Bootstrap Faith

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Do you have bootstrap faith? You know, when you are down and out and others say, “You’ve just got to pick yourself up by your bootstraps!” It was the psychology of my younger years – when life is tough you get tougher. (Modern psychology says your problems are someone else’s fault and you are entitled to compensation while you roll around in self-pity. But I digress.) You have to reach deep down inside yourself and grab on to your fortitude and strength and get on up out of that pit. After all, don’t we admire those who make something out of themselves from nothing but sheer grit and determination?  If you will it hard enough, you can do it!

So what happens when you realize you don’t have any bootstraps and you are all out of strength and fortitude and grit and determination? What do you do when you can’t carry the burdens another step? When your will just won’t anymore?

The Lord declared to His people, “I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). In all my years of reading the Bible from cover to cover, I never once found Him scolding His people for depending on Him too much. But He sure chastised them for pushing Him away and trying to handle life on their own. He doesn’t expect you and me to carry our burdens alone. Those weights become very heavy. Health burdens. Financial burdens. Relational burdens. Burdens of loneliness, depression, fear, failure, responsibility, and we could go on and on. I have mine and you have yours. And God promises to carry us through them all.

The reason you can’t find your bootstraps is because it is God who will lift you up. It is God who will reach down to pull you up out of the pit. It is God’s strength and fortitude that will carry you – and your burdens. It’s time to stop trying to do it all on your own, and let God be your Rescuer and your Strength. He is not only able to carry you, Beloved, it is His delight and Joy.

This is The Way

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Ask a group of kids, “Who’s your hero?” and you’ll get as many different answers as you have kids. “Batman.” “Tim Tebow.” “My Dad.” “The police.” I have many heroes, some from the Bible – like Deborah, Ezra, and Stephen,  some from history – Perpetua, Corrie Ten Boom, and Elisabeth Elliott, and some from my own life – my mom, my high-school writing teacher, and Mike Shockley. Then there is Roger Easton, Ivan Getting, Bradford Parkinson, and Dr. Gladys West. Who are these heroes of mine? The creative minds behind the  Global Positioning System. Oh, how I thank God for my GPS.

I am directionally challenged. My mom used to say that you could take me to the backyard, spin me around twice, and I couldn’t find my way back to the house. My husband would agree. His favorite thing to do is take me on unfamiliar roads and ask – “Do you know where you are?” And I never do. I depend on my GPS like a drowning man depends on a life preserver.  No matter where I am, I can punch in where I need to go and this magical device not only shows me the way but tells me what lane to get in and says, “Turn left.” Thank you, Roger, Ivan, Bradford, and Gladys!

Yet there is One who goes even farther to help this lost child. Jesus said, “I am the Way . . .” (John 14:6). He didn’t say I will give you a map so you can find the way. He didn’t say I will point to the way. He didn’t even say I will make a way.

He said, “I AM the Way . . .”

He is the way to the Father.

He is the way to everlasting life.

He is the way to peace.

He is the way to hope.

He is the way to Joy.

He is the way to love.

He is the way to God’s promises.

He is the way to everything that truly matters.

As much as I love my GPS, it can never get me to heaven. But Jesus can. He not only gets me to my destination, He takes me into the throne room of His Father and says, “Abba, Your daughter is home.” I am never lost with Jesus. He is my eternal GPS – God Positioning System.

The Secret to Contentment

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There have been seasons in my life where I was very discontented. Oh, no major crisis or struggles were going on, just a sense that I wanted . . . something more. Something else. And then there have been seasons where I was very discontented and everything was going on, there was one crisis after another knocking me off my feet. And I want anything else but what I had in my life.  After many of these up and down cycles, I discovered the answer to my discontentment.

Contentment is a daily choice.

To choose an attitude of gratitude and Joy and do away with complaining and envy.

To choose to hope in God’s promises. To choose to believe that He is everything He says He is, and He is able and willing to do everything He promised in His Word.

To choose to focus my thoughts and fill my mind with things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

No, I didn’t learn this overnight. Contentment is a life-long lesson. It’s one I’m still learning day by day. Paul said it best, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11). We learn contentment comes from experiencing the faithfulness of God through our struggles and trials. It comes as we learn to lean into Him when we are weary and worn and walk with Him when the road is long and hard.

Contentment grows in the heart that is rooted deeply in the Bible – our light and life (Ps. 119:105, Deut. 32:47). Our minds don’t naturally default to the good. So we must intentionally, deliberately, and faithfully make time for God’s Word every day.

