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.

A Recipe for a Boring Marriage

On Thursday nights, I help lead a Young Life small group of college guys. Last week, we talked about marriage and I gave them the opportunity to ask questions. “Does marriage get boring?” was one of them. When I asked them what they thought, most of them seemed to think that it did.

How would you answer?

As I write this, Robyn and I are a little over 24 hours from hitting our one-billionth second of marriage. It’s fun that it just happens to fall on Valentine’s Day. (A billion seconds is about four months shy of 32 years for those keeping score.) So here’s what I can say about marriage becoming boring…if there’s some set period of time after which it happens, we’re not there yet.

Fortunately, our marriage is more fun and exciting and purposeful than it’s ever been. But can marriage get boring?

Absolutely. Here’s a recipe for growing a boring one…

Stop growing. Don’t read. Don’t listen to podcasts. Don’t expose yourself to new ideas.

Have no goals and pursue no desires.

Put yourself first and only meet your spouse’s needs if yours are met first.

Keep your focus on how bad your circumstances are and all the things that are wrong in your life and your marriage.

Constantly compare your spouse to others.

Go to any lengths to make your spouse understand you, but don’t try to first understand.

Live for small things like money, not great things like the Kingdom of God.

Let your appearance go.

Don’t seek help for the same negative emotions you’ve battled all your life.

If you must have sex, let it be infrequent and in the same way every time.

Let romance die after the newlywed phase.

Be serious all the time.

Be your spouse’s biggest critic. Most of your communication should be about what your spouse does wrong.

Hold grudges. Offer forgiveness sparingly.

Actually, this recipe is better for creating a marriage that ends in divorce. If, on the other hand, you’d like to create the marriage you’ve always wanted, download my complimentary eBook, “Friend and Lover.” You can get it here:

Friend and Lover eBook

 

Need Your Help

The following is a post my daughter wrote last month on her blog. Since I think she’s pretty incredible, I wanted to share it with you…

Seven months ago, I took on a task that has since pushed me and challenged me in ways that I never wanted to be pushed or challenged. But I could not be more grateful for it. I learned to initiate conversations with strangers, friends, and family about a subject that can be awkward and uncomfortable for everyone, including myself, to discuss. Yet Jesus has so much to say about it. That subject is money.

Seven months ago, I began fundraising to go on Young Life College staff in Germany for a minimum of five years. It has been a gift to have these conversations and invite people to be a part of what God is doing.

Seven months ago, I had 0% of my budget raised. Today, I have 70%. And my goal is to be 100% funded as soon as possible. Will you help? Click here to watch (if you don’t see the video embedded below) the following short video to learn more!

You can contact me at: avstutts@gmail.com


9-11 Thoughts and Memories

Thirteen years ago today, I flew to Denver with some colleagues for a meeting. I went for a run the next morning. When I got back to the hotel, I learned the first of the two World Trade Center buildings had been attacked. I went back to my room, turned the television on and watched as the second tower was attacked.

I attended our scheduled meeting, but was very distracted. It wasn’t long before we learned all air traffic had been grounded, so we wouldn’t be flying home that day. We decided to keep our rental car and began the drive back to Arkansas on the afternoon of 9-11.

I realized that day that life had changed. We would now be a country at war. Having grown up in New Jersey and seen the New York city skyline countless times, the attack on our country felt personal to me. I also knew my children would grow up during war time.

Today, my oldest daughter is married to a Marine. He has fought in Afghanistan. My second daughter’s husband is in the Army. He has also fought in Afghanistan. My son graduated from high school this year and enlisted in the Navy. After basic training, he will try to qualify for a role in a Navy Special Warfare unit.

As we’ve seen in recent days, the war against terrorism goes beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. The Islamic State and other Muslim terrorist groups are on the march in numerous countries. They see Jews and Christians as enemies to be destroyed, not other faiths to live in peace with.

By the way, I do not believe all Muslims are evil or terrorists. I had lunch last week with a friend of mine who is a Muslim. My family has been to his home for dinner. And a number of years ago, our family had a Muslim man living with us.

