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Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth

Bible reading won’t build your faith

March 10, 2017

 

 

 

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
– Matthew 7:24-27

 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
– James 2:14-17

 

Growing up in the evangelical culture there was a constant emphasis on Bible reading, memorization, and study. I’m grateful for the countless hours that I was taught to learn from God’s word, delving into the nuances of sentences and stepping back to see the grandeur of the over-arching storyline. I did (do!) annual Bible read-throughs, 90-day Bible read-throughs (that was intense), and hundreds of studies through various books of scripture.

Evangelicalism has done an excellent job training its adherents that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. According to a recent poll 95% of evangelicals affirm that truth. When I ask young adults who have grown up in evangelical churches what they can do to grow spiritually the answer is invariably some variation of “Read the Bible more.” For many within evangelicalism Bible reading is the path to holiness and increased faith. But there’s a problem with that. Reading the Bible doesn’t build your faith, just like stacking wood doesn’t start a fire. In fact, just reading the Bible (or hearing God’s word in any form) is the equivalent of building a house on quicksand. Jesus himself says so.

How Faith Grows

Jesus says that anyone who hears his words and does them builds their house on a solid foundation. It’s not the hearing that saves – it’s the obeying and acting according to what you’ve heard that is faith. The Apostle James is even more explicit in his Epistle, saying that without action faith is dead (James 2:17).

We need to move away from the idea that reading the Bible more is the primary means of spiritual growth. If it was wouldn’t we have significantly more examples in Jesus’ ministry of him and his disciples reading and discussing the Torah together? Certainly he and the Apostles after him taught people from the scriptures deeply, but I would argue that it was through obedience to the Word that growth came.

Peter walked on the water not because he heard Jesus’ command to “Come,” but because he stepped out of the boat. To reference James again,

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
– James 2:21-25

In each case the individual heard God’s word and obeyed. They acted, and it was in the action that their faith was established.

Gather Fuel

What Bible reading and prayer do is give us the fuel for putting faith into action. As Paul wrote in Romans, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” But, as we’ve already noted, that faith doesn’t become a reality if it isn’t acted out. The Gospel of God starts a fire in our soul and the Word is fuel that stokes that fire, but to gather wood and never place it in the fire is pointless.

There are too many long-time believers sitting in spiritual houses stacked to the roof with well organized, neatly split firewood and a barely flickering flame. Faith looks like taking some of that firewood and throwing it in the fire.

If you’re lacking fuel, spend time in the word and prayer. Make this a daily, frequent practice. Abide in the word and let it abide in you. But you must not stop there. Cords of firewood do no good to anyone in this frigid world of sin and brokenness if they are never lit. Let’s start putting fuel on the flame by obeying Jesus’ commands and following the Spirit’s lead.

Stoke the Fire

Two practical ways you can do this:

  1. Whenever you read a section of scripture, finish by asking God “What do you want me to do in response to this?” Write down what the Spirit prompts you to do and do it.
  2. Don’t move on from a section of Scripture until it’s become a part of your life and you can truly say it’s become a part of how you live, not just another thing you know.

We all want heart change – we want our passions and lives to align with what our Lord calls us to have. Reading words from the page of a book, even if it is inspired by God, is not the way for that to happen. Faith won’t grow simply by reading a book. Additional knowledge can’t create definitive change in the human heart. The only way that happens is if our faith is put into action. Let’s put God’s word to the test. Let’s be people who believe him and act accordingly. As we do so the flame of our faith will grow in ways that those around us won’t be able to ignore.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

Don’t buy from the fear mongers

December 12, 2016

 

 

Monger: : broker, dealer —usually used in combination
2 : a person who attempts to stir up or spread something that is usually petty or discreditable —usually used in combination

 

When Kelly and I became parents it was incredibly to me how many people seemed intent on selling us on being afraid of anything and everything that could happen to our son Micah. I expected it from advertisements, but the most strident fear-mongering came solid, faithful Christians. The offers to buy into fear were myriad; you should keep the baby’s room warm so they don’t freeze. You should keep the baby’s room cool or else they’ll die of SIDS. You need to talk to your baby constantly or else they’ll never learn to speak. Along with constant offers of immediate worries, most of them involving Micah’s immanent death, there were plenty of people offering long term worries about how our freedom was over, how we wouldn’t get any sleep, how we needed to set aside all sorts of money to pay for our kid’s needs and the like.

