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How Does Your Faith Grow?

How Does Your Faith Grow?

When I finally started taking God seriously and diligently read His Word, the idea or concept of “faith in God” was foreign to me. I didn’t really understand it and I certainly did not have any kind of faith to speak of. I would read about Abraham being told to sacrifice his son Isaac and I thought that Abraham was someone extra special or that he had “superhuman” qualities that God gave him. As if to say that no one could be ordinarily expected to have that kind of faith. I am learning, however, that this is somewhat true, but not entirely. Allow me to explain…

Let’s start with the Bible’s own definition of faith:

Hebrews 11:  1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

Isn’t this a great definition of faith?

Imagine you and a close friend are standing on the edge of a great chasm like you might see in an Indiana Jones movie. There is no visible way across. But when you re-read the ancient map you read a clue that suggests that a walking bridge exists starting at the end of the path, only it is invisible!

Do you trust the old map? What could be that important on the other end that would warrant the risk? Who steps out first, you or your friend? When you decide to take the first step, you are hoping that your foot will stop at the same level as your other foot and be able to support your weight.

How much confidence would you have in that first step? After taking the first five steps and seeing that this invisible bridge does indeed exist, do you have a little more faith in the map and the bridge itself? Of course! How exciting it would be to stand on an invisible bridge in the middle of a chasm. Now you have to keep on going and the rest of the bridge is still invisible. Are you ready to run across at this point, or still go one step at a time? It still takes faith and each step should be made with more and more confidence, but you’ll never see the bridge.

John 20: 29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

In this analogy, the bridge is like God, He wants us to trust totally on Him, leaning entirely on Him.

Let’s take Asa, one of Judah’s kings, as an example.

Here is a lesson for what is right:

2 Chronicles 14: 10 so Asa deployed his armies for battle in the valley north of Mareshah. 11 Then Asa cried out to the Lord his God, “O Lord, no one but you can help the powerless against the mighty! Help us, O Lord our God, for we trust in you alone. It is in your name that we have come against this vast horde. O Lord, you are our God; do not let mere men prevail against you!”
12 So the Lord defeated the Ethiopians in the presence of Asa and the army of Judah, and the enemy fled.

And here is a lesson for what is wrong:

2 Chronicles 16: 7 At that time Hanani the seer came to King Asa and told him, “Because you have put your trust in the king of Aram instead of in the Lord your God, you missed your chance to destroy the army of the king of Aram. 8 Don’t you remember what happened to the Ethiopians and Libyans and their vast army, with all of their chariots and charioteers? At that time you relied on the Lord, and he handed them over to you. 9 The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. What a fool you have been! From now on you will be at war.”

What I find fascinating is that king Asa knew better. He saw the Lord work in his life previously and witnessed a great miracle in defeating 1,000,000 Ethiopians, yet failed to continue trusting in God.

This tells me that we need to be careful and persistent in knowing where our faith is placed. This is why it is imperative in getting to know God on a personal level deeper and deeper. I am convinced that the more we know Him, the more we’ll trust Him. Does this make sense to you? How well do you know Him?

The map is like the Word of God.

All believers can digest the Word for spiritual nutrition and this helps us to understand and know our Creator all the more. This is why the Bible, in and of itself, is never enough. Anyone can read the Bible, but real faith comes by putting into practice that which we’ve learned and act on it.

For example, when the car breaks down, do we quickly whip out the credit card for the solution without acknowledging God and go to the nearest mechanic? Or do we pray about it and allow God to work in the situation? If we do not give God a chance to help us and rescue us as promised then how will we ever develop any kind of faith? Does this help you realize why it is so difficult for the rich to inherit the Kingdom of God?

Psalm 37:
5 Commit everything you do to the Lord.
     Trust him, and he will help you.
6 He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
     and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
7 Be still in the presence of the Lord,
     and wait patiently for him to act.
  Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
     or fret about their wicked schemes.

Hebrews 11:  6 And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

I love this verse, don’t you?

First, it makes it clear that faith is required to please God and second, it gives us the basic requirements of that faith. This is just a starting point. This is where the spiritually new-born begin. But in order to truly please God, I believe He wants us to grow and develop this faith.

