Motorboats and Rowboats

Most people desire a satisfying religious faith. However, most of us have been Motorboatimmunized–if you will–against taking God and faith very seriously. For example, there is a concept out there that only lazy or incompetent people rely on God very often.

Considering boats–motorboats and rowboats–gives me a different picture of God-dependent people.

Let me liken rowboats to totally self-reliant individuals who propel themselves through life by their own energetic rowing. Motorboats, then, are like people who spend their time in a boat fishing–or whatever–and allow the motor to get them where they want to go.

This brings us to a question: What is the purpose of a boat? To wear you out? Or to get you somewhere?

Some boat owners may opt for a motorboat because they’re lazy, but most people own them because they can do more with them. Have you ever seen a rowboat pulling a water skier? Have you ever seen a commercial fishing vessel powered by several dozen rowing men?

I can achieve a lot with my natural abilities and hard work, but “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ” (Philippians 4:13).

The Good Life, part 3: Fireworks and Wishes (4th of July)

FirecrackerLast night, standing in the parking lot of my church, I heard loud, popping sounds behind a screen of trees. Apparently, the children next door were celebrating the Fourth of July  two days early.

It fit in with my thoughts. I had wanted for this week’s blog to relate to Independence Day, so was seriously considering interrupting my series on The Good Life. But then I saw that the events of July 4, 1776, were a perfect illustration of what was on my heart to say next about “the good life.”

In 1776, many Americans  were ready to be done with English rule. They desired “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Does that sound like “the good life”?) But the 57 men who signed the Declaration of Independence didn’t just wish for the freedom to pursue these things, they did something about it. Over ninety declarations of independence were circulating around the colonies at that time. But these 57 men sent their declaration directly to the king of England. In so doing, they laid on the line their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor (as the last line of the Declaration says).

They are examples of what the previous blog said about The Good Life: they desired something passionately, and that desire motivated them to achieve something that made their lives worth living.

They also show that desiring things is a necessary beginning, but it’s only the beginning. As the old nursery rhyme says, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”

Wishing, alone, will get a person nowhere. Some people wish for something with all their hearts and feel robbed because what they desire never happens. But things do not become ours just because we want them. It doesn’t work that way when we go shopping, does it?

“Well,” some people might object, “I’m not just wishing for something to happen. I have faith that God will do it.” That’s an excellent statement in the sense that only God can guarantee good outcomes. But it implies that God fulfills His promises all by Himself.

One of the events that says otherwise is the story of the Israelite’s possession of the Promised Land. God had promised it to them. But the first generation of Israelites didn’t receive their promise. They didn’t think right–they believed the giants in the land were more powerful than God. They had no faith in Him.

The second generation did have faith in God, but their faith was not passive. They didn’t camp on the east side of the Jordan and wait for God to give them the “all clear” signal. No, they understood that God had guaranteed them the land, but He required them to play a part in taking possession of it–a part that required faith and courage. It took faith and courage to show up for battle. It took faith to follow God’s unusual battle plans. Then, after He performed a miracle (like causing the walls of Jericho to fall), they needed faith and courage to follow up on that and complete the conquest.

As James 2:20 says, “Faith without works is dead.” In other words, faith that does not do its part, is not really faith. It’s wishful thinking.

When Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites, the Lord said to him,

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Joshua 1:8 NKJV).

Hmm! There’s a part for us to play if we want to experience the success God has promised.

Fireworks&PeopleThere’s a reason why our memory of the Fourth of July, 1776, is emblazoned on the skies every year with multi-colored bursts of fire. On that day, a group of men rose above mere wishful thinking. They placed “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” then courageously played their part in birthing the great nation known as the United States of America.

What kind of “good life” do you desire? If it is, indeed, a good desire; that is, a healthy, God-inspired one, don’t say it couldn’t happen. Don’t doubt your ability to partner with God in reaching such a goal. You will no doubt need new attitudes and behavior in order to be successful, but God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). If you let Him, He will make you a person of faith and courage who can lay hold of The Good Life of your desires.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Attracting or Repelling?

