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!
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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 see 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.

Secret Faith

peekaboo

“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself  . . .” Daniel 1:8

He was part of a group of athletes from out of town.  He and his teammates were seated across the pizza parlor and it was obvious they had been drinking for a while.  Their conversation had been punctuated with profanity and sexual comments, and this young man had been a full participant.  He hoisted his beer above his head and toasted their victory with a few choice expletives.  With his arm raised high, I could see the WWJD bracelet he wore.  It was faded and dirty, but I recognized it right away.

I shook my head as we stood to leave, just as the young man walked to the restroom.  As my husband paid our bill, he walked out and I commented, “You guys must have had a great day today, you’re doing a lot of celebrating.”

“Yeah, we beat everyone today – we’re the CHAMPS!”

“May I ask you a question?” I queried.  He nodded his assent.  “What’s that bracelet you’re wearing all about?”  He glanced down and his wrist and quickly pulled his shirt sleeve down over the bracelet.

“Awe, it’s just something I got at church a while back.  My mom likes for me to wear it.”

“What does it mean?”

“It says WWDJ I think.  It just means . . . well I guess it means I’m a Christian.”

“Really?  Wow, that’s great! I didn’t know Christians could get drunk and cuss like that!  I guess it’s no big deal anymore is it?”

He shifted his weight back and forth on his feet.  “Hey, I’m still a Christian in my heart, isn’t that where it matters?”

“I don’t know.  Is it?”

In contrast to the young man in the pizza parlor, consider Daniel and his friends.  They were part of the exile to Babylon and had been taken with a group of elite young men to be indoctrinated into the culture of their captors.  They were given “royal food and wine” (Daniel 1:8), food which was forbidden for a Jew.  They asked to be excluded from the meal plan in favor of foods that would not compromise their faith.

Now you might ask, what harm would there be in eating and drinking the provided food as long as they remained true to their faith in their hearts?  As the young athlete said, “Isn’t that where it matters?” Couldn’t they set aside their convictions since they were captives, just go along with the others who had no such qualms?  While they chowed down they could tell God, “This doesn’t change who I am. You know I’m still a Jew at heart.”

Or when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were ordered to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue, what harm would there have been to go along on the outside, as long as they still claimed their Jewish status in their hearts?[1]  Maybe Daniel could have outwardly pretended to pray to the King, but kept his heart for God?  It sure would have kept him out of the lion’s den.[2]

Jesus gives us the answer: “By their fruit you will recognize them,” (Matthew 7:16).  Fruit in Scripture is evidence of what is inside.  If a tree has the sap of a peach, it’s not going to produce a pear.  Likewise if we are truly Christians in our hearts, we will not exhibit ungodly behavior.  That’s not to say that Christians don’t occasionally stumble in their walk.  But they feel the sting of conviction and repent in sorrow for their failing.  A Christian cannot be comfortable living like the world.  I would even go so far as to say, it you can live like the world while claiming to be a Christian, you might want to re-examine your relationship with Christ.

Secret faith – faith that only exists in your heart but not in your words and actions – is a contradiction in terms.  Genuine inward faith has an outward expression.  It can’t be kept hidden away or tucked up under a shirt sleeve when it’s not convenient or popular to be a Christian.  Faith has to be lived out loud.  I don’t mean standing on a street corner with a Bible and a sign, but rather standing apart from the culture and the influences of the world.  I mean not participating in ungodly behavior.  I mean saying “No” when you are enticed to compromise your faith.  I mean making choices that may seem odd to others, but that reflect Christ in your heart.

Had Daniel and his friends compromised with the food issue, it would have been easier to give in with the statue or prayer.  They would have blended in to the culture and had no influence for the Lord.  They certainly would not have encouraged us with their example of uncompromising faith.  Likewise, the stand you take today in small things will determine the stand you take tomorrow with larger issues.

In other words, your outward faith matters.  It really, really matters.

