A God of Faith

August 1

“Have the faith of God!” (Jesus, literal translation from Mark 11:22)

A few days ago, we talked about faith in God… I wanted to return to this phrase, because it is so packed with promise and possibility.

We don’t usually think in terms of having God’s kind of faith. We are usually thinking in terms of working up enough of our own faith to please God.

We are not alone. Jesus’ disciples ran into the same issue. One day, in their own frustration, they cried out to the Lord: “Increase our faith.”

parablesmustardJesus’ response speaks volumes… “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:6) Jesus did not give them some simple steps for growing their faith – He simply stated a fact: “If you have the right kind of faith, the size doesn’t matter.”

But how can that be? Aren’t we supposed to be people with great faith? Shouldn’t we be working up “oodles” of faith to apply to our situations of need? Isn’t that what pleases God?

seed mulberry treeThe answers to all these questions are a bit surprising. God does not offer to increase the (human) faith that we have (after all, a ton of ineffectual faith will never solve our issues). But the tiniest amount of God’s kind of faith has the power to move mulberry trees (and mountains, as well). We do not need more of the useless. We just need a tiny bit of the powerful.

And here’s the really good news. God is a sharing God. He desires to share His faith with us. In fact, He already has. His faith came as part of the package that He offered us when He gave us a new life.

The new you has God’s kind of faith. It’s already yours. You do not have to get it, or ask God for it, or earn it. It is not a special favor given only to the most saintly of God’s people. God gives it to each of us, from the very beginning – to apply to our situations of need, as He directs us.

This points out an amazing principle in this new identity we have received in the new life God gives us in the “new you.” Everything is about using what God has supplied. And everything we need is already supplied.

It is never about what we want – but about what God wants. And it is never about our ability or resources to get things done – it is always about God’s ability and resources. God supplies. We act. Based upon what He wants to do (which we learn by spending time with Him).

This is good news. We do not have to work up enough faith to please God. We just have to use the God-faith He has already given us. “Have the faith of God!” The same kind (and quality) of faith that God, Himself, uses.

The real challenge for all of us is giving ourselves to believe that God has actually already supplied everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We focus, so often, on what we think is lacking – when God has graciously given all that we need to be what He desires us to be!

Prayer Focus: God, I thank You for granting us Your faith to live this life.

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Posted in Faith, God's power, God's Presence with us, our identity in Christ, Pleasing God, the new you, True Christianity, Trust | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Judging

July 31

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” (Jesus – Matthew 7:1)

JudgeWe all know that we are not supposed to judge people. In fact, Jesus makes it pretty clear that those who judge, will be judged. So Jesus thinks this is a pretty important issue. He takes this judging thing very seriously. And so should we…

But I wonder, sometimes, if we really understand what Jesus is talking about. It seems to me, that if we are going to obey Jesus, we really need to understand what it is He wants us to do… and NOT do.

This is more difficult than we might think.

god hatesWe have all seen those people who make these elaborate signs declaring what God hates – and condemning the people who attach themselves to what God hates. If you were to stop them and ask them why they were doing such a thing, they would likely tell you that they are just standing as a voice of God’s truth in the midst of a culture that is ignorant (or rebellious) to what God likes and dislikes. They do not see themselves as “judging” – just pointing people to the truth.

We have also seen those people who sit (or stand) at busy intersections or parking lots please helpwith signs telling a sad tale – and asking for financial help. I know my first thought is seldom about their expressed need – I am quick to find their ulterior motive and turn away from their plea (and feel quite justified in doing so – because, after all, I don’t want to be foolish and give money to someone who will just spend it on some terrible habit/addiction [that’s not really helping them anyway!]).

We don’t call either of these things “judging.” But Jesus does.

Why?

The essence of what Jesus is talking about is when we put ourselves in a position of superiority over someone else. We are looking down on them. We are setting ourselves up as “better than…” And we seldom ever recognize we are doing it.