Magnetic DogsOne of my earliest experiences with magnetism was a toy–two small Scottish Terrier dogs, each mounted on a magnet. When we slid one dog close enough to the other, they would suddenly unite with a click–that is, if they were facing each other. If we brought one of them up behind the other, the second dog would move away. No matter how frequently or how rapidly the dog in our hand pursued the other, it could not connect. It only succeeded in chasing it away.

In a recent message to my bible study group, Pastor Elizabeth Smither likened our belief systems to a magnet. She said that our thought patterns and beliefs can create a “magnetic field” of faith that attracts (receives) God’s blessings–or they will create a “magnetic field” of anxiety and doubt that repel (cannot receive) His help. The problem, she pointed out, is that we have mixed beliefs. One day, we believe the promises in his Word and are confident he will help us. The next day (or week)–because we have not yet received what we are expecting–our minds are a tumult of thoughts like: “Well, maybe it’s not God’s will after all.”

This yo-yo effect is a serious impediment to receiving God’s blessings. It’s as if the answer was being pulled in, closer and closer, by our faith, but then (when doubt turned our magnet around), we chased the answer away. This is the situation James describes:

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:5-8 NIV).

Yikes! How in the world can we help having contradictory thoughts? Is it possible to make sure our magnetic field is always one of faith, which can receive God’s blessings? It must be! God doesn’t tease us with impossibilities. If He requires us to believe in order to receive, then there’s a way to become confident believers.

Building unwavering faith happens when we “look” at the Lord and meditate on his Word. This involves not only reading the Bible but speaking it and thinking about it–day and night! When the truth saturates our minds and the wrong thinking is gone, we can hear the Good News and believe it! And “anything is possible if a person believes.”

P.S. This post could be subtitled “What’s the Hold-Up, Part 2.” You might find it helpful to scroll down to the original blog on this topic and read it. Some more thoughts along these lines can be found in a devotional I wrote for cbn.com.

 

What’s the Hold-Up?

I can’t remember too many traffic slow-downs in the small town of 16,000 where I traffic jamused to live. Now that I live in a city of 300,000, traffic patterns are a daily consideration. Rush hour. All the traffic lights on Nicholasville Road. A 5-mile detour because of an accident.

My siblings who live in the Denver area, Dallas area, and Chicago area would probably laugh that I consider this to be a big city, but they can surely identify with my point, which is: when I am traveling around this town, I often wonder, What’s the hold-up?

I met someone this week who was wondering the same thing–about what was happening to his prayers. Had God heard? Had he asked something that wasn’t God’s will? Did God expect him to do something in order to receive his answer? What’s the hold-up?

It would be impossible to give a simple answer that would fit the situation of anyone who has not received an answer to prayer. But an important general answer is this: When there’s a hold-up to receiving something from God, there’s probably a blockage in that person’s faith-pipeline. Because faith is the pipeline through which God sends the things we’ve asked for.

A story in Mark 9 shows how this works. A man had brought his son to Jesus.

 But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.

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

He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”

23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked.“Anything is possible if a person believes” (New Living Translation).

Did you catch that? The father said, “If you can do anything . . .” and Jesus said [allow me to paraphrase], “The question isn’t whether I can do anything. I can do anything. The question is whether you believe I can. If you believe [in Me] everything is possible.”

Well, how are you supposed to believe, if you don’t already? 

First of all, believing isn’t mental or spiritual gymnastics. When we try to conjure it up, it’s not real. True belief (or faith) is based on solid information and experience. To have faith in God, we need to know what he is like, what he has promised to do for us, and what he wants of us. God gave us the Bible so that we don’t have to guess, but we can know, everything we need to know about him and how he relates to us.

The problem is, we can read the Bible but not believe what it says. Our ability to believe God is blocked by ideas such as, “If God intended to answer my prayer, he would’ve done it by now. Since nothing has happened, it must not be his will.” Or, “God answers other people’s prayers but not mine.” Or, “The promises in the Bible must have been for people long ago, not for now.” Or, “I’m not surprised God didn’t answer my prayer. He’s probably angry with me for [whatever].”