[1] Daniel 3

[2] Daniel 6

Trusting God with Eyes Wide Open

cliff_jump

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead . . .” (1 Corinthians 15:20

Sunday at church, we sang a song that was new to me.  It was a powerful praise of the living Lord Jesus Christ and how He saved me from my sins.  My heart leapt within me and I sensed the Holy Spirit calling me to lift my hands in praise.  Now I am not shy about lifting my hands, but I’ve always done so with my eyes closed in worship.  “Lord, I don’t know this song.” I said, “I have to keep my eyes on the screen to see the words.”  I sensed Him saying, Child, I want you to worship me with your eyes wide open.

We’re often told that we are to believe in Jesus with “blind faith,” and not look for evidence that the claims of Christianity are true.   But I don’t believe that faith is closing my eyes and jumping off a theological cliff.  Mind you there is a huge difference in demanding proof and asking for assurance of your faith.  The first is an arrogant insult to the Lord, but the second is the cry of a heart that wants to believe.  God invites us to “come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).  He encourages us to look for evidence of His existence and to believe because we see.  Placing my faith in Jesus Christ is both an act of faith and a wise and conscious decision based on solid evidence.

No other event on the stage of world history is as important or as divisive as the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Skeptics have long sought to discredit Christianity’s claims with attacks on the foundational truth of the gospel.  One of the foremost apologetics experts, Dr. Gary Habermas[1] offers many historical facts about Christ’s resurrection that provide evidence of Christianity’s claims.  Those facts include  Jesus’ death by crucifixion and his burial; the reaction of his distraught disciples; the empty tomb; the disciples’ belief in the literal appearance of the risen Jesus; their sudden transformation from hopeless, fearful doubters to emboldened witnesses; and the testimonies of skeptics turned apostles such as James, Jesus’ own brother, and Saul of Tarsus, known as Paul. [2]  These facts are not mere Bible stories, they are recorded in the secular history of the time.

The Jewish and Roman historical records note that a man named Jesus, from Nazareth, was crucified at Golgotha and buried in a garden tomb.  The grave was sealed and Roman guards were posted to prevent the theft of the body.  This is a historical, recorded fact.  History records that the condemned man’s tomb was found empty three days later, despite the extreme measures the Romans took to secure the grave.  Jewish records note the claims of Jesus’ followers that their Lord had been resurrected.  Historical writers of the time frequently mention eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus, just as Paul spoke of Peter, the Apostles, more than five hundred brothers, James (Jesus’ own doubting brother), and finally Paul himself (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).  In these verses Paul reminds the believers of the gospel message “that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scripture” (v. 3-4).  These verses are almost certainly a creed that was well established in the ancient church and based on the testimonies of the very ones who firmly and emphatically believed they saw the literal resurrected Lord.  These are men who had been transformed from terrified, despondent fellows cowering behind locked doors (John 20:19) to bold witnesses willing to die for their faith, confident in what they saw (Acts 4:1-20).

The gospel message – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – is strongly supported by men and women who had an encounter that transformed their lives and the landscape of world history.  The evidences are clearly shown in their testimonies and the traditions that found their foundation in their words.  The eyewitness’s accounts of Peter, James, John and Paul and hundreds of others, combined with the early creedal statements of the church provide good support for the claims of the resurrection of Jesus.  Generations of believers whose have also experienced this life-changing Jesus provide further proof that the claims of Christianity are true.

Still facts alone cannot convince anyone of the reality of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It is important that we know the truth, but it is even more important that we believe the truth.  Faith still requires an element of trusting in something we cannot physically see.  But the eyes of our hearts can pierce the darkness of doubt and focus on the truth of Jesus Christ as Savior and His promises of eternal life.

I want to encourage you to examine the evidence, look carefully at the Scriptures, especially Paul’s epistles, research the historical records.  Know for sure that what you believe is true.  God does not demand blind faith; He wants us to be confident in what we believe.  Trusting in Jesus is the most intelligent decision you will ever make.