Fear mongering seems to be a sport for many people, sadly including Christians. It doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re in, there will inevitably be people trying to sell their fears to you. Whether it’s college students bemoaning the terribleness of finals, co-workers selling fear about the lack of competency of their manager, or advertisers selling fear about your health and good looks, the pressure to purchase fear is immense.

But, brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t buy it. Fear is a garment that doesn’t fit the Jesus in you.

Not a spirit of Fear

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
– 2 Timothy 1:7

If you’re a follower of Jesus you have the Holy Spirit living in you – the Spirit of Christ – and, as Paul writes to Timothy in the verse above, that Spirit is one that fear doesn’t fit on. Fear and it’s accompanying anxiety and worry may have fit the old you in your childish days before Jesus, but since you’ve been born again and grown in Christ fear is several sizes too small. Buying it from someone else would be a silly choice, regardless of how convincing the salesperson is. If you do buy that fear and squirm your way into it it will squeeze the life out of you and drag your days out in long discomfort.

My friends, the Holy Spirit is diametrically opposed to the kind of worry, fear, and anxiety that the people around you are trying to sell. The Spirit that God has given us replaces that fear with power, love, and soundness of mind.

A spirit of power

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

  • Joshua 1:9

Almost all of our fear, anxiety, and worry flows from attempting to be in control and failing. We worry about our kids because we can’t control them or their environment. We worry about our future because we can’t make it go the way we planned. We fear taking risks because we can’t control the outcomes.

For the Christian that fear and worry has been replaced with a Spirit of power. The follower of Jesus has a real, fear-destroying power. It’s not the controlling power that the world and our flesh wants to make us feel secure – it’s the power to entrust ourselves completely to an all-powerful King. It’s the power of faith – the power that enabled Joshua to conquer Jericho, Jesus to face the cross, Paul to speak confidently before Roman rulers, and for thousands of Christians to face martyrdom with smiles of joy.

When you know that the one who is infinitely powerful and can reshape reality at his whim is for you, buying what the fear-mongers are selling seems downright foolish.

A spirit of love

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
– 1 John 4:18

Along with power, the Holy Spirit is also a Spirit of love. Some of the most appealing fears that are offered to us by the world regard those who we love. We’re sold fear for our aging parents, for our adventurous children, for our spouses. They may die. They may get hurt, physically or emotionally or otherwise.

John writes in his epistle that true love casts out fear. That means that if we truly love someone fear won’t be what shapes our relationship. Love isn’t an excuse for fear. When God places in you his Spirit of love you outgrow the fears for those you care for because you discover that He – the good and powerful God – loves them even more than you do and He’s not out to punish them.

A sound mind

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”

  • John 14:27

Fear causes us to think irrationally and make foolish decisions. When we buy into the fear that those around us offer we’ll inevitably do dumb things. We’ll lay awake late into the night worrying about tomorrow, we’ll be harsh towards people we care about, we’ll use anger as a weapon to defend ourselves from what we’re afraid of, and dozens of other things that we wouldn’t do if we had a sound mind.

Instead of wild-mindedness that flows from fear, the Spirit of Jesus gives us peace that overrides any worry. A peace enables us to walk with a sound mind, making decisions with the clarity of faith. We don’t do worry, because it just doesn’t fit us anymore. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Today you’ll encounter dozens of people who try to sell you on being afraid. Don’t buy anything from the fear mongers. When you feel worry, anxiety, and fear rising up, pause and ask the Holy Spirit what he has for you. What is his power for you? What is the love he has given you? How does the sound, peaceable mind that is yours in the Spirit asses the situation? Buy what He’s selling. I promise that it will fit you beautifully.