If our minds are saturated with a life-long accumulation of doubts and fears, it will take deliberate exposure to the truth in the Word to cleanse our minds.* The Bible describes this process in such passages as these:

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night (Joshua 1:8 NIV, emphasis added)

Blessed is the one . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers (Psa. 1:1-3 NIV, emphasis added).

Notice that the process of getting truth into our minds includes not only reading the Word but speaking it and thinking about it–day and night! When the truth saturates our minds and the  wrong thinking is gone, we can hear Good News and believe it! And “anything is possible if a person believes.”

__________

*Also, in order to believe the Bible, we need to make up our minds to turn loose of any idea we have that is different from what God says is true.

 

Mustard Seeds and Mountains

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bush in the picture is a mustard plant. Our Israeli tour guide casually pointed it out to us–and, as you can see, several of us whipped out our cameras. After that, I noticed this yellow-flowered plant everywhere.

The reason I mention this shrub is because of what Jesus said about its seeds:

“if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). 

The mystifying thing about this statement is that Jesus, at another time, said the mustard seed is the tiniest of seeds. How can a tiny bit of faith produce enormous results?

What Jesus said right before this gives one clue. He had just chided his disciples for their unbelief. Unbelief neutralizes faith. Perhaps if their faith had been been small, but pure–with no trace of unbelief–it would have succeeded in “moving the mountain” before them.*

However, there’s another clue, which is also very helpful. It is in one of Jesus’ parables.

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:30-32). 

Faith is a key ingredient of living in the kingdom of God. It is one of the things that grows as the kingdom becomes larger and larger in our lives. So, when Jesus said that faith like a mustard seed could move a mountain, I believe he meant that

  • small faith can do amazing things–whenever you have no doubt at all
  • small faith can grow into great faith*–which works all the time, because doubt has been replaced by complete confidence

Years ago, my neighbor and I were talking about a mutual friend, “Jane,” who was scheduled for surgery–again. My neighbor told me that she was planning to go the hospital with her because her husband never did. That night, when I tucked my kindergarten-age son into bed, we both prayed for successful surgery for Jane. Mentally, I asked, “And, Lord, let her husband accompany her.” I can’t say I asked with much faith–just much compassion.

A couple days later, I talked with my neighbor again. She told me, “Jane’s surgery went well. And guess who sat with me in the waiting room? Jane’s husband.”

I was awed. Not only had the Lord listened to my one small request, but he had seen to it that I knew about his answer. Through this incident I began to realize that God cares about the small stuff and that he encourages his children to come to him with their concerns. My faith began to grow. You know, you can’t believe God when you don’t know “he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).

Years later, when my son was a sophomore in high school, his leg was injured in a Monday night JV football game. All day Tuesday, he struggled to walk from one classroom to another. Wednesday morning I joined my prayer buddies for our weekly 5:00 AM meeting. We prayed for Mark’s healing. When I arrived home at 7:00, he was in the kitchen fixing himself a bowl of cereal.

“How’s your leg?” I asked him. Mark looked at me, dumbfounded. He was so totally restored that he had awakened, dressed, come downstairs, and walked all around the kitchen without even remembering his injury.

I no longer doubted God would intervene. I was making bigger requests. My faith had grown.

Here’s my point: Start small. Get to know God’s kindness and care for you by asking for simple things. You will begin approaching him with more and more confidence.

Yes, your faith can move a mountain. If not today, then eventually–if you let it grow. You have Jesus‘ word on it.

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*I first heard these two ideas on faith from my pastor, Ronald Callahan, in a recent sermon.

 

Good Connection, Signal Received

One of the best-loved hymns of all time, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” by Joseph Medlicott Scriven, includes these words:

Satellite dish

O what peace we often forfeit, 

O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer.

May I suggest that the reason we don’t take everything to God in prayer, is because we aren’t convinced it will make much difference? . . . Ouch. Is God really that unconcerned? Are we really that incapable of believing him?

