Imagine a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, praying in the quiet stillness of the Garden of Gethsemane, tracing the footsteps of the Messiah and walking through Hezekiah’s tunnel. . .. You can experience all this and much more when you join Steve Arterburn and New Life Ministries on this unforgettable tour of Israel in the summer of 2014.. For more information click here
Excerpted from the book More Jesus, Less Religion by Steve Arterburn
After many years of service to Christ, Cliff’s wife developed a quickly spreading cancer. Many people joined Cliff in fervent prayer for his wife, but she failed rapidly and soon died. Through it all, however, Cliff did not break his determined gaze on Christ. Instead of allowing the tragedy to shake his faith, he allowed his deep experience of pain and suffering—and even depression and confusion—to push him even deeper into the arms of the living God.
This grieving servant of God knew only two things to hold on to, and he held on to both with all his might. The first was his unshakable conviction that God was a good God. And while he didn’t understand this particular circumstance or why his wife had to suffer and die, he did know that God was good and that there had to be a reason he would come to understand one day. Second, he knew beyond all doubt that God loved him. In spite of everything. No matter what. Through it all.
Cliff clung to those twin truths, refusing to take his eyes off the Lord even when he was wracked with grief. When you’re in severe pain or distress, life becomes pretty simple. You’re in survival mode, and you have neither the heart nor the strength to spread around your emotional energy. Instrument certified pilots know what this is all about. When visibility drops to nil and storms rage around them, it is second nature for them to focus on the ‘artificial horizon’ gauge on their instrument panel. No matter what their senses might tell them or what weird phenomena they see through the windscreen, they know that gauge will give them their true position and keep them flying level. They may feel as though they are in a steep dive–’or even flying upside down. Yet their eyes must lock onto that gauge, and they must respond accordingly. When it comes to survival, it doesn’t really matter what they feel like; what matters is what their instruments say.
Many travel through this world basing every decision on how they feel and what they experience. They do not study God’s Word or spend time with Jesus; they have no real knowledge of this Guide who begs us follow him, no matter how we feel and regardless of our circumstances. If we stay focused on him, if it becomes second nature to look to him and not to ourselves, we will not get lost in the dark. Jesus will be that instrument that keeps us headed toward the horizon. Our faith in him can keep us from alternating our direction based on momentary discomfort–and it can prevent needless tragedy.
So it was with Cliff. Although his emotions sometimes raged and other times fell dead flat, although his thoughts were at times confused and he felt his equilibrium slipping, he focused on the ‘Jesus gauge.’ He knew that no matter how his circumstances changed, his Lord would neither change nor fail. As the Lord told Israel, ‘I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendents of Jacob, are not destroyed’ (Malachi 3:6).
As a consequence of such focus, Cliff enjoyed a daily supply–an artesian well–of God’s love through those days of sorrow and distress. He was not only comforted himself, but he became a surprising source of comfort to others.
Our faith, when focused on the true God, will not be shaken by adversity or unexpected turbulence. As long as we, like Cliff, hold tight to our faith in God’s goodness and love, we can come through pain and struggle with a deeper and richer relationship with Jesus, rather than a faith strained beyond its limits because we failed to focus on the true God.
For more help please see More Jesus, Less Religion.
Also, please prayerfully consider joining us at our next New Life Weekend.
God used the prophet Hosea to communicate to his people that he loved them and desired a restored relationship with them. How? In a most unlikely way. God commanded Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman named Gomer. As soon as Hosea and his wife’s children were born, she prostituted herself and, in time, became enslaved. In response to God’s command, Hosea then redeemed his wife from slavery and restored her to the family. God intended this demonstration of unconditional love to symbolize his own love for the people of Israel.
God treated his people with mercy and compassion even though they rejected him and his will for them time and again. But though God was angered by the unfaithfulness of his people he never rejected them completely. Neither did he condone their sin by extending unqualified mercy. He allowed the Israelites to suffer the consequences of their disobedience. After this, however, he promised to restore them when they repented.