 

 

Book Highlights, Faith, Spiritual Growth

Finding Fullness of Joy

December 5, 2016

 

 

We humans naturally pursue what is pleasurable. We were created with innate longings for joy and enjoyment and spend our lifetimes capturing it wherever we can. That longing is a good thing, planted by our Creator to draw us like a magnet toward the fountain of pleasure that is found in Him.

The problem is that sin has distorted things and we’re constantly getting drawn into poisoned pleasures that lead to death. As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8, the mind set on satisfying the cravings of the flesh is death. The earthly pleasures found in sex, food, entertainment, days off, observing the beauties of nature, and the like ultimately all fall short. We consume them and walk away needing more. The pleasures and joys of this earth aren’t full. We need more than what they offer.

Where pleasure is found

In Psalm 16 David gives an answer to the pleasure-seeking ache that every human has. He writes,

“You make know to me the path of life;
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
– Psalm 16:11

Where are we to find the joy and enjoyment that we need? In the presence of God.

Almost every Christian I know would agree with this in general, but in practice we tend to function as if we don’t quite believe what David’s saying here. Note that it’s not in the Bible that David says joy is found. It’s not in church. It’s not in quiet times. It’s in God’s presence. That means that if we’re in God’s presence we can have joy and pleasure.

The question is, where is God’s presence? If we want joy and pleasure and it’s experienced by being close to God, then we must know where God is and go there.

The Apostle Paul states what echoes throughout the Psalms and the rest of Scripture when he declares God, “is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28). God is present throughout all the earth. He fills his creation as the waters fill the sea. As David wrote in another Psalm,

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

Long story short, God’s presence is everywhere. You can’t get away from it.

This truth has amazing implications for our search for joy. If it is both true that God is present in all places and that in his presence there is total joy and pleasure, that means we can walk in constant fullness of joy, regardless of our location or situation. In the midst of family conflict we can have joy. In the midst of moving to a new city and knowing no one we can have joy. When nothing goes according to plan we can be pleased, because God is present and in his presence is pleasure forevermore.

How to get there

In another Psalm we read,

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
– Psalm 100:4

Want to get into God’s presence where there is pleasure and joy unending? The way to get there is is thanksgiving and praise. Thanksgiving gets you through the gates, praise into the courts of his presence. If we want pleasure and joy we must put praise and thanksgiving as high priorities in our lives.

When you’re feeling dissatisfied with life is your response to start thanking God for all the good he’s given you? When you’re stressed and joyless do you turn on the praise by declaring to God his glorious character and promises? God is present in all places and at all times, and we can encounter that presence in a real, mind-and-emotion-impacting way through thanksgiving and praise.

If you’re struggling to grasp joy and find pleasure in God or in life, set aside regular time to worship. Read the Scriptures and respond with verbal, out-loud declaration of thanks when you read something good. Write out a list of what you’re thankful for in this moment. Turn on worship music and soak in the lyrics. Inevitably you’ll find that as you do so your heart and Spirit rises to the joy and pleasure that is found in the presence of God. And that, my friends, will make all the difference.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

In Trouble? Ask for a Command

November 1, 2016

 

 

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. But the boat was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear.

Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.”

“Come!” He said.

And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”

  • Matthew 14

 

When you’re in a hard place, what do you pray? When you’re struggling with all your might to make progress but don’t seem to be getting anywhere, where is your focus? Is your focus on getting out of the situation, getting to your goal and being done with it? If so you may be missing an amazing encounter with God that you won’t be able to have anywhere else.

Plenty has been written and preached about the story of Peter walking on water. It’s a story that resonates with us because we so greatly long to experience Jesus in ways that shape our life forever. But there’s one point I don’t think I’ve heard drawn from this story before, and I believe it is a significant one. To state it succinctly, when you want to experience more of God ask for a command and then obey.

Let’s set the scene. The disciples are on the lake struggling to make forward progress. They see a ghost on the water. A ghost that has Jesus’ voice and tells them to not be afraid. Peter, being the smart guy he is, wants proof that it’s Jesus. He wants an experience that will prove to him that Jesus is with them. Peter could have asked for anything. He could have asked for Jesus to come closer and get in the boat with them or to be taken out of the struggle and transported to the other side of the lake (which does happen in another similar story), or maybe to have Jesus miraculously produce them a midnight snack. Instead of any of those things he says to Jesus, “command me to come to you on the water.” Peter asks Jesus to command him to do something.