In our lesson from yesterday, the crowds that followed Jesus were quick to determine that some people are deserving of God’s love – and some are NOT. Bar-Timaeus did not crowd and bartimaeusmeasure up to their standards – and they had no problem putting him in his place. I’m pretty sure they didn’t really see themselves as judging him – but they were. They determined that Bar-Timaeus wasn’t a worthy recipient of divine attention – because he was beneath them.

The real simple definition of judging is this: we are judging whenever we put ourselves in the position of God, Himself. We don His royal robes, elevate ourselves to a place of authority, and pronounce our sentence upon those who have not lived up to what we think they should do, or be.

Jesus eats with sinnersThe thing that was so shocking about Jesus was that, when He was with us, He refused to judge those who were so quickly judged by others. He ate with sinners. He hung out with people who were wrong more than they were right. And He seemed welcome (and comfortable) among them.

Or see it this way: God came and lived among us and He refused to condemn those so often deemed worthy of condemnation. Like the outcast Bar-Timaeus, Jesus had the time to help those who seemed so undeserving…

If we are honest, we are all fairly quick to determine who deserves our time and attention. I am finding that maybe that is because we do not truly value human beings the way God does. He loves the unlovable. He finds worth in the worthless. He accepts and embraces the rejected. He did not come to condemn… but to save.

And if we are intent upon representing Him, we really must do the same.

Prayer focus: God, open my eyes to see people as You see people… and to love as You love them.

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“Son of Unclean”

July 30

“Immediately he recovered his sight and followed (Jesus) on the way.” (Mark 10:52)

Remember that scene from Rocky 2 where Rocky is running through the streets of rocky runningPhiladelphia. Before long he is joined by some neighborhood kids… and then a few more… and then a lot more. Eventually, Rocky is leading a massive crowd of runners, joining him in his run. Everyone has joined him because Rocky is the rising star of the whole city – and those who run with Him, run because they want to be near him, and connect with him, in his quest for boxing glory.

Now, journey back in time to Jesus’ day… and Rocky is a picture of what Jesus faced Jesus-walking-through-crowd_073256nearly every day of His ministry (minus the running!). Crowds of people followed him around, wanting to be near Him, and to connect with Him – as He went about doing wonderful (and miraculous) things for people. Everywhere Jesus went, the crowds were sure to follow – in a glorious, expectant parade, from town to town.

You and I would probably be walking right along with them. Wondering aloud about what we might witness today. Hoping to see something that no one had ever seen before – and WE would be there to see it. We would be talking openly about this Jesus, and enjoying every moment of this expectant parade.

What we wouldn’t want is for something to happen to rain on our parade.

In Mark’s gospel record, we see just such an occurrence (Mark 10:46-52). There, we meet a man by the name of Bartimaeus. He is identified as “a blind beggar,” but that is not the worst of his issues. He is known, by name, as Bar-Timaeus. Literally translated, he was called (labeled) “son of unclean.”

In Jewish culture, the “unclean,” were outcasts. Disdainful. Irrelevant. They were to be purposely ignored. They were to be (lawfully) treated as an annoyance, and undeserving of anyone’s time or attention.

Mark sets the scene… Bar-Timaeus is begging, beside the roadway, and the Jesus-parade is approaching. When Bar-Timaeus hears that it is JESUS coming, he begins to make such a commotion that everyone around him is seriously perturbed. The Bible says they “rebuked him” and repeatedly told him “to be silent.”

This is what I find fascinating: Everyone in the parade was hoping to see a miracle. Yet, when the opportunity was presenting itself, they wanted no part of it. This tells me that the crowd of people that followed Jesus’ every step – wanted miracles ONLY for the deserving. Outcasts need not apply. The unclean do not merit the attention of holy men. The contemptible are not welcome in this parade.

blind bartimaeusThere are so many lessons here… But the main point of this whole account was that someone who was labeled as “son of unclean” DID merit the attention of the Lord of all. He was an outcast to everyone… but Jesus. What the crowd was trying desperately to quell, found Jesus right in the middle.

In the end, the Redeemer redeemed an unwanted annoyance and restored not only his bartimaeussight but also his dignity. Because of the touch of the Master, “son of unclean” left his identity behind him on that roadside – and discovered a new identity… as the recipient of a miracle and as a follower of Jesus!

