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February 2020

it really is that simple

IMG_7502Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8, NKJV)

This morning I rushed out the door to meet a friend for coffee, but was stopped because I couldn’t get into my car. I put the key in the handle to unlock the door and I tried to turn it, but it wouldn’t budge. The lock was frozen. I had no way to get into my car. Needless to say, I was late for my coffee appointment.

I have a key fob that opens all four car doors at once with a push of a button, but it had stopped working a couple of years ago, so I went “old school” and resorted to using the key. I didn’t look into the fact that the fob was not working because I thought it was too complex to fix and surely too expensive. I assumed I needed an entirely new key fob, and who knows what else. So, I just got by and used the key to unlock the car.

However, the frozen lock and my nearly missed appointment motivated me to take action. I was ready to pay the price, put in the time and deal with the hassle. Later in the day I called the dealership, told them my story and asked if they had any new key fobs available. The person on the phone said yes, but then he asked, “Did you check the battery?”

Huh? Is it really that simple?

Sure enough, five dollars and five minutes later, my key fob was working again.

This experience reminded me of a conversation I had the other day with a friend that I hadn’t seen in a long time. We unexpectedly ran into each other at a social function and had about five minutes to chat. We briefly talked of work, life, sports . . . and eventually the topic of faith in God came up. My friend said that his faith and relationship with God had become a bit cold and distant of late. He seemed forlorn and disheartened.

I’ve been there. That is a tough, discouraging and lonely place to be. You feel like a failure, and the way back to God seems too complex and too costly.

I wanted to help my friend and my mind immediately went to James 4:8,

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

I shared the verse with him and he paused a moment and asked, “Is it really that simple?”

Our five minutes were up. I could have shared with him about the loving Father that is standing on the road waiting and watching for the prodigal’s return (Luke 15). I longed to tell him that Jesus doesn’t give up on us; He is ever knocking at our heart’s door (Rev. 3:20). I yearned to remind him that God is faithful, even when we aren’t (2 Tim. 2:13). And I wanted to talk with my friend about God’s mercy and grace, which is ours for free because of the extravagant price paid for us by Jesus on the cross.

But I didn’t. That is all for another time, . . . maybe over coffee.

In response to my friend’s question I said,

“Yep, start there. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

It really is that simple.

turned to Him is the best place for us to be

IMG_6146Tears hollow out places in the heart where joy can grow.—Khalil Gibran

In his book, Living Prayer, Robert Benson, talks about confession and repentance as a key to accessing the place of worship—wholly praising and adoring God. We can’t come into worship and truly look to the Lord in praise and adoration if our hearts are clouded with sin, past screw ups, regret and shame. Repentance is not a popular nor a favorite topic. It is uncomfortable. Nobody likes to face the music, admit to the sludge, be vulnerable . . . but it oh so necessary.

The Word of God—the Story of God’s people—is replete with calls to repentance and people repenting. God delights in our repentance and contrition, as it results in our turning to Him. For He knows that turned to Him is the best place for us to be.

When it comes to things that are uncomfortable it’s easy to proclaim, “No Pain No Gain,” in the gym, or to glibly toss out to a fellow struggler Nietzsche’s pithy maxim, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” but when it comes to God, we impose an altogether different standard.

It is difficult for many of us to entertain the idea that hard things, like repentance, trials, and tests are in anyway related to God. I used to be blind in this area—flat out resistant to the idea that God was anything but sunshine and lollipops in our lives (this is hyperbole, but you get the idea). Mine was a warped conception of what the “good Father” looks like and is, but lately, I am growing in my understanding.

Months ago, at the beginning of a very challenging health struggle and medical crucible, I had a Godly person, whom I highly respect, say to me,

“I am praying for you. God is going to help you. This is just a test. Through it God wants to draw you closer to Him and show you His love.”


That was the last thing I wanted to hear. I just wanted the struggle to be gone! I wanted the challenge to be over! But it wasn’t. In fact, it went on for many months.

Through this, the concept of “test” began to germinate in my mind. I have been a teacher, educator and professor for most of my life. I have administered hundreds of “tests” to my students. Why would I do this? Is it a sadistic bent? Did I want to stress them out, inflict pain, see them struggle? No! I wanted to help them and grow them.

In the education field the best and most useful type of test used in the context of learning is called a, “formative assessment.” This type of test can be as small as a question in the midst of lesson, as common as a daily assignment, or as big as a research paper. The key is that all of these “tests” are used to form the student—to help them to learn and grow—not to grade them, to rate them or evaluate them. Formative tests are for the student. They show the student what they know, how they are progressing and they give the student insight into what needs to be worked on. These “tests” are challenging, but not stifling. They are not always comfortable, but they are beneficial.

