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.

 

 

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).

Recently, I was going to the doctor’s office to get the results of my annual scan of how well a stent that was put in three years ago was doing. It was for an aneurysm. I expected good results as I had had in prior years. But the report was not good. I had another fast- growing aneurysm. I felt devastated.

The doctor said that we needed to operate soon. I felt fear as I faced a sea of scary thoughts and questions. I felt unsafe. I asked God what was I to do?

First, I decided to quiet my shaky heart. So, I turned to praying Scripture. As I prayed, God used the Bible verses to guide and lift me up. For example, the verse, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, thy consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 34:4) led me to ask God for his joy and comfort.

I also quieted myself so that I could feel my emotions and what they were saying to me. One thing they said was that I didn’t trust his help enough to keep me safe. So, I prayed that I would trust at a deeper level the verse, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will help strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Then, the next day I had a time of prayer with Jesus where I poured out my worries and fears silently and asked for his help. Through my thoughts, Jesus responded to my fears and offered his love and safety. I sensed that I had talked to Jesus at a deep level. I felt a little safer talking and listening to Jesus through this time.

I don’t expect to ever get over my tendency to fear bad news. And that’s OK. God still loves, accepts and respects me the same. Instead, what I do expect is that by praying, meditating on God’s Word, focusing on my deep emotions, and his help I will grow to feel safer in this unsafe world.

Relying on God’s help is the only way we can feel safe at a deep level. The safety we feel from other ways is false. Things such as good circumstances, immortality, success, and being respected can’t be trusted. But God can.

He says, “Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you” (Psalm 91:7). He guarantees our safety until we have lived out the days he has planned for us.

Two other ways we can feel safer in this unsafe world is to praise and thank God several times a day for who he is and what he has done for us.   Praise will help us grasp that he is powerful. Giving thanks will help us give him the credit for the good things he gives. May you take one step today to grow in feeling safe in an unsafe world.

 

 

 

 

 

My fellowshipping has always been a mixed bag. I both enjoy and am disappointed by it. I started out in life being very introverted with only a few friends and have gradually migrated to being in the middle of the introvert- extrovert scale. One of the major reasons for this migration has been the benefits I have received from being in small groups and mentoring others. I have received camaraderie, encouragement, and care, and have helped others. Thus, I am a believer in the importance of fellowship, even if I don’t enjoy it sometimes.

Many people in our society are disconnected from meaningful relationships. They are isolated and lonely. They don’t seem to know that IPhones and Facebook are poor substitutes for life-to-life relationships. Thus, as I greet people at church, I look for ways to connect to them meaningfully- to fellowship with them at the deepest levels that are appropriate.

For example, last Sunday, I talked to a man who is being developed as a future pastor about some of the challenges that this will bring him. Also, I talked to a young man who is pursuing his dream of a career that differs from what society or even his parents think is best for him. He helped me to more deeply realize that my identity came from who I was and not from what I did. Finally, I talked to a third person about his family and some of his personal issues. Each was a meaningful interaction lasting at least 10 minutes and I believe guided by the Holy Spirit.

Fellowship is communicating with other Christians at various levels of depth in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:7). For example, the men in our small group met over breakfast recently. I was tempted to try to structure the time and ask questions that would help them connect in deeper ways. But God led otherwise. We just had friendly conversations that focused on day-to-day challenges. I sensed that this is what God wanted us to talk about. It was a relationship-building exercise that would enable us to have deeper conversations at another time.

We need to love, help, and encourage one other (1 Corinthians 14:26). This is why it’s so dangerous to isolate ourselves. Satan likes to pick off Christians who have wandered from the fold by not being in fellowship by discouraging and hardening them to sin.

For example, one of the members of our small group had been going through some difficult circumstances. At first, he decided to drop out of the fellowship and to try to fix himself without any help. But his life continued to fall apart as he stayed away from nearly all the Christians that cared about him. Fortunately, after three weeks, he learned how much he needed fellowship and returned.