When was the last time you asked God to give you a command when you were in a difficult place and wanted to know he was near? Heck, when was the last time you asked God to command you anything? There are already plenty of commands and we have no need of additional ones, thank you.

We seem to have this idea that the way God proves his nearness is by removing us from struggle and making things easier, but if Peter’s experience here is any guide that very well may not be the case.

Jesus willingly responds to Peter’s request, saying simply, “Come!” and Peter obeys. He gets his proof. He stands on top of a lake and steps forward. He walks in Jesus’ footsteps and lives a miracle for a few moments. Then he sinks. But is that a bad thing? In that moment of sinking is when Jesus comes closest, grabbing his disciple and pulling him out of the water where he’d stepped at his master’s command.

Friends, if you want to encounter God in a fresh way do what Peter did; ask for a command. When you receive it take a risk and step out in obedience. Like Peter you’ll get to experience the awe and wonder of what our God does when we follow him in faith. The best part is that you can’t fail! If you step out, stumble, and fall Jesus will be there to grab you before you hit the ground.

Next time you’re in a place of difficulty or struggling to make forward progress, don’t pray for God to take you out of the situation. Instead ask him to tell you what to do in the situation. Obey. Odds are that when you do you’ll be walking closer to Jesus than you would in another other situation.

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Parenting, Spiritual Growth

you’re not inadequate

September 19, 2016

 

 

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
– Colossians 2:8-10

 

 

This whole parenting thing has left Kelly and I both feeling thoroughly inadequate. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate just how much energy – emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual – it takes to care for a tiny human.

Maybe your thing isn’t parenting at the moment, but I know there are many of you reading that are coming into this new week feeling that kind of inadequacy. You had an exhausting weekend dealing with family stuff that you didn’t want to have to ever deal with. You’re waking up and heading to work with dread, unsure if you’ll make it through the next 8 hours. You feel trapped in a hole of depression and anxiety and feel utterly out of energy to fight.

Whatever it is that has you feeling small and unable to cope this morning, Colossians 2 has important truth for you. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae to remind them of the truth of the Gospel and to exhort them to not get caught up again in worldly thinking – i.e. the “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” mentioned in the verses above. His remedy to this worldly kind of thinking is a strange one. He declares, “in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”

Christ the fullness

“In Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. If you’re a Christian, you probably get this statement on some level. Or do you? Have you thought on the massiveness of what Paul is saying here? God – infinite, eternal, omnipotent – somehow got packed inside a body and became a man by the name of Jesus.

When you encounter Jesus you’re not encountering some small portion of God. No, in him the entirety of God resides without limits. That’s amazing. But it gets even more crazy.

Filled in Him

Paul could have stopped and built his argument against worldly thinking simply on the fact that God had become flesh in Christ, but he doesn’t. Instead he goes on and makes what is, in many ways, an even more audacious and wild statement when he writes, “and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”

Catch that? Paul just said that the same Jesus in whom the fullness of God has residence has filled you. You, my friend, have the fullness of God filling you. The one who has all rule and authority and power, the one of whom the angels and elders and all creation declare in Revelation 5, “ Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing,” that one has taken up residence in you.

When that one, the almighty one, has filled you there’s no room for inadequacy. As Paul writes in the following verses to the Colossians, you were dead in your sin but God baptized you into Christ and you now have resurrection life at work in you. You’ve been filled in him in whom all the fullness of deity dwells bodily. The same one who parted the Red Sea for the Isrealites, made blind people see, fed 5000 with a kid’s happy meal, and resurrected himself from the dead is at work in you.

Don’t buy the lie that you’re inadequate and unable to take on what God’s placed in front of you. If you’re in Christ and Christ is in you you have more than enough to endure in joy. My prayer for you and for Kelly and myself today is that we would truly experience the reality that we have indeed “been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” and as we experience that demonstrate to the watching world the beautiful peace and power that is found only in Jesus.

