Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Help Me in My Unbelief

I was fascinated by Jesus’s life and his challenge to follow him. But after five months of heavy Bible study, several hours of fellowship each week, being mentored, and being prayed for, I still didn’t have enough faith to receive him into my life. I thought that if I did, nothing would happen.

Then one night my best friend, Greg, shared that he had received Jesus into his heart that afternoon. I was flabbergasted! He was no longer one of my kind, but was one of them.

I sensed that I needed to make a decision about Jesus too. I believed that either I could accept Jesus into my life and keep my best friend, Greg, or reject Jesus and continue to live life the same old way without Greg.

But I didn’t have enough faith to invite Jesus into my life. I still doubted a lot and didn’t know very much. So, I went to Greg that night and asked him what had persuaded him that he could believe.

He shared with me several verses of the Bible that God had used to draw Greg to himself. One of these verses stood out to me. That verse was Mark 9:24 which says, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (NAS).

It was like a light bulb went on for me. I suddenly realized that I didn’t have to have all the answers to have enough faith for him to respond and come into my life. Just a little bit of faith. So, I prayed, “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief.” And it was enough!

We seem to have mastered the idea that we need to know the Bible. However, we don’t seem to have the same commitment to rely on the Bible. Instead, we tend to rely on such things as our own strength, the approval of others, and good circumstances.

But knowing the Bible does us no good if we don’t believe the Bible. We believe the Bible when we depend on the God of the Bible to make good on his promises. As Jesus worked a miracle of healing for the father who asked Jesus to help him in his unbelief (Mark 9:24), he worked a miracle for me in helping me to believe enough to be saved.

Recently, I went to the doctor for a minor problem.  I don’t like going to doctors. I often feel scared, unsafe and embarrassed by my anxiety which often drives up my blood pressure.

However, I am learning to believe in God in these situations. By believing in God, I know I’m safe and okay despite my fears and what others may think. I choose to rely on what God thinks and that is freeing me from my unbelief.

Our belief grows in a partnership with God. He increases our belief as we cooperate with him. We cooperate by praying, obeying his will, depending on the Bible, fellowshipping, and helping others.

My faith in Jesus started out smaller than a mustard seed. I didn’t have enough faith to receive the gift of salvation. But as I have slowly turned away from relying on my own fortitude these past forty-six years and instead focused on our awesome God to live life, my faith has gradually grown.

 

 

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What Are You Clinging To?  

Recently I faced major surgery. It involved doing some repair work on a major artery. Although the procedure was reasonably safe, there were some risks. I felt a lot of anxiety and despair as I faced the possible complications that any surgery on an artery has.

As I processed my fears and some negative thinking, I realized how much I was clinging to this life. I did not want to leave it. I like it here. I have a good family, good health and purpose in my life.

Yet, God could be leading in another direction. Was I willing to go?

As I struggled with finding peace of mind, God brought Matthew 6: 25-34 to mind. Through this passage, he challenged me to stop clinging to my life and trust him to take care of it. “How can your worrying add one hour to your life” he said to me. “Instead, I want you to focus on doing my work and becoming more intimate with me.”

Things We Cling To

We can cling to almost anything other than God. A few weeks ago, someone wanted to borrow our second car for as long as they needed it. Although it was God’s car, I felt like it was mine and I didn’t want to give it up.

We also cling to our reputations. We tend to worry about what others think of us rather than accepting what God thinks. We often seek to earn people’s approval rather than depend on our status as God’s children to find love and approval.

Men especially cling to achievement to feel important. Instead of clinging to what God says, which is “You are precious, you are honored and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4), we choose to rely on achieving impressive things to feel important.

A fourth example that many of us cling to is a happy marriage. We think if we only had a happy marriage we could be happy. But a fully-happy marriage is the product of clinging to God for the power and wisdom to make it happen.

My wife and I are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary this month. We have had a good marriage. During the courtship and throughout the forty years, clinging to God has given us the ability to overcome some of our selfishness and to love each other.

