Easier Said Than Done

mark-536“Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” (Mark 5:36b)

It’s easier said than done much of the time.

I walked by a sign the other day that said, “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.” It’s not that fear doesn’t exist. We can’t just wish it away. We have to have something bigger than it, something that keeps it in check, in context, something that absorbs and handles it well.

Belief in and of itself doesn’t get rid of our fears. Some beliefs exacerbate fears. If we believe in the wrong things, undependable things, the fears are only masked, and when things are masked, they can grow in the dark where we hide them. Fears can grow and become something that they’re not.

Fears aren’t just the things we tremble about. They are also the quiet ways we think we’re missing out on something, the insecurities, the desires spurred by “what if.” Without true belief, our “what ifs” become unmanageable. We can’t control them like we thought we could, and they begin to control us. We begin to make decisions based on fleeting assumptions and feelings. We might feel certain at the time, but when we’re on shaky ground, it doesn’t take long for insecurities, regrets, and doubt to move in.

Belief isn’t easy. It’s an unrelenting effort. But it’s worth the effort in the long run.

Some Things Stick to Our Identity

Are you retired?

Yes.

What did you retire from?

Farming.

My dad hadn’t farmed for decades, yet that was his response. He had held a lot of interesting jobs: dispatching a fleet of trucks, guiding motorists and officials for statewide transportation, excavating, managing a farming co-op, brokering commodities, and much more. Granted, farming certainly occupied more of his time than any other occupation throughout his life, but it wasn’t the last thing he did. It’s what he identified with the most.

Some things stick to our identity. It becomes such an important part of who we are that we can’t tell if we were always that way and it seeped out or if we surrounded ourselves with it so much that it seeped in.

But we know it’s important. We know it’s who we are.

What do you want to be known for more than anything? What is your identity? I’m not talking about work, like in my dad’s case. If my dad was asked to describe his identity, I don’t think the first thing he’d say is “farmer.” Identity goes much deeper and reaches much farther.

But it’s important to know who you are, what you’ve allowed and relied on to form your identity. Sometimes the things we believe about ourselves aren’t as accurate as we want to think. We need to evaluate with authenticity and move forward with intention.

So, who are you?

Absolutes of Everyday Life

youarehereWe all choose to follow some absolutes. Take an honest look at your life. What absolutes do you not only believe in and stand firmly on but expect others to abide by as well?

Maybe you don’t believe in God’s absolutes–or even in God Himself–yet you accept, live by, and project other rules, such as grammar, spelling, etiquette, traffic and other laws, and so on. Or maybe you even separate some of those categories out so that some laws (the ones you don’t want broken because you have a personal investment in them) are irrefutable but other laws (the ones you feel infringe on your rights or comfort) are negotiable, even unwarranted or ridiculous. Grammar and spelling? Well, it’s not okay to break some of the rules but others aren’t quite as important to keep. Etiquette? You better show some manners in a particular situation, but it’s okay to toss manners out the window in another situation.

I noticed this phenomena recently on social media. I saw some posts and comments pointing out others’ failures in “living by the rules set for intelligent civilization.” The offense? Poor grammar. I agree poor grammar is unprofessional and annoying, but to make it a requirement for meaningful life?

The only things that can be absolutes are things that are not location-specific, gender-specific, ethnic-specific, language-specific, or any other specific. Absolutes apply to everyone. They aren’t projected onto people. They are foundational. People can refuse to acknowledge the foundation. They can cover the foundation with other things that they then identify their foundation. They can make a small circle around themselves on the foundation and only claim a piece of it as absolute. But absolute is absolute. We each have a choice to find out more or refuse to do so.

Our choices don’t change the absolute. Our choices simply change us.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Gaining Strength

strongEach time something is reconfirmed, it gains strength. Consider a time you learned you could do something. Perhaps you ran a short distance, made a new recipe, earned a raise at work, or saved money at the store by using coupons. You got excited because you accomplished something you never accomplished before, but was it a one-time thing or could you repeat it? Then, you did it again, and your accomplishment was reconfirmed. Perhaps you’ve won a difficult game repeatedly, or you’ve completed a do-it-yourself home project. Something you hadn’t done has now been done. Something you didn’t know is now known.

