What does it mean to “Believe in God”?

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“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”  Hebrews 11:6

Humankind has been wrestling with the concept of belief in God for thousands of years.  The most brilliant minds from every side of the issue have argued for and against belief in God.  Lately the voices against have become louder and more widely accepted and belief in God is considered antiquated, foolish and a cause for scorn.  But for a person of faith belief in God is the starting place.  Everything else springs from this crucial point.  Without God our worldview – our understanding of the universe, of life, and of ourselves changes completely.  So, we must nail this one down – What does it mean to “believe in God?”  

Our key verse declares that faith believes in the existence of God and there are evidences all around to prove He does exist.  God has first revealed Himself through His creation.  Romans 1:19-20 says “What may be known about God is plain to [men], because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities- His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made; so that men are without excuse.”  David said “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands…Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”  (Psalm 19:1, 3).  The world around us professes to the reality of God.  When I was in seminary, I had to take Biology – which I saw as useless for a Biblical/Theological degree.  But the more I leaned about the science of life, the more I saw God in creation.  Gaze into an astronomer’s telescope to the farthest reaches of space and God’s handiwork is there.  Look through the most powerful microscope at the most miniscule parts of cellular life and God’s fingerprints are all over it.  There is too much intricacy to the greatest and smallest details of everything that exists to deny the work of a creative Designer.  People of faith believe that the universe and all life was not created by some “cosmic accident” It was created by God. The foundation of faith is the belief in the existence of God as evidenced by everything that surrounds us.

So, is that all there is to it?  Is believing that God exists enough?  Not according to the Bible.  “You believe that there is one God.  Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19).  If the demons of hell profess to the existence of God, then there must be more to faith than simply saying “Yes, I believe there is a God.”  Let’s revisit our key verse and the claim that we must believe that God exists.  The word “exists”  holds a deeper meaning in the original Greek than just being; it carries the impression of acceptance, companionship, belonging, involvement.  It means relationship.  To believe in God is not just intellectual assent, though we cannot miss out on that first vital understanding.  Believing in God means investing all I am in a relationship with my Creator.  It means that I am His and He is mine.  That’s the difference between how the demons believe and how faith believes.  Faith – genuine faith – is both mind and heart – recognizing the truth of God’s existence and making it personal through a relationship that impacts every aspect of our lives.

 I believe in God – and this is not just a rote statement I declare, it is the deepest conviction of my heart and it changes everything about my life.  Beloved, do you believe in God?

 

 

 

 

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Christians and Depression

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“Elijah was a man just like us” (James 5:17).

I’ve been studying Elijah lately for one reason: I wanted to understand why, after all God has done for me in recent months, I could tumble into depression. Elijah was a prophet of God – a very outspoken prophet – and most of his outspokenness was directed at King Ahab and His queen, Jezebel who were evil personified.  Elijah predicted a season of drought because of the evil and idolatry in Israel. During that drought, God miraculously provided for the prophet – he never lacked for his daily needs.  Elijah defeated and put to death the 450 prophets of Baal, Jezebel’s god, and showed the Israelites the power of Jehovah. Because of him the people’s hearts were turned back to the Lord. What a victory! Yet when Jezebel got wind of it all, she threatened Elijah. And the prophet ran. Depressed and overwhelmed he begged God to take his life.  Despite all that God had done for him and through him, Elijah wound up in the pit – or cave as it were – of despair.

I can identify with old Elijah.  God has been so good to us through a very difficult year of health problems, unemployment, family strain, and financial hardship.  So why this downward spiral into depression?  It isn’t the first time I’ve battled this – I am prone to the grip of depression, and it often comes on the heels of blessings and fruitfulness.  I suspect, based on conversations and comments, that I’m not the only one.

I see some similarities between Elijah and me.  The old prophet was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted.  The long-standing conflict with Ahab, three years of drought in the land, coupled with the intensity of the showdown with prophets of Baal drained Elijah.  Likewise, we struggled for over a year with my husband’s work-related injury, surgery, rehab and battles with worker’s comp and his company.  I had made a disastrous job change and was miserable. We were caught up in a great deal of relational tension with a family member.   Then the heat intensified.  My husband could not go back to work, so now we faced settlements, disability, and the loss of his income.  When my employer found out I was looking for another job, they hired my replacement before I had a job to go to.  Faced with double unemployment and a minimal settlement, we realized all we could do was move back home near family.  Two days before we loaded the truck I was hit with a severe leg infection and excruciating pain. That meant medical bills with no insurance and no income and nearly a month of being flat of my back.  God had graciously led us to a great house to rent, but before we could move in, the house flooded from an open tap and we juggled furniture around while the floors were replaced and I tried to recuperate with the daily noise of saws and hammers.  There was the added anxiety of being separated from our adult son for the first time in his life as he decided not to move with us.  As soon as I was back on my feet I began searching for a job with disappointing results. 