Contentment comes in communing with your Heavenly Father. There is no substitute for prayer. On your knees. Sitting in your favorite chair. Writing in a journal. Aloud or silently. Just pray – your Father longs to hear from you. Your heart longs to connect with Him.

We will be content only when we realize whose we are – not who we are, where we are, how much or how little we have, or what is happening around us. We can be content because God loves us, cares for us, and is preparing a place for us to be with Him forever. Beloved, are you content with God?

Have Faith

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What does it mean to “have faith?” And in what is our faith to be placed? In a culture with a thousand different philosophies, how can we know what to believe?  For the Christian, faith is what we believe about God and about what He has said through His Word, His Son, and His Spirit.  God spoke two distinct things about Jesus: that Jesus is His Son (Matthew 3:17), and that God has given us eternal life through Him (1 John 5:11).  Faith that honors and pleases God holds those two professions as truth. True faith stakes everything on them.

When I say I have faith in God, 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.  I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth, lived a perfect life, died bearing my sins, was buried, and rose to life.  When I say that I believe in Jesus, I am putting all my hope and confidence in 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 11:1).  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 prepared 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 those who pleased God by their faith.  Oh, what a blessing it is to believe!

The Truth is . . .

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Has anyone ever lied to you?  Ever listened to a politician? Ever asked a toddler, “What have you got in your mouth?” I know people have lied to me. And if I’m truly honest, I’ve lied to people too – but not intentionally. Well, maybe sometimes intentionally. Like that time as a teenager when I . . . on second thought, I’d better not divulge that. Most of the time, the lies I told were when I said I would do something and failed to follow through. That usually comes when I over-promise. I have every intention of doing the thing, but for a variety of reasons, I just can’t pull it off. I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie in my life admitting I fell short of my promises.

Hebrews 6:18 tells us “it is impossible for God to lie.”  God is truth, and everything He says is true. You and I can take it to the proverbial bank. The Bible is God’s Word, thus, whatever the Bible says is the absolute truth.

When the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1), we can trust that is true.

In the Bible, God said, “I will be with you, I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Jos 1:5). That’s a true and trustworthy promise.

When the Bible says that God is your shield (Ps 7:10), your strength rock, fortress, deliverer, refuge, stronghold, and salvation (Ps 18:1-2), you can be assured that you are safe in His arms.

When the Bible says that God sees your trouble and grief and listens to your cries (Ps 101:14,17), you can rest your weary head on His shoulder and pour out your heart into His ears.

When the Bible says that God has good plans to give me a future and a hope (Jer29:13) and that He will fulfill His purpose for me (Ps 27:2), I need not fear the days ahead.

And most of all, when the Bible says God loves you, you can know without a shadow of a doubt that it is the truth, no matter what your feelings or the world may say. Beloved, the God who is the Creator of the universe loves you. And that’s no lie. It’s the truest thing you’ll ever hear.

The Place Where God Dwells

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Sunrise over Jerusalem

It’s hard. This life in a fallen world is hard, challenging, painful, and sometimes downright cruel. Sure there are Joys and blessings and moments of delight. But as Job’s friend Eliphaz opined, “Man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Trouble comes seemingly out of nowhere, sometimes it comes from others, but most often it comes with our own fingerprints all over it. When trouble comes, however it comes, you and I need a refuge; we need a strong helper who will stick with us in it. Thanks be, we have both. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Psalm 46 is a song, like out modern hymns of encouragement, to bring hope to the people of God. The psalmist talks about troubles that range from natural disasters to wars and enemy nations. I think we can say we’ve seen some of these world-wide issues in 2020. But for most of us, our troubles are closer to home. Financial troubles, health troubles, family troubles, job troubles, relationship troubles. We’re troubled by grief and pain and stress and strain. We begin to doubt if we can stand up under it all. Ah – but don’t forget about your Helper.

Hear this good word of hope as the psalmist lifts his heart for “the holy place where the Most High dwells.” “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day” (46:4,5). But, you say, he is talking about a city, Jerusalem, where God dwells in the temple. In the immediate context, he is. But this word reaches forward to you and me. When Jesus promised to send His Holy Spirit, he said that “He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).

Think about what that means. If you are in Christ, you are “the holy place where the Most High dwells.” Yes, YOU, with all your troubles. Stop for a moment and speak this affirmation out loud: “God is within me, I will not fall; God will help me at the break of day.” That’s not high-minded theology, it’s a promise that is as sure as the Promise Maker. God is with you – within you –  Beloved, He will not let you fall.