There is, however,  a radical element of Islam that is bent on destroying the nation of Israel, the United States and other western countries. Because they cannot be negotiated with, I believe they must be defeated. And that means war. When the nation of Israel entered the Promised Land, God instructed them to kill the inhabitants of the land. These were people who had turned from God, hardened their hearts against Him and were worshiping false gods and idols. It was so bad they even sacrificed to these gods by burning their own children.

God had given the inhabitants of the land of Canaan hundreds of years to change their ways, but they continued in their sinful ways. And so God used the nation of Israel to destroy them.

Terrorism is not new. The father of terrorism has been at it for a very long time. He is also the father of lies. In John 8, Jesus said:

Why can’t you understand what I am saying? It’s because you can’t even hear me!  For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.

In the book of Revelation, John wrote about powerful, pain-producing locusts that are released during the end times: Their king is the angel from the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon—the Destroyer.

The battles we see playing out on earth are the manifestations of the battles also being fought in the unseen spiritual realm. Satan–the liar, the murderer, the destroyer–seeks to “steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10) In the same verse, Jesus said He came to give us “a rich and satisfying life.”

My other daughter just graduated from college and is moving to Germany to serve with the ministry of Young Life. She will introduce German college students to the One who offers that rich and satisfying life.

You and I, whether we like it or not, are in a war. As I type these words, my son is in the other room watching President Obama’s speech on dealing with the Islamic State (ISIS). I wish it wasn’t necessary for my son and sons-in-law to fight. But we’re in a war and I’m very proud of them for serving our nation and for ultimately fighting to push back the spiritual darkness on earth. I’m proud of my two married daughters who make great sacrifices being married to men in the military. I’m equally proud of my daughter who will leave the comfort of home and move to another nation for eight years because God has “…rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.”

The Best is Yet to Come

Someone I used to work with was killed by a tornado last night along with two of his children. He leaves behind a wife and seven children. Others I know suffered damage to their homes.

A friend with cancer seems to be getting worse, not better, despite numerous rounds of chemotherapy and now experimental drugs.

I have several friends whose marriages are struggling.

Others I know are praying and hoping and waiting for God to answer their prayers for guidance, for jobs, for miracles.

Maybe you’re in a similar situation.

In my immediate family, we’re not in the midst of tragedy, but there are days when I feel a low-grade sadness. It’s like having a fever of 99.1. You don’t feel terrible, but you know something’s just not right. My two youngest children will graduate next month–my daughter from college and my son from high school. My daughter will then raise her support and move to Germany where she will serve with Young Life doing college ministry. My son will report to basic training for the Navy this fall. I will greatly miss both of them as I do my two oldest daughters.

I will miss the days Amy and I used to run together. I will miss our lunch dates. I will miss making my son’s lunch to take to school. I will miss all those days of picking him up after football practice. I will miss having all my children together on Christmas morning. There are many, many things I will miss.

I’m reminded that loss and sadness and suffering and death were never meant to be. They are consequences of living in a broken world.

Fortunately, we catch glimpses and get tastes of what life was supposed to be. A meaningful conversation with a friend. A delicious meal. Being together as a family. A warm, sunny day without a care in the world. The thrill and pleasure of sex between husband and wife. And actually believing, beyond a doubt, that we’re loved by God.

I was 19-years-old when I first understood that my sin had separated me from God and that I needed to be forgiven. It was during my freshman year of college that I placed my trust in Jesus to forgive me. So I’ll be honest, I don’t remember what it was like to not have an assurance that I was forgiven, that heaven was a certainty (not just a wish or a hope) and that no matter what I face in this life–God’s grace is sufficient.

I cannot imagine dealing with the loss of a spouse or child, facing cancer or enduring unmet longings without the confidence that there’s more than this life, that God’s love is real and unending. Evil doesn’t win. Death doesn’t win. Both were defeated when Jesus died and came back to life. And one day, He will return, not as a suffering Savior, but as the Supreme Ruler of the universe He created. He will come back to earth and make things right, as they were meant to be.

Sadly, for those who reject Christ’s offer of forgiveness and eternal life, this life is as good as it will get. The pain, the loneliness, the grief…those are just a taste of what’s to come.

But for those of us who have trusted Christ, the best is yet to come. For now we may grieve and suffer and long for how things were supposed to be (and will one day be), but our greatest joys and pleasures are ahead of us. Jesus said…

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)