You consistently reconfirm your faith. The foundation has been laid. You know the truth of God’s Word and who he is. You don’t just believe in God, you know him. You learn more about him, which prompts you to grow more closely with him. You watch for him working in your life, and as he does, you give him credit for what’s happening. Because you’re looking for him, you recognize him. You don’t excuse away his provision and guidance as coincidence and chance. Your reconfirmation doesn’t change who God is. He is unchangeable. Your reconfirmation changes your relationship with God. As you experience God, and what you believe lines up to your experiences with God, you give him more credit and trust him more completely. When your belief doesn’t line up with God, you search, knowing God is true and searchable, and he will reveal himself. You can trust him to convict you of what beliefs to tweak in order to more completely know the one and only true God.

Dig Into God’s Word…

And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” (Matthew 26:27-29, NLT)

God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. (Acts 15:8-9, NLT)

With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. (Romans 9:1, NLT)

Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge. This confirms that what I told you about Christ is true. Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:5-10, NLT)

Live It Out Loud…

When you think about your spiritual journey or everyday life, what’s one word that comes to mind? Look up the word (a synonym or concept) in a Bible concordance and see where God leads. For a quick online search, visit www.BibleGateway.com, and type in the word you want to search. You can choose your preferred translation, and you can even choose multiple translations to search at once. (Click on the Keyword Search, then choose “Search in multiple versions” under the dropdown “Select version” menu.)

I Want to Believe More! (part 4)

21.TRustPure Faith: A Study of What Faith Is and How to Live It Out Loud releases today! Today’s excerpt is a continuation of posts published on June 1st, 3rd, and 5th. Enjoy…and when you’re ready to order your copy or learn more, click here!

So the followers brought him to Jesus. As soon as the evil spirit saw Jesus, it made the boy lose control of himself, and he fell down and rolled on the ground, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has this been happening?”

The father answered, “Since he was very young. The spirit often throws him into a fire or into water to kill him. If you can do anything for him, please have pity on us and help us.”

Jesus said to the father, “You said, ‘If you can!’ All things are possible for the one who believes.”

Immediately the father cried out, “I do believe! Help me to believe more!” (Mark 9:20-24)

We learn from Mark 9 that all things are possible. However, we must keep this truth in context. The truth that anything is possible for God (or the converse statement that nothing is impossible for God) first appears in Genesis 18:14 when the LORD speaks to Abraham: “Is anything too hard for the Lord? No! I will return to you at the right time a year from now, and Sarah will have a son.”

Mark 9 includes Jesus declaring, “All things are possible for the one who believes.” Just as the LORD reminds Abraham that God can do anything, that all things are possible, Jesus declares the same truth even in the context of the father’s belief. All things are possible not because of the father but because of belief. Faith determines the possibility, because faith is being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it. (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is the certainty, hope, and knowledge in God. We don’t have faith in ourselves. True faith is of, for, and from God. What is possible with faith cannot be separated from God because faith itself cannot be separated from God.

It’s important to accept that “all things possible” in the context of faith means just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s God’s will. Just because it’s possible on earth, doesn’t mean you should pursue it. However, because possibility is tied to faith which cannot be separated from God, anything that is possible by biblical, spiritual standards is actually that which is of God. Of course, God is not limited, so the possibilities are not limited…except that God will never do anything contrary to his character and will. Some things are simply off the table.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to logically figure out or be able to grasp what is possible. What God requires of you is to be faithful, and the way to be faithful is to know him, obediently trusting him to live through us. Without God, we can do nothing: I am the vine, and you are the branches. If any remain in me and I remain in them, they produce much fruit. But without me they can do nothing. (John 15:5) With God, we can do anything: I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

Know God. Live God’s Word.