While the story of Hosea’s gracious love for Gomer is the story of God’s love for the wayward Israelites, it’s also the story of God’s love for you. You, too, choose the way of disobedience that leads inevitably toward suffering and exile. But as God did with Israel, he often uses the pain of exile to bring you to your senses and lead you back to him. Then, through God’s unfailing love, you can be restored and enjoy an intimate relationship with him.
Do you seek the acceptance of others when you make decisions? You’re not alone. Many men seek approval by often siding with the majority viewpoint. Unfortunately, in our world system, the majority viewpoint seldom gives God and his Word much consideration.
Caleb, however, was a man who saw things from God’s perspective and stood against the majority opinion. Do you remember his story? He was among the twelve spies who entered Canaan. Ten of these spies–a clear majority–believed that the Promised Land couldn’t be conquered. They came back with stories of impregnable walled cities defended by terrible giants. They told the people the task was hopeless, letting their fears and the majority opinion decide the course of action. But Caleb, along with Joshua, differed with the majority. Caleb agreed that Canaan was well fortified and the task formidable. But he also believed that even the greatest of enemies was no match for the mighty God of Israel. He urged the people to believe in God’s promises.
Sadly the people followed the majority opinion and refused to enter the Promised Land. It’s easy to focus on the obstacles in our own lives–all those things that make change seem impossible. But you and I can learn from Caleb. When the situation appeared hopeless, he knew that victory could come by seeking the God who promised victory. Caleb knew that self-worth isn’t found in the approval of other people, but only in the loving eyes of God.
Male friendship has been greatly distorted in our culture. As a result, many men don’t know how to be or how to make good friends. Can you relate? Sure, you may have some buddies. But I’m talking about something much deeper–I’m talking about a friend who knows you–really knows you. A friend who struggles alongside you, battles for you, and encourages you.
Consider the friendship, for example, of David and Jonathan. David was anointed King, which meant Jonathan, who was heir to the throne, would never claim his title. It would be similar to this: If your dad was the president of a huge corporation and you were serving as vice-president. But instead of taking your rightful position as president, the CEO chooses your friend instead. How could a friendship under these circumstances survive?
One reason is because both David and Jonathan counted each other better than themselves. There are few more graphic pictures of this than Jonathan’s surrender of his robe, his armor, and his position to David (1 Samuel 18:1-4). ‘You are going to be king of Israel,’ Jonathan tells David, ‘and I will be next to you’ (1 Samuel 23:17).
And even after Jonathan was slain in battle, David continued to honor Jonathan by caring for Jonathan’s son.
Do you have at least one relationship that approaches this level of love and care? It’s a costly commitment. The only thing more costly is not having such a friend.
Even men who don’t want to be like their fathers often turn out to be amazingly similar in their behaviors and personalities. Through the power of God and hard personal choices, however, it’s possible to break out of an ongoing spiral of sin and dysfunction.
Take Josiah, for example. Josiah was a young king who chose to stand against a virtual tidal wave of disobedience fostered by his grandfather Manasseh and his father, Amon. Breaking from this downward spiral was particularly difficult since Josiah had little knowledge to guide his actions. The Scriptures containing God’s laws had been lost for years. But when the high priest discovered the Book of the Law in the Temple, young Josiah immediately initiated spiritual renewal for himself and his people.
As a result, Josiah was able to break the cycle of sin that had captured Israel in its whirl. Josiah was not a perfect man but he was a true champion of spiritual renewal. He was committed to God and had the courage to pursue both personal and national renewal.
Josiah made the difficult choices necessary in order to ‘cut loose’ from the sins of the past and to build a new life for himself and the people of Judah. Are you like Josiah? Do you need to make a break from the past in order to build a new life for yourself? I hope you’ll seek the same powerful God who renewed Josiah.
Overconfidence is usually viewed as a negative personality trait. The story of Joseph in the Old Testament is a good example: his youthful boasting to his brothers got him in trouble. Based on a dream, he claimed that the others would someday bow down to him. This, coupled with his father’s favoritism, led to jealousy and broken family relationships. In the end, his brothers sold him into slavery, cutting him off from his family altogether.