But God had been good to Elijah by miraculously providing for His prophet, and He did the same for us.  Despite all our struggles, God poured out blessings on us and provided generously and unexpectedly.  And He eventually opened the door to a wonderful job for me at a small Christian college nearby.  You would think, with all this, I would be on the highest of highs.  But I soon found myself crashing physically, emotionally and spiritually. Like Elijah, the long drawn out struggles and intensity of the recent months had drained me.  Elijah fled to the desert, a fitting place for a dry and weary soul.  There he begged God to let him die, “I have had enough, Lord” (1 Kings 19:4).  And the overwhelmed and exhausted prophet lay down and slept the sleep of the depressed.  While I haven’t physically run anywhere, I have retreated into an emotional desert of discouragement and weariness.  That is why, you may have noticed, I have been silent on my blog and social media the past month or so.  I just haven’t had the energy or the heart.

So how did Elijah come out of the darkness of despair?  The same way I will.  Through God’s tender care and hearing the voice of the Lord.  As Elijah slept in the desert, God sent an angel with food and strengthened him so that he had just enough energy to get to the mountains where he hid in a cave.  But it was there, in a dark and lonely cave, that the God of mercy and grace spoke to him in a gentle whisper.  I am seeking the help of a physician to deal with the physiological aspects of depression, and I am digging into the Word to glean the whispers of God for my soul and spirit.

Why am I sharing this less-than-encouraging message with you?  Because I don’t want you to think I am some super-Christian through the words I write.  I am just as prone to the struggles and hardships of life as anyone.  The have the same discouraging effect on me as they do on you.  In all honesty, I write to encourage myself as much as to encourage you.  And I am just as prone to failure in my walk as anyone – but that’s a post for another day.  I’m also sharing this because someone else is struggling with depression – someone who loves Jesus and is doing their best to be a good, faithful Christian.  You’re questioning your faith because of this season of darkness.  You may even be questioning God’s love for you.  And the enemy is using that to his advantage.  I hear the accusations too: “If you were really a Christian you wouldn’t be depressed.  God is so disappointed in you.  Why don’t you quit pretending to be something you’re not?”  I hear the reminders that Christians are supposed to be full of joy, joy, joy!  So why aren’t you?  There may be many reasons; everyone’s situation is unique.  And there is no shame in reaching out for help.  Doctors, counselors and others have the God-given wisdom and expertise to treat depression.  Please get the help you need. Today.  I am writing this so that you, my weary and hurting friend, will know that there is no shame in depression – even for Christians.  The Bible shows that we are in very good company in this cave – Moses, Elijah, David, Jeremiah, and Paul all expressed similar emotions and seasons.  Many of the great men and women throughout Christian history struggled with depression.

I am also writing this to let you know that God really does love you – even in the pit or desert or cave of depression.  He is not angry or disappointed in you.  He has not written you off.  In fact, He has drawn near to you, like a loving parent does when their child is hurting.  He speaks gentle whispers of love and encouragement, and He tenderly wipes away the tears on your face.  Let Him love you.  Let Him minister grace to you.  Beloved, there is hope for you and for me in the face of depression.  I’m going to get better and so will you.  God is too good to leave His child in pain. He will turn the darkness into light.  We have His Word on it.

Your Shield of Faith

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“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

I’m studying the Armor of God, and in particular the Shield of Faith this week.  I think every person who claims to be a Christian should do a deep study of this important passage in Ephesians 6:10-19.  Each piece is vital for different reasons because the enemy has so many different ways to attack us.  The Belt of Truth strengthens us from the inside out, giving us the ability to deflect lies and half-truths that look right, but miss the mark.  The Breastplate of Righteousness protects our heart from the enemy’s onslaught of lies about who we are. The Shoes of Peace enable us to stand firm in the harsh terrain of this world.  The Helmet of Salvation protects our mind, the devil’s favorite target.  The Sword of the Spirit is our only offensive weapon – but the Word of God is all we need to send Satan scurrying.  And then there is the Shield of Faith – a vital protective piece.