Listen, people of Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. Always remember these commands I give you today. Teach them to your children, and talk about them when you sit at home and walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them down and tie them to your hands as a sign. Tie them on your forehead to remind you, and write them on your doors and gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

To purchase Pure Faith:  A Study of What Faith Is and How to Live It Out Loud, click here.

I Want to Believe More! (part 3)

16Pure Faith: A Study of What Faith Is and How to Live It Out Loud releases today! Today’s excerpt is a continuation of the two previous posts (6/1 and 6/3). Enjoy…and when you’re ready to order your copy or learn more, click here!

So the followers brought him to Jesus. As soon as the evil spirit saw Jesus, it made the boy lose control of himself, and he fell down and rolled on the ground, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has this been happening?”

The father answered, “Since he was very young. The spirit often throws him into a fire or into water to kill him. If you can do anything for him, please have pity on us and help us.”

Jesus said to the father, “You said, ‘If you can!’ All things are possible for the one who believes.”

Immediately the father cried out, “I do believe! Help me to believe more!” (Mark 9:20-24)

In addition to the father in Mark 9 believing, he also doubted. Of course, believing and doubting go hand in hand, but let’s be careful of the relationship we assign to them. It’s not an all-or-nothing relationship. An ounce of doubt doesn’t negate all belief, and a dash of belief doesn’t pull doubt out of its funk. One doesn’t cancel out the other.

The spiritual confusion of the father reflects the intellectual and emotional turmoil that can plague any of us at a given moment in our lives. No one has a “red-hot” faith 24/7. It’s important to consider what characterizes your faith. Temperature matters, and it’s not about the average point of your faith. In other words, if you could assign a number to your faith in every moment, then add them together and divide them by the amount of temperature readings you have, you’d get the mean. However, you could have one or two red-hot, off-the-chart readings (or ice-cold, frozen-to-the-core readings) that distort the more consistent readings. Of course, we can’t create a mathematical assessment and value of our faith. We must pay attention to the daily moment opportunities of and reactions from our faith while also keeping a satellite-view of our faith. The details matter, but if we don’t keep an eye on the context of the details, we can get off track one small step at a time.

Even when we are firm in our faith, we can have moments of doubt. We can know the God who made us. We can know he cares and provides for us. We can acknowledge and accept he loves us so much he sent his Son to die a horrific death in order to live again, clearing the way for us to live eternally with him if we so choose. At the same time that we firmly know these truths, we can be in a situation in which we’re hurting so badly that our hearts may overpower our heads. Anytime we begin to think and respond out of the feelings we’re experiencing, we’re likely to err. That includes responding in doubt, because we feel angry, neglected, confused, fearful, or mistreated, and we wonder, “what if?” God gave us emotions to enhance life, not dictate it. Emotions are strong at times, and we respond in a variety of ways. We become silent and refuse to talk with God. (He still hears what we’re not saying.) We throw questions and demands at him. We plead and bargain with him. We even use Scriptures to tell him what he should do. Hurling Scriptures is not the same as claiming Scriptures.

In these moments, we are often saying, in essence, the same thing the father in Mark 9 cries out, “I do believe! Help me to believe more!” To have doubt, or unbelief, doesn’t mean salvation is in jeopardy. It doesn’t mean you question who God is. It can be as simple as having a gap in faith. It’s a place that needs to be reinforced and filled, and the best thing we can do when we’re in such a need is to ask God to fill it! He is the master builder of our lives. The choice to have faith or not is ours as individuals, but God meets us where we are. As we know him, our assurance firms. God doesn’t change through faith; he changes us.