Why Clinging to God Is Best

He promises that clinging to him will be best for us. “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29, NLT).

Clinging to God is the best way to live. It is better than clinging to our money, our family, our pleasures, and our very life. These things carry no value into the next life.

But clinging to God has great value that lasts forever when “our dying bodies will be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4, NLT).

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Living by Faith

What does this mean? A few days ago I was about to go to the doctor and get the results of my annual physical. Included was a test result to determine if I needed major surgery. Living by faith, I rested on the facts that God controls the results and they will probably be reasonably good. And if disappointing, he will give me the strength to handle the results in a mature and godly way. Thus, I felt reasonable peace.

However, I was also tempted to live by sight. Living by sight had me thinking that I didn’t know if the results would be good and could very well not be. I also felt fearful that I wouldn’t have the inner strength to face them with courage and maturity.

As I lay on the gurney waiting for the doctor to come into the room with my test results, I desperately tried to live by faith repeating to myself David’s words, “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). I wouldn’t let my mind entertain the fearful “What if” scenarios. As a result, I felt some peace in the midst of my anxiety.

Then, the doctor came in the room. After some small talk that seemed to last several minutes, I asked him about the results. To my astonishment they were great! Nothing abnormal and no surgery needed even when preliminary tests indicated a good chance that it would be!

But I was drained after God led me through another trial of learning to live by faith. When I kept my eyes on his presence and help I was at peace. When I started to live by sight, I was terrified. I thanked him wholeheartedly for doing such a good job in taking care of my body for the past year.

summer field, sunrise and blue sky

What It Means to Live by Faith 

Living by faith is expecting God to do what he has promised. For example, he has promised to shower us with goodness and loving acts (Psalm 23:6). He has also promised to help us to go through whatever painful situation we will have to face (Philippians 4:13). I rested in both promises to live by faith as I faced test results.

Living by faith is growing in trusting God to do the miraculous, based partly on previous miracles that he has done for us. Learning to trust God is often a slow process. The disciples were slow to learn that Jesus could provide food miraculously by failing to learn from two previous miracles he did in providing food for thousands from a few loaves of bread (Matthew 16:8-11).

Living by faith is taking God at his word that our rewards in heaven far outweigh the benefits we can gain on our own in this life. Moses chose ill-treatment with the people of God rather than enjoy the passing pleasures of sin because he was living by faith in a heavenly reward (Hebrews 11:25-27).

Living by faith is being content with our life. We can only be content by faith in God (Philippians 4) because we are bent towards being frustrated with whatever we get in possessions, accomplishments and respect. When we choose to live by sight, we put confidence in ourselves or another idol to earn contentment that never comes (Proverbs 20:27).

How We Live by Faith

We are trained to live by sight. We have been trained to depend on ourselves. We have been trained that there is no God in the details of life. So, we have a lot of un-training we need to do to live by faith. That’s why Paul commands us to put off the old and put on the new. We have to put off tackling the world by sight so that we can embrace God’s help through faith.

God tells us that we can grow in living by faith as we hear and rely on the Word (Romans 10:17). It’s not just knowing the Word, but relying on it (James 1:22). And that’s where our battle rages as it did for me in the doctor’s office. Will we fight through and live by faith or shrink before the challenges and miss a supernatural life?

As a result of this doctor visit, my faith grew. May we all reflect on God’s faithfulness to us in the past, that we may live by faith today. May we choose to live by faith in his miraculous help for our future challenges, instead of just relying on the puny resources that we can see.

 

 

 

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Sowing In Tears

In my desire to be motivated and grow as a writer, I attended a Christian writers conference last week. In one of the workshops, the leader gave us a homework assignment to ask God what he thought of our writing.

This was a little scary. It was kind of like getting a report card from God. But I did ask him, and he did respond.

He indicated that although my writing was very good, I was in a season of sowing in tears. This means a lot of work without many results.