Hmmm . . . As if repentance wasn’t bad enough, now I add to the list of unpopular words the term, test. But I am learning to trust God with the test. Because surely if I, a sinful teacher know how to test my students for good, how much more will the Heavenly Father take the hard things of repentance, trials and tests in my life and use them for good? (i.e., Matthew 7:11)

That brings me to the scriptures that I have been living in of late:

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:2-4, MSG)

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT)

. . . thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress. (Psalm 4:1, KJV)

My most recent “test” involved many months of sickness, physical struggle, multiple doctor visits, blood draws, failed attempts to fix things, disappointments, IVs, frustrations, questions, anger, shouts of “why?” and ultimately, surgery.  But I must say that God’s presence was with me and He gave me a deep sense of His peace through it all. Don’t get me wrong, there were tears, lots of them. But now there is joy.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. (Psalm 126:5, NIV)

Through the test, the tears and the struggle, Jesus was so very faithful and good to me. My heart was formed into something fresh, hopeful and alive. The old has gone, the new has come! I have grown in His immense love, I have felt the peace and the presence of God sustaining me, and I have seen the beauty of the Body of Christ through their love and in their prayers lifted to the Lord on my behalf. Truly, in my distress [test] He has enlarged me (Ps. 4;1, KJV).

God is ever working for our good. In Him is love, life and freedom. As Paul says in 2 Cor. 3:17 NLT, Where the Spirit of the Lord there is freedom. God wants us to have that freedom, which is found wholly in Him. Challenges come, via trials and tests, and God uses them for good to grow us and to form us in Him. Sin plagues us, but through the hope and glory of the cross of Christ, God delights to call us to uncomfortable confession and repentance for it results in our turning to Him . . . and He knows that turned to Him is the best place for us to be.

all the applause goes to Jesus

IMG_7455 2

I am a public school teacher and recently I was away (on sick leave) from my class of fifth grade students for two weeks. I sure missed them. It was my delight to return to my classroom last Monday to find a large poster hanging on the wall that read,

“Mr. Roberts, We Missed You.”

During the two weeks that I was away from my classroom I was at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where I had surgery to remove a tumor from my pancreas. God helped me, and I am thankful to say that the surgery was successful. I am healed from the extreme hypoglycemic conditions that were caused by the tumor. It was a miracle—an absolute miracle.

I like the way Eugene Peterson defines the term “miracle” in the Biblical context— it is not some unexplainable act of magic, but rather,

“It’s what God does for us, or does for us through other people, that we can’t do ourselves.”

I, along with many others, were praying for a “miracle” of healing in my life in Jesus’ name, and God did it. God used the doctors and the medical staff to heal me. To God be the glory!

The tumor was really wreaking havoc with my health. The tumor, called an insulinoma, caused my pancreas to produce excessive amounts of insulin, thus driving my blood sugar to extremely low levels. Every day while I was teaching school, I would battle the extreme and rapid ups and downs of my blood sugar levels. I could not manage it. My blood sugar would rapidly drop to a very low level and in response I would eat a handful of candy and it would go up for a few minutes and then rapidly drop again to a low and dangerous level. Again and again, throughout each day, I battled with this rare and dangerous condition.

Every day I was sick, weak, shaky, had a headache, had difficulty thinking and flat out felt horrible. I am sure my students could see the effects and felt the brunt of my poor health, plus they got used to me gulping down a handful of Mike and Ike candies multiple times each day. I am so thankful to be free of that illness!

For the past six months I have been wearing a blood glucose monitor that allows me to be aware of my blood sugar level at any given moment. It was a great help to me as I navigated, and tried to manage, the extreme and rapid changes in my blood sugar levels. I still had it on when I returned to my classroom on Monday. I told the students the story of my surgery and I shared with them that the tumor was gone and that I was healed. One of my students raised their hand and said, “So does that mean you won’t feel sick every afternoon?” I replied, “Yep, that is exactly what it means. I am healed!”

I told my students that a normal, healthy blood sugar level is right around 100. I told them that at 2:00 p.m. that day I would check my blood sugar and show them the results. (Over the months, 2:00 p.m. was a time that I was regularly hit very hard with the effects of hypoglycemia.)

At 2:00 p.m. one of my students raised their hand and reminded me that it was time to check my blood sugar level. All eyes were on me. I pulled out the blood glucose monitor, held it over the sensor on my arm and the numeric reading flashed on the screen. It was 103! I showed my classroom of 24 students the screen reading 103 and with smiles all around they spontaneously broke into applause.

I so appreciate their joy for me and their celebration of my healing. They are happy for me and I am exceedingly happy too. As they were clapping, I couldn’t help but think that it truly is a miracle and all the applause goes to Jesus.

I am thankful.

Faith in God is the only thing that makes sense

IMG_7451I recently journeyed through a time of serious physical illness. The malady had plagued me for years and had worsened over time. Once the illness was medically diagnosed, it took six months of appointments, poking, prodding, failed procedures and ultimately surgery to address the problem. When it first came up many months ago, I “dealt” with it in a practical, common sense sort of way.  But then, through a series of events I realized that I was leaving my faith in God out of this great need in my life. I thought the acceptable, sound, practical, common sense way was good enough and therein was my anemic faith. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, God had become a condiment on the shelf of my life, adding some nuance and flavor at times, but in this situation, that wasn’t enough. I needed all of Jesus and that called for faith. I am thankful to say that with God's help I was healed of my illness, but now I realize that the growth of my faith and trust in God was my greatest need, and the greatest blessing I received. Along with the psalmist I can testify, “In my distress, He has enlarged me,” (Ps. 4:1, KJV). I thank God for His mercy and faithfulness.