May the Lord make it so, as it already is.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Culture, Faith

Defend Your God

August 15, 2016

 

 

 

Nothing gets people as riled up as religion and politics, or so the common sentiment goes. Conversations on either topic can spiral from polite to ferocious in a matter of moments as all involved work to hold their ground and prove their point. Bitter divisions can evolve from just a brief encounter.

I can’t help but wonder if such conflict is really God’s way for his people, particularly in the realm of religion. Are we called to be “defenders of the faith” who forcibly prove the truth of Christianity? Should we protest when the ten commandments are removed from courthouses? Organize rallies against professors who teach college students that God is a myth? The people of the world will fight tooth and nail for the honor of their idols of sexual freedom, personal pleasure, and relative truth. Should we Christians do the same for the one true God?

Religion and Rioting

There’s a scene in Acts 19 that may shed some light on these questions. Paul and a few of his fellow missionaries are in Ephesus, teaching those who have become believers how to walk in the ways of Christ when a silversmith named Demetrius, a man of some influence among the craftsmen in the city, makes this speech to his fellows;

You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

The craftsmen are outraged and “When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was in an uproar.” Things quickly get out of hand as a mob gathers, dragging some of Paul’s companions to a local gathering place, everyone shouting and yelling for nearly two hours “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” until one of the city officials convinces everyone to calm down and go their separate ways.

Defend Your God

What drove this riot in Ephesus? Demetrius summarizes it this way; “the great goddess Artemis will be discredited…will be robbed of her divine majesty” if Paul and the Gospel he preached kept spreading.

For the Ephesians, Artemis was their identity and their idol. The goddess gave their city prominence and power. If someone attacked the goddess or threatened her preeminence then the people needed to defend her, and thus a riot begins and hours of shouting ensue, all to make sure that Artemis’ divine majesty is clear.

Not that much different from what takes place today in the name of politics and religion. The question is, does a shouting crowd truly prove the majesty and honor of Artemis? Do sharp-witted debates about the truth of creationism or the historicity of scripture prove the glory and power of Jesus?

I don’t think they do. And Paul doesn’t seem to either.

Our God Defends

Paul and the Ephesian believers don’t stage a counter protests. They don’t take to the streets to yell “Greater is Jesus Christ!” Instead they ride the wave of the uproar and when it subsides Paul leaves town after encouraging the believers who would remain. There’s no organized resistance, only quiet confidence in God just like what the Apostles demonstrated earlier in Acts when they were brought before the Sanhedrin.

You see, here’s the thing that separates followers of Christ from the people of this world; we don’t have to defend our God. He is the one who defends himself. There’s never any fear that he will be discredited or robbed of his divine majesty. In fact, our God not only defends himself, he also defends his people. See Moses and the Isrealites at the Red Sea, where God commands them to simply stand still and watch him work for their salvation. In stark contrast to Artemis and the tens of thousands of other “gods’ in this world who need their followers to defend them, the Christian God keeps his own glory and honor, and protects his people as well.

In a world that goes wild at the merest mention of the true God and the Gospel of Christ, I’m convinced it’s not our job to defend the faith. It’s not our job to organize rallies and protests and social media movements to get Christianity a seat at the cultural table so our God can be legitimate again. He’s never been illegitimized. Jesus is so glorious that even should the entire world attempt to shove him aside and ignore him, he would lose nothing. He doesn’t need men to defend him.

Instead we ought to live the faith, always being ready to give an answer when we are asked about the hope that we have. Like the Apostle Paul our day-by-day life ought to be so potently Spirit-filled that we shift the very foundations of the cultures we are in as we proclaim the Gospel and make disciples. Our job is to proclaim Christ and make disciples. It’s up to God how that will impact the culture. In the long run that is what will make true change.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

How to receive God’s direction

August 12, 2016

 

 

 

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
– Psalm 143:8

 

 

Today you’re at a crossroads. You’ve got decisions (link to fear vs. faith decision blog post) to make that will shift the course of your future in significant ways. You want God’s direction but haven’t been seeing/hearing it clearly. Maybe you’re just in a difficult place, surrounded by opposition and struggling to just make it through another day, desperate to know what to do next in order to survive. Psalm 143:8 contains an important truth for you today.