Lord Jesus, I’ve believed in You since I was a child, but I didn’t understand the basis for my faith until I examined the evidence.  You are everything You claimed to be: Son of God, Savior, and Resurrected Lord.  Give us eyes to see and hearts to believe.  Amen.

[1] Dr. Gary R. Habermas, is a Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University.

[2] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity, Southeastern Theological Review, 3.1, (Summer 2012) 15-26, http://garyhabermas.com/articles/southeastern_theological_review/minimal-facts-methodology_08-02-2012.htm, 17.

By Faith

faith“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).

Since the day the stone was rolled away from His tomb, many have rejected the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, the foundation of the Christian faith.  The Jewish religious leaders concocted a lie to deny His resurrection, claiming that His disciples stole His body away.  But His followers were certain that He had returned to life because they had seen him with their own eyes, and touched Him with their own hands.  They shared meals with Him, walked with him, and marveled in His presence.  Saul encountered the resurrected Lord on the road to Damascus, and though he did not physically touch Him, he heard his voice with his own ears and saw Him in glory so bright that it blinded his human eyes.  These were the last eyewitnesses of Jesus.

To us, they are specially blessed because they had seen and heard and touched.  They had the advantage of His physical presence to bolster their faith.  Who could doubt after witnessing the resurrected Lord?  (Believe it or not, some did-Matthew 28:17.) But what about you and me?  We have not physically seen Him or touched Him or heard Him, and that makes faith a challenge for us.  We like proof that we can affirm physically.  Isn’t that what our culture has taught us?  Don’t trust anything you can’t prove.  I’ve talked with several people who are firm in their unbelief and they always come back to the same manta:  “When you can prove God scientifically, I’ll believe.”

But hear what Jesus said to one of His disciples: “Because you have seen me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29-italics added).  That’s you and me and every believer since the Day of Pentecost when the Church was born (ref: Acts 2).  Jesus is saying that we are more blessed because we haven’t seen than are those who have.

Why would that be?  Because when we “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), we show that we believe God is truthful in all He has said and promised.  Our faith is a testament to who God is.  That is why John said “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has [God’s testimony] in his heart” (1 John 5:10).  God’s testimony is twofold: is it the declaration that Jesus is His Son (Matthew 3:17), and it is the promise that God has given us eternal life through His Son (ref. 1 John 5:11).  In other words, we affirm to the world that God is truthful.  It’s not as though God needs our affirmation, but the world needs to be convicted of the truth of God.

By contrast John says, “Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son” (1 John 5:10).  When men reject Jesus Christ, they are saying that God is not truthful nor trustworthy.

The heart of faith is what we believe about God and about what He has said through His Word, His Son and His Spirit.  We see that in Hebrews 11—the “Hall of Faith”—as saint after saint hears God, believes God and acts on what God has said. God told Noah, build a boat, because a flooding rain is coming.  Until the flood, rain had never fallen on the earth, so Noah had to decide if he was going to believe what he had known all his life, or believe what God told him.  Noah believed and built the ark, and God declared him righteous because of his faith.  Abraham, an old man, married to an old woman heard God say – your wife will bear you a son who will become the seed of the promise I have made to you.  Abraham, though he faltered at first, believed God, and Isaac became their joy and delight.  When God commanded him to sacrifice this same son, Abraham weighed God’s promise against what would be the physical outcome of this action, and he believed God and acted in obedience. God spared Isaac’s life and fulfilled His promise.  The Bible is full of faith-filled people like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Esther, and many more.

When I say I am a Christian, I am not making a statement about my assent to the truths of Christianity; I am making a statement about the truthfulness of what God has said about Jesus Christ: “This is my Son” and “Eternal life is through Him.”  I believe these words are true.  When I say that I believe in Jesus, I am putting all my hope and confidence is God’s power to save me as He has promised.  That is why “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 13:1).  I cannot see Jesus with my own eyes, nor have I ever seen heaven.  But I believe that He is the risen Lord and that His sacrifice is sufficient to save me and give me eternal life.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are blessed in every way; for this life and life eternal.  You are blessed because you stand on the confidence of God’s testimony, not on the traditions of men.  You are blessed because

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepare for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:10).