Sounds depressing doesn’t it. But he assured me that he would help me through this season, including helping me become a better writer. He also indicated that in his time there would be considerable results.

But I have been trained to misuse results to determine God’s direction, my worth, or the worth of what I am doing. I have often regarded low results as an indicator of not being in God’s will, not being important, or a waste of time.

Therefore, little results are painful for me.

So, is it worth it to continue to sow in tears? Wouldn’t it be better to do something else less painful that has a bigger immediate payoff?

The answer is “No.”

Why Do It

God has called all of us to live by faith. “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). But what does this mean?

It means that we follow God’s will no matter what. No matter the pain and no matter how ridiculous it may seem, we follow what God is leading us to do.

We are to lean hard on his promised support, not on our often failing strength, to endure and thrive in seasons of sowing in tears.

We need to remember that our efforts are not in vain if God has led us to do it. God says to us, “Be steadfast, immovable, always doing what I want you to do, knowing that your hard work is not in vain, if I have led you to do it” (1 Corinthians 15:58, paraphrased).

And can we really know what the results are as God sees them? Can numbers adequately measure the work of God?

I have heard about a missionary who spent 50 years in a foreign land without one convert. Yet, time has shown that although the missionary never saw the results, there was a great spiritual harvest after the missionary was gone.

How To Do It

So, how do we persevere and not give up when God wants us to sow in tears?

One thing that can encourage us is that we will eventually reap. If we do as God leads, in dependence on him and for his purposes we shall reap a harvest of blessings. “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9, NLT).

Life can be very discouraging when we have little to show for our efforts. But our eye needs to stay on our Father who smiles on us as we look to him for strength to do as he leads in our season of sowing in tears (Isaiah 26:3).

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When Life is Scary

I admit I was scared! My blood pressure proved it. It had soared in the surgeon’s office.

I was there to determine what my options were for dealing with an abdominal aneurism. Some kind of surgery seemed to be the direction that we would be heading.

And I was scared! I had had open-heart surgery nine months ago and nearly died of an aneurism. In addition, my brother had an abdominal aneurism burst on him two months ago and he nearly died. So, I was scared of aneurisms.

But the appointment turned out well. I came away encouraged. The surgeon plans to do non-invasive surgery with a very low risk for failure.

Then, my blood pressure fell back to normal. I rejoiced that we were going to deal with this ticking time bomb in the next three weeks.

So, what do we do when we have to face life’s scary situations? Do we just sweat it out until the circumstances get good again? What happens if they don’t?

One thing I did was to rally as many people as I could to pray for the surgeon’s visit. I also went to my faith bank account to draw out truths that I could rely on.

One of these truths was, “He will not fear bad news, his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7). I reasoned that even if I did receive bad news, he would give me the strength to face and deal with it (Deuteronomy 33:25). I also reasoned that he could still use bad news for my good (Romans 8:28).

I was also comforted that this latest scary situation was part of a larger spiritual growth process that God is taking me through of stripping away many of my idols.

What might you ask would be my idol in the situation? My indestructible body, of course, that really is destructible. Instead, he wants me to depend on “Do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). He wants me to depend on his presence and his help to live until my assigned time is up and I am escorted into his presence in heaven.

Now, this is a hard thing for me to do. My idol has provided me with such good health for so long. Now God wants me to grow up in this area and find my physical security in him and whatever he chooses to provide.

So what scares you? What unsure thing are you clinging to? Can you see yourself instead clinging to Someone who offers himself as your strength, your rock, your fortress, your deliverer, your refuge, your shield, and your stronghold (Psalm 18:1-2)?

Life is going to be scary for all of us at times. What will we do in these times? Rely on good news? Or, will we seek God to give us good news and/or the strength to deal with bad news?

 

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I have been through several health challenges in the last nine months. Yet, I am nearly recovered from all of them. God is good and a healer of all my ailments.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to receive another health challenge on Friday.