The Blessedness of Believing

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45).

Promises are made on the campaign trail, at the marriage altar, and on New Year’s Day. Many of those promises are broken. I’m sure you’ve been on the receiving end of promises made and forsaken. You may have been on the giving end as well. 

Part of our human sinful condition is that we are selfish and self-centered and that often means we will fail to keep our word. We make promises because we believe what we are feeling will never change, or our determination will carry us through.  I have made promises that I later could not keep. I thought I could do what I said I would do, I had every intention of doing what I said I would do, but something unexpected happened and I failed to keep my word. The end result is always the same – someone gets hurt. Someone is placed at a disadvantage. Is it any wonder that we find it hard to trust others?  Even God.

One thing of which I am certain to the marrow of my bones is that God is faithful to His promises. His Word is as sure as His character, and His character is flawless. God doesn’t make promises based on feelings, so we never have to worry that His feelings will change and His promises will fail. He doesn’t make promises He cannot keep. He is almighty, all-powerful, and able to do everything He says He will do. God wouldn’t be God if He did not or could not keep His promises.

What has God promised you? If you are in Christ He has promised you salvation and eternal life. He has promised you hope and peace and Joy. He has promised His presence, His power, and His protection. He has promised to provide, comfort, and care for you. He has promised you victory over sin and death and this world. And He has promised to love you with an everlasting, never-failing, immeasurable love. He has promised and He will accomplish. Blessed are you when you take Him at His Word.

Remember to Remember

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“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:5a).

 

Why, I wondered, with so much Joy in my life, am I so down? Why am I so discouraged? Why do I feel like there’s such a weight over me? I asked the Lord about it this morning and He showed me an image of a heavy, gray blanket over me and my house. “Where did this come from Lord?” From the enemy. He has covered me with a spirit of discouragement. Add to it my own battle with depression and anxiety and that blanket becomes a dead weight over me. What can I do? How can I be free?

The Psalmist that asked the question also provided the answer: “Put your hope in the Lord” (v. 5b). Oh, that sounds really spiritual, doesn’t it? But not very practical. Ah, but he’s not done. He said, “My soul is downcast within me, therefore I will remember you . . .” There’s the answer. Remember God. Remember His promises. Remember His faithfulness. Remember His Son on the Cross bearing that heavy, grey blanket of my sin. Remember the empty tomb. Remember His Spirit in me. Remember His power. Remember His mercy and grace. Remember every time He came through for me. Remember the rainbow in my backyard. Remember that He bends His ear to hear my cries. Remember and be at peace that “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me. Remember that He is “the God of my life” (v. 8).

Have you felt the same heavy weight? It’s understandable given the way this year has gone. Even if everything was peachy-keen in your life, the virus, lockdown, unrest, political turmoil, and sense of fear and hopelessness that has gripped the nation is enough to bring even Pollyanna down. But, Beloved, you have a God in heaven who loves you. So much that He gave His only Son to redeem you and give you eternal life. Remember?

I Promise (part 2)

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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).

I love Hebrews 11 – the great Hall of Faith.  There we see portraits of men and women whose lives were marked by extraordinary faith.  Abel, who gave a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord, and suffered his brother’s wrath.   Enoch, who so pleased God he was spared death and directly taken into heaven. Noah, the ark-builder, who was foolish in the eyes of his neighbors, but wise and obedient in the eyes of God.  There is Abraham who, despite a few stumbles, was called righteous because He believed God for the impossible.  There is Isaac, and Jacob and Joseph – all stalwart in their commitment to faith in God.  The list goes on and on – Moses, Gideon, Samuel and David and even a prostitute – Rahab. The list includes many who were persecuted and martyred, all because they believed God was greater than even their own lives.  These people inspire me and challenge me to endure and live a life of faith.

But there are a couple of verses in this passage that have always given me pause: “All of these people were still living by faith when they died.  The did not receive the things promised; they only saw them from a distance . . .” (v. 13). Go forward a few verses and there it is again: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised (v. 39).

Wait. What?

They believed God, obeyed God, gave their lives for their faith in God and still they “did not receive the things promised.”  How does that make sense?