We have talked, previously, about the labels that have been attached to our lives (by ourselves, or others). Those labels have been OUR identity. But Jesus came to give us a new name. A new label. He came to let us know that it doesn’t matter what this world thinks of us – He came to let us know what HE thinks of us. That we are worthy of His time and attention. And that we are the focus of His love and affection. No matter how we have felt. No matter how many times we have been “kicked to the curb.” Jesus will hear our cry. He will touch our life. He will heal our condition. And He will welcome each of us to follow after Him.

There is no label placed upon us that He cannot change… in an instant… forever.

Prayer focus: God, may my heart seek to find the fullness of Your love for me… and leave all that I was, behind me.

Posted in Daily devotional, Identity, our identity in Christ, renewing our minds, the new you, Transformation, True Christianity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“Under Sonstruction”

July 28

“But to all who believed Him… He gave the right to become sons of God.” (John 1:12)

I used to paint quite a bit. Not rooms. Real paintings – nature scenes, mountains, lighthouses, etc. I actually learned the techniques by watching a guy named Bob Ross, on bob rossPBS. I was always fascinated that someone could apply some simple techniques to a canvas and produce some lovely artwork.

I mention this because one of the things that Bob Ross used to say (quite often) is: “There are no mistakes, just happy little accidents.” What he meant by this is that sometimes our little mess-ups can actually lead to something new and interesting. Our mistakes can take us in directions that we didn’t intend to go… but in a direction well-worth taking. OR they lead us to something that we may never have considered – or now consider differently. Sometimes our mistakes present us with a whole new vein of thought…

This was the case, just the other day. I was writing about being “under construction” but actually typed the words that head this post! When I thought about it (before I actually corrected my error) I realized that my little mistake had opened the doorway to a proper way of thinking about God’s work in us. We really are under sonstruction! (daughter-construction, also, but that doesn’t flow as well).

c-s-lewisC. S. Lewis once wrote: “The Son of God became a son of man, so that the sons of men could become sons of God.” I don’t know if I have ever heard such an accurate summary of what the Christian message is all about. Everything God has done for us, and will do in us, is to transform us into sons (and daughters) of the Most High.

We are redeemed to represent God, in every aspect, on this earth. We represent His character. His nature. His will. His thoughts. His truth. His purposes. As His beloved children, we encapsulate everything He is – and it is our privilege to take that out into our little corners of the world… so that people can see Him, through us.

I love you GodSometimes, we lose sight of this fact. We lose touch with the simplicity and power of our divine purpose. We get all caught up in our struggles, our issues, our concerns, our failures – and forget that we have been called into the very Family of God. And not just so we can feel good about being His. We are called into His Family so that we can know Him personally, intimately, accurately – and take Him everywhere we go.

There is a sense in which we are sent out as laborers in God’s harvest field – but there is a greater sense in which we are sent out as God’s Own sons (and daughters). We are NOT just workers doing what God commands us to do. We ARE sons (children) sent out to represent the very interests and will of our Father.

The new life placed within us (through receiving Jesus, and His work) draws us to the very Presence of God – and welcomes us into His royal household. We may often feel like beggars and orphans, but we are actually, purposely, adopted by the King of all kings… to sit at His table and discover all that it is to be His Own child. So that everywhere we go on this earth – people will see the Family resemblance to our Father, and seek their own place at His table.

heaven's table

Prayer Focus: God, I need to see myself as your beloved child… grant me the revelation that I am under sonstruction!

Posted in Belonging to God, Daily devotional, God's Heart, God's love for sinners', God's Presence with us, our identity in Christ, Sonship/Adoption, True Christianity | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Good vs. Bad

July 27

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

It seems we all tend to view the events of our lives as either good or bad. If I get a promotion at my work, at much better pay, that is seen as a good thing. If my car won’t start in the morning, and I miss an essential flight to an important business meeting, that is a bad thing.

At first glance, these things seem fairly easily determined. Favorable occurrences are good. Unfavorable ones are bad.

