Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

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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Do You Hate Your Weaknesses?

I  have been trained to hate my weaknesses. One of them is White Coat Syndrome. This means that my blood pressure soars when I get it read in a doctor’s office. Yet, when I take it at home it is normal.

How scary and how embarrassing it is when the nurses and doctors express their alarm to me, though I know their concern is bogus. I really don’t have the problem that they think I have.

Nevertheless, I am taking several steps to try to rid myself of this weakness. Yet, I wonder if this will be my “thorn in the flesh” the rest of my life (2 Corinthians 12:7).

I was reading an article this week about a well-known pastor and his struggle with anxiety and depression. He has been fighting these afflictions for years and has come to the realization that God is using these weaknesses to do great things through his life. He concludes with the following statement: “And so I join Paul in boasting of my weakness, for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

So, does God allow us to have weaknesses in order to make us strong?

Yes!

God told Paul that he allowed a weakness in his life just to keep Paul from pride and trying to muscle his way through life in his own strength. God said to Paul, “[My] power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul was greatly used by God, but it wasn’t because he had no weaknesses. “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4).

Thus, the blessing of our weaknesses is that they can motivate us to depend on God for the strength to do what only he can do. Otherwise, we may be suckered into making flesh our strength and turning away from dependence on God and his power (Jeremiah 17:5).

I have seen people that I thought were too strong in human strength. They did not have the natural weaknesses that so many of us have. Yet, their lives were shallow and they lacked supernatural strength.

So, how are we supposed to respond to our weaknesses? Just roll over and accept whatever hand we have been dealt?

No!

Like Paul, we need to seek God for his strength to overcome our weaknesses. “Concerning [my weakness], I entreated the Lord three times that [the weakness] would depart from me” (2 Corinthians 12:8).

Yet, sometimes God will say to us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness ” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Thus, he sometimes leaves human weaknesses in our lives so that we will become stronger supernaturally. We need to view our weaknesses as opportunities to be transformed by God’s strength.

May we become more like Paul who said, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

 

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The Search for Peace

I have been recovering for the past couple of months from major heart surgery. As you would expect, not everything is back to normal physically. Unusual things are happening, like my iron is low, and my energy level is not at full strength.

These imperfections often cause me to worry. I allow them to cause me to doubt that I will attain the prognosis of a full recovery.

So, when I noticed this week that a vein in my arm was discolored and was hard and protruding I did the natural thing – I got scared. I went immediately to the doctor to have him take a look at it to remove me from the danger I feared.

What a comfort he was! He said, “Don’t sweat the details. You have made it 99% of the way. The hard part was the 6 bypasses and the two aneurisms. You just need to accept the little aches and pains like what you have now” (it was an irritated vein that was the home of the IV during my hospital stay).

Thus, peace came to me when I refused to sweat the details. If God has gotten me this far, why can’t I expect that he will finish the job of my recovery? “Shall I bring [you] to the point of birth, and not give delivery?” (Isaiah 66:9).

Peace can be defined as the absence of a troubled and fearful inner world (John 14:27).

So, what keeps us from experiencing this peace?

One reason is that we often face our problems and future thinking we are alone- that we have to be our own god. Yet, we know deep within ourselves that we can’t control our circumstances and can’t solve all of our problems.

Even if we are aware that God is with us, we may doubt that he cares. Maybe he will just watch and see how I perform. Maybe “He is not a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Fear results and we lose our peace.

Many of us have a long history with God. He has done much for us in the past and we know it. Yet, we often don’t remember his past faithfulness and thus do not expect his faithfulness in the future. We are like Jesus’ disciples when he rebuked them for not learning from the past. “Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:14-21).

Instead of trusting God with providing us his peace, we often choose to search for peace in good circumstances. Yet, circumstances never are good enough to give us peace of mind (John 16:33).

So, how do we change? How do we find the peace that we have been searching after?

One thing we can do is to pray. We can take our fears and troubles to God for his help. God promises that we will never figure out how it works, but we will experience supernatural peace (Philippians 4:6-7) Include thanks in those prayers too, for thanks helps us to grow in dependence on God.

“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single [day] to his life” (Matthew 6:26-27).

Another thing we can do in our search for peace is to get to know our loving God, so that we feel his love. Our fears will never go away until we live in the reality that God loves us so much that he died for us. Only then can we experience a deep peace (1 John 4:18).

So, what can we do today to experience more peace of mind?

May I suggest that we take each problem or thing that is robbing us of our peace to God and ask for his help with it. Then, let us thank him for all the good things that he has put into our lives. Finally, may we thank him for what he will do to help us with our problems.

May God richly bless you with peace today!

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Facing Our Future with Confidence

A couple of months ago, my future on this earth nearly came to an end. I was suddenly facing two aneurisms in my aorta artery that were starting to dissect. Only heroic efforts by God and surgeons saved me.

Now, I am faced with an uncertain future of several months of recovery. The prognosis is good, yet pain and weakness tend to drag me down in my confidence that I will fully recover.

So, why is it so hard for me to face my future with confidence? Why is it so hard for many of you to face your futures with confidence?

One reason is that we cannot control our futures. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away”’ (James 4:13-14).

Many of us do not have confidence in a future that we cannot control. Only by pretending that we have control will we have peace of mind. Only if we think we can figure out what is going to happen to us, do we face our future with confidence (Proverbs 3:5).