The worst thing to do in a moment of doubt is try to ignore or hide it. The sooner you reveal it to God as a need or a weakness, the more quickly you will be working with him to let your faith consume the doubt. When weeds are left unattended, they can overwhelm the healthy plants around them. Left unchecked, doubt will choke out faith. A quick trim of doubt won’t do the trick. It has to be completely uprooted, and only God has the insight and strength to know exactly what is needed in each situation of doubt. Invite him into the process. He’s already involved and invested anyway, because it’s about our relationship with him. Also, recognize that identifying, acknowledging, and uprooting the doubt aren’t the only steps required in the process. We also must grow in faith. When the doubt is uprooted, there is a space that makes some areas of our faith vulnerable. Any gap uprooted doubts leave behind are just as susceptible to grow doubts again as they are to grow faith. And while the bare spot exists, the surrounding faith is vulnerable. We have to constantly ask God to examine, test, and prove our faith. It’s an uncomfortable process, but if we say we are faithful, we yield to God in every way and don’t give attention to our comfort but focus on the process of faithfulness.

Invite God to refine your faith and reveal any weak spaces.

Using the gift God gave me, I laid the foundation of that house like an expert builder. Others are building on that foundation, but all people should be careful how they build on it. The foundation that has already been laid is Jesus Christ, and no one can lay down any other foundation. But if people build on that foundation, using gold, silver, jewels, wood, grass, or straw, their work will be clearly seen, because the Day of Judgment will make it visible. That Day will appear with fire, and the fire will test everyone’s work to show what sort of work it was. If the building that has been put on the foundation still stands, the builder will get a reward. But if the building is burned up, the builder will suffer loss. The builder will be saved, but it will be as one who escaped from a fire.

Do not fool yourselves. If you think you are wise in this world, you should become a fool so that you can become truly wise, because the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. It is written in the Scriptures, “He catches those who are wise in their own clever traps.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15. 18-19)

 

For one more from the Pure Faith chapter Believe More, visit the blog on June 6th or read the past two posts (6/1 and 6/3).

I Want to Believe More! (part 2)

2.certaintyPure Faith: A Study of What Faith Is and How to Live It Out Loud releases today! Today’s excerpt is a continuation of the June 1st post. Enjoy…and when you’re ready to order your copy or learn more, click here!

So the followers brought him to Jesus. As soon as the evil spirit saw Jesus, it made the boy lose control of himself, and he fell down and rolled on the ground, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has this been happening?”

The father answered, “Since he was very young. The spirit often throws him into a fire or into water to kill him. If you can do anything for him, please have pity on us and help us.”

Jesus said to the father, “You said, ‘If you can!’ All things are possible for the one who believes.”

Immediately the father cried out, “I do believe! Help me to believe more!” (Mark 9:20-24)

Just as the father believed, so can we. Remember, even though it’s apparent his belief was limited, he believed Jesus enough to approach him. We often respond similarly. We believe in Jesus more than actively, faithfully believing him. We become familiar enough with what Jesus had done in the past and what he says he can do that we decide we can take something to him, but we’re really not all that confident in what his response will be.

God wants us to approach him no matter what; however, we should begin to be aware of our attitudes as we approach him. How and under what circumstances do we approach him?

Are you desperate? Perhaps you approach God because you simply don’t know what else to do. You’re at your wit’s end. You’re at the end of your rope, so you’ve tied a rope and are clinging to it, screaming out to God. You’re not sure if you have any other options, or you’re pretty sure you’ve exhausted all other options.

Are you whining? It’s just not fair, and you want God to know about it! Just in case he hasn’t been paying attention or can’t interpret someone’s intentions, you want to be sure he knows. You tattle on others, and you complain about your situation. You tell him how you deserve better, or you pity yourself and tell him you probably deserve worse. Whichever it is, you focus more on yourself than on God…even if you justify that putting yourself down is synonymous with having a humble attitude or if you justify that sharing what everybody else is doing and your interpretation of the situation is helping him have all the pieces of the puzzle. News flash: God doesn’t need any pieces of the puzzle. He already has them all.

