A Sneaky Li'l Rascal!

I hesitated to use that phrase for the title of this post because it might tend to trivialize the subject.  What is the subject?  Doubt!  It may not be that you automiatically think of doubt and discouragement in the same thought, but you should.  We should all remember that one of the most effective tools our enemy uses is doubt.  Our first century brethren were willing to suffer and die from a very early point in church history.  In fact, when the first real persecution of the church began (Acts 8:1ff) the result was a resounding defeat for the persecutor (our enemy, Satan) and a resounding victory for the cause of Christ.  Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4).  As unlikely as it seems, it is easier, spiritually speaking, to withstand a full-on frontal attack by our enemy, than to withstand the sneaky second prong of his strategy. 

Very often what happens is that faithful soldiers of the cross (Christians) stand with shields up and swords drawn and bravely fight…and fight…and fight and then, at some point, that sneaky little rascal called “doubt” comes up behind us and whispers, “Where is God?”  (Psalm 42:3) “Why is He letting you suffer this all by yourself?”  The fact of the matter is, He is not letting you suffer (fight) this all by yourself!  He has not gone anywhere!!

Part of the wisdom of God in establishing His kingdom on earth (the church) is to provide comrades in arms for us to help us remember that we are not fighting alone.  God is with us, not just in the Spirit, but in the person of our brethren who love us and care for us and pray for us, and who call out to us, “Look out!  Turn around…that’s doubt sneaking up behind you!!” 

Our enemy is very good at distracting us from the real danger of things.  Thank God Almighty, that He is better at countering cowardly, sneaky moves like the devil uses!  You are not alone!  You are not fighting this battle without the proper tools to win it (Ephesians 6:10-19; 2 Corinthians 10:1-6).  Stay strong and you will win!  Never forget that God loves you, and so do I.

Donnie Bates

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A New Beginning

Today I have completed my task of transferring over all the posts on my Barnabas Notes blog to WordPress.  If you had subscribed to WordPress and had your  notification settings set to alert you every time I new article was posted, I apologize for all the alerts.  You can still see the old blog on blogspot, but I will not be posting any more there.  I like this format much better and I believe it will make BN a more effective tool to encourage the discouraged in the days ahead.

Thanks for your patience, your encouragement to me and you loyalty to this blog.  God loves and I hope know I do, too.

Donnie Bates

Don't Be Surprised at the Pain

My friend asked me, “Why is it so easy for my family to hurt me so?”  I hurt for my friend and I wondered if friend Barnabas would have any words of encouragement.  I remembered a man I studied with many years ago.  His name was Bill.  Bill was handicapped.  His particular handicap is not important, but Bill was a real person who suffered greatly.  I had the privilege of studying the Bible with Bill and in our studies, he told me somewhat of his story.  Because of his handicap, Bill suffered more from the painful persecution of his neighbors who made fun of him and made his life a nightmare.  Sometimes people can be really cruel for no apparent reason other than the simple joy they get from inflicting pain.  So, Bill’s suffering was mental and emotional.  Our study went on for some time until Bill asked me to baptize him into Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.  I gladly agreed and Bill was born again into the body of Jesus Christ our Savior!  What I have remembered most about Bill all these years is that he determined that he would suffer emotionally no more.  I don’t mean that his neighbors could no longer hurt his feelings, but his words to me were something like, “There is nothing in this world that is as good as what I will have in the next!”  His attitude became one of great joy and hope and even the painful jabs of his persecutors could not dim that hope.

Bill was not the first, nor will he be the last to suffer pain in this world at the hands of others.  My friend was not the first nor the last to suffer pain at the hands of people who, more than anyone else, should provide love, respect and acceptance, rather than hate, disgust and anguish.  These are the words I want my friend to remember (and I’ll just bet they will do you some good, too):  Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy (1 Peter 4:12, 13).  I know, Peter was writing about persecution that came upon Christians by those who hated Christianity and would persecute the church.  However, I also know that sometimes the hurtful things that those closest to us do and say, they do and say because darkness hates the light (John 3:19).  Sometimes when people do not get their own way, they take it out on those who are the handiest targets and very often those targets are members of their own family or very close friends.  You see, those who walk in darkness pick soft targets just like terrorists do.  They know they can cause the most damage with those whose defenses are the lowest.  Strangers wouldn’t put up with that kind of attack, but parents, or siblings, or other loved ones are supposed to love us, so they just have to take it. 