I believe the parable of the servants is a great illustration of this:

Matthew 25: 24 “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

This servant clearly did not know his master very well and committed a grave mistake. Here’s where his ignorance led him:

Matthew 25: 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Unfortunately, I believe there are too many self-proclaimed believers in this position right now.

I apologize for the cynicism,

but I think far too many people that know the Truth are far more interested in working for their retirement on this earth than they are in working for eternal treasures.

Matthew 6: 19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

John 6:  26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. 27 But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

This is where the “rubber meets the road”. This makes it an individual sport. Not that we can’t work together to help build each other’s faith through fellowship, but the “day in and day out” practice of trusting in God requires the individual’s effort and the Christian believer cannot rely on their pastor for that.

Check out this verse…

The Bible actually tells us how we can build the faith. In other words, it is saying “Read me!”:

Romans 10: 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (NASB) (This translates from the English to “Read your Bibles daily!” LT (Larry’s Translation) 🙂

Getting back to Abraham, it is important to keep in mind that he was an ordinary man. There was nothing special about him other than being chosen by God. What we need to keep in mind is that he was prepared over time by being tested by God and for his obedience and this is the case for any one of the saints.

Hebrews 11: 17 It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” 19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.

Back to our analogy, to get across the bridge and develop a faith in it, we needed to have the map and read it. God is far more complex and the journey He intends for us is much more complicated than the bridge will ever be.

This is why the Bible is essential for daily consumption.

This is why the Bible is required reading with the kind of faith that leads you to expect to hear God’s voice so that He can lead and direct you. A “man of God” such as a pastor or elder can usually never tell you what God wants you to do next, although it may seem obvious. That is something only you can discern for yourself. Is there any wonder why God put countless “Be not afraid” passages in His Word? And we must never forget this, straight from the Master’s lips:

Matthew 28: 20 … be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Are you complacent in your Christian walk? Are you ready for an adventure?

“Dear Lord, I lack faith. It seems as though I doubt you all the time and fail to take your Word as truth. Will you please forgive me and help me to know you more so that I can have a great confidence in you? You are my Lord and I commit my life to you today. I will trust in you and you alone. Change my heart so that I desire what you desire and despise what you despise. Thank you in advance for all the wonderful things you’ll continue to do in my life as a result of me putting my faith in you. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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Is There A Better Way To Pray?

Is There A Better Way To Pray?

Today I’d like to examine one of the greatest examples of prayer that we have in all of Scripture, and it’s very simple.

It is the prayer that Jesus prayed while in the garden of Gethsemane just after the last supper. To me, it is the perfect example of a surrendered prayer life. It is honest and He yielded to His Father’s will.

There is a lot to be learned from the words that were said that night, let’s take a look…

John 17: 1 After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you.

Jesus knew what was coming next. It was the event that finalized His work here on earth, the crucifixion. Most of us know that Jesus is God in the flesh, but in these passages, we also see that He was also human.

When He first arrives at the garden He becomes filled with grief:

Mark 14: 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. 34 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Isn’t this interesting? The overwhelming events ahead must have been unbearable to think about.

As anyone that is faced with fears or grief should do, He prays:

35 He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36 “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Now it gets even more interesting.

Although He knows that He is to die and offer the atoning sacrifice for all mankind, He prays that the suffering be taken away from Him.

Hebrews 7: 27 Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins.

To me, when I began to understand that Jesus asked not to go through with it, it gave me much joy, mostly because I could relate to Jesus. Although He was perfect, He had this human element that we all share. So the next time we pray “I don’t want to go through with this.”, we can look back on this verse and feel OK, we’re in good company. He was faced with circumstances that He did not want to face. This is just being honest and transparent before His Father. Dare I say that this is the weakest moment of his ministry? But the prayer didn’t end there.

“Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

It was more important to Him to have His Father’s will done than His own. This was yielding to His Father’s will.

He not only prayed this prayer once but three times:

Matthew 26:  42 Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.”

44 So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again.

So like any child, He kept asking. (Practicing what He’s preached) He might’ve wanted to ask more, but time had run out, the “lynch mob” had arrived, led by Judas Iscariot (evil villain).

It’s in Luke we read that “an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened Him”:

Luke 22: 41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.

Notice also in verse 44 we read that He was in such agony that we sweat drops of blood!

