan. Regardless, all I can say is thank You Lord for your providence, and that You are in control!! I live by it, and I rely on it!  And I hope you do too!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

3 Popular Sayings Not Found In The Bible

I'm sure you've heard some famous sayings now and then, and you've probably said to yourself, "I wonder where that came from?" Well, below are three statements that sound convincing. However, look out! Even though they may sound like they came from the Bible, they did not! And furthermore, even though there is a bit of logic in these statements, maybe some half-truths, in reality, just the opposites of what they say are true! Below are three such sayings:

1. "God helps those who help themselves."
Ever hear this one? It sounds good, but is this really a principle that's true? Not really. Many times I've heard people use it as if it's some sort of profound Bible verse, as if they are quoting the Bible. However, it's not found anywhere in the Bible. It's not found in the book of Proverbs. It's not part of the Sermon on the Mount. It's not a verse that's found anywhere in scripture.

Yes, I know, we're not supposed to be lazy. And we are to be obedient. But that's not what this statement is trying to profess. If God helps those who help themselves, then it would mean that God's help is conditional. It implies that if we help ourselves first, then God will, in turn, help us. It's saying that we can earn God's blessings and grace by our own diligence. This is a "works" philosophy" verses a "grace" philosophy. That's opposite of the simple definition of grace...unmerited favor.

Does God really reward those who help themselves regardless of their motives, their heart, and the condition of their relationship with Him? I don't think so! The reality is, sometimes people are helpless. Does God turn His back on such people? No. Just the opposite. God is a God who helps those who can't help themselves!

"When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners." (Romans 5:6)

2. Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.
When I was in junior high school, I heard this from parents and teachers alike. It was their way to teach us not to be intimidated by bullies. I distinctly remember our school bus driver reciting this sentence often, probably with good intentions. It was good advice, telling us to stay out of physical fights. Regardless of how much it may sound like a Bible proverb, it's not found in scripture. Is it true that names will never hurt me? No, it's not true. Names hurt! Words hurt! And the hurt lasts a long, long time - longer than most physical injuries.

The Bible teaches that we should watch our tongue. Sticks and stones can injure, but saying something hurtful to someone causes a much more serious and lasting hurt. So watch your tongue!

"The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." (Proverbs 12:18)

3. Everything happens for a reason
Many things definitely happen for a reason, possibly a reason we may not be aware of or understand. I strongly believe that. God works in our lives for sure. But does absolutely "everything" happen for a reason, as the above statement implies? Does it really? Think about it. If everything, I mean everything happened for a reason, that would mean that everything, every event in our lives, is arranged by God for some reason. That would also mean that every bad and evil event is caused by God. (I don't think so!) If that's true, what happened to free will? I believe God either allows things to happen or He intervenes. Sometimes, however, things happen by coincidence or chance. For example, natural disasters happen. And sometimes things happen as a consequence of our own decisions or actions. Whatever the case, God either lets it play out, or acts on it. I suppose that's where the mystery lies - when or why God chooses to act. God can certainly cause things to happen, but that doesn't mean that everything which happens is a result of His will.

I guess the question is ..do "all things" happen for a reason - implying that everything, good and bad, is intentionally done by God? (I say not necessarily), or just some things (I say yes)? Can some things happen by coincidence or chance? (I say yes) or as a result of our own decisions, stupidity, etc? (I say yes). More importantly, I'm coming from the angle, does "God" cause all things, including all bad things, to happen? ( I say not all bad things, maybe some for various reasons). And in the big picture... alright, if you really want to stretch it and get really technical..... I guess all things "do" happen for 4 reasons!.......God causes it, Satan causes it, we cause it, or nobody causes it.

No matter what happens in our lives, God is with us, and we do not go through it alone. And if we are in Christ, He works things, even bad things, eventually for our good.