Needless to say, faith in God has my attention these days and this morning, with the help of John Henry Jowett (via The Best of John Henry Jowett) and others, I share these thoughts on faith.  

Yet he [Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, . . . (Romans 4:20, NIV)

The “promise of God,” in short, was that Abraham was going to have a child and would be the father of a new nation of people whose number would surpass the myriad of stars in the sky. Yet, common sense said otherwise. All the facts—his age, his wife’s age, their situation—didn’t add up for what God said was going to be realized in and through his life, but that didn’t deter Abraham. He believed, and God used him.

“Common sense” was overwhelmingly opposed to all that God said to Abraham. And yet he, “did not waver” or as the KJV says, “he staggered not.” In the Book of Hebrews it says the saints, Abraham included, were commended for their faith; not for their wisdom, practicality, realism, or common sense, but for their faith. I like George MacDonald’s take on faith,

“Faith is that which, knowing the Lord’s will, goes and does it; or, not knowing it, stands and waits . . .” (p. 135)

In other words, faith is a verb. It’s all about trust. Abraham had faith in God, he trusted in the Lord more than in the visible facts . . . and he went. Along these lines Jowett says,

For faith is a finer sense even than common sense. ... Believing is the only true seeing! (p. 135)

The world will quickly call out this behavior as foolishness—and justifiably so. Simple faith does look foolish and it may even feel foolish. But, where is your hope and your trust? Abraham’s trust was in God. The Apostle Paul, the writer of the Romans 4 account, trusted in Jesus too and when confronted with an appeal to common sense said,

We are fools for Christ, . . . (1 Cor. 4:10, NIV)

Facts, experience, knowledge and expertise are all real, important and in their goodness, used by God in our midst. But they don’t trump faith— which is trusting in God in the midst of the unlikely and the inconceivable, and then acting on it. God is more real and more reliable than the apparent. Paul tells us why,

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Cor. 1:25, NIV)

Jowett wrote this a hundred years ago, but it still rings true:

Never was there greater need of deep-living men and women who will confront the proud and massed “unlikelies” with the spoken promise of our God. (p. 135)

“Deep-living men and women, . . .” God help me! How many times have I thought and even said, “It is unlikely”? In the face of sickness, challenge, financial need, broken relationships, extenuating circumstances, loss, disappointment, frustration, waiting, . . . even death, am I allowing for the goodness of God to shine through, or am I shrouding it with “common sense” and the reasonable response, “it is unlikely”?

The word “unlikely” is defined via Webster as “not promising.” Considering Abraham’s situation: going beyond safe boundaries, moving to a land where he knew no one, having a wife who was aged and barren, and the harsh fact that he was no spring chicken himself, all lead one to the conclusion that the ideas of starting over, creating a new nation and having a baby were all highly “unlikely” for Abraham. Or to put it another way, it was a nice thought but, “not promising.”

And then I read the entire context of Rom. 4:20,

Yet he [Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:20-22, NIV)

Wow, here I sit in 2020 with 4000 years of perspective and I see that God’s promise to Abraham panned out, ultimately in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m not opposed to common sense. In fact, I engage it in my own life, pray for it in my children’s lives and wish for it in the lives of other drivers on the road. But my faith and trust reside in a reality that goes beyond common sense—they are centered on the promises of God. says there are 7487 promises of God in the Bible. Wow. Abraham stepped out in faith on one of them and it was, credited to him as righteousness. The beauty is that God made good on all His promises and they are certified by John 3:16-17 (NLT),

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

So, where is your trust? Where is my faith? Do I rely on common sense or in the promises of God? And where do I find God’s promises? Thanks to the Holy Spirit and the likes of Moses, King David, the Prophets, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Apostle Paul, a good place to start is in the Word of God (remember? . . . 7,487).

The Bible is the primary way that “deep-living men and women” hear from and abide in God. The Word is living and active, saturated with the Spirit of God. It is light, truth, milk, a mirror, honey, water, food, the law, the way, and life. It is to be a part of us, like a belt of strength and stability around our waist. It stands as a sword for us in the midst of the battle and a lifeline for us in the midst of the storm. It is the standard by which we trust in Jesus and live for Him by faith.

And the result? . . . Jowett sums it up well,

These are the men and women who remain victors on the field at the end of the long and bloody day. At the beginning of the day theirs is the faith which give substance to things hoped for; at the end of the day the things hoped for have become their eternal possession. (p. 136)

Common sense is important, hopefully affording sound judgement in practical and mundane matters, but life is so much more than that. It is wild and alive, and you are precious, so much so that you were bought with a price. We were made by the Creator to love, serve, create, delight in His goodness, call upon His name in prayer and trust Him with all things—the common and the uncommon. Jesus is no condiment, He is our hope and help at all times.

Truly, faith is a finer sense even than common sense. Faith in God is the only thing that makes sense.