When the mob does show up, after these prayers, we see a different Jesus. After Peter slashed off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave, Jesus had these words to say:

Matthew 26: 52 “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? 54 But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”

This is significant.

This is why the “Thy will be done” is so important. Jesus knew that if He would not have prayed for the Father’s will, and asked for protection, it would not have pleased His Father and Jesus would have none of that.

John 5: 19 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.

Just like anything, “Thy will be done” comes off the tongue real easy, but it is not easy for me to pray it like I mean it.

A hypothetical situation

For practical application, let’s read about Tom and his wife Barb (fictional characters)…

A hard-working, God-fearing man, Tom, makes a mistake at the office. Not just any mistake, but a doozy. He loses a huge account for the company he works for because of this mistake. He knows that the company will review the situation and hold a disciplinary meeting that could result in the loss of his job.

Tom is quite concerned at this point and is surprised that he’d even commit a mistake like that to begin with. So he prays “Lord, please help me keep my job, the idea of being fired is unbearable.” The Lord, being the generous God that He is, has the company find favor with Tom and they decide to keep him. Praise God, that is wonderful!

But what if God had other plans in mind? Here’s an alternative ending. Suppose Tom had prayed this prayer “Lord, anything is possible for you, can you help me keep my job? Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” The next day Tom gets fired. He’s gone. He gets the boot. He’s sacked. He’s absolutely miserable.

The next day and in the days to come, he has more time to read his Bible, spend time with his wife, Barb, and he starts to see things from a different perspective. “I’m not so tense, he says to himself”. Weeks go by and he actually grows closer to God and to Barb. Yes, there is a financial strain and some humiliation (which is good), but his relationships are better off.

He’s already better off, God already worked out a plan that is better for Tom. Even if Tom gets a job that doesn’t pay as well perhaps he won’t have the tension or the long hours, he’s found that it is more valuable to him to spend more time with God and with his wife. Maybe God has a better job in mind that will pay him more and have fewer hours.

You can see where I’m going with this and this can play out in many ways. Most of the time it is difficult to know the will of God, but I think we need to give Him a chance in our lives just to show how great He is rather than keeping control over it ourselves.

We serve a God who knows everything about our future.

Of course, Tom wants to keep his job, that’s all he knows and few people like the “unknown”. Perhaps it is God’s will for him to keep his job. God gave him the job and he’s got great friends there. If it’s God’s will to keep the job and he keeps it, then Tom will give God all the praise and thank God from the rooftops for His mercy and grace.

Suppose God has other plans. How is Tom to know what’s best for him? Does he know the future and can he figure out where he should be to maximize his potential and glorify God?

So if it is God’s will for Tom to be fired, doesn’t God know what’s best for him? Doesn’t God care more about their marriage than they do? (absolutely)

Remember Job? God not only knew what Job would have to endure but gave Satan permission to humble him, stripping everything away from him. Job had no idea why it happened and suffered greatly while experiencing tremendous loss. Little did he know at the time that God had it all planned out. At the end of the story, he was awarded twice what was lost and became a better man of God than before. What an amazing God!

Here are a couple passages that provide food for thought:

Isaiah 29:
16 How foolish can you be?
He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
“He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
“The potter who made me is stupid”?

Isaiah 55: 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

Will you give God the chance to do what He wants with you?

“Dear Lord, You are my maker, why is it so easy for me to forget that? You are good, loving and only have what’s in my best interests. Please change my heart so that I will follow you more closely. You are the one that gives me life. Thank you for all that you’ve done in my life thus far, but I want things to change between me and you. I want your will to be done from now on, Lord. I plan on changing my prayer and allowing you to have your way with my life because I believe that you can do a better job with it than I can. It’s scary sometimes when I think about what might happen in the future but I will trust in you, thank you Father! In Jesus’ name, amen.”

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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How Can We Have Renewal?

What Does Humility Have To Do With Renewal? Renewal, part 3

This continues our series on renewal, read the first 2, Renewal, part 1 and Renewal, part 2 if you haven’t already.

None of us are innocent, not one of us is without sin.

Romans 3: 23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

Sin hurts us and those around us, in many ways. The more I follow Christ the more obvious my sins are and the more pain it brings. How can I declare my love for God in the morning and in the afternoon willingly do something that I know He disapproves of? What kind of godly man am I?

