15 Days of Faith – Day 15

Choosing faith is a life-long pursuit. We sometimes relegate Christianity to only a choice in time. Don’t get me wrong. It begins with a choice in time, and once you choose Jesus, you are His. However, I want us to understand that Christianity is also a daily choice of following Jesus. Salvation has not only a past tense where we were saved from the penalty of sin, but it also has a present tense where we are being saved from the power of sin in our lives and a future tense where we will one day be saved from the presence of sin.

Faith can also be viewed in three tenses: we had faith that saved us, we have faith that is delivering us, and we will have faith that will transport us into the presence of Almighty God.

How do we keep choosing faith? First Timothy 6:11-12 offers the solution: “But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

Look at the three commands of this passage: flee, pursue, and fight. Flee from something that is hindering your walk with Christ, pursue everything that strengthens your relationship with Christ, and fight anything that is threatening your victory in Christ.

Do you see a common thread with each of the three commands? Flee, pursue, and fight all call for intensity, effort, and commitment. If you’re going to really trust Jesus, you need to be all in! Just testing the water doesn’t work in Christianity. Giving God one day a week or two days a month is not real Christianity. True faith, saving faith, is 110%.

I urge you to jump into the deep end of the pool. Go after Jesus with everything in you, and you’ll find that He’s already given everything to go after you.

I share some more about this topic on today’s 15 Days of Faith video.

15 Days of Faith – Day 11

Anxiety or worry is almost as normal as breathing. However, God commands us not to be afraid. We saw in yesterday’s blog the Word of God tells us that worry is actually a sin. What do we do about it? Well, we saw we should pray about everything and worry about nothing. Today we’ll back up a couple of verses from yesterday’s scripture:

Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again, I say rejoice.”

In today’s video, I share a wonderful definition of joy. I hope you’ll watch it. I’d like to focus this blog on a six-letter word in this verse: always. God says that we are to always rejoice. Really? Is God serious? Yes! He says that we can choose to find joy in every circumstance. How is that possible?

It’s possible when we believe and accept the fact that God is always in control. The Bible tells us that He is sovereign. This means that God is in charge and worthy of my trust and devotion. I can choose joy when I choose to trust God and know that He is working for my good and His glory. I may not be able to understand all of the details or be able to figure out the solution to my situation, but I can have the confidence to know that God is at work in my life. I encourage you to choose joy.

You can watch today’s video on 15 Days of Faith – Day 11 here.

You may also enjoy listening to a song written by Aaron Keyes that my son’s worship team recently recorded on video. You can find it here.

15 Days of Faith – Day 9

God is unique and creative. He doesn’t always do things the same way, and He doesn’t usually do things the way I would do them. Has God ever surprised you with a strategy to solve a problem? Throughout history, God has used unique ways to address challenges. I spoke of one of those times in today’s video, and the story is recorded in Joshua 6. It was God’s strategy to defeat Jericho. God told Joshua: “You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days. Also, seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets” (Josh 6:3-4).

You’re probably familiar with the story and know that God’s plan worked. The walls fell down and Jericho was defeated. Why did it work? It worked because God did it. God gave Joshua a crazy strategy because He wanted Israel to know that He would always fight their battles for them.

This is an important word for us today. God will always fight our battles for us. We can trust Him. This truth means that we need to keep our eyes on the Lord and follow Him. Trust Him even when we don’t see how things will turn out. God may not address a situation the way we would but trust Him anyway. God’s got it! God can handle it! Trust in the Lord.

15 Days of Faith – Day 5

I don’t know many people who like being tested. I used to think that if I ever got out of school, I’d never have to take another test in my life. Boy, was I wrong. I have an oral report I give every Sunday (called a sermon), turn in an annual report of my finances to the IRS, submit reports and updates to ministry leaders in my church, and I have to go to the doctor for physicals and the dentist for checkups. Tests are a part of life.

The Bible says that God tests our faith. In today’s video, I speak briefly about why our faith is tested, but I want to write for a moment about how it’s tested. Usually, when something is tested, pressure is asserted. It may be mental pressure, like a student in school, or physical pressure, like an athlete on the football field. You’ll find that in spiritual testing, pressure is also applied to our lives.