Well, my friend, I want you to focus not on the “fiery trial” (as hard as that will be), but on the gladness you will experience at His revelation.  God loves you and so do I.

Donnie Bates

How to Win Every Argument

I am happy to say that I do not know anyone who enjoys arguing with a loved one. I mean a really serious argument; one that hits right down in your gut. I know lots of people who like to argue politics and I know a few who like to argue about religion. I imagine there are some who are so argumentative that they even enjoy those really distasteful and troubling kinds of arguments with those closest to them. If you are one of those who enjoy that kind of thing, please pardon me while the rest of us talk about how to deal with such an unpleasant part of our lives.

Arguments are, by definition, opposing points of view. And those who hold different views think those views are correct. Again, I do not know a single person who believes that what he believes is incorrect. No one reasons thus: “I believe the sun comes up in the West every morning because, while I know it really comes up in the East, the point of view that it comes up in the West seems so lonely that I wanted to give it my support.” It is also true that sometimes our opinions and beliefs and points of view conflict and if we are not careful, and if the subject is important enough in our minds, an argument can be the result.

One of the things all human beings learn to do from the very beginning is to prioritize. Sometimes we learn that from instruction. For example, the Bible tells us what is important in life and how we may live a life pleasing to God (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) and that there are priorities we should observe (Matthew 23:23). We also learn to prioritize when it comes to whose needs will be met first. A newborn has himself as his priority and that is the way God designed him. We have to learn to put others first and again, the Bible helps us with that (Philippians 2:3).

In the heat of an argument, this is a hard lesson to remember, however. Just how can we win every argument? Perhaps Jesus’ example can give us an answer. Would we consider that Jesus won or lost His “contest” or “argument” with Satan? Of course, He won! But He didn’t fight back, did He? He did resist temptation in the wilderness by using Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11), but when it came to the cross, He offered no resistence. He let Satan “win” (from Satan’s point of view) allowing him to “bruise” His heel (Genesis 3:15) and in so doing, won the greatest victory, “bruising” the head of Satan. You see, Jesus’ had as His priority, not the appearance of winning the argument, but the accomplishment of His mission – to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).

How does that apply to my winning an argument with my friend? Well, what is my priority? Is it winning the argument? Is it not appearing weak and incapable of holding my own in an argument; must I defend myself whenever I feel attacked? Or is my priority maintaining my relationship with my friend? When that relationship (or my friend) is my priority, the argument does not matter as much. Now, instead of doing anything to win the argument, I will do anything to maintain the relationship. And it matters not whose point of view is correct on this issue or that. When I humble myself in the way Scripture commands, I win every single argument, whether human witnesses agree or not!

I know this sounds overly simplistic, but do not make the mistake of thinking that this is a simple solution. It is not! It is very difficult to do. Many are they who will have difficulty giving themselves up and adopting the appearance of being wrong or weak. Another warning I feel compelled to offer is this: sometimes arguments ensue over sinful behavior and the attempt on the part of someone to address or correct that behavior in someone else. I do not at all mean to suggest that we should avoid confrontation over sin. Scripture is equally clear that an effort must be made to restore those caught up in trespass (Galatians 6:1; 1 Peter 3:15). However, the same principles apply. What is our priority? Is it pointing out the mistakes and sins of others? Or is it the preservation of a soul? If we approach this very necessary obligation in the way Scripture commands, we will be successful in winning the souls of those who will humbly submit themselves to God and His will.

I called this article “How to Win Every Argument,” but it is really about winning souls and maintaining relationships. If you have to “win” and get your way in every argument or disagreement, then your priority is not the relationship you have with your “adversary.” On the other hand, if that relationship is your priority, winning for real makes losing in the eyes of others a lot easier. Aren’t you glad God created us this way? Well, it’s only because He loves you. I love you, too!

Donnie Bates

Who Am I?

What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4). I have thought a lot about this verse lately. In fact, I have wondered why God would take any interest at all in me personally. A good friend of mine recently reminded me that such an attitude doesn’t give God much credit, because it suggests He would create something worthless. I suppose I knew that, but I think most of us realize that sometimes there is a disconnect between what our minds know and what our hearts feel.