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20b)

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Fortune Teller's Demise

A long, long time ago, I went to a fortune teller. It was probably back in the early seventies. I would never go now. My trust and confidence is now in God alone. Back then, my spiritual maturity was pretty much zilch. I went for fun, sort of on a dare, with a skeptical attitude. 

The fortune teller was an elderly lady who lived in an old house on a city street. There was a small sign out front, "Fortune Teller". I don't remember in what city the house was located, but I think maybe Elmira, NY. My wife, Francie, was with me. After being greeted at the door, she agreed to talk with us, brought us into the living room, and charged us a few dollars. Then, one at a time, we met with her, upstairs in a small, plain, empty room with 2 wooden, creaky chairs. There was nothing fancy about the room. It was like a scene out of a haunted house movie. 

Francie was first, while I waited downstairs. Then after about 15 minutes, Francie came down the stairs, looking like she'd seen a ghost (just kidding). It was then my turn to talk to the fortune teller, so I made my way up the staircase. I don't remember much of our conversation. She said some general statement about my grandfather that apparently didn't mean much to me since I can't recall it now. However, I distinctly  remember one thing she said - that I would come into good fortune and be successful in music, but not until late in life.

Well, here I am in my sixties, and yes, I am incredibly blessed at this stage. Not with much money or wealth, but with a loving family, great friends, and an intimate relationship with God, which gives me contentment, peace, joy, and hope. I've been in a full-time music ministry for the past 11 years that gives me purpose and fulfillment, living my passion, and playing music. I didn't have all this early on. I didn't even care about God until I was in my late thirties. So, yes, as I reflect back, the fortune teller's prediction seems to have come true. 

But, there is a warning in all this. Although it may be true that there are some fortune tellers who can actually predict the future, where is their ability coming from? Is it from God, or is it from the dark side? In whom or in what are you putting your trust, your hope, and your confidence? That's the issue. God wants your trust, hope, and confidence in no one or nothing else but Him alone. That's the problem with going to a fortune teller.

God despises divination (the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means). That's because in God's eyes, it's placing another god before Him. It's turning to some other 'divine' supernatural nature other than Himself. Remember the first of the 10 Commandments....."I am the Lord your God....you shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:2-3)

God does not like the idea of His people, His children, turning to other sources. "Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead." (Deuteronomy 18:10-11) And it's not that the other sources are all fake! There is a spiritual reality which includes the devil. That's what's scary.

An interesting event involving a fortune teller is recorded by Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts. Luke was traveling with the Apostle Paul as they encountered a female slave who had an evil spirit. She was possessed, yet was actually proclaiming truth.

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:16-18)

It seems that this incident of a demon possessed person speaking truth about Paul and his fellow workers was something that really annoyed Paul. It just didn't seem right. There seemed to be deception involved. She was speaking what seemed like good news alright, following them around for days, but perhaps her motives were wrong. One thing is for sure - she was gaining credibility for herself, which she could use for evil purposes later.

This section of scripture really got me almost laughing out loud. I could just see Paul getting more and more fed up with her until finally enough was enough. Alright already!! At first she may have seemed harmless, but after a while, she became obnoxious. Maybe I think it's funny because sometimes I can relate to what Paul was feeling when I deal with certain people. And I think you can too. Paul became so aggravated that he turned around and performed a miracle, casting out the evil spirit from the possessed woman. Thus ending her career, to her demise. And her owners weren't too happy with Paul either, as you can see in the rest of chapter 16. But, hey!! Think about this....it was this slave girl's demise as a fortune teller, but it was her release into freedom from being in bondage by an evil spirit! I like to think that she took heed of Paul's message after that incident, and became a believer and follower of Christ.

So I guess the lesson is this.....there are such people as fortune tellers even in today's world. Some are fake, but some may be real. Regardless, stay away from them. If they are real, what source are they tapping into? Certainly not God since He teaches against trusting and confiding in such people. Instead, put all your hope, all your faith, all your confidence in Almighty God, and in Him alone.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)