We serve a God who values relationship over task completion and intimacy over productivity (link to Evil of Good work blog post). Want God’s direction? First you need to be present with him and learn to receive his love.

Receive the Love

In Psalm 143 David is in the midst of a desperate situation with people literally attempting to kill him. In the midst of that he cries out to God, seeking help and hope. The center of this Psalm, the record of that cry for help, is found in the phrase, “let the morning bring my word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.”

Here’s the thing, God wants us to trust in him and know his love before he gives the solution to your problem, lest we be tricked into thinking that it’s the solutions that are God’s love. Note that it is unfailing love that David is longing for an experience of. This love exists regardless of the circumstances you’re in the midst of. God’s love hadn’t been withdrawn from David, David simply had stopped hearing word of it.

Want to hear God’s direction for the next step in your life? First open your heart to receive his love.

Place Your Trust

Trust is the channel through which our experience of God’s love flows. David requests word of the Father’s unfailing love on the basis of the fact that “I have put my trust in you.”

My friends, if your trust or your security rests in something other than God you’re going to have a hard time experiencing his love, no matter how much you cry out for it. If you’ve been desperately seeking an encounter with God and can’t seem to reach it, examine your life to see where your trust is truly resting. Choose today to place your trust in the only worthy object. “The cross before me, the world behind me…no turning back.” Let that be your resolve.

As you entrust yourself to the Father you he will begin to show you the way you should go. Dependence precedes direction.

See the Way

Out of our relationship with God comes the direction of God. It is, “I entrust to you my life,” therefore, “Show me the way I should go”. What beautiful freedom there is in an entrusted life! The light of God’s word and the leading of His Spirit become the path upon which we step by step move forward in faith. We, like David, can trust that our God’s unfailing love will silence our enemies and support us through every trial. He will indeed teach us to do his will. Our part is simply to place our trust and receive his love. The rest will flow naturally from that.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith

Prove God

July 18, 2016

 

 

 

Confession. Yesterday Kelly and I skipped church and liked it. There are times where it’s better to step back from the normal routine and encounter God in a different context, so we stayed home and spent time together, journaled, prayed, worshiped, and watched this sermon from Graham Cooke. We both came away from the two hours or so we spent together in the Lord’s presence thoroughly refreshed, challenged, and inspired.

Graham’s sermon was on questions God asks of his people, and one that’s been echoing in my mind since we heard the message yesterday is, “When will you prove me?” When will I prove God in my experience? When will I truly entrust myself to my heavenly Father so that he can prove his love, goodness, and glory? So often we keep ourselves safe and secure in our familiar old ways of acting and thinking that we prevent ourselves from proving God in the ways we so desperately need.

Oh, we’ll sit and read our Bibles. We’ll spend time in prayer. We’ll go to church, small group, Bible study, and do service projects, but when it comes to the painful grit of our lives we pull back into our strongholds for safety rather than casting ourselves upon God and proving him. When a relationship gets rocky we cut it off, convinced that what we need is “healthy boundaries” rather than the hand of God. When work gets stressful we run to our favorite television show to escape rather than pressing into the difficulty and letting God prove himself in us. When fear of failure builds we jump ship and move to the next thing.

Where in your life is God asking you to prove him? Where is he asking you to step forward in frightening faith? For me this morning there are two major areas that he’s brought up consistently over the past couple months. One is financial provision as Kelly moves from full time work to being a full-time mom in just a couple weeks. The other is a recurring sin that’s plagued my life for years and that I give in to far too easy. God’s challenging me to “resist to the point of shedding blood” (Heb. 12:4) and prove Him to be able to strengthen me and satisfy me.

And what a joy it will be when God proves himself to us! To get to know – to experience – the power and glory of our Savior is a fuel that sustains the lagging soul.