Who am I, really? I know who I am when I describe myself by my job, by my name, by my position in my family, or the community, but when you peel all that away…who am I? I mean when it comes to considering my self worth. Not long ago someone else made it very clear to me that I am somebody worthwhile simply because of the price that was paid for me. …knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:18, 19). That verse means I’m somebody because Jesus died for me. All those who have submitted to Jesus in humble, obedient faith have been ransomed with this same precious commodity that is so much more valuable than perishable things like silver and gold. And it is vitally important for those who have not so submitted their lives to Christ to understand that word “ransomed” in this passage. It means if you have not submitted to Jesus in humble, obedient faith, you remain in the custody of sin. The good news is that the same blood that ransomed the saved was shed for you, too.

Who am I? I am a man of like nature with everyone else. I am weak and susceptible to temptation. Thank God for passages like 1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Who am I? I am a man who fails frequently to remember that God is with me at all times. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me (Psalm 139:7-10).

Who am I? I am a man who, usually because of his own fault, suffers trials and tribulations, just like everyone else does. However, I am also a man who fails to give thanks for those opportunities to grow; in other words, I am a man who feels sorry for himself when things get a little tough. I am so thankful to God for giving me James 1:2-4: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Who am I? I am a man whose faith is often weak; who day by day seems to understand the turmoil in the mind of the apostle Paul better and better. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord…There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 7:15, 19, 22-25a; 8:1).

Who am I? I am someone just like you. I am someone who wants to do the right thing, who wants to be faithful to God, but who frequently is weak and fails miserably. However, thanks be to God that He loves you and me enough, that we both have the opportunity to rise above our own weaknesses and, through the strength of his might, we can be strong in the Lord (Ephesians 6:10). I guess that means that you and I are somebody, because God loves us. Oh, and I love you, too.

Donnie Bates

The Hill

It was almost to the point that I didn’t want to go to sleep again. I’d had the same dream for several nights running. It was the same, but not the same. Each night some of the details changed, but I knew it was the same dream. Each night the dream developed a little more. Throughout the dream I had been overcome with this horrible sense of guilt and hopelessness.

There was a hill in the dream. I wasn’t sure why, but the hill filled me with dread. I could scarcely even look at it. Yet, for some reason, I was drawn to it. I didn’t want to go, but something made me. My feet seemed to move on their own; against my will. As I approached the hill my sense of dread deepened.

The darkness was deep and absolute and yet, as could only happen in a dream, I could see. At the top of the hill was intense suffering. My deepening sense of guilt told me that somehow, in some surreal way, it was me. I was the one suffering. It felt like walking to the gallows. At this point, the sense of dread and foreboding was so intense that I usually woke up. However, last night, it went further. As I staggered to the top of the hill, I stumbled and fell. As I lifted my hand from the mud….mud? It wasn’t raining! Why was the ground muddy? When I looked at my hand, I saw why the ground was wet. My hand was covered with blood. My blood! When I thought I would surely faint, I heard a scream from very near by. It was a terrifying scream. Almost otherworldly!! It was so loud it woke me up. Sheepishly, I realized the scream was my own, but before I could smile with relief, the memory of the dream flooded my mind.

I don’t want to go to sleep tonight. I want to stay awake, but I know I won’t be able. Sure enough, here I am, standing at the bottom of the hill. Those old feelings of dread and hopelessness wash over me again. I actually even hear myself whimper. Moving of their own volition, my feet begin their march to the summit. I stumble in the same place. I find blood on my hand again. I hear the scream again. This time, though, I realize it’s not me. Someone else is screaming! Who is it? Looking closer at my hands, I see that the blood is dripping from above. Beyond my hands I see what looks like a post coming out of the ground. Slowly, I look up. A drop of blood hits my face. Someone is hanging above me. He’s still alive, but just barely. Even in the darkness I can see His face. It shows the agony He feels. The scream had been His. His pain was intense. Yet, He looked at me with eyes full of love.

Suddenly, realization flooded over me. The hill was Golgotha. The Man was Jesus. Then I realized that I no longer felt the dread and guilt. As it all began to sink in and as the tears poured down my face, a rush of words raced through my mind: “Blessed are they that mourn…” “Father, forgive them…” “Having been justified by His blood…”

My guilt forced me to ascend that hill. It and my sense of dread and hopelessness were deserved. Yet, when I reached the top, I found Another hanging in my place. His blood washed my guilt away. My guilt, dread and hopelessness were replaced by godly sorrow, love and hope. He died for me. I will live for Him. My dream had been a journey to the foot of the cross. Suddenly, sleep never seemed so sweet.