Jeremiah 17: 
9 “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?

I am just a man, but it makes me want to hate myself. Am I alone with these feelings?

What’s really helped me is a greater understanding of Romans 7 and knowing that it is my flesh that I hate and I can have some compassion for my soul.

Romans 7: 14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Every time I read this is it astounds me. Knowing how God used His servant Paul to do the good works he did and then to read about his private struggles is incredible to me and refreshing. The more I struggle with my sin and examine my actions and thoughts in light of my faith, the more understanding and compassion I have for others. It truly humbles me.

1 John 1:  5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.

Sin is a terrible thing and it is the human condition. How do we go about approaching our perfect and Holy Father after engaging in a sinful event? Let’s look at some examples in the Good Book that we can all use to help get us back on the right path and have communion with Him when we find ourselves hiding in the garden.

9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

James 4: 7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.

James 5: 16a Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

Repentance (changing your mind) and confessing is certainly where it starts, but it is not always easy, is it? Unless my heart is soft, I will not confess.

2 Samuel 12: 13 Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.

David’s heart was not soft after having Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed, that was until the Words of God pierced his heart through his friend and prophet Nathan. I think Psalm 32 sheds some light on what king David experienced:

Psalm 32:
 When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

I can totally relate to this, can you? Do you have a close friend that you can confess to? You are blessed if you do. If you don’t, pray that God will bring someone to you. A small group is good but cannot do what a single, close friend can do. Meeting with a single, similar gender, godly friend on a regular basis is invaluable, I cannot recommend it enough. There is a reason Jesus told His disciples to stay in the same house for the duration when visiting a town. I think that it was to build deep, lasting relationships. It is the deep relationships that we truly learn how to love others and we grow from them.

We read in 2 Samuel 12: 13 above that David confessed to his friend, but as we continue in Psalm 32 we find that he confesses to God:

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

Whew, isn’t it great to get that burden off your chest? You can just feel his excitement through the text, can’t you? Why does it take so long for us to come to Him sometimes? (Read Jeremiah 17 above)

I believe the key to resuming a strained or broken relationship with God is humility. Since all sin is primarily related to pride it only makes sense that humility is required to return to the Lord:

James 4: 6b
As the Scriptures say,
“God opposes the proud
but favors the humble.”

And notice that I did not say sacrifices:

Psalm 51:
16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

When is the last time you wept over your sins? When is the last time you wept at all?

James 4:   9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

I’ve written before that weeping is a natural, God-given outpouring of emotions that is a real blessing. We were designed to be emotional and weeping is a part of it. Some of my most precious moments with the Lord have been when I’ve wept before Him. Sometimes out of joy, other times I’ve been overwhelmed by His Spirit and other times after humbling myself before Him because of my sin. We see all types of weeping throughout the Scriptures by all God’s leading men and women, from Joseph to Jesus. I am certain that if one hasn’t cried in recent years or especially as an adult that their heart has hardened. You may not agree with me on this because our culture has been teaching for so long now that “boys don’t cry” or “if I’m to be tough I shouldn’t cry”, but I am convinced that if laughter is common among all human beings so should the shedding of tears. Let’s learn at least this much from our Teacher:

Matthew 18: 3 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.

John 11: 35 Then Jesus wept.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned about keeping humble is to maintain my relationship with God daily by reading His Word and praying to Him. I pray to Him as I would my earthly father only I am more intimate with God than I am with my Dad who lives in Pennsylvania. I can tell my Dad that I love him, but I do not tell him about my feelings and what I am thinking. This daily relationship with God is what keeps my heart soft and malleable. I am determined to know Him more and am passionate about getting even closer. I also fellowship 4-5 times a week with other godly people. These habits are my way of staying on His path and they keep me from straying very far from Him.

You can get as close to God as you desire, there is nothing holding you back but yourself. If you are discontent about your relationship with God then you might want to consider changing your habits in an effort to know Him more.

Luke 10:  38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught.40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What is keeping you from getting to know Him more?

