Why Our Faith Doesn’t Work

My youngest daughter and son-in-law moved to South Korea a couple weeks ago. He serves as an Air Force officer and she will serve with Young Life on the base.

While on a temporary assignment, their vehicle had been in storage for six months before being shipped to Korea. They picked it up a few days ago and immediately discovered problems. It was smoking and squealing and getting bad gas mileage.

What they discovered was that for it to be shipped, the brakes needed to be tightened. Apparently, they were tightened a little too much. They were essentially driving with the brakes on.

Many of us, myself included, are trying to live by faith with the brakes on. That happens when we focus on what we see rather than on what God says. When we do that, our walk with God starts smoking and squealing and getting bad gas mileage. Then we get frustrated, angry and discouraged. We’re tempted to give up. And some of us do.

But what if the answer isn’t to give up, but to get our foot off the brake and press hard on the accelerator?

Living by faith means we believe God, not our circumstances, not our feelings and not the opinions of others. It means believing something is true even though we can’t yet see it. It means choosing to see things from God’s perspective, where nothing is impossible.

In Mark 3, Jesus has begun His ministry and already has a large crowed following Him. Verse 14 says, Jesus “appointed twelve that they might be with Him…” Jesus hand picks the guys He wants to stay close to Him, so they can learn to do life like He does.

Later, Jesus enters a house and there are so many people around that His disciples can’t even get a meal. Verse 21 says, “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’”

In other words, Jesus’ family thinks He’s crazy. He’s gone too far. Things have gotten out of hand. It’s time to bring Him home and talk some sense into Him. But Jesus has His foot off the brake and is pressing down on the accelerator. He is living right in the center of the Father’s will, doing and saying what pleases Him.

Jesus then goes down to the lake. He is followed by a large crowd and in Mark 4 tells the parable about the four types of soils. We’ll just look at the seed that falls on the rocky places and among the thorns.

The seed that falls on rocky places is when people receive God’s word, but “when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”

Don’t miss two very key words there: “because of.” Choosing to walk by faith will bring trouble. Our enemy and the world system do not want us to walk by faith, to fully trust God and experience the life He has for us. So we will experience trouble that we would not have experienced were we not trying to walk by faith.

I don’t know what trouble will look like for you. It could be car trouble, conflict in a relationship, a health issue, a problem at work, a leaky roof or any number of things. Once you decide to truly walk by faith, trouble will come. Don’t be surprised by it.

Then we have the seed that falls among the thorns. This is when the word takes root in us and begins to grow, but our hearts are more concerned with other things. “The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” When other things consume our thoughts and desires, we have our foot on the brake.

After Jesus has finished teaching, He says to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Mark 4:36 says, “Leaving the crowd behind, they took Him along, just as He was, in the boat.”

Now Jesus is the one who called the twelve disciples. And it’s His idea to go to the other side of the lake. But it says, “they took Him along.” Some of the disciples were experienced fishermen. They knew their way around a boat. They made their living on that lake. So maybe they thought they were taking Jesus along with them. But that’s not how it works.

We don’t take Jesus along. He’s not an add-on to our activities. He’s not interested in being just a part of our life. He’s taking us with Him. Just like He called the twelve to “be with Him,” He calls us to be with Him to learn how to do life His way. Walking by faith is a radically different way of living. To learn it, it requires being with Jesus.

Once they get out on the lake, “a furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” The disciples freak out and have to wake Jesus up from a nap. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Jesus calms the storm, then says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples had the brakes on. Their faith was smoking and squealing. Trouble had come and they weren’t ready, because their eyes were fixed on what they could see, not on Jesus. The truth was that they were never in any danger, because Jesus had said, “Let us go over to the other side.” When Jesus says it, we can believe it. That’s what it means to walk by faith.

What might Jesus be saying to you?

Is there somewhere He wants to take you?

How might He want to use you? Or bless you?

Are you spending enough time with Him to find out?