Others of us have bad thinking habits that tend to project worst-case scenarios into the future. Since we do not know that the worst will not happen, we tend to think it will.

Another important reason that many of us Christians do not have confidence in our futures is that we do not rely on the great love that God has for us. We look out into the future as if we are alone and not being faithfully watched over by God. “I will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever” (Psalm 121:8).

A fourth reason that we have difficulty facing the future with confidence is that the world has a lot of bad things in it. Jesus warns us that, “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). How can we be sure we have what it takes to face this future tribulation?

So, how do we face the future with confidence?

We need to remember that Jesus is our partner (Philippians 4:13). He promises he will always be with us bending our futures for our good and his purposes. “God causes all things to work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

And we need to rely on our partner, who is God Almighty. “A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you” (Psalm 91:7).

But what about the possibility of open-heart surgery in our future? Why shouldn’t that undermine our confidence in the future?

If comfort is our goal we will probably not be able to face our futures with confidence. But if we see our futures as allowing God to finish his work in us, we can face them with confidence. “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

And even if we know our futures will have some tribulations in it, we will not be given more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).

May our faith in God and our futures grow to become more like David’s who said “Surely goodness and lovingkindnesses will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).

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Thank God For Your Problems

I was leaving Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri after spending nearly three years there as a young officer trying to impress the world with what I could do. Now, the headquarters had taken notice and had offered me a challenging job at the headquarters.

As I was driving the legendary Route 66 on my way out to my new job in California, I felt pretty good. I would finally get my chance to prove myself. I would also realize my bachelor dreams of experiencing the excitement and thrills of sunny Southern California!

However, a day into my trip I began to realize that I had a big problem. “What have I gotten myself into?” I thought to myself. I began to fear that I didn’t have what it took to do the new job. I felt scared deep inside.

I knew that I would be managing a $200,000,000 a year budget in today’s dollars. What I did not know was that I would be also regularly briefing a two-star general and his staff on the missile test schedule. In addition, I would be managing several engineering projects involving 60 staff.

It was a dream job that was quickly turning into a nightmare. This problem was part of the reason I said yes to an invitation to learn more about God soon after I arrived in California. My back was against the wall and I desperately needed help. Maybe God could help?

And help he did. A few months later he made me part of his family and began to increasingly honor himself through my impossible job. I declared to all that I was a Christian, and together God and I met the challenges of this impossible job.

So, why give God thanks for our problems? The answer is because he does good things through them.

In the true story above, my problem job was a big factor in me becoming a Christian. God wants us to rejoice in our problems. He wants us to appreciate how problems help us to become godlier (James1: 2-3).

But in our old way of thinking, we want to be comfortable. Pain is not our thing. We would rather be comfortable than grow spiritually.

God also wants us to be content with our problems. He says through Paul “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

But in our old way of thinking, we hate feeling weak. We want to be strong without any help from God. We want to feel that our life is under our control. We are scared to trust God to make us strong.

A third action God wants us to take regarding our problems is to give thanks for them. “In [every problem] give thanks, for this is [My] will for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). “I cause all [your problems] to work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

But in our old way of thinking, we tend to think negative about our problems. We have a hard time believing that our problems have any good thing to offer us. We would rather complain than give thanks for them.

So, what are your problems today, and how do you view them? Do you view them as threats to your peace of mind? Or do you look at them as God’s opportunities to rejoice, be content, and to give thanks?

Why don’t you put off the old ways of looking at your problems, and see them from God’s perspective (Ephesians 4:22-24)?

This week I was faced with a number of problems. My first response was frustration and despair. However, I eventually chose to give thanks for each one of them. As I did, my frustration lifted and a new sense of peace settled over me.

So, why don’t you try doing this too? Thank God for each problem that you can think of and give thanks for the good that he will bring from each one.

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Are You Afraid of the Dark?

A few years ago I was on a three-week retreat as part of my seminary training. As the time drew near to go home, I became very anxious.

As I wrestled with God one early morning, I  realized that much of my anxiety stemmed from the uncertainty of my future. What was I going to do when I graduated at the end of the year?

I was afraid of a future that I could not see. I was afraid of the dark. As I pleaded with God to give me the plan for the next five years, he refused. Instead, he said “I will lead you step-by-step into your future” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

I wanted the whole future plan. He wanted my daily dependence on him to show me the light of my future.

Not knowing where I am going more than a step at a time is hard for me. I cling to structure and to schedules. They help me feel secure. I easily become afraid of the dark.

I am also a planner and analyzer. I have been doing these things most of my life.  They help bring light to the dark. I like to know where I am going.

But God says, “Trust in Me with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5). “Are you serious, God? You mean follow you into the dark only knowing what my next step will be and a general idea of what direction I am heading?”

Yes, God wants to take us by the hand and lead us step-by-step in the future he has planned for us. “I will instruct and teach you in the way you should go” (Psalm 32:8).

He also wants an interactive love relationship with us. He wants to fellowship with us as we boldly follow his light into the darkness of the future. “But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7).

And He promises us a good future (Psalm 23; Psalm 27:13-14). He wants to give us “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). He wants us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

But what do we do with the darkness all around? It’s scary! It’s frightening moving forward without being in control of where we are going. All we have to cling to is the truth that our leader is  “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6 NIV).

May this be enough for us to take the risk of following him step-by-step into the darkness. May we take the risk of counting on, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6 NIV).

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