“Faith” gets used a lot in churches and Christian circles – so much so that I fear it has lost it’s meaning.  In the modern Christian culture, we say we have faith because we think about God and talk about Bible verses.  But biblical faith is not just sitting around with our ethereal thoughts.  By definition, faith is a belief that leads to a corresponding action – even when the reasons for that action are unclear and the results are uncertain.  Mind you, faith isn’t “blind” either.  It sees the improbability of what God is asking.  Faith does it anyway. “Because You said so” (Luke 5:5).  Faith allows us to step out into the empty space, confident that the solid ground God promised will be in place when our foot sets down.

What has God asked of you that requires great faith?  Obedience to His call is your shield.  Do the thing whether you understand the reasons or not.  Do it when it doesn’t make a bit of sense. Do it even though you can’t see the outcome.  If your knees are knocking – do it afraid, but do it.  Then when God slides His hand in place just as your foot reaches the open space, you will stand on the most solid ground you’ve ever known.  Have faith Beloved.  Just do it.

Proven Faith

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Charles Spurgeon wrote: “The most precious [metals] are tested in the fire . . . ” The Psalmist said, “For You, O God tested us; You refined us like silver” (Psalm 66:10). Peter said, “These [trials] have come so that your faith – of great worth than gold . . . may be proved genuine” (1 Peter 1:7)
A “proving ground” is a military term. It is “an environment that serves to demonstrate whether something, such as a theory or product, really works.” Say a company has created something they want to market to the United States military. Do you think Uncle Sam is just going to take their word for it, buy this thing and put it into a soldier’s hands. No – they are going to take it into situations and places in which it will be used and they will put it through rigorous tests. They may discover a weakness and will work on that area to strengthen it. And they’ll test it again. Only after it stands up in the proving grounds will it be put into use.
When God wants to “prove” the faith of His child He uses the fires of adversity, struggle, trial, heartache, disappointment, discouragement . . . I think you understand. When you and I ask God, “What are You doing?” The answer will always be, “I am proving your faith. I am finding the weak places so that I can strengthen you. I am making sure you are fit for the good work I have for you.” God is not out to destroy you beloved, He is working to build your faith. The proving ground is the place where your faith takes root so you can produce fruit – fruit that will last. Fruit that will glorify the one who brought you all the way through the fire.

Fear Not

Fear not

“Fear not . . .”  Isaiah 43:1

“Fear not” – words that make us stand a little straighter and feel a little stronger.  “Fear not,” (and words of a similar context) are found in the Bible more than a hundred times.[1]  We’re taught that fear and faith cannot coexist.  A fearful saint is not a faithful saint. But if you – like me – find yourself in a tumultuous situation, that contrast between the two extremes is a very real and present tension.  Like the father in Mark 9, we find ourselves pleading – “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24).  Over and over I pray: “God, I know You’ve got this.  I know you are faithful.  I know You will never leave me nor forsake me.  But I’m scared God.  I don’t want to be.  I’m trying not to be.  But I am.”  And He understands.  He doesn’t chide or rebuke me – He just gives me reasons not to fear.

Fear not . . . for God has heard (Gen. 21:18)

Fear not for I am with you (Gen. 26:24) (My favorite)

Do not be afraid, the Lord will fight for you (Deut. 3:22)

Do not be afraid . . . for the Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6)

Fear not; I will help you (Isa. 41:13)

Today, at the suggestion of my sister-in-love, I’ve been meditating in Isaiah 43 and found some incredible words of hope that fit my life perfectly:

“This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters” (v. 16); “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (v. 19).

At this moment I am both drowning in the sea and wandering through a desert.  Seems as odd as faith mingled with fear but let me explain.  My emotions seem like an overflowing river, thoughts rushing this way and that, pulling me under and threatening to take my very breath.  For a split second I come up for air – “I believe!”  In the next the waves crash over my head again – “But I am afraid!”  God promises to make a way – a path through the waters of fearful thoughts and discouragement that threaten to drown me.  He promises dry ground to cross over to the other side.

Yet I am in the desert where nothing grows and all seems lost – walking through a season of drought.  Health issues.  Disability.  Unemployment.   Multiple applications with no nibbles.  Interviews with “no thank you.”  Watching the funds dwindle as the provisions dry up.  The reality of what we’re facing beats down like the scorching sun as we wander looking for an oasis.  God promises to make a way here too – to provide streams in this wasteland .  Mind you not to drown us like the sea, but to refresh and restore us.