First of all, faith doesn’t make the promises of God materialize. God makes them happen. Faith is the pipeline through which we receive the blessings. Or the wire through which the electrical impulse travels. Or the receiver that tunes in to the satellite transmission.

Good news–we’re all equipped to receive answers from God to our prayers. In other words, no one is faith-challenged. We just lack understanding of how our faith equipment operates.

Here’s one key piece of information about faith. The “signal” of God’s blessings is always strong, but our faith connection can become faulty. You know, like when you can’t get on the Internet with your laptop because your WiFi connection is weak.

I say it can become faulty, because it’s not necessarily faulty to begin with. You might really have a glad expectation that God will help you, initially. But then it doesn’t seem to happen. 🙁

What weakens the connection? Contrary thoughts. One minute thinking, “God said he would guide me”–the next minute thinking, “How will I know if it’s his voice? . . . yeah, you’re right, I’m going to have to figure this out by myself.”

It sets up static. James describes it this way:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:5-8).

Believing one minute and not the next, breaks up our connection with heaven.

Are you at the mercy of any doubting thought that pops into your brain? Actually, NO. If you hear unbelieving talk all the time, you probably have a lot of static in your faith connector. But you can eliminate the static by choosing to think about how gracious God is . . . that he does not lie . . . etc.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. . . .  And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9) .

It takes a while to change over from massive uncertainty . . . to a glimmer of hope . . .  to occasional flashes of confidence . . . to unshakeable faith. But, IT’S A JOURNEY WORTH MAKING. Yeah!

A Healthful Climate

Yesterday the first white, flowery haze appeared in the pear trees outside my window. Won’t be long before the magnolias and redbuds and dogwoods turn the whole city into a garden. A glorious state of affairs for the eyes. But for some people, a time of sneezing and stuffy heads.

Arizona

You probably know people who have moved to Arizona or some other dry climate to escape spring and fall–and any other–allergies. Environmental factors really do make a difference. And that, I realized a couple days ago, explains a lot about miracles and faith.

For many of us, God’s promises to heal us of any disease are too good to be true. “Sure, we’ll be perfectly healthy once we get to heaven,” we say. “But here on earth, there’s sickness. And we have physical bodies that are vulnerable to diseases.”

Here’s a mind-blowing thought: Those who have believed on Christ as Savior and Lord are now in the Kingdom of God. Same bodies, new environment. Yes, we can experience complete health, here and now, by moving to the new climate of the Kingdom of God.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Col. 1:13).

In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray:

   “your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).”

His kingdom operates fully right here on earth, for those who follow the King. Dare to believe it.

Here’s a fun and profound thought from my pastor: the Kingdom of God has an upstairs and a downstairs. They’re both part of the same house.

He Didn’t Let Go

Do you know anyone who no longer believes there is a God because they didn’t receive an answer to a heartfelt prayer? I do. I feel for them. I’ve been confused and hurt myself because I really believed . . . and it didn’t happen. I guess the reason I didn’t stop believing in him was because I did know him personally. I had experienced his presence. I had also received answers to other prayers.

Three boys playing tug-of-warBut I became less confident in praying–for a while. For years, actually. But I have not been satisfied with that. I have seen in the Bible that Jesus loved finding people with outrageous faith. So I have kept the hope alive.

So you can imagine how ENCOURAGING it was to hear my pastor’s remark about Abraham.

First of all, some background: You know, he was 75 years old when he left the old country to travel to the Promised Land. The Lord told him his descendants would inherit the land that is now Israel. Problem was, he had no children. None. His wife was barren, and he was getting up in years.

Abraham is called the father of faith, because he believed God’s “impossible” promises. But his faith was not exactly rock-solid in the beginning. Or middle. He waffled a little on following the Lord’s instructions. And, after waiting 24 years for this son to appear, he asked the Lord, “How can I know this will really happen? Couldn’t my chief servant’s son be my heir?”

At that point, the Lord made a blood covenant with Abraham, showing him how serious his promise was. Abraham was instantly convinced. From then on, he had no problem trusting God completely. . . . His son was born a year later.