Are you hurt? Whether it’s a physical, emotional, or spiritual hurt, you need the kind of attention and care only God can give. When do you admit you need God and go to him? Do you try to nurse yourself along until your wounds are beyond what you can handle, so you take the infected mess to him? Do you go to him at predictable times because that’s just what you have been taught to do? You expect him to meet you in those times and consider yourself “fully available” to him…as long as it’s during your specified set-aside times and you can still live the rest of your life the way you want. Whether you’re a Chreaster (Christmas and Easter church attender) or an Open-Door-er (any time the doors are open church attender), you attend on your timetable. You leave each appointment with the little card that indicates when you’ll be back. You don’t expect to see or acknowledge God in the in-between times any more than you expect to see your doctor at the grocery store or hair stylist at the gas station. Or perhaps you’re a run-in-with-every-ache-and-pain patient. You just know something major is wrong with every twinge of discomfort, and you want a quick solution. Of course, God wants us to take every need to him. But he also wants us to take his prescriptions, trust his way and definition of healing, and live a purposeful life in the world. God is our Great Physician, but he is the Lord over us, and that includes every area of our lives—including our ailments, but we certainly aren’t ailing in debilitating ways in every area of life.

Are you weary? The only way you’re going to make it is either a long hibernation from the world or someone to share some of the load you carry. Your neck, head, and back hurts, but more critical, your heart hurts. Your weariness is casting a shadow of uncertainty over everything. Nothing seems clear. You function in a fog and wonder if you’re really effective in anything you’re doing. You think you need a vacation from life, but you run to God, because what you need is the kind of spiritual detoxification that only he can provide.

Are you appreciative? Perhaps you approach God not because of a need you have but because of a need that has been met. You recognize God’s provision and blessing. And it’s not a one time “thank you.” We can often define something as a blessing when we first receive or recognize it but later can only see the gaps we’d like filled in the blessing.

  • “Thank you, God, for this job!” becomes “Really, God? How much longer am I going to have to deal with these people for this pay?”
  • “Thank you, God, for this paycheck.” becomes “I don’t know how I’m going to make it on this pay. I’ve cut out everything I can possibly cut out of the budget!” (…said over a Facebook message via a smartphone while sitting on the couch watching television and eating food picked up at the drive-thru on the personally-driven commute home from work).
  • “Thank you, God, for the love of my life!” becomes “If he smacks his gum one more time….!”

We’re not the only ones who struggle with the “Thanks, God!”/“Really, God?” balance. Consider the Israelites’ response after being delivered out of Egypt as God had directed.

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:

“I will sing to the Lord, because he is worthy of great honor.

He has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea.

The Lord gives me strength and makes me sing; he has saved me.

He is my God, and I will praise him.

He is the God of my ancestors, and I will honor him.

The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.

The chariots and soldiers of the king of Egypt he has thrown into the sea.

The king’s best officers are drowned in the Red Sea.

The deep waters covered them, and they sank to the bottom like a rock.

Your right hand, Lord, is amazingly strong.

Lord, your right hand broke the enemy to pieces.

In your great victory you destroyed those who were against you.

Your anger destroyed them, like fire burning straw.

Just a blast of your breath, and the waters piled up.

The moving water stood like a wall; the deep waters became solid in the middle of the sea.

The enemy bragged, ‘I’ll chase them and catch them.

I’ll take all their riches; I’ll take all I want.

I’ll pull out my sword, and my hand will destroy them.’

But you blew on them with your breath and covered them with the sea.

They sank like lead in the raging water.

Are there any gods like you, Lord? There are no gods like you.

You are wonderfully holy, amazingly powerful, a worker of miracles.

You reached out with your right hand, and the earth swallowed our enemies.

You keep your loving promise and lead the people you have saved.

With your strength you will guide them to your holy place.

The other nations will hear this and tremble with fear; terror will take hold of the Philistines.

The leaders of the tribes of Edom will be very frightened;

the powerful men of Moab will shake with fear; the people of Canaan will lose all their courage.

Terror and horror will fall on them.

When they see your strength, they will be as still as a rock.

They will be still until your people pass by, Lord.

They will be still until the people you have taken as your own pass by.