In the modern world, we equate success with outcome.  When we look at these heroes of the faith, we expect to see results, like Moses, who led the Israelites out of bondage and Noah, who obediently built the ark and saved humankind, and David, the slayer of giants who became the King of Israel.  In the world of faith, a successful saint is not always the one who wins.  Hebrews tells us that some of these heroes endured torture, oppression, persecution, prison, poverty, and death – yet they are listed along with these mighty men and women of faith.   They too were “commended for their faith” (Hebrews 11:39).  Why?  Because they believed God.  They believed He is good and righteous and faithful.  And they believed that the outcome of their situation did not change who God is.  As the three Jewish youth in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace said, “The God we serve is able . . . and He will . . . but even if He does not” He would still and always be their God.

Abraham is one who pleased God with his faith.  The Lord told him, “The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:8).   Yet we learn in Acts 7:5 that “[God] gave him no inheritance [in the land], not even a foot of ground” (Acts 7:5).  Still Abraham is commended as a righteous man “because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise” (Hebrews 11:11).   Abraham’s faith was grounded in God, not in the ground on which he was standing.

By contrast consider Abraham’s wife Sarah.  She knew about the promise that Abraham would have a son through whom God would build a family and a nation.  She believed the promise, but she didn’t believe God to fulfill it. She turned to the traditions of culture to make the promise a reality and the world is still reeling from it. Her hope was in the outcome not in the Lord.

My friend, the call to faith is not a call to believe God for something; it is a call to believe God. Period.  To believe that He is who He says He is and He able to fulfill his promises.  Genuine faith is in the Promise Maker, not in the promise.  When God says, “I promise . . .” our eyes should always stay fixed on Him, not darting back and forth in search of the thing.  It will come, but in the interim, we must keep our focus on the One who made the promise.  He is the Promise Maker and the Promise Keeper, but the greatest promise He made to Abraham is the same promise He makes to you and me: “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8). That is a promise you can trust.

I Promise

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The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does” (Psalm 145:13).

The mothers of the nation of Israel, Sarah and Rebekah, both have stories marked by the power of God. They both saw God move in wonderful and amazing ways, in impossible situations. Wouldn’t you think they, of all people, would trust God completely?

Yet both women’s stories show them taking God’s promises into their own hands. Sarah heard God’s promise to give Abraham a son through whom He would build a great nation. When the promise was delayed Sarah devised a plan for Hagar to serve as a surrogate so that “through her I can build a family” (Genesis 16:2). The world is still suffering the consequences. The Lord told Rebekah that her younger son would rule over his older twin brother, yet when the time came for Isaac to give the blessing, Rebekah schemed to make sure her favorite younger son was in place under his father’s hand. Because of her actions Jacob was forced to flee from the wrath of his brother and she never saw him again.

I understand that tension. God has made promises to me and circumstances made those promises seem impossible. The truth is, I am as guilty as my ancient sisters of trying to manipulate God’s promise into fruition. And just as it did for them, my actions always led to frustration, heartache, and emptiness.  Sarah and Rebekah doubted God would keep His promise. So have I. They determined it was up to them to see God’s plan fulfilled. So have I.  Ultimately God did fulfill His promises to them and to me. He was and is faithful after all.

The Bible assures us that “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Unlike you and I, God does not make promises He cannot or will not keep.  Charles Spurgeon says, “God keeps His promises before He makes them.”  Think about that.  When God makes a promise, it is as good as done no matter how the situation looks. God can be trusted to fulfill what He has promised.

Now think about what God has promised to you.  Can you see the thing coming into reality right now?  Probably not.  Does that mean that God will fail to keep His promise?  Absolutely not.  It means you need to keep your eyes on Him and not on the circumstances.  It means God is going to do something amazing before your eyes.  In fact, the more impossible the situation looks, the bigger the miracle to bring it to fulfillment.  And you don’t want to miss that do you?

Beloved, you and I do not have to doubt that God will keep His promises.  We also don’t have to scheme and plot and manipulate to bring God’s promises to fruition.  It is completely His job and He doesn’t need any help from us.  Anything you and I may accomplish by our feeble actions will be empty and vain.  Everything God does to accomplish His promises will be extraordinary and beyond our wildest expectation.  I know this from His Word and from my own experience.  When I stand aside in faith and let God be God, He blows my mind!

Our only response to God’s promises should be “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38) as we wait – not in frustration and doubt – but in eager anticipation.  God is faithful.  He will not fail you.  He always keeps His Word.

Always.

Holy Father, You are the great Promise Maker and the faithful Promise Keeper.  Sometimes You make such amazing promises we wonder if they can really be fulfilled.  Give us faith to watch and wait, knowing that when You do what only You can do, it will be more than worth the wait.  Amen