God loves you and so do I.

Donnie Bates

Where Was God When Mama Died?

Each of us knows the pain that death brings because every family has experienced it. Every day the newspaper runs a full obituary column. And yet, when death visits our family or our friends’ families, we are often shocked, not knowing how to respond, or what to think. Too often people respond in the wrong way and blame God or lose their faith, thinking that no loving God would let this happen. How should we respond?

It is easy to see the fallacy of blaming God when we are not suffering through this pain, but the question is still before us. As we said, death comes to every family. In all of Scripture only two men ever avoided it, Enoch and Elijah. Everyone else has died or will die until Jesus returns (Hebrews 9:27).

We should begin by asking a question that may not come to the minds of all, but definitely comes to the mind of some. Whose fault is it? On one level, it is no one’s fault! Accidents happen. Sometimes a person dies because of an accident or because of an illness when there is no way anyone can point to another and say, “This was your fault!” This is usually when people want to blame God. We will discuss that more a little further on. On another level, there is direct fault. Sometimes people lose their lives as a direct result of their own or someone else’s sin. Perhaps someone violently takes someone else’s life. Or, perhaps through someone’s carelessness they or someone else dies. There are still those who want to blame God in these cases.

So, how do we respond? One man lost his son and after brooding over it for three months, took his own life. Another man lost his son and cursed God for it. A woman lost her baby and became a recluse. A couple lost their elder son and stopped attending church and became alcoholics, completely ignoring their other children. Others react to such losses by leaning more than ever on the Lord.

What are we supposed to do? First of all, remember the words of Jesus, “Come to Me…I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I know I run the risk of over-emphasizing that passage in this series to the point that it becomes trite. I hope you do not view it that way because it is too important a passage to forget. Do not leave God! Do not fool yourself into thinking that it will be better if you stay away from church because you cannot stand the attention of the church. In my ministry I have seen so many take that approach and some never make it back.

Let me close with some practical suggestions. Regularly attend worship; assemble with the saints of God! They are your family if you are a Christian and they can help because they have suffered this same pain, too.

Read your Bible daily! We should be doing this anyway. “I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). Set a time and regularly listen to what God has to say about your pain; you will be surprised what it will do for you. I know this is also a suggestion you will be tempted to think trite, but it is not. It really works!

Another suggestion is…pray! Do not be afraid to talk to God. Do not be afraid to tell Him just how you feel. Yes, He already knows, but this really works as part of the healing process for you. Verbally give yourself to Him and He will help you through this difficult time.

And help others! Everyone knows the dangers of self-pity, although we would never use such a callous term in the presence of someone in such pain. However, there is no better way to soothe your pain than to soothe the pain of others. There are many times in the life of Jesus when He grieved. It is interesting to me that when Jesus went away to grieve and was followed by the multitudes, He responded by ministering to them. Ross Dye, in his book “Words of Comfort” said: “The loss of a loved one will either destroy your faith — perhaps we should say that it will expose it as a farce — or it will deepen your faith and enrich your spiritual life. It is most certainly a test of your faith. God does not bring these things upon you, but sometimes He allows them to happen. Faith must be tested in some ways if you are to ever know the reality of it. You are now on trial to see whether your faith is real. You have trusted God, you think, in seasons of joy, but what will you do in the storms? The Christian must not be a summer soldier.”

Perhaps at a time like this we should remember passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:13 more than at other times. God has promised to make sure we do not have to suffer more temptation than we are able to bear and that includes the temptation to leave God when we suffer. It just seems like it is too much. I cannot help thinking that so much of what we have said in this series will be seen by some as trite, but it is true that the pain will ease with time, if we will lean on the Lord. There are many painful things in this world that I frankly do not think we could endure without the loving and everlasting arms of the Lord. Thank God we have them. Let us use them!!

There are other areas or circumstances that cause families pain, but this short series hopefully has helped us understand that there is help to endure the pain and I hope that you find that encouraging. That is why I wanted to include it in Barnabas Notes. I hope you never forget that God loves you and so do I.

Donnie Bates