If you have other priorities or your eyes on your troubles and circumstances, then your faith is smoking and squealing. You might even be ready to give up. It’s time to take your foot off the brake and stomp on the gas. Go all in. Spend time with Jesus to find out what He wants to do in your life, then choose to believe Him, not the impossibility of your circumstances.

Maybe it’s time for us to start believing God so completely that people would think we’re crazy. We’d be in pretty good company if they did.

The Dangerous Wrong Voices

If you took an inventory of your thoughts today…how many do you think would be negative and how many would be positive? How many are causing fear and how many are causing your faith to grow stronger?

I rarely watch the news or visit news websites. I also find myself spending a lot less time on social media. And I’ve “unfollowed” a number of people on Facebook.

I just don’t need the negativity. Life is tough enough without being reminded of it day after day.

Thoughts are powerful. I need to decide carefully which voices are bringing them to me.

Hebrews 11:6 says that, “And without faith it is impossible to please God…”

God wants to be believed. It pleases Him.

It’s not easy though. Especially when we get our eyes focused on our circumstances and listen to the wrong voices.

God had miraculously led the nation of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt. He brought them to Mt. Sinai where He gave them His laws. About a year later, they are camped just outside the land God had promised to give them.

He instructs Moses to send 12 men into the land to explore it. They return 40 days later. Ten of them are afraid of what they’ve seen…the fortified cities and how strong they think the people are. “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” These men begin to spread a bad report about the land among the people.

Two of the men, Joshua and Caleb, do their best to convince the people they should go in and take the land because God is with them:

“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

It’s too late though. The people have listened to the wrong voices. They’re convinced God wants to kill them. They talk of stoning Moses and Aaron. They want to appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt where they lived as slaves.

These people experienced miracles. They saw God do things no one had ever seen before. God was providing food for them daily. And yet, ten wrong voices swayed 2 million people away from believing God.

And it cost them.

The adults were not permitted to enter the good land God was giving them. Only their children would inherit it. And even they would have to wait 40 years.

Notice that Joshua and Caleb equate a lack of faith with rebellion against God. That’s what happens when we focus on our circumstances and listen to the wrong voices. Fear is the opposite of faith. And it causes us to rebel.

Who are you listening to?

The media? Even “your” station will fill you with fear.

Friends on Facebook? Even your “friends” will fill you with fear.

How about that negative, condemning voice in your head? The voice that reminds you of your failures and endlessly rehearses worst possible outcomes.

Listening to the wrong voices is dangerous. It fills us with fear and dread. It keeps us from experiencing God’s love and faithfulness.

The nation of Israel missed out on the Promised Land for 40 years. What might the wrong voices we’re listening to be keeping us from experiencing?

Today is the first day of Lent, a season of reflection and preparation for the celebration of Easter. What if you were to be intentional about believing God and rejecting the negative voices?

Tomorrow and Friday (March 2-3, 2017), I’m offering the eBook version of my 40-day devotional, “I Believe God,” for free on Amazon. What if you and and your spouse or a friend were to go through it together? Believing God is a team sport. It’s really tough to go it alone. You will need each other for prayer and encouragement.

Grab a partner and start believing.

CLICK HERE to get the book. Feel free to share the link with others.

 

Whose Reward Do You Want?

Whose opinion matters most to you? Your spouse? A parent? Your children? Your boss? A coach? Friends?

As I was growing up, I learned how to garner the approval and praise of others whether in the classroom or on the football field. And like a drug, I discovered how good it felt to be thought well of by others.

Approval and praise from others became addictive. And it came with a price.

Being vulnerable is out of the question. Telling someone you’re not doing well or discouraged or you feel like a failure tarnishes the image. And that just won’t do. The image is everything. You can’t always speak the truth. It’s too risky to tell someone what you really think or to challenge the boss. It might cause tension in the relationship and that doesn’t achieve the goal of being liked.

But living to attract the praise and approval of others means forfeiting the greater reward from God. In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about several practices the “hypocrites” used to look good to others. He said the praise they got for their righteous acts was all the reward they would get.