“Thank you, Jesus, for making my relationship with God possible. Help me to get to know you more. I love that I can come to you when I’ve messed something up or have sinned against you. You take away my guilt and renew my soul. Your love for me is so great and your patience is unending, you amaze me. Please continue to work on me. Keep me humble and willing to obey you. I will praise your name and rejoice in you. In Jesus’ precious name, amen.”

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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How Can We Have Renewal, part 2

Which way will you choose? Renewal, part 2

Thank you for reading the last post, “How Can We Have Renewal? part 1”.

The importance of practicing the presence of God cannot be overstated.

When we find ourselves confused, bewildered, angry, doubtful, grief-stricken and ready to “throw in the towel”, where do we turn? What immediately comes to mind? Is it exercising, gardening, pursuing a hobby, cleaning the house, or going for a walk? Some of these activities I think can be healthy outlets to taking our minds off that which we obsess and at the very least have us doing something constructive. Many people have learned over time to turn to unhealthy habits such as work (when the family is neglected), alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, gambling, shopping, abusive anger and other addictive vices.

We all have times where we start obsessing on things and situations in our lives that don’t make sense, are painful, painful to others and incredibly frustrating. Things that, for the most part, are beyond our control. These painful and confusing situations we face are common to everyone. No one on the planet past, present or future is immune from pain, including Jesus. As humans, it is simply not healthy to bottle up the pain or ignore it.

Eventually, the pain becomes so great that we cannot ignore it.

If we continue to wallow, obsess and focus on the painful circumstance that surrounds us, the anger will build up, the depression will go deeper, the isolation will increase and we become weak in so many ways. The pain gets worse, friends disappear and God becomes more distant. After a while, after staying in the muddy and murky situation we become hardened, lifeless, and without joy. For those that harbor resentment, anger, un-forgiveness, and depression, their physical bodies begin to suffer. The result of this can be ulcers, hair loss, headaches, heart conditions, cancer and ultimately death.

How do we turn the tide and let go of it? How do we get out from under this murkiness? Remaining in this lowly place is as sinful as anything else. For when we stay there, we lose faith, lack hope, have no love to offer and really become unproductive and useless for God’s purposes. This is right where the devil wants us.

What can we do? What remedy do we have?

The answer can be seen in the actions of a young child. When a three-year-old boy falls and scrapes their knee, where does he go? How about when a child has her toy taken away, where does she turn? When a child disobeys and her privileges are removed, who does she cry out to? That’s right, they come to their mommy or daddy for consolation and comfort. They will crawl into mommy’s lap and she will kiss their boo-boo and somehow make all their pain go away. Mommies and daddies have a way of doing this by just their mere presence. Not long after a child cries for what seems like hours, the pain is gone. The toy is forgotten, they’ve learned their lesson, and the boo-boo is hidden by a Flintstones bandage.

It is most joyful to know that coming to God brings the same result, that is when we know and love Him as our heavenly Father. The more you love and know Him, the more joyful this relationship becomes.

Galatians 4: 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

Of course, this message only applies to the believer, those who fear God and put their trust in Him. They know who their heavenly father is.

“There is no peace for the wicked.” (Isaiah 48:22)

For those people that do not know Him cannot take solace in this message. I have no hope to offer those that reject Him. They reject their Creator and remain ignorant, some willfully.

2 Peter 3:  3 Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. 4 They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”

5 They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. 6 Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. 7 And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed.

Just as flesh and blood are common to all people, past, present, and future, so is the Creator common to all people, past, present, and future. He created you and knew you before you were born. He wants you to know Him and to be your Father.

If you aren’t a parent, pretend for a minute that you are. Imagine your child crying out to someone else’s parent. What if your ten-year-old child visits your neighbor’s house when he’s hungry. Imagine your sixteen-year-old daughter seeking advice from their friend’s parents or asking them to buy a prom dress. As a parent, would this not make you a bit angry or in the least be painful?

How do you think God feels when we treat Him like this?

Isaiah 65:
2 All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people.
But they follow their own evil paths
and their own crooked schemes.
3 All day long they insult me to my face
by worshiping idols in their sacred gardens.
They burn incense on pagan altars.

As a small child, all we knew was to cry out to mom or dad but as we grew older and if that dependency was not transferred to the Eternal One that we are ultimately accountable to then we learn to trust in everything but God. This is why it is so essential for fathers to teach their children about trusting in God and setting this example.