I don’t want to say that God initiates all of the pressure on us for the testing of our faith, but I know that God uses it. Sometimes, our faith is tested because someone else acts out their brokenness and we get injured as collateral damage. Everyone is broken by sin. People act like broken people because of sin, and those actions can cause a lot of pain and struggle in other people’s lives. Although God is not the cause of those actions, He always harnesses an opportunity to grow us into the likeness of His Son. Do you remember David in the Old Testament? One of the great tests of his life came from his own son’s rebellion.

We may be tested by physical struggle. This struggle could come in the form of sickness or financial struggle. Again, God doesn’t always cause these issues, but He uses them to grow us and shape us. Job fell into this category. The Apostle Paul also had a physical struggle. We don’t know what it was, but we do know that he asked God to remove it from him on three different occasions. Here’s how God responded to Paul’s request, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Paul learned that being weakened or even broken was not necessarily a bad thing. God’s power grows in our brokenness.

The Bible says that God has a purpose for our testing, and the bottom line is that it’s always for our good. Testing matures us and strengthens us. It helps us to know ourselves and teaches us how to depend upon God.

Are you being tested now? Cry out to God. Learn from God during this time and let Him work in your life. One day you’ll see that you will come through the fire and survive the struggle. You’ll find that you are stronger in the Lord than before and more equipped mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually to serve the Lord.

In the meantime, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,       knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Watch today’s video by clicking this link.

15 Days of Faith – Day 4

What does it mean to fix your mind on something? Have you ever had a problem you needed to solve, and you thought about it continuously throughout the day? I remember a serious problem I had a few years ago, and there seemed to be no solution. I pondered the issue for days. I awakened one night with the solution. For starters, I believe God gave me the solution, but it all came about because my mind was fixed upon it (and I prayed fervently about it).

Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” For starters, I like the idea of perfect peace. God’s Word is 100% true, and it says perfect peace is a possibility. The Hebrew literally says, “peace, peace” — a double load of peace. It was a Hebrew idiom or way of saying something is complete.

Do you see the word “keep” in that scripture? It means to “secure or guard as with a garrison.” God says He is going to stand guard over those who fix their minds on Him and fully trust Him. It reminds me of another passage found in the New Testament:

Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Do you want “peace, peace,” perfect peace? Keep your mind fixed on God. How do you do that? I suggest first to fill your mind with Scripture. Meditate on the Word of God throughout the day. Sing songs of worship that magnify God and praise His name. Pray without ceasing. Talk to God all day long about what’s going on in your life and in the world. Christianity is a relationship to be experienced not a program to attend.

If you fix your mind on God, he will set up a guard over your heart and your mind. You will find a peace that is mind-blowing and soul healing.

I invite you to watch my video for additional thoughts as you choose daily to keep your mind fixed upon God.

15 Days of Faith – Day 3

Have you ever placed your faith in something that wasn’t worthy of your trust? I have. I’ve fallen through the ice on a frozen, shallow pond. I sat down once in a chair that immediately broke into pieces. I’ve trusted people who later used my confidence to hurt me. These kinds of disappointments can make us hesitant to trust anyone or anything.

God gives us a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This passage is not telling us to place our faith in things or people who are not worthy of our trust. The remaining verses of the chapter make it clear that God is calling us to put our faith in Him.

The Hebrew word from which we get our English word assurance points to a foundation or support. This passage is saying that faith that is well placed in the character of the trustworthy word of Almighty God is a foundation and support for our hope.

What are you putting your faith in? I’m grateful for our government leaders and all they are doing for us during this time, but ultimately, my trust is not in them. They are mere humans who may make a bad choice from time to time. My faith is not in myself. I don’t know enough to always make the wisest decisions. My faith is in God because He alone is worthy of my trust.

This assurance or support for my life has brought about a deep, abiding conviction that God is always at work in my life and in my world to accomplish His purpose. The Bible also tells me that while God’s work is for His glory, it is also for my good.

I’ve shared more thoughts on a video, and I invite you to watch it.

Will you trust God today?

15 Days of Faith – Day 2

I’ve heard all of my life that we should come to God with childlike faith. That exact phrase is not in the Bible, but Jesus did tell us that we should “receive the kingdom of God like a child.” Look at the story found in 

Mark 10:13-16 “And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” 16 And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.”

Jesus wasn’t telling us to be childish. We’ve probably all heard stories over the last several days of childish behavior from adults. He was telling us, however, that we should demonstrate faith in God like children do. Some people have tried to turn this passage into a lot of things it’s not, and others have worked to develop some additional theological message from this encounter. This story is nothing more than parents wanting their children to see Jesus and to be blessed by Him and Jesus using the event to teach us a lesson about authentic faith.