So if good things are happening, life is good. But if bad things are happening, life is bad. This is how many people view, and define their lives.

overworkedBut… Let’s go back to our original scenarios. What if my promotion at work means so many long hours that I lose touch with my wife and kids. I am no longer involved in their lives because I have to do my job. The promotion, now… good or bad?

gettyimages-626389286And what if that flight I missed actually crashed and all lives were lost. Missing that flight, now… good or bad?

It turns out that good and bad is not always so easily determined, after all. Because every occurrence in our lives leads to other possibilities… and those possibilities have their own various possibilities… and on and on…

The real challenge in life is to live in such a way that I am not so quick to judge the goodness or badness of an occurrence – but to act, and react, with wisdom.

Wisdom is knowing what is best for our lives. And ultimately, wisdom is how God views things. If something “bad” occurs in our lives – we do not let our emotions rage, but we rest in the Sovereign care of the God Who loves us (even if, at that particular moment, it may not seem so obvious). God never promises that bad things will not happen to us. He does promise that He will be with us, no matter what we face – and that all things will work together for good (Romans 8:28).

romans_8_28

My wife and I were just talking about a family friend, who several years ago lost a baby in childbirth. StillbornCan you imagine anything more tragic? More… bad? I don’t understand these happenings. There are no wise words than end up making sense out of such a horrible event. How do we make sense out of the senseless?

But to hear our friend talk now, the pain of that tragedy turned her heart TO God, not away from Him. She found a depth of grace that only those who feel the deepest pain can ever know. And out of the ashes of her grief and sorrow, she grew in ways that would not in-the-hands-of-Godhave been possible without her suffering (her words!). She knows God more intimately. She has more compassion for other hurting people. She is not so quick to forget that all things are in God’s loving hands. And she is resting in the fact that her precious child is safely in the arms of Jesus.

This is not to say that we should seek tragedy, hardship, or suffering for our lives – it is just to say that “bad” things can actually be the means of bringing great good into our lives. And sometimes we just might be surprised to see just how much good they can actually bring…

And sometimes we just might be surprised to see just how much good they can actually bring…

Prayer focus: God, help me to rest in Your loving care for me… even when life doesn’t turn out like I hoped it would…

John-Piper-Quote-God-Only-Does-Good

Posted in bad things, Daily devotional, God's goodness, God's Heart, Hardship, overcoming tragedy, pain, suffering, True Christianity | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

An Objection to God’s Love; part 3

July 25

The fact that there is suffering in the world does not disprove the existence of God. We have seen, over the past two days, that suffering is not without purpose (it helps us to grow and mature; it strengthens our character; it can deepen our faith in God).

But often that is not what bothers us. At the heart of most people’s skepticism about God is not the existence of suffering – it is God’s perceived indifference to suffering. “How can Christians possibly claim that God is a God of love – and yet He is so indifferent to all the people, of this world, who are suffering? To ignore the hurting, especially when you are supposed to have the power to help them, is not love at all!”

But this observation ignores something supremely significant. It ignores Jesus.

Jesus heals blind manWe should not forget that when Jesus (God among us!) came to this earth, He did not seclude Himself somewhere – He mingled with society, He walked among the people, He encountered real pain and hardship and suffering – and He lovingly touched those lives. Notice… He did not come and stop suffering from happening – He met the suffering that did exist with His loving care. Jesus came and alleviated suffering – but He did not stop it from happening.

We also should not forget that Jesus also suffered. He was hungry. And thirsty. And disappointed. And angry. He felt betrayal. Loneliness. Rejection. In short… He hurt, just as all human beings hurt. He felt everything it was to be human – in every way.

And we should never forget that His earthly ministry ended with the most profound suffering ever known. Not only did Jesus suffer beatings and floggings and the why-have-you-forsaken-me1unbearable agony of being brutally nailed to a cross – He also experienced something that no one else had ever suffered. He suffered the abandonment of God, His Father. On that cross, as He carried every sin of every person to ever exist – He was also required to endure the endless exclusion from God that all of us deserved. No deeper, more agonized words were ever spoken than when Jesus cried out: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?!”