Through years of difficulties and suffering, however, Joseph’s overconfidence was developed by God into a mature self-assurance. This self-assurance made Joseph capable of tackling and succeeding when most other men would have run away. his integrity, took him from being a prisoner to being second only to Pharaoh. And, as only God could orchestrate, Joseph was in a position to save the young nation Israel during a time of terrible famine.
Overconfidence without God’s perspective will invariably lead you down the pathway to other personal problems and mistakes. On the other hand, self-assurance based on a strong faith will enable you to overcome incredible obstacles and see God’s hand in your life.
Are you overconfident and relying on your strength or intelligence to succeed? Or are you self-assured, knowing that God is the source of any strength, favor, or success? One way leads to trouble while the other God will use for his plans and his glory.
Are you living with a strained relationship? Restoration of human relationships doesn’t happen instantaneously. If you’ve broken someone’s heart or trust, you have a responsibility to face your failures. And you also have the tough responsibility of avoiding the urge to blame others for the problems you’ve caused. It may take some time before you’re able to face up to your failures. Expect the process of restoration and regaining trust to take time.
The prophet Hosea was a remarkable man. He was told by God to marry a prostitute. His marriage was to be a living example to the nation of Israel of her infidelity toward God. It must have hurt Hosea deeply when his wife returned to her life of prostitution. Hosea said, ‘Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go and get your wife again. Bring her back to you and love her, even though she loves adultery. For the Lord still loves Israel even though the people have turned to other gods, offering them choice gifts”. Hosea needed some time before he could be close to his wife again, for such deep restoration takes time.
It’s your responsibility to wait patiently while God helps you restore your broken relationships and the hearts you may have broken. God can give those you’ve hurt love when love has been lost; he can help you trust and become trustworthy again, but these things take time.
Samuel was one of the great men of faith and one of the great leaders in Israel’s history. He served as priest, prophet, and Israel’s last judge. Look at what the Bible says about him. ‘As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said was wise and helpful. All the people of Israel from one end of the land to the other knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord’ (1 Samuel 3:19-20).
But Samuel was human, and he had blind spots. Samuel appointed his sons as judges in his place. The problem was that his sons were not the men of character that he was. Instead, Scripture tells us they ‘were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice.’ The people tried to tell Samuel, but for whatever reason he had a blind spot when it came to his family.
We often develop blind spots with regard to someone we love and want to protect. If Samuel had heard the people’s complaints with openness, he may have seen the truth before it was too late. Then he could have corrected the problem and held his sons accountable for their actions before it was too late. If others around you are telling you things you don’t want to hear, maybe you should stop and evaluate carefully what’s being said.
Do you need to be honest about someone in your life’a friend, child, a family member? Take your blinders off.
It’s impossible to adequately summarize the richness and breadth contained in the book of Psalms. It was Israel’s hymnbook, containing songs of praise to God. It also contains the cries of God’s people in difficult situations. And it was a prayer book for Israel. The psalmists looked to God in moments of private despair, in times of national suffering, and in the joyous moments of mountain-top experiences.
The Psalms are for us right now, today. They are brimming with honest emotion. Through them you can learn to pour out your anguish and your adoration, your suffering and confession, your hopes and your fears. Through them you feel safe asking God why he has or hasn’t acted in a certain way. Through others you might express your pain, heartache, and discouragement. Through still others you may praise God as he frees you from oppression and sin. Each psalm is an expression of the heart. None of them are neat little packages of answers tied up with pretty bows. They are living words, a collection of spiritual diaries from people who honestly sought God’s help and His heart.
Do you need spiritual direction or encouragement? The Psalms can function as deterrents to keep you out of trouble, guides to help you through problems, reminders of the one who actually delivers you, or as beacons of hope to encourage you in perplexing or painful situations. Read the Psalms and be ushered into the very presence of your loving and merciful God. You’ll be glad you did!