Many years ago, when my youngest son was about three years old, I took my family on vacation to Myrtle Beach. I remember standing in the pool at a campground in waist-deep water. My son yelled my name. I looked up in time to see him start running across the concrete toward the pool. When he got to the edge of the pool, he flung himself into the air toward me. I was stunned at first, but I recovered in time to catch him before he sank in the water.

My son couldn’t swim at that time, but he could trust. He knew his father was not only capable of catching him but also willing and always ready.

God is fully capable of catching you, and He’s waiting on you to call out His name. We are living in some strange times indeed. Although the danger we are encountering right now because of the spread of this virus is temporary, it is reminding us that we need to place our trust in our God Who is much bigger than a virus. Will you trust Him today? I’ve shared a few more thoughts on a video. I hope you’ll watch.

15 Days of Faith – Day 1

We are living in unprecedented times. You may have seen President Trump’s press conference yesterday or heard of the suggestions coming from his task force dealing with the spread of the Covid-19 virus. They are asking all Americans to make some dramatic changes for the next 15 days in order to curb the effect and spread of this virus. 

I know that reports over the last week or so have spread great fear across our country. If you don’t know someone who has been infected with the virus now, you possibly will in the future. Some patients are in serious condition. I know of a woman in her 30’s on a ventilator right now. This threat is serious. It would be easy for us to be filled with fear right now, but God wants us to choose faith.

Over the next 15 days, I’m going to share thoughts of encouragement and challenge us to embrace faith. I encourage you to share your comments and help me spread a message of hope.

The Bible has a lot to say about faith. The book of Galatians says we are justified by faith and we are to live by faith. Think about those two ideas. Your sins cannot be forgiven and you cannot enjoy a right relationship with God without placing your faith and your trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Secondly, as a Christian, your life should be defined by faith. It would do us well during these times to think about what it means to live by faith. It means that our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional strength comes from the Lord. It means that every step we take, we do so because we are fully trusting in Jesus.

I’ve got a song on my mind, and it would do us well to allow it to be the theme song of this coronavirus season. It was written around 1880 after Louisa Stead experienced a personal tragedy that could have destroyed her. Louisa, her husband, and her 4-year-old daughter were on a picnic near sea. They heard shouts for help and saw a boy struggling in the ocean. Louisa’s husband raced into the ocean to save the boy only to be pulled under and drowned. She grieved over the loss of her husband. After struggling with  sorrow asking God, “Why?” many times, she eventually penned the words to this beloved hymn:

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

I shared a video on YouTube with additional thoughts for today. You can view it by clicking this link.

Coronafear

We have watched fear grip our world in the wake of Covid-19. Maybe you struggle a little with fear. The coronavirus is definitely impacting our world and could become a real challenge in our country, but hopefully, with the drastic steps we’re taking as a nation and certainly as God moves in response to the prayers of His people, we will defeat the spread of this danger.

The question we must ask is how do we find peace in the midst of this chaos? What will enable us to embrace faith instead of fear? Can we have the peace of a baby even though we’re tempted to lean toward dread and doom? Yes!

I’d like to share with you a chapter from a book I wrote a few years ago on Psalms entitled Songs from the Heart: Meeting with God in the Psalms. This chapter focuses on Psalm 31. This post will be a good bit longer than something I’d normally post, but I hope it’s a blessing to you.

Psalm 31:14-24

What to do When You Are Surrounded

But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in Your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me. 16 Make Your face to shine upon Your servant; save me in Your lovingkindness. 17 Let me not be put to shame, O Lord, for I call upon You; let the wicked be put to shame, let them be silent in Sheol. 18 Let the lying lips be mute, which speak arrogantly against the righteous with pride and contempt. 19How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men! 20 You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man; You keep them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues. 21 Blessed be the Lord, for He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me in a besieged city. 22 As for me, I said in my alarm, “I am cut off from before Your eyes;” nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried to You. 23 O love the Lord, all you His godly ones! The Lord preserves the faithful and fully recompenses the proud doer. 24 Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.

I think that somewhere hidden within my life is a stifled cowboy. Maybe every little boy wants to be a cowboy, and every man has a secret wish to saddle up and ride off into the sunset. While I was in college, I read every one of Louis L’Amour’s books in the Sacket series. I know I should have been reading about biology and western civilization, but at least I learned how to get out of a crunch when holed up in a boxed-in canyon. I haven’t had to worry about a boxed-in canyon yet, but when it does happen, I’m going to be ready.