In that very moment, Jesus was suffering for ALL the suffering of this world. He was taking upon Himself all the cruelty, the abuse, the hate, and the horrors that have ever been inflicted by human beings upon other human beings.

The truth is: God has never ignored or been indifferent to our suffering – He embraced every bit of every person’s suffering, through Jesus, on that cross. Jesus did not just carry our all our sins – He also carried all our pain and suffering upon Himself. Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)

And He didn’t have to do so…

He could have just left us under the Old Covenant system of Law and sacrifice.

He could have just wiped us all from the face of the earth and started over.

He could have called for legions of angels and ended His suffering at any moment.

Jesus on crossOnly one thing kept Him on that cross. Only one thing caused Him to endure the ultimate in physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering.

It was… love. ONLY love. (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10)

Ultimately, God is not indifferent to any suffering. He takes our suffering so seriously that He came from Heaven to earth… and took it on Himself.

Prayer focus: God, help me to understand that Jesus not only carried our sins… He also carried our suffering upon the cross.

shape of love

Posted in God's Heart, God's love for sinners', Jesus' death, overcoming tragedy, pain, suffering, True Christianity, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

An Objection to God’s Love; part 2

July 25

bad thingsYesterday, we began discussing a popular objection in the minds of many skeptics. At the heart of this objection is the idea that IF God really loves us, bad things should never happen. This view is based upon some assumptions…

The first is that love should prevent bad things from occurring. But we saw that bad things are actually helpful in building our character – if we will allow them to be. If we turn to God, instead of against Him, He will assist us to become what He desires us to be. This leads us to the skeptic’s second assumption…

2) Suffering and hardship have no purpose. Love should prevent all meaningless things from happening to us.

This assumption is based upon the thinking that hardship has no purpose in our lives. But nothing could be further from the truth.

As we turn to the Bible, we see something amazing. Suffering, trial, and hardship… can all bring a tremendous benefit to our lives. We read: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you encounter trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance… so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (from James 1:2-4; see also Romans 5:3-5) The Bible does not promote the idea that suffering is worthless – just the opposite. In fact, It actually declares that hardship is essential to our growth. Is it pleasant? No. Is it desirable? No. But is it meaningless? Absolutely not.

But why would this be the case? How can something that we obviously perceive to be “bad,” bring such “good” into our lives?

PerseveranceJames’ answer is that “the testing of (our) faith develops perseverance.” The ability to “stick with” something when giving up would be a whole lot easier. Perseverance is essential to our character. Strength of character is developed through time and testing. weight trainingAnd testing only comes through resistance and hardship. Just as our physical muscles are strengthened only through resistance – so the building of our character needs the resistance of hardship. Strong character is built, not given.

Suffering and hardship also have a much more practical purpose. Tough times give us a connection point to other people. If we never go through difficult times, we would never be able to connect with, and help, others in need. If we have never hurt, we cannot empathize with the hurting. And in a world that is often defined by hardship and hurt… this ability to connect is invaluable.

empathy1

 

Finally, because God is committed to our growth and maturity – He is committed to bringing us through whatever is needed for that growth. Certainly, He desires to bless us beyond measure. But He also desires to deepen our relationship with Him. Nothing draws us closer to Him than facing a difficult time, issue, or situation.

Much like the skeptic, there is a fallacy that permeates many Christians’ thinking… That God should prevent any trouble or difficulty from happening in our lives. But the truth is, God never promises to keep us out of hardship. What He does promise is that He will be with us, and see us through those tough times: The righteous person faces many troubles, but the LORD comes to the rescue each time.” (Psalm 34:19)

There is no other way to know the faithfulness of God without applying our faith in Him. Tough times bring us to that point where our faith meets His faithfulness – and we truly experience the wonder of God’s infinite and abundant care for us.

Prayer focus: God, when I face difficult times… draw my heart to a relentless trust in You.

deepest-pain

Posted in bad things, Belonging to God, Commitment to Jesus, Daily devotional, Faith, Growth, Hardship, Needing God, suffering, True Christianity | Tagged , | Leave a comment