He meets our needs for rescue and refreshing.  He gives us dry ground and cool springs.  He never fails to notice us wherever we are – even when we’re in two places at once.  Oh, my drowning, wandering friend – let me throw you a lifeline of hope.  You don’t have to fear because God hears you, He is with you, He fights for you, He will never leave nor forsake you, and He promises to help you.  He knows where you are right now, and He knows what you need right here.  He will make a way.

 

[1] The NIV records some 110 references; other translations will have a slightly different word count.  Despite how good is sounds, there are actually not 365 “Fear not” verses.

Looking at Life from Higher Up

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“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to try to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down onto to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.
Some of you know the struggles we’ve faced for the past several months. My husband was injured at work and had to leave his 23-year career. At the same time I lost my job and couldn’t find another. Two months ago we moved back home to start over. During the move and for weeks after, I dealt with a serious health crisis – with no insurance. I’ve been diligently looking for a job and many of you prayed for me when I went on an interview last week – but I learned yesterday that I did not get the job. We have been without any income for 3 months and our meager resources are almost depleted.
So how do I deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? I have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. Will I see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening my faith? Will I roll around in hopelessness or stand in confident trust that God has a purpose and a plan in it all?
Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of faith. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I realize that I can either drag myself into misery or climb up on the Rock that never fails.
Beloved, I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your faith and your ability to face it all with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near and caring or as distant and unconcerned. I know God is here with me. I know He is faithful. I know I can trust Him. I know He will come through. He is my Rock – a high place on which I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

Praying With Faith

“But when He asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6)
 
The old preacher announced from the pulpit – “Come out tonight as we gather to pray for rain to ease this drought.  And bring your umbrella, or don’t bother to come.  We need prayers of faith, not doubt.”
 
What are you praying for today?  Are you believing God will answer – or are your prayers empty petitions?  Oh I’m so guilty of this.  I’m going to be honest here – I have prayed while doubts dug deep ruts through my mind.  “God I ask this of You, but I really don’t expect it.”  Sometimes my doubts were caused by the size of the problem, or the pain of the circumstance.  Sometimes I doubted because it just seemed too much to ask; like I was weighing God’s faithfulness against my failures.  And sometimes my prayers are empty because the enemy has filled my mind with fear.
James calls me “double-minded” and “unstable” (v. 8).   Jesus said it only takes a “mustard-seed” of faith to move the Father’s heart on my behalf (20-21).  Do I believe in God’s goodness – even a mustard seed worth? Has He ever done anything to warrant my doubts?
Beloved, it’s time to put real faith behind our prayers.  I’m praying for some big things from God – for myself, my family and my ministry.  Oh, and I’m gonna grab my umbrella on my way out the door!

Heroes of the Faith

“Enoch walked with God,” Genesis 6:24

What person in the Bible – besides Jesus (because we all want to be like Jesus) – do you most want to emulate? There are several I can name, for various reasons.
I’ve always wanted to be like Dorcas (which is my given first name) – her story is in Acts 9:36-42. She was a woman who was devoted to ministry among the poor in Joppa. It was said of her, she was “full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.” I am full of good ideas, which I often fail to do. I want to be like Dorcas – a doer, not just a dreamer. When God called me into ministry the priest Ezra became my role-model. The Scriptures say that “the gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord and to teach its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:9-10). From his example I have devoted myself to study the Word, live the Word and teach the Word. I also admire Mary’s complete surrender to the will of God – I long for that kind of heart. I want to be bold like Paul, humble like Moses, and fearless like Deborah who declared, “March on, my soul; be strong!” (Judges 5:21) as she (yes a woman!) led Israel into battle. I want to worship like David, live blamelessly like Noah, and without compromise like Daniel.

But as I was reading the Genesis account of “the begats” – the generations of Adam’s descendants I found the person I most want to be like – Enoch. While I love the great stories of David and Daniel and Dorcas and Ezra – the simple description of Enoch’s life is the one that I want most to copy: “Enoch walked with God.” There are no great feats listed, no battles fought, no mighty victories. He walked with God – period. We do get a clue in Hebrews 11 where we find that as he walked he “pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5b). What was his secret for pleasing God? It’s right in the next verse, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith pleases God and Enoch clearly had faith. So what is faith? Faith is believing that God exists – that He is who He says He is. But the demons believe that God exists (James 2:19), so there must be something more. Faith is also believing that He rewards those who seek after him earnestly. How do we seek God earnestly? Jeremiah 29:13 declares “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. Enoch walked through life seeking the face and presence of God with his whole heart. That means he constantly thought about God, talked with God, and believed God to be faithful and true. And Enoch’s faith was rewarded. What is the reward? Jeremiah 29:14 says, “I will be found by you.” Enoch found God – he didn’t die, but was taken from this earth and into the very presence of God.