You will lead your people and place them on your very own mountain,

the place that you, Lord, made for yourself to live, the temple, Lord, that your hands have made.

The Lord will be king forever!” (Exodus 15:1-18)

Wow! The Israelites’ faith sounds unshakable to me! Yet verse 24 soon follows, The people grumbled to Moses and asked, “What will we drink?” Then, the whole Israelite community grumbled to Moses and Aaron in the desert. They said to them, “It would have been better if the Lord had killed us in the land of Egypt. There we had meat to eat and all the food we wanted. But you have brought us into this desert to starve us to death.” (Exodus 16:2-3)

After only a month and a half passed, the same people who had praised God for guidance and provision, claiming him as their everything, is deciding it would have been better for him to do something else. Does this in any way reflect your own faith?

Are you confident? Perhaps you go to God because of confidence, and if you’re going to God in an honoring way, it will not be because of your own confidence. We seek and trust God because of the God-confidence we have. Faith always involves God-confidence. Because of the sovereignty of God, all confidence comes from him, because he is the only one in whom we can have assured confidence. Self-confidence doesn’t actually exist, because any confidence we have in and of ourselves isn’t true, absolute confidence. We might want to simply do away with the self- words we commonly use (self-confidence, self-esteem, self-respect, and so on) and replace them with God-confidence, God-esteem, God-respect, and so on. We must acknowledge from where the root of confidence, esteem, and respect grow, and it’s always God when we’re looking for the true definitions.

When you go to God with confidence in him, you are honoring him. You are acknowledging him. Going to God in confidence is claiming who he is and what he promises to be true. Speak the attributes and promises of God to him. You will always be claiming truth and there will not be wrestling for what to say to be most effective in your prayers. God’s Word and truth has power—power that he wants to live out through you to impact the world.

Need an example? Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was faced with an invasion of armies. He had prepared by building up defenses. However, when he first learned of the threat, he didn’t reflect on and assess his preparations for war; he looked to God and his promises.

“Lord, God of our ancestors, you are the God in heaven. You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. You have power and strength, so no one can stand against you. Our God, you forced out the people who lived in this land as your people Israel moved in. And you gave this land forever to the descendants of your friend Abraham. They lived in this land and built a Temple for you. They said, ‘If trouble comes upon us, or war, punishment, sickness, or hunger, we will stand before you and before this Temple where you have chosen to be worshiped. We will cry out to you when we are in trouble. Then you will hear and save us.’ But now here are men from Ammon, Moab, and Edom. You wouldn’t let the Israelites enter their lands when the Israelites came from Egypt. So the Israelites turned away and did not destroy them. But see how they repay us for not destroying them! They have come to force us out of your land, which you gave us as our own. Our God, punish those people. We have no power against this large army that is attacking us. We don’t know what to do, so we look to you for help.” (2 Chronicles 20:6-12)

Are you faithful?  Perhaps you approach God simply out of faith. Approaching him doesn’t depend on your emotions…even though your emotions definitely vary. Approaching him doesn’t depend on your mood…even though your moods definitely vary. Approaching him doesn’t depend on your situation…even though your situations definitely vary. Approaching him doesn’t depend on your understanding…even though your understanding definitely varies. You approach God because that’s what faith is and does. It’s not about what you do but who God says he is and what he says about a faithful relationship. Your faith drives your “doing,” not the other way around.

You approach God when ____________________ (insert any situation whether you see it as positive or negative). You approach God because he is approachable and because he says he wants you to approach him. You approach him in every situation and moment, recommitting every detail of your life to him. You trust him, depend on him, long for him, obey him, and find peace in him. You approach God because you are faithful, and you know faith cannot be separated from approaching him.

So, why do you approach God?

Be cautious not to be satisfied by quickly giving the Sunday School answer, which is the answer you’re sure is the “right” one even though it might not be the real one. You’re not fooling God even if you’re doing a stellar job at fooling others and yourself.

For more from the Pure Faith chapter Believe More, visit the blog on June 5th.