Let’s not be people who are dominated and decide things according to fear, who spend our time trying to be safe. Instead let’s prove God – taking Him at His word and acting accordingly with the eager expectation and confidence that we do indeed serve a Lord who is more than able to do above and beyond all we can ask or think. May we, together, see the mighty hand of God move in our lives this week as we prove him time and again.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Life, Spiritual Growth

Fear vs. Faith: A framework for decision making

June 13, 2016

 

 

 

 

Life is basically just one long series of decisions. For those who are followers of Christ we long deeply for those decisions to be ones that glorify our creator and Savior. Some decisions are clearly right and wrong, and we navigate those with general ease. Or at the very least know how we should navigate them. The tension comes when we encounter decisions where God’s word doesn’t give direct instruction and where we may not be feeling a specific lead from the Holy Spirit.

I want to offer a simple, effective framework for navigating that kind of decision in your life. First the basis for this framework, then the framework itself.

Fear or Faith

In the 14th chapter of his epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul makes a massive statement; “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (14:23b) If this statement is to be taken at face value – which I believe it is, judging by the scripture-wide emphasis on faith as the thing which pleases God most – then that means that every act we do that isn’t prompted by faith is, in some way, a sin.

The opposite of faith is fear. Fear is self-focused, faith is God-focused. Fear is about security and control, faith is about trust and obedience. Fear is timid, faith is bold. Faith takes God at His word, fear looks at the circumstances and gathers doubt.

I want you to choose to live in faith rather than fear. When you come to a difficult decision and are unsure what to do, ask yourself this question: “Which of these options is choosing faith?” Choose that one, no matter what. We don’t want to be people who take the path of least resistance. We want to be the people who walk the path that carries us increasingly closer to Christ.

Live in Faith

The funny thing is, the same outward action that comes from faith in one person could be coming from fear in another. To help better grasp how this works out, let’s look at a couple examples and contrast how choosing in faith vs. choosing in fear plays out.

  • It’s Friday. A few co-workers are going to the bar after work and they invite you along. You choose to go.
    • Faith: You chose to go despite the fact that you don’t feel comfortable in bars because you believe that God wants you to love and minister to your coworkers, and you want to get to know them better.
    • Fear: You chose to go because you didn’t want to be seen as an outsider or a goodie two-shoes.
  • You’re frustrated with your significant other because of something they keep doing even though you’ve mentioned that it bothers you several times already. You decide to keep quiet about it.
    • Faith: You chose to be quiet and trust that they care for you and probably aren’t doing it intentionally, so you’ll trust the Spirit to remind them this time.
    • Fear: You chose to be quiet because you didn’t want to start an argument or appear to be nagging or have them be frustrated with you.
  • A person who drains you called this morning and left a message, asking you to call them back. You put it off for a few hours, then call them back.
    • Faith: You chose to call them back because you trust that God will give you the emotional energy to deal with whatever the situation is.
    • Fear: You called them back because you were worried about what they’d think of you if you didn’t, and because you’d feel like you weren’t being Christian enough.

There are a thousand more examples that could be laid out before us. But you don’t need them, because you have the Holy Spirit in you. When you ask which option in the decision you’re making is choosing faith, he’ll let you know. Step into it. We make decision after decision every day, and each one is an opportunity to step further into faith in God or backwards into fear. Let’s make faith our daily choice, no matter what the cost. It will be well worth it in the end.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Discipleship, Faith, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Wrong Stronghold

June 9, 2016

 

 

 

A few weekends ago the Threshingfloor Communities leaders spent a weekend together to learn, pray, and plan for the next several months of ministry. During our time at the cabin we all packed into near Park Rapids, MN we watched this sermon by Francis Chan. It led to some great discussion about our personal prayer lives, whether or not we are truly seeking God as our “one thing,” and what exactly we are looking to as our stronghold of safety, rest, and peace.

We live in a world where we are under constant attack. Rare is the day where a person can go from sunrise to sundown without some sort of difficulty, whether it be emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, or otherwise. We are fragile creatures, even the strongest of us. A harsh word can bring up pain from a decade ago and make it as real today as it was then. A small failure can, in a moment, unearth all our well-hidden insecurities.

We all need a place where we can take our armor off, lay down, and rest without fear. We need a stronghold. Even just the knowledge that we have such a stronghold is often enough to carry us through difficulty.