One of my favorite movies while growing up was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Let’s forget for a moment that these two were actually outlaws. One of the last scenes shows the two bandits in Bolivia after failing to leave a life of crime. They were discovered in town with stolen mules and money, and the Bolivian army surrounded them. The movie shows the outlaws going out in a blaze of glory with pistols drawn and bullets flying. 

Have you ever felt surrounded? So maybe Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid deserved being apprehended by the authorities, but you’re one of the good guys. What do you do when the “besieged city” is actually your life?

David started this Psalm off in verses one and two with these words: “In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; Let me never be ashamed; In Your righteousness deliver me. Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly; be to me a rock of strength.” Have you picked up on the fact that David seemed to spend his life being attacked and surrounded? Is it any wonder that many of us feel so drawn to the Psalms? Our lives really are lived out on the battlefield, and we find that many days are spent simply firing and reloading. Hopefully, you’re not really firing and reloading, but it sure feels like you are under constant assault. God offers us some encouragement during times we feel as if our lives are under siege.

Today’s scripture picks up in verse fourteen of the thirty-first chapter of Psalms: “But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, You are my God.’” It is as if David is saying that it doesn’t really matter how big the army is that is surrounding him, he will trust in the Lord. There are some days that our battles seem overwhelming, and we are not sure we can make it out alive. Our declaration must be like David’s.

In the previous verse (13) he stated that he had been slandered, surrounded by terror, and his life had been threatened. In the midst of that, David pronounced his trust in God. When he said “Lord,” he used the personal name of God, Yahweh. I have already written about this name of God as being connected to Moses’ experience at the burning bush. It is the name God chose for Himself that means “I Am Who I Am.” In other words, He is the God of the present tense.

Note that within this verse, David used two different names for God: Yahweh and Elohim. The second name meant heavenly being or deity. With these two words, David speaks specifically of the God who delivered the Israelites from bondage and says that He is David’s deity. In a culture surrounded by false gods, it is significant that the most powerful man in the world declares that Jehovah God is the One he chooses to trust and serve.

We too are surrounded by numerous gods: materialism, naturalism, personal achievement, sex, etc. All of these gods, and more, are vying for our affection and devotion, but we must make our own declaration stating our devotion to the One true God. Can you connect to a time in your life when you may have felt surrounded? Can you really say with David, “As for me, I trust in the Lord?”

His next statement is significant, and we must share his conviction: “My times are in Your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me.” First of all, it is difficult once again to determine exactly to which enemy he refers. It doesn’t really matter, because we all have various enemies. I’m not speaking of a friend who treated us badly or a spouse who is not acting in love toward us. The Bible says we are in a spiritual battle, and our enemy is not made up of flesh and blood (see Ephesians 6:12). Without trying to fully define our enemy, can we acknowledge that our times are in God’s hands?

When he used the word “times,” he was saying that both his entire life and the unique circumstances of his life were under God’s control. If we are going to overcome all of our enemies, we must be able to state with David that we have fully trusted God with the days, minutes, and seconds of our lives. Life is lived in seconds and milliseconds, and spiritual battles are won in the tiny clicks of life’s clock. We have a tendency to focus on the larger passages of time, but spiritual faithfulness and victories are experienced on a much smaller scale. If you want to win the spiritual battles, you must defeat the enemy in the seconds of life. These seconds of victory eventually make up an hour, a day, a year, and ultimately, a lifetime. All of your times must be in God’s hands.

In this prayer, David calls out to God for help with what I will simply call a prayer for proximity. He is asking God to be near. The great news is that as Christians, we now have the wonderful abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, which means we always live in close proximity to God. We can thank God that not only does His face shine upon us, but He also shines from within us. I believe that David’s prayer actually contains symbolic words asking for God’s favor, but from a New Testament perspective, we know that God’s favor comes as we yield to the urging and pleading of the Holy Spirit Who lives within our hearts. We realize this favor as we yield to God’s sovereign control over our lives.

Verses nineteen through twenty-one present David as the supplicant and worshipper focusing on the character of God. He first declared God’s goodness, which God has “stored up for those who fear” Him and for “those who take refuge in” Him. Think for a moment about a God who is good. This means that He does not have the capacity for anything contrary to goodness. To say God is good is to say He is pleasant, agreeable, excellent, valuable, benevolent, and kind. This means that there are no defects or contradictions in God. You cannot add anything to His nature to make Him more complete or to cause Him to act in a better way. 