Whose reward do we want…the one from people we can see or the one from the God who’s unseen?

We get to choose.

Next, Jesus talked about forgiving others when they sin against us. He said if we forgive them, then we’ll experience God’s forgiveness. If we don’t forgive them, then we won’t be forgiven either. Will we forgive or hold a grudge?

We get to choose.

Jesus goes on to talk about storing up treasure on earth versus storing up treasure in heaven. Treasures on earth can be destroyed or stolen. Treasures heaven can’t be destroyed or stolen. Jesus says plainly, “You cannot serve both God and money.”

We get to choose.

In the last part of the chapter, Jesus goes into a discussion about the material necessities of life, things like food, drink and clothing. He says those who don’t know God naturally run after and worry about all these things.

But for the second time in the chapter, Jesus reminds us that our Father already knows what we need. And so we don’t have to seek hard after material things. Instead, we can live life as it was intended, seeking hard after God. Jesus says it this way:

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

We can seek material things or we can seek God. When we seek material things, we miss out on God. When we seek God, He promises to also provide “all these things.”

We get to choose.

We can focus on the physical realm and pick up a few rewards along the way. Of course, it means giving up the rewards God gives. Or we can choose to fix our eyes on the unseen and desire God’s greater reward.

We get to choose.

Are You Agitated and Anxious?

It’s sunny, very windy and 80 degrees in Fayetteville, Arkansas today. But 7 years 8 months and 3 weeks ago, it was a different story. A severe ice storm had just hit. Trees were down and power was out all across Northwest Arkansas. Lots of trees were lost in that storm. Trees that did survive lost branches.

This morning, as I sat on our patio, I heard a loud rustling sound and then a tree branch fell on the driveway about fifteen feet from where I was sitting.

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It’s not uncommon to find branches like this after thunderstorms or just a strong wind like we have today. These branches are the result of the ice storm in January of 2009 when they broke off from the trunk and died. It’s inevitable they’ll crash to the ground. It’s just a matter of a time. All it takes is some agitation from the wind. And yet the same wind that agitates the dead branches has no effect on the healthy ones.

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In the moments leading up to His arrest, the gospel writers tell us Jesus was “troubled” and “overwhelmed with sorrow.” The same Greek word is used in both instances, it literally means:

to agitate, trouble a thing by the movement of its parts to and fro, to cause one inward commotion, take away calmness of mind, to disquiet, make restless, to strike one’s spirit with fear and dread, to render anxious or distressed

Do you ever feel that way?

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Abba, Father

What do you do when you hit bottom? When your best efforts aren’t working?

It wasn’t long ago I found myself in a season like that. I was stuck. I was out of options. I didn’t know what to do next. I was down on myself and had lots of doubts. Not about God, but about me.

Then one morning, my wife, Robyn, said I’d been talking in my sleep the night before. My first reaction was a little bit of panic. I had no idea what I might have said.

She said it was only one word. It was loud and clear. And it didn’t sound like me.

Sounds a little freaky, huh?

She said I called out, “Abba!”

It’s an Aramaic word that means, “father.” Jesus used it in the garden right before He was arrested and crucified. Paul uses it in Galatians 4 where he says we’re God’s children and how the Holy Spirit prompts us to call out, “Abba, Father.”

Paul uses it again in Romans 8 where he says:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Later in that chapter, Paul says:

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

I believe the Holy Spirit was crying out to the Father on my behalf and the Father listened and answered, because soon after that night, things began to change. I went from feeling hopeless to hopeful. Instead of feeling stuck, God was bringing new opportunities. He worked in some really cool ways.

I think it’s significant that along with two of the three uses of, “Abba”, suffering is involved. If you’re suffering today, then know that the same Spirit who was crying out for me is crying out for you. The Father is listening to the Spirit’s cries and to yours.

Don’t quit. Keep seeking Him. Keep crying out to Him. I know the waiting is painful, but it will be worth it.

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9)