Deuteronomy 4: 9 “But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren. 10 Never forget the day when you stood before the Lord your God at Mount Sinai, where he told me, ‘Summon the people before me, and I will personally instruct them. Then they will learn to fear me as long as they live, and they will teach their children to fear me also.’

If we trust in everything but God, where will that lead us?

That could mean we trust in people (friends, family, and anyone else that seems smart) or governments, banks, employers, horoscopes, religion and everything in between. In other words, idolatry. Then when the people, governments, banks, employers, horoscopes, and religion fail us we seek comfort through those activities mentioned earlier for relief.

Deuteronomy 30:  15 “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. 16 For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.

Knowing this should make our choice between life and death ever so clear. It is to choose God or anything else. This makes it very simple for the devil. He will think to himself “If I can only keep people distracted by anything instead of knowing the Almighty God in Heaven, I will keep them from life.”

The choice we have to make is a daily one. 

Am I choosing to start each morning by yielding myself to God? Do I surrender to Him before doing anything else? Am I setting apart time each day to read His Word and seek Him in prayer? Do I meet with His followers regularly to give encouragement and receive comfort and sense of family?

God loves you and He wants you to get to know Him. It is a win-win situation when we decide to make every effort to put Him first in our lives, give everything over to Him and pursue Him wholeheartedly.

Hosea 6:
6 I want you to show love,
not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me
more than I want burnt offerings.

Let these words from Jeremiah sink into your soul.

Jeremiah 17:
5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.

7 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.

9 “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
and desperately wicked.
Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
according to what their actions deserve.”

14 O Lord, if you heal me, I will be truly healed;
if you save me, I will be truly saved.
My praises are for you alone!

Will you turn your heart toward Him?

“Dear God, please have mercy on me. I am such a sinful creature, completely lost and hopeless without You. You are my Maker, the One who knit me in my mother’s womb. Please show me how to follow you more faithfully. Help me to learn how to trust in you. Keep me on your path so that I might have the joy that only you can give and sing praises to you so that everyone may hear. For your namesake Lord, please keep me from falling away. I want to know you more, please reveal yourself to me. Thank you for having patience with me and for all that you have done in my life. Let all that I am praise the Lord! In Jesus’ name, I pray this prayer, Amen.”

Photo by Dominik QN on Unsplash

 

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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Why Should I Be Worried?

Why Should I Be Worried?

I don’t know about you, but I have more than a few things to worry about. Some big, some small. Some short term, some long term. A few things I have some control over and others that I have no control over. On top of that, I receive emails filled with details about additional things to worry about as if I should join the sender in their concern. There are a lot of things to worry about.

Can you relate?

If I choose to, I could worry about my car falling apart, my yard that needs mowing, a project that is really late, bills that are behind, the lack of money that is coming in and the fact that I have no health care. Oh, but that’s not all. I could also worry about my office that is a mess, or that many people, friends of mine, who struggle with little income and worse circumstances than I. While I’m at it I could also worry about our state and federal governments and everything else that is madness in the world.

My friends, all that I’ve listed here are genuinely a part of my reality.

Now I know that many of you have even longer lists than I. Some of you might be tempted to say “big deal, you think you’ve got problems, take a look at my list!” What I find fascinating is that I know people with long lists with poor circumstances that worry less than people with shorter lists and seemingly smaller issues.

Lessons I’ve learned

With this knowledge I draw these conclusions:

    1. Our worries and concerns are relative and in no way can be compared with someone else’s. People that live an “easier life” should not be put down or their problems minimized because they don’t “compare” to mine. Who am I to judge?
    2. It really is a choice to worry, but harder for some to break. I’ve been told by people that their mother worried so it became a learned habit for them, or even maybe a genetic trait, I don’t know.
    3. Some people can hide it well and some people wear it on their sleeve. Appearances can be deceiving, people don’t always “have it altogether” as you may think.
    4. Everyone’s worried about something, in various degrees. Everyone also has something to be thankful for. (Read Psalm 103)

What amazes me is that I can be out doing anything and can be in a cheerful mood when I suddenly have a worrisome thought enter my mind. If I ruminate (Beth’s word, not mine) on these thoughts without considering the sovereignty of God and His plans and purposes for my life then I’m left hopeless. It is that simple. Without God, there is no hope. If I fail to acknowledge my Creator then my cheerful mood quickly turns to despair.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Nothing substitutes our time spent with God

This is just one reason why it is essential to spend time with God daily in prayer, His Word, and spiritually charged fellowship regularly if we want any hope of having a joyful life regardless of the circumstances.