The Strongholds

It’s because of this need for a stronghold that we are constantly seeking and building for ourselves safe place after safe place. Having a rough week? The weekend can be your stronghold, with its (hopefully) less hectic schedule and freedom from work hours. Feeling lonely? The next romantic relationship will be your stronghold. Once you get it, you’ll have the safety and joy that will protect you from the pain of the world, right? Tired? Depressed? Sleep can be your stronghold, with its gentle oblivion to guard you from the weary difficulty of life.

The list can go on. Our ingenuity in stronghold construction knows no bounds. Food, music, movies, anger, traveling – you name it, we humans have at one point or another tested it as a stronghold to protect us from the difficulties of this world.

The problem with these strongholds is that, inevitably, they fail. More often than not when they fail they leave us worse off than we were before. The weekend goes by too fast and is too busy and Sunday night you watch the walls of your stronghold crumble around you, leaving you in the painful world of the weekday once again. The person you were pursuing that romantic relationship with? Yea, well, turns out she’s not interested (despite the signs to the contrary). The stronghold falls and you’re left wandering in loneliness again. And – of course – you weren’t able to fall asleep and spent the night tossing and turning without any real sleep.

The funny thing is that, for most of us, when our stronghold of choice fails us we don’t seem to get the message that it’s not working. Instead we retreat further inside and build the walls higher, bar the doors more strongly. If I didn’t get the weekend I needed this time, then next weekend will be really really resting. The next job will be fulfilling. Little do we know that each time we do this we’re building around ourselves not walls for protection, but walls that hold us captive.

Demolition Time

According to Paul, the Gospel comes in to demolish false strongholds. The good news of Jesus Christ is dynamite that blasts through the walls that we thought kept us safe but in reality keep us captive. In 2 Corinthians 10 he writes,

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. -2 Cor 10:3-5

My friends, we don’t wage war like the world does. We don’t build the strongholds that they do. Jesus won’t let us, because he knows that those false strongholds are lies set up against the knowledge of God. Our Lord loves us too much to let entertainment, food, sex, relationships, or any other false stronghold keep his children from freedom, so he will gladly come and destroy the walls around us and leave us standing frightened and in the open until we turn to the only true stronghold.

The True Stronghold

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
-Psalm 27:1

David knew well what it meant to need a place to hide. He literally had people attempting to kill him, something that most of us probably haven’t experienced. In the midst of that painful, fearful situation David needed a stronghold. Instead of turning to some earthly thing – hiding and feeling sorry for himself or taking up arms and doing battle against those who came after him – he declares “The Lord is the stronghold of my life.”

When we learn to build Christ around us as the stronghold of our lives, we can laugh and be fearless even when there’s chaos and war around us. We will say with David, “Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”

Rough week at work with lots of tension? Jesus is peace, patience, and hope. Feeling lonely? God is present with you, closer than any significant other, and he’s given you a family in Christ. Tired and depressed? The Lord gives rest to those whom he loves, and those who trust in him run and do not faint. Worried and anxious? Don’t worry about tomorrow, because your Father in heaven knows what you need and loves you.

The one true stronghold is found in Jesus; all others are failures and lies.

The question is, how do we get there? How do we get to the place where the Lord is indeed our stronghold? David gives us the key to entering the stronghold of the Lord in verses 4-6 of Psalm 27:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

When the one thing that we pursue is to be in God’s presence, then we are kept safe in God’s tent. Note that – the walls of God’s tent are stronger than the stones of the greatest fortress we could build. In the presence of the Lord there is safety. Make abiding in Him the center of your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical reality and your “head will be exalted…” and you will “sacrifice with shouts of joy”. He is a stronghold that will not fail. Indeed, as Luther famously penned, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”

Christian, where is your stronghold today? What are you looking to for protection, comfort, and hope? Is it Christ or something of this world? Don’t lock yourself within the deadly confines of a worldly stronghold. It will make you a captive and a slave. Instead, look to Jesus and see that in him are the walls that shall never fail and the peace that surpasses all understanding.