This truth also means that He is the source of all things that are good. James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with Whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” This verse means that when something good comes into your life, it is a reflection of a good God who gives good gifts to His children. David exclaimed that God’s goodness is “great.” It is difficult to describe or categorize the goodness of God. It can’t really be measured nor can it be understood. He could just simply say it is “great.”

One thing God does out of His goodness is to provide us protection. David said, “You hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the conspiracies of man.” I wrote previously about being “concealed” by God, but note in this passage we are hidden in “the secret place of Your presence.” This is really a great thought. We find security and protection from being in the presence of God. It is true that every human being lives in God’s presence. Even the Psalmist pointed to the omnipresence of God in Psalm 139:7-10: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.” 

There is a difference between God’s omnipresence and God’s realized presence. God is everywhere at the same time, but while this is a reality, it is also true that not everyone realizes the presence of God. Even for us as believers, there are times that God’s presence seems more real than other times. I do not think it is necessarily that God is actually more present at one time than He is at others, but rather, I think it is that we are more aware of His presence because our spiritual senses are more tuned in and cognizant of God’s manifestation of Himself. It is this realized presence that offers comfort and security to the believer who is in the midst of a spiritual conflict.

The Psalmist overflows with gratitude and worship in verse twenty-one when he acknowledged, “Blessed be the Lord, for He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me in a besieged city.” The translation of the last two words has brought about considerable debate, and you will find translators use different English words in an attempt to capture the meaning of the Hebrew text. The word literally means “under siege,” and this makes some scholars wonder if David is making a specific reference here to real struggles of Israel at a specific time. It is possible that the Psalmist was simply using the imagery of a city under siege to give the readers an image of the spiritual conflict that is inevitable for one who follows God. 

God’s mercy and grace is “marvelous” in response to the spiritual attacks and conflicts believers face every day. At times, our lives must feel like a besieged city, but God always comes through and brings deliverance. Do you ever feel surrounded by your spiritual enemy – kind of like a besieged city? While you could respond in a variety of ways, one of the best responses you can give is to stop and worship God.

In response to this spiritual siege, David challenged those who follow God to “be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.” God wants us to be strong in the midst of conflict and challenge. He wants us to be courageous and not give in to the gentle calls and strong temptations around us. Instead of placing your hope in things that are sure to change and do not hold the answers for eternity, the Psalmist calls us to “hope in the Lord.” If your hope is in other people, you will eventually be disappointed. If your hope is in the government, you will eventually be let down. We can take courage if our hope is in the Lord. What gives you hope? Your circumstances may be overwhelming and your future prospects may be less than optimal, but you will find great strength and courage when you place your trust in the Lord.

Further Thought…

  • How would you describe the enemy in your life?
  • Do you ever feel besieged or surrounded by the enemy? What do you do?
  • Do you agree with the Psalmist that your times are in God’s hands? What does that mean to you, and what difference does this knowledge make in your life?
  • Can you think of a time when you put your hope in something or someone other than God? How did it go?
  • What does it mean to you to put your hope in God?

Cry for Hope

“That’s depressing.” Have you ever said those two words? I’ve watched U.S. politics lately and found myself frustrated, angry, and discouraged. I may have even said that certain events or reactions have been “depressing.” As we move toward what seems like an all-out war between presidential candidates, I find myself shaking my head and dreading the next year. While events may get me down, am I really depressed?

Over seven percent of American adults will experience depression this year and fifteen percent will struggle with depression at some point in their lives. Over three million young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen have experienced at least one depressive episode this year. Sadly, I think we’ll see these numbers growing in the years to come. Why? Why are we struggling with depression as a culture?

Depression can come from a variety of places in a person’s life. It may result from chemical imbalances, physical or emotional trauma, or cultural challenges. Regardless of its source, depression is both promoted by and fed from feelings of hopelessness. While counselors can offer several solutions, one key solution is hope. I’m so grateful for gifted therapists and counselors, and I am most grateful for the God of all hope.

The great news I have is that we find hope in Jesus Christ. God spoke words of encouragement to a troubled nation in Jeremiah 29:11. These words also have great application to us today: “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Do you struggle with depression today? As you reach out for hope, I encourage you to reach out to God. He will walk with you through your darkness to help you find the brightness of His presence.