I think worry or fear is the absence of or lack of faith. Is God truly sovereign? Is He in control? Does He want what’s best for me?

Based on this passage from Psalm 112 I think the measure that someone worries is an indicator of how well they know their God, personally and/or intellectually.

Psalm 112:
1 Praise the Lord!
How joyful are those who fear the Lord
and delight in obeying his commands.

 6 Such people will not be overcome by evil.
Those who are righteous will be long remembered.
 7 They do not fear bad news;
they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.
8 They are confident and fearless
and can face their foes triumphantly.

This passage in 1 John says it well:

1 John 4:16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.

ALL things work together…

One thing that I’ve found is that God allows us to experience “rough spots” so that we learn to depend on Him more (which is what He desires most):

Romans 8: 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

And He stretches and matures us through the process:

Romans 5: 3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Knowing this should excite us and then we can really shout with joy.

It tells us that there really is a purpose and that we’ll be better witnesses on the other end.

“Hard times”, when allowing God to work with us (remaining submissive), yields patience, compassion, joy, understanding, and perseverance. There are things you learn through difficulties that you simply cannot learn otherwise. Do you remember the book of Job?

Job was blameless from the beginning.

Job 1: 8 Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”

He naturally went through a great period of despair. When God finally reveals Himself to Job He sets Job straight by making it abundantly clear that He is God and Job is not. What I think is really cool is how God showcased His creation to illustrate just how great He is. This humbled Job. It was this great experience with the Almighty and the revelation of things “far too wonderful” for him that led to his repentance and, after praying for His friends, concluded His test.

Job 42: 1 Then Job replied to the Lord:
2 “I know that you can do anything,
and no one can stop you.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me.
4 You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!
I have some questions for you,
and you must answer them.’
5 I had only heard about you before,
but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
6 I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

One significant lesson to learn from Job is that being blameless is not enough.

If that is all you are seeking, you will miss out on Life Himself. What God desires most is for us to continually get to know and understand Him more which will only perfect our love and admiration for Him. This is why the greatest commandment is to “love God…” and not “Don’t sin and be blameless”. After all, it is our love for Him that ultimately gives us the power and desire to do good.

Here are some lessons from Job that will lead you to peace:

  1. Don’t count on advice or sympathy from ignorant friends, but pray for them.
  2. Spend time with people that know God personally more than you do. Usually, they are the older ones (not necessarily as in Job) at church that always seem to be full of joy.
  3. Continually strive to know God, both intellectually and personally (Bible reading, prayer, journaling to name a few activities).
  4. Do whatever it takes and pray that you stay humble and meek, keeping your heart soft.

I’m not at all suggesting that if you continue seeking God that you’ll ever be worry-free, for even Jesus was distressed in the garden of Gethsemane. What I am saying is that listening to and following these words will greatly reduce your worry, giving you peace, improving your witness and moving you towards godliness rather than bitterness.

These are great passages to memorize:

Philippians 4: 4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! 5 Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
 6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 6:  31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

If God, the Creator of all things seen and unseen, is for us, what do we have to worry about?

“Dear God, Let all that I am praise your name!, Thank you for teaching me so many things. My hope is in you and you alone, for you do not disappoint. Continue to lead me in your Truth so that I may grow in knowledge and understanding. Help me to know you better so that I can lean on you in dark times. You are awesome Lord and I thank you for loving me to begin with. Your loving mercies endure forever. In Jesus’ name, amen”

Take comfort from these closing words…

Job 23:
8 I go east, but he is not there.
I go west, but I cannot find him.
9 I do not see him in the north, for he is hidden.
I look to the south, but he is concealed.
10 But he knows where I am going.
And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.

 

Photo by Nitish Kadam on Unsplash

 

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If you desire a closer walk with Jesus, just want more fellowship or “Bible Time” come join us at TheBibleTeam.com. We have weekly calls where our sole focus is spending time in God’s Word.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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