But for us who believe, “we will see the glory of God” (John 11:40).  Our faith will be made sight and our hope in Christ will be confirmed.  In the chronicles of heaven our names will be recorded among the great saints of human history, and we will be commended with who pleased God by their faith.  What a blessing it is to believe!

Holy Father, I believe, not because I can see, but because You have said, and I know Your words are true.  My faith is in Your Son, Jesus Christ, who was and is and is to come.  In Him is all my hope and trust.  Amen.

The Tree at the Water’s Edge

Tree_At_The_Water“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by streams of water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

I had a friend who owned several acres of land with a great catfish pond.  Many early Saturday mornings I sat on a stump beside his fishing pond, watching the bobber on my line for the slightest movement.  But even when I wasn’t fishing I loved to just sit by the water because it was bordered on three sides with lush, green trees.  I often took a book with me so that if the fish weren’t biting I could sit in the shade and get lost in a good story.  The drive down to the pond wasn’t as shady, the few trees along the path were not as verdant, and in one very dry summer, many of the trees died for lack of water, and the few that survived were scraggily and weak.  But when you rounded the bend to the pond, the trees were alive and full of leaves because they were nearest to the water.

In our key verse, Jeremiah compares the “the man who trusts in the Lord” with one of those trees by the edge of my friend’s pond, alive with green leaves and fruit.  The opposite would apply to those who do not trust in the Lord; they would be like the trees along the path in the dry heat of summer, dead, leafless and fruitless.  What is important to notice in the Psalm, just as at my friend’s property, is that both—trees and people—are subjected to the heat and the drought.  This is a truth we would do well to grasp – those who trust in the Lord and those who don’t will be confronted with many of the same life challenges.  Being a Christian does not exempt us from the difficulties of living in this fallen world.  Believers still get cancer, lose loved ones, have rebellious kids, car troubles, financial struggles, and many of the same trials that unbelievers experience.  It’s just the realities of life we all face.  Droughts and dry seasons will come.

Yet look at how the trees by the water endure these seasons of drought.  They push their roots down farther into the ground and find the water at the deeper levels.  They draw the nourishment they need from the deeper water.  Likewise the one who trusts in the Lord will press in closer to Him and push their roots down farther to tap into the deeper truths of God’s character and His Word.  It is a theme often repeated in Scripture, Psalm 1:1-3 says that the one who delights in God’s Word is like the tree planted by the water, never withered and always fruitful, and Psalm 92:12-15 promises that they will “still bear fruit in old age, staying fresh and green. ”

I find it especially encouraging that those trees—and believers—who drink deeply of the goodness of God “do not fear” and “have no worries” during these dry seasons.  They know that everything they need to stay vibrant, green and fruitful will be provided by their good and faithful Heavenly Father.  Jeremiah says we do not rely on our ability to stay strong, but our “confidence is in the Lord” our security in the drought, our hope in the trial is firmly rooted in God’s faithful, powerful, loving character.  And get this, when you and I set our confidence in the unchanging nature of God, we not only survive the drought, we thrive.  We “never fail to bear fruit.”  I’ve seen many saints of the Lord who endured hard, difficult times yet always bore the fruit of peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faith and love.  They faithfully served others despite their own pain.  They continued to love that rebellious child.  They were kind and gentle even when they were tired and weary. They patiently trusted God to provide when the rent was due and the money was gone.  Their peace shone through while they endured chemotherapy.  They were not afraid, they were not worried.  They dug their roots deeper and trusted that whatever they needed, emotionally, physically, or spiritually, God would provide.

My friend, are you like the tree standing in the middle of the dry, barren field far from the water?  Are your struggles draining you?  Do you feel withered and weary?  I encourage you to move to the water’s edge where your roots can tap into the life-giving stream of God’s goodness.  There you will be fed from underground streams that never run dry.  Streams of comfort and provision, hope and peace, joy and strength.  Streams of life.