We need each other desperately to grow and prosper as Christians. As we express acceptance, kindness, truth, respect and vulnerability to each other, we are encouraged, instructed and challenged. We also need models of how to live godly in the nitty-gritty of life. Many times, people have said that they are greatly encouraged just being around people in our small group because they see how to live out what they are studying in the Bible.

So, are you going to conform to the many people in your world who are disconnected from deep relationships? Or are you going to commit to meaningful fellowship with other Believers? It’s really not an option if we hope to live lives in which God will one day say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

 

You Are Loved!

Many of us have a distorted experience of being loved. This is because we had to please and gain approval before we could expect being love. It was conditional, and if we didn’t meet the conditions we could expect criticism, loss of status, and punishment.

However, my Grandma gave me a different experience. I didn’t fear punishment or criticism from her. She seemed to have already decided that I was okay and special and I didn’t feel pressure from her to always perform to certain standards to feel her love. She looked at me with loving eyes and seemed to like what she saw. I relaxed when she was around. God used her to give me a taste of how he loves me.

But for much of early my life, I didn’t experience this kind of love. Not until I became a Christian when I was twenty-six and a couple who introduced me to God and then discipled me, did I experience being deeply loved. Later, my wife enabled me to experience God’s gentleness, affection, and faithfulness. Also, the love of God has shone through in the lives of the people who have been in my small groups.

Then, twelve years ago, I started seminary and began to connect to God in a deeper, more experiential way. I began to relate to God in a more contemplative manner where through faith I sat at the feet of Jesus and received his gift of love.

What Does Being Loved By God Mean?

God’s love for you is not based on you–it’s based on him. You are loved because he is in the business of loving unlovable people, of which we all qualify. So, don’t look for a reason in yourself. Every other kind of love you experience has conditions attached to it. With God’s love, there are no strings attached if you are his child through receiving his gift of salvation.

This means that God is always patient with you. He is kind, forgiving, and always seeks what is best for you. And he believes in you, always hoping and expecting the best from you (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

God’s love for you will never stop. No sin or failure will take God’s love away from you. He loves you so much that he wants to always share life with you. He honors you will his presence. Throughout your life he will plead, urge, and encourage you like a good father does, and care for you as a good mother cares for her children (1 Thessalonians 2:8-12).

Why His Love for You is Important to Experience

Experiencing God’s love drives out your fears, as God says to us,” Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). It’s more than just knowing what the Bible says, but feeling and living like it’s true.

Another reason to experience God’s love is so that you can be godly. The bottom line that God uses to measure your life is how well you have loved. Unless you experience being loved, you can’t pass his love on to others. You fail as a Christian if you fail to love well, both God and others.

A third reason to experience God’s love is to keep you from idols. We have a deep need to feel loved and if that is not met in an intimate relationship with God, we seek to realize it in idols. Those idols could be in a spouse, people’s approval, or being needed. The sad reality is that idols never give you the unconditional love that you long for.

Finally, experiencing God’s love can help you to face the sometimes-terrifying future. After running for his life for many years David could write, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). No matter how bad the circumstances looked, he had confidence that God loved him and would bring much good into his years ahead.

May we all grow in accepting that we are loved. This is who we are. This is our primary identity. Not a failure, not an engineer, and not a mother, but a person who is deeply loved by God.

We all have been encouraged to dream big dreams- to stretch ourselves- to chase the impossible dream. Over the weekend, I saw the movie La La Land that stressed the importance of two people pursuing their career dreams at the expense of having a once-in-a lifetime romance and marriage.

As I reflected on the movie, I concluded that we need to be balanced in pursuing our dreams- because those dreams can keep us from attaining more important things. We have’t to accept the fact that we can’t do everything. Even with God’s help, we are limited.

Accepting our limits is an important step in developing emotional maturity. When we live in denial of our limits, we often overextend ourselves trying to go far beyond our energy, intelligence, or our abilities. This leads us to pursue illusions and fantasies that waste our potential and leaves us feeling discontent.