This is the remark my pastor made about all this: During those 25 years, Abraham did not let go of his hope in God’s promise. He didn’t say, “I guess I was mistaken.” He didn’t say, “I don’t see this kind of thing happening anywhere. Why did I think it would happen for me?” No, he knew that he had heard from God. It was a precious thing to him, so he kept it alive. That’s why, my pastor continued, his faith was able to grow. To critical mass, if you will. To the point where he could receive God’s amazing promises.

I’m excited about the promises I’m hanging on to. I may not have quite enough faith to receive them yet, but I will. I’m giving my faith a chance to grow.:-)

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise (Hebrews 10:35-36 NKJV).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galations 6:9 NIV)

Love Does It Right

PANNING FOR GOLD

Digging into 1 Corinthians 13 – the “love” chapter

There’s a passage in the Bible that is amazingly good literature. Until recently—I confess—I was so caught up in the beauty and power of the words that most of the message faded into the background. It was not until my small group used this chapter for meditation that I really thought about what it said. (A good reason to meditate on scripture—not just read it!) Here it is:

1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love [MSG].

What? I thought. Eloquence, miracle-working faith, works of social justice, and heroism are worth nothing . . .  compared to love?

Then rays of understanding came:

An eloquent speech or sermon can excite your emotions, but leave you unchanged. A simple word from someone who really cares about you, lodges in your heart and makes a difference in how you live.

It’s insulting to have to receive help from someone who thinks highly of their own generosity. But kind, gracious assistance makes you feel respected and cared for.

It’s not that eloquence, miracle-working faith, works of social justice, and heroism are unimportant—it’s how you do those things that makes the difference. And love knows how to do them right.

Making It Personal

  • Do you have a relationship with a boss, a neighbor, a parent, a son, or a daughter that needs to be oiled by love?
  • Which of the descriptions of love in the next four verses of 1 Corinthians 13 could you adopt for your problematic relationship?

 

A Slow Man Who Became Quick

Running man

PANNING FOR GOLD

Digging into Genesis 22

I’m talking about Abraham—who left an advanced culture in Ur of the Chaldees to go Who-Knows-Where because God called him to “leave….”

As amazing as his faith was, he was rather slow, initially, about carrying out all the Lord’s instructions. For example, the Lord had told him to leave his family behind, but he brought his nephew, Lot, with him. That was pretty understandable, when you consider that Abraham had no children (no heirs) and that Lot had been part of his household since Lot’s father had died.

But it did cause problems. After arriving in Lot’s herdsmen quarreled with Abraham’s over water rights—to the point where the two had to part company. Even then, Abraham had to rescue Lot and his household when the city to which they moved was captured in battle.

. . . I was reading along in Genesis a few days ago, and something jumped out at me. In chapter 17, the Lord instructed Abraham to be circumcised—along with all his male descendants—as a sign of their covenant with him. “On that very day” Abraham saw to it that all the males in his household were circumcised.

Then in chapter 22, the Lord tested Abraham by asking him to offer his miracle son (who was born when Abraham was 100 years old) as a sacrifice. “So Abraham rose early in the morning” to comply with this heart-wrenching instruction.

Notice how quickly Abraham now cooperated with the Lord? His slow obedience in the past had cost him. By contrast, obeying the Lord—even when it made no sense to him—had been the gateway to blessing and to his destiny. You know, Abraham didn’t need Lot, after all, to be his heir. When Lot moved on, it opened the way for the Lord to override Sarah’s barrenness and give her and Abraham a son.

In a recent sermon, my pastor, Eric Hansen, said you call tell whether a person is “on fire for God” by noticing how long it takes them to do what they hear God say. So did Abraham become quick to obey out of increased love and loyalty—or had he just learned his lesson? How about both? The more you know God, the more you love him.

Making It Personal

  • Do you know the reason for everything God asks you to do in the Bible?
  • Do you always know why the Lord impresses on your heart to do something?
  • Do you respond with trust and loyalty?
  • Do you have a good story of when you did what God said and you’re really glad you did?