Come friend to the “river whose streams make glad the City of God” (Psalm 46:4).  Drink deeply from the “living water” of Jesus Christ and you will never be thirsty again (John 4:10-14).

Holy Father, I want to dig more deeply into this marvelous living water; I want to be like the flourishing tree that has found the underground stream, drawing strength and hope from your unfailing love.  Amen.

The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Know

resurrectionChrist Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God.  Romans 8:34

In the world of biology, all organisms are classed or grouped together by certain similarities and separated by differences in their cellular makeup.  These grouping are known as “kingdoms,” such as the “plant kingdom,” and the “animal kingdom.”  Those are pretty obvious in their classifications, but other groupings such as bacteria and a kingdom known as “Prostista” (complex microscopic cells) have a far wider range of characteristics.  So how do the biologists determine the criteria for classifying species? My Biology 101 textbook made a statement that drew my attention: “Evolutionary assumptions are generally used to decide which characteristics are most primitive and therefore most important.”[1]  In other words, in tracing a species’ changes and growth, classifications are based on the most basic characteristics—it’s “starting point”—as the most important.  Please note, I am not endorsing an evolutionary perspective, but merely pointing to the way all life forms grow and change from their earliest state.  For instance, all human beings start from the same organisms and from there a person changes and grows, but the basic building blocks of human life are evident throughout those changes.  All humans share this starting point, regardless of gender or ethnicity or location.  Thus we classify all humans differently from say plant life or bacteria.

So how does a biology lesson apply to a Christian devotional?  I’m glad you asked.  The Christian faith has experienced a tremendous amount of change over the past two-thousand years.  Some of these changes have been positive, such as the agreement of the doctrines of the faith and some have challenged and strengthened the faith—consider the inspiration of the martyrs during the persecution of the church.  Some changes have been hard, but necessary, such as the Reformation, which gave birth to Protestantism.  From there we have multiple branches of denominations, each with their own traditions and structure.  These are not bad things in themselves but they have changed the complexity of the faith.  And yes, some changes have caused havoc, confusion and turmoil in the church.  I’ll leave those unnamed so we don’t lose focus.  The point is, all these changes have added layers to the basic truths of Christianity.

The question then becomes, when we strip away all these added layers what is the “most primitive and most important” aspect of the Christian faith?

Paul makes it very clear in his letter to the church in Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time . . . Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appear to me also.”  1 Corinthians 15:3-7.

The death of Jesus Christ, His burial and His resurrection are the core, the root, and the foundation of the Christian faith.  Paul said that those are “of first importance.”  That does not mean that other doctrine of the faith are of lesser importance.  We must recognize the humanity and divinity of Jesus, the incarnation and the virgin birth, but the heart of our faith is the fact that Jesus died, evidenced by His burial, and that He rose again, as seen by the many witnesses afterward.  If your faith is built on anything other than this, if your confidence is in your religious affiliation, if you follow a Jesus who is a “good teacher and moral example,” if you adhere to traditions rather than truth, I dare to say you do not have saving faith.  Only faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is saving faith.  If your Christianity is not built on this single most important truth of all, then you should reconsider whether you truly are a Christian.

Why are these so important?  Without the death of Jesus, our sin debt remains.  Only Jesus could be the perfect sacrifice for your sin and my sin and the sins of all of humankind.  Simply put, Jesus’ death paid for our sins.  But why is it so important to know about His burial?   Because without the grave His death is a question not a fact.   Jesus was visibly buried in an earthly grave to validate His death.  It is also important because, to borrow from Bill Gaither, “The empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.”[2]  The empty tomb was the first indication that Jesus’ followers had that He was alive.  Jesus’ resurrection is the assurance we have of eternal life.  Without His resurrection, we are trusting in a dead man with no power.  But He is alive and He promises us that we will have life everlasting if we believe and trust in Him.