Through the years, I have used illusions and fantasies to sometimes live in a false reality of importance and acceptance. More than once I got myself into jobs that were overwhelming simply because I wouldn’t admit my limits and go a different direction.

For example, I once envisioned myself as a charismatic and successful military leader in the mold of a General Patton. Living this illusion got me to a significant level of responsibility in the Air Force. However, it was far beyond my abilities. Fortunately, God protected me from the consequences of pretending to be someone of greater abilities and commitment and I wasn’t fired. But we can’t always count of that happening.

Thus, it’s important to accept our limits. First, it is totally unnecessary to deny them. We falsely believe that unless we achieve a certain level of power, respect, and looks we aren’t worth much. But that’s a lie!

We don’t have to be great in our looks, abilities and achievements to be important and precious to God. We can afford to be real with ourselves because no limit will ever rob us of the respect and dignity that he gives (Isaiah 43:4).

As mentioned, another reason to accept our limits is to count the cost. With great career success, we will often encounter some family failure. With putting God first, we will probably not have as much career success. We need to make choices based on accepting our limits.

A third reason to accept our limits is to be able to receive God’s grace. Unless we accept our limited ability to be the smartest, best educated, and most influential, we will continue to strive to find greatness in ourselves- which will never happen. We will never be able to do enough, and impress enough to consistently feel important, loved, and safe. Only through accepting our limits will we become humble enough to accept the gift of worth and love from God. “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Let’s not live in La La Land but be honest with ourselves about our limits. It’s OK to have limits. They don’t change who we are. Let’s be true to who we are and together with God pursue maturity and fruitfulness in doing his work.

Are You Deceived?

We live in a world that seeks to deceive us. Often we fall for the lies that surround us or reject the truth that we know.

We can be tricked and fooled into depending on lies such as

  • You are what others think you are
  • Your worth depends on your achievements
  • You need to be married to be happy
  • You need power to be successful

The Bible contradicts each of these statements. If we trust in these lies, we are deceived; I feel embarrassed to say that I have trusted in each of these lies at some time in my life.

It will not be easy to avoid being deceived. The whole world lies in the power of Satan who is known as the Great Deceiver (1 John 5:19). So, it’s not surprising that this world is flooded with deception – people deceiving and being deceived. So, how do we avoid being deceived and live a life that truly is best for us?

Probably the most important thing we can do is to know what the truth is. To detect a deception, we need to know what makes that deception a lie. Knowing and understanding what the truth is can protect us from smooth and persuasive sermons and books that would deceive us.

For example, one common deception is that if we try hard to be good, go to church, and follow the rules we will go to heaven. But if we believe that, we are deceived. The truth is that only if we rely on Jesus’ death on the cross will we go to heaven (John 1:12).

Another common deception is that although we are going to heaven by relying on Jesus’ death on the cross, we grow spiritually trying hard to do the right things. But if we believe this, we are deceived. The truth says that we grow spiritually the same way as we go to heaven; by relying on Jesus (Colossians 2:6-7).

But instead, many of us listen to sermons, do Bible studies, go to conferences, and have Quiet Times as if these actions alone will cause us to grow. But if we don’t depend on the Holy Spirit, doing these activities will not lead to much growth.

Another way we can avoid being deceived is to look carefully at the true person behind the words. Politicians are notorious for deceiving us. They often tell us what we want to hear and hope we will never be able to hold them accountable. We need to check their deeds to make sure that they match their words.

And a final way we can avoid being deceived is to grow spiritually. For example, our pride can lead us to be deceived. We think that we can handle life just fine. Then we become overwhelmed by troubles and if we are wise realize we have been deceived. We realize that we need God desperately to just get through a day.

So, let’s not be fooled and misled by the world around us, Satan and our own pride. Let’s not be deceived. May we instead know what the truth is, examine carefully what is presented, and allow God to transform us into people who are not deceived.