Hebrews 11 – the hall of faith – is filled with men and women who did many things in the name of the Lord, but they are all commended for one thing above all others: their faith. Name after name is preceded by the words: “by faith.” Abel, our friend Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and on and on. They worshipped, built, led, sacrificed and remained true, but they are remarkable for the faith, not their acts. Faith motivates God’s people into action, whether it is great exploits or simple gestures – but it is not our deeds that please God, it is our heart that believes and seeks after Him.

I want to do great things for God. I want to study and teach His Word, I want to write to encourage others. I want to share Jesus with women. But more than all these, I want to walk before God in faith, just as Enoch did. I want to please Him and seek Him with wholehearted devotion. I want to meditate on His Name and His character. I want to talk with Him friend-to-friend and draw near enough to hear His faintest whisper. I want to walk through life with God – side-by-side and heart-to heart – all the way into His presence.

Creation: Fact or Fiction?

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

It’s the simplest truth, taught to the littlest children: God created the whole world. It is the opening statement of the Holy Bible and is foundational to our understanding of who God is, and in turn who we are.  I would like to encourage you to read the first chapter of Genesis before you read any further in this devotional.

Where did the universe come from?  Modern science spins a tale of colliding gasses that somehow formed into a diverse group of planets, stars and galaxies.  Yet out of all those celestial places only one has the exact mix of Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, and Sulfur to sustain life.  Only one is the precise distance from the sun to keep the inhabitants from freezing or burning to death.  Only one produces plant life that can feed both humans and animals.   Can we seriously believe that this delicate balance was achieved by accident?  Faith tells us that God fashioned the earth purposefully for His living creations.  

The Bible says that God created out nothing.  There were no prior elements that He scooped up into His hand and rolled into a ball.  He spoke into the nothingness and the response was immediate obedience.  “Be” . . . light, water, dry ground, plant life, sun, moon and stars, and living creatures.  And they were.

The Genesis account also says that these creative events occurred over six “days.”  A lot of debate centers on those days.  Were they really 24-hour days like we know today?  Were they thousands, even millions of our years long?  Were there long “gaps” between the days?  I’ll not get into the “young-earth/old-earth” debates, because that is not my intent.  The Bible is not written as a science manual; it is written for faith.  And the first act of faith is believing that God exists; the second is believing that the Word that He has given us is true.  The creation verses say that “there was evening and there was morning” – and calls that a “day.”  The Hebrew terminology agrees with that understanding.

Does it really matter though?  Yes it really does, but not for the sake of scientific argument.

I personally believe that this indicates a 24-hour day, but my conviction is based not so much on the descriptive text but on the One who inspired the text.  If I side with the scientific versions – even from a “Christian” perspective – I have said that the very first truths of the Holy Word of God are questionable.  That leaves everything else from Genesis 2 to Revelation 22 open to debate and alteration for the sake of human agreement.  I have heard “Christians” say that Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, and many other biblical accounts are just myths.  How easy it becomes then to question to truth of the virgin birth of Jesus, His miracles and even His resurrection. Even in the church.  Think I’m stretching too far here?  Go sit through a lecture at a liberal-leaning seminary.  It’s a wonder students are still believers when the graduate.

Mankind has had one of three responses to the biblical account of creation:

Some receive it as truth and accept God as Creator.

Some receive it as a possible truth and add God to their harem of higher powers.

Some outright reject it and deny the power, and often the existence of God.

Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary science admitted that it is “[extremely difficult] or rather [impossible to] conceive this immense and wonderful universe, including man” without being convicted of the existence of God.  Yet he abandoned that “strong conclusion” and devised the evolutionary theory that the world has received as an alternative to the truth.  (Taken from a video lecture by Dr. David DeWitt).  All that he could see around him convinced him of the existence of God, but his arrogance led him to reject God.  His theory has lead millions of human souls away from God and has become entangled in the church’s teaching of creation.

If the Bible is truly the Word of God, then all of it is true and must be received and believed without compromise.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Faith starts right here, at the beginning.  Know what you believe and believe what you know – but be certain what you know and believe is the truth.

Father God, Creator and Sustainer of all that is, forgive us for looking to men to explain Your miraculous works.  You created by your word and You wrote it down for us to believe – not to pick apart and debate.  Create in us hearts that believe You above all else.  Amen.