There are many facets to the Christian faith and we do well to learn about atonement, justification, sanctification, grace, Christology and the other great truths of Christianity.  If you’ve never studied these important doctrines, I encourage you to do so.   They will enrich your understanding of the Bible and of your relationship with Christ.  Consider them the building blocks of your faith.  But before you start building, make certain you are on the rock-solid foundation of “first importance.”  Be sure your faith is resting on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Chris. “All other ground is sinking sand.”[3]

Lord Jesus, there are many voices that claim to know the truth, but only Your Word tells us what is “of first importance.”  Guard Your church Jesus lest we wander from the substance of our faith and lose our foundation.  Amen.

 

[1] Charles Detwiler, Kimberly Mitchell and Norman Reichenbach, Life by Design, (Boston, Cengage Learning, 2014), 14.

[2] William J Gaither and Gloria Gaither, Because He Lives, (1971).

[3] Edward Mote and William B. Bradbury, The Solid Rock, (n.d.)

Anatomy of a Miracle

woman in prayer“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples” (Psalm 77:14).

When we read the Bible today, we have the decided advantage of hindsight, or as Paul Harvey said, we know “the rest of the story.”  We have the record of God’s activity and know the outcome.  Don’t you just wish you could tell the disciples, in the hours between His death and resurrection, that hope is not lost and Jesus will rise from the dead?  Or wouldn’t you like to yell to Eve – “Don’t touch that fruit!”  I have always wanted to tell Sarah and Abraham, “Please be patient with God in this, you will have a child.”  Oh, what peace this world would have if only we could warn them of the future consequences of their actions.  This thought really struck home with me while I was reading the story in Mark 9:17-27 of the father who took his son to Jesus for a miracle.  I invite you to take a moment and read the account to get the scope of the story.

Now I want you to put yourself in this father’s shoes – or sandals – and look at the scene again through his eyes.  He is a loving, but very worried father.  His son is under the control of spirit that is causing the boy to harm himself, throwing him into fire or water to kill him and causing him to convulse and foam at the mouth.  (Many scholars believe the child had epilepsy.)  Now I’m a mom, and simple fevers, cuts and scrapes don’t phase me, but this – this would be terribly frightening and disconcerting.  No doubt they have carried their child to countless doctors and religious healers, and probably spent all their money hoping for a cure.

Think about this from the father’s perspective – in real time – as he stands before Jesus with pleading eyes, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).  The father doesn’t have our vantage point to know how this will end, he has no guarantee of healing to hang his hope on.  All he has are scraps of others people’s stories of their encounters with Jesus– and a plea that the rabbi will do the same for his boy.

Stay in the moment as we see Jesus turn to the child and speak with authority, “I command you to come out of him and never enter him again” (v. 25).  Watch through this father’s heart as “the spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out” (v. 26)” But wait, what did Jesus do?  The boy looks dead – like a corpse!  The father brought his boy to Jesus and Jesus made everything worse.

Now, freeze this scene right here and consider with me, how many times you and I have been in the same place.  You brought your problem to Jesus in hopes that He would help you.  You pray and plead with Him.  You’ve heard of others’ testimonies of the wonderful things He’d done for them, and you hope He will do the same for you.  And what happened next? It all got worse instead of better.  And so the questions start: “Did I pray wrong?” “Did God not hear me?” “Does He have something against me?”  “Why does He do good things for others, but not for me?”  Now, in addition to our problem we have all this anxiety and we’re wondering, “what just happened and what do I do now?”

You see, just as the father lived out his story in real-time, you and I are also living out our story without the advantage of a written script that tells us how it all ends.  All we know is, right now, in this moment, it all seems hopeless.  Jesus has let us down.

“But Jesus . . .” these are the most precious words in the Bible to me.  When all seemed more hopeless than before, Mark said, “But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet” v. 27).  Wonder of wonders, the boy is not dead – he is alive – and healed!  He runs into his father’s arms with a smile of triumph.  The stunned father bends his head to kiss his child, and then looks at Jesus in amazement.  “My child . . . my child is alive?” “My son is healed?”  “Surely,” he muses to himself, “this is no ordinary rabbi!”