As a precaution because of my family history, I had a sonogram done to detect any abdominal aneurism. And wouldn’t you know it, I did have one! This can be life-threatening if it dissects- which it could at any time. And one did nine months ago in my heart area that nearly killed me. What a bummer! When will these challenges cease?

Fortunately, through the miracles of modern medicine there is hope that minor surgery can correct the problem-yet this remains to be determined.

As a result, this week I was tempted to throw away my confidence- a confidence that depends on God being good, loving me, and in complete control of my circumstances. How could such a God allow me to have challenge after challenge? I was fighting to maintain my faith in God.

Why shouldn’t I throw away my confidence in God? Has he acted trustworthy towards me?

Then, God brought these verses to mind,

“Do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36).

God does not want me to throw away my confidence in him. He wants to use this tough time to build endurance and perseverance in me (James 1:1-2).

For he tells us that perseverance is fundamental to our ability to grow in godliness. “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness” (2 Peter 1:5-6).

He wants us to grow in our confidence that he is good, loves us and will work all our circumstances out for our good no matter how bleak things look.

But it’s a battle.

Peter threw away his confidence in Jesus to help him to walk on water and was chided for not depending more on Jesus (Matthew 14:29-31).

 However, the same Peter also showed his confidence in following Jesus by saying, “To whom shall we go, you have words of eternal life?” (John 6:68) when few followed Jesus.

Here are some thoughts about how to win the battle for confidence.

We have a supernatural enemy in Satan who often suggests ideas that question God’s goodness and power. We need to be alert for these ideas and rely on God’s help to identify and extinguish Satan’s flaming arrows (Ephesians 6:16).

No one promised us a rose garden. The Christian life is not easy if we aren’t going to throw away our confidence in God. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Finally, we need to use our fears and sadness to discover what we are relying on, false hopes or God’s truth. Are we relying on perfect circumstances, or God’s purposes always working for our good in our circumstances?

If we are relying on false hopes, we need to ask God to help us to put off their control of us. If we are relying on God’s truth, we need to ask him to strengthen us to grow in our confidence in him and to thank him for his work in us (Ephesians 4:22-24).

 

 

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Do You Understand?

I spent 26 years trying to understand my world and how to live in it. I didn’t have much else to depend upon except my understanding. I did not have a relationship with God.

Even though I now have a relationship with God, I still have the habit of depending on my understanding.

So, it was natural for me to look to God four years ago to give me understanding of my future–to give me a five year plan after I graduated from seminary.

However, God refused to give me that understanding and instead challenged me to follow him step by step into my future. What? Not depend on my understanding? What? Live by reliance on God and his leading?

Why would God do such a thing to me? Why would he deny me understanding of my future?

Understanding is defined as comprehending, knowing, realizing, grasping and being aware of.

So, what is wrong with giving us understanding?

Nothing!

We should seek understanding from God. He commands it. “Acquire understanding!” (Proverbs 4:5). We are foolish if we don’t. “So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).

Understanding God and his will helps us in many ways. We make wiser decisions, we understand that he will never reject us here or in heaven, we understand that we are very important and can do nothing to increase or decrease it, and we see God working in bad times as well as good times.

However, God often chooses to not give us understanding, at least not right away. It is like he says to us, “Wait for [Me]; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for [Me] (Psalm 27:14).

That wait may never result in our understanding why. Job never understood why God brought all the pain and suffering on him–but he grew in understanding of God’s greatness and his own smallness (Job 38-40).

God often chooses not to reveal things to us. “The secret things belong to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Why? Who knows?

Perhaps, he is saying to us, “Trust in [Me] with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge [Me], and [I] will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

He may want us to be more like Job who said, “Though He slay me, I will put my hope in Him” (Job 13:15).

We have to come to grips with the fact that God is infinite, and we are not.

“’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts”’ (Isaiah 55:8-9).

But the good news is that we don’t have to completely understand our world and how to live in it to be safe. Instead, we have a Good Shepherd who completely understands everything and will shower our lives with his love and goodness (Psalm 23:6).

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