My friend, may I remind you not to give up on Jesus before the miracle is complete.  That moment when all seems lost, just as it was for this father, may be the moment before all is found again.  I have some dear friends whose grandmother wrote a song that said “Don’t give up on the brink of a miracle . . .” I think that is wonderful advice.  Bring your problem to Jesus, give Him room to work, and don’t give up until He pronounces the miracle fulfilled.

Mighty, merciful, awesome Father – how often we give up before You are finished working in our situation.  Please remind us that miracles always end with glory, so if we haven’t seen the glory of God displayed, we must wait and trust that it all still rests in Your hands.  Amen.

 

Will You Deny Christ?

“Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.” Hebrews 11:36-37

Would you be willing to die for what you believe? Would you surrender to the executioner rather than surrender your convictions?

In the New Testament we read the accounts of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and James (Acts 12:2), the first to follow Christ in death for their faith. History tells us of the deaths of many of Jesus’ disciples – like Peter and Paul – who not only died for their faith, but endured great agony and suffering before the relief of death. I’ve been studying Church history, and the men (and women) who were martyred for their belief in Jesus. I was especially moved by the story of Perpetua, a young woman who, despite the pleas of her beloved father and the knowledge that she would leave behind a very young child, refused to recount her faith, but went courageously and gloriously into the Roman arena, counting herself blessed to suffer for her Savior, Jesus Christ. Her friend, Felicity was in the same arena, just days after giving birth, giving up her life for her uncompromising faith. Still today, Christians in around the world face the sentence of death for refusing to deny Christ. The recent news told the story of another mother in a Muslim country who faced a death sentence for her faith, and would not recant her Christian testimony. Even in the United States, some who said “Yes,” when questioned about their faith paid with their lives.

I want a faith like that. I want a faith that stands the ultimate test. I want to face every opposition with the bold proclamation: “Yes, I am a Christian – a follower of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, even if it meant my death. I am blessed to live a country that offers “freedom of religion,” though that is being tested and pressed and is shaping into a “freedom from religion.” Still, I am not likely to face government executions for being a Christian – at least not in the present.

But is that the only time my faith needs to stand? Is the threat of death the only time I might stand at the crossroads of holding onto my Christian conviction or denying Jesus? I have become convinced that we stand at that same point of decision every day; for every day we make choices that either confirm or deny that we are surrendered to Christ. Will I deny my Savior in the things I watch and listen to? Would your internet history prove or deny your faith in Jesus? What does my bank account say about my faith? Do my conversations and my language say I am a Christian? Or the way I act toward others? Will I chose to act in love, will I chose to forgive, to bless like my Savior, or will I deny Jesus with hate, grudges and cursing? Will you be obedient when the Spirit says give, or dismiss the one in need and miss the chance to be a witness for the Gospel? When we chose to follow the world, follow our flesh, or ignore the voice of God, we are denying that Jesus is Lord of our lives, and the consequences may not be death, but rather the slow death of our faith. If we deny Jesus in these lesser, daily decisions, how will we ever stand in the face of true persecution? In the face of death?

In the accounts of the Christian martyrs, many people came to faith in Christ by witnessing the strong convictions of these believers in the face of death. We have the same opportunity to be a witness today when we choose the things that honor and please God. The world will take notice. Yes, they will jeer and criticize – but they will see people who will not compromise their faith in Jesus, in matters great or small. They will see men and women, young and old, of every race who so firmly believe in the truth of the Gospel that they cannot be forced to deny that Jesus Christ is Lord, no matter the cost. The world desperately needs to see people who stand for the One who died for them.

I want a faith like that, because I have a Savior like that.

Holy Father, the greatest witness we can offer to the world is to live every day with an uncompromising faith. Give us that kind of faith Lord. Give us faith that stands up to every test, no matter the challenge or the consequence. Amen.