By Faith…

The 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews is an honor roll of the Patriarchs of Israel. In this chapter Paul lists many of the fathers and mothers of Israel and describes what they were able to accomplish through faith in God and by looking forward to the hope of the Messiah yet to come. As I was turning to another chapter of Hebrews, I noticed an old comment that I had written in the margin of my Bible. It said, “By faith, Susan…” I don’t recall what preacher suggested that the congregation make that notation in their Bibles, but I am certain that he or she was encouraging Christians to read this passage with our hearts and minds open to what God wants to accomplish in us through faith. Seeing the comment prompted me to read Hebrews 11 with a fresh perspective.

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The chapter begins with a very familiar verse, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) I have heard and quoted that verse numerous times, yet I rarely give proper consideration to the next verse. Yesterday it was the one that really resonated with me. Hebrews 11:2 says, “For by it [faith] the elders obtained a good testimony.” As a Christian who seeks to honor God with my life, I want to obtain ‘a good testimony.’ So I read through the first half of Hebrews 11 intentionally seeking to identify what faith in God will allow me to do and accomplish. I compiled quite a list in only the first dozen verses of the chapter.

Faith allows us to:
– obtain witness that we are righteous (v. 4)
– continue our witness after we are dead (v. 4)
– please God (v. 5)
– obey God, even when we cannot see His plans (v. 7)
– become an heir of righteousness (v. 7)
– go where God leads, even when we don’t know where He is taking us (v. 8)
– wait and believe for blessings that take a long time to come to pass (v. 9)
– do the seemingly impossible (v. 11)
– give birth to new nations/ideas/companies/ministries even when we believe we are too old/infirmed/lacking/incapable (v. 12)

I want these things to be accomplished in my life. I want to have a good witness that my life has honored God; I want to be an heir to righteousness; I want to obey and please God; I want to go where God leads; I want to wait patiently for blessings God has promised; I want to be part of the seemingly impossible; and I want to see God birth new ideas and ministries through me despite my limitations. These verses tell me that these things will come to pass to those who have faith in God. Thankfully, I have a strong faith, built over decades of serving the Lord and seeing the blessings that come to those who seek to honor God with their lives.

Perhaps you want God to move in your life, but you feel your faith is weak or is lacking altogether. Fortunately, faith is available to everyone. Paul tells us in Romans 10, that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (v. 17) Our faith is formed as we hear and read God’s Word. It also comes as we share testimonies of the wonderful, and often miraculous, things God is doing in our lives.

If you want to have faith, or to grow your faith, you must spend time in God’s word and you must spend time with Christians whose faith in God is strong. As you spend time reading God’s Word, praying, and hearing testimonies of what God has done for others, your faith will increase. As your faith increases and you seek to honor God, God will empower you to accomplish great and mighty things that would otherwise be impossible and, in doing, so you will obtain a good testimony.

Isn’t is exciting to think about the amazing things God will be able to accomplish through your life as your faith grows and you allow Him to lead you into new and wonderful areas of ministry and service?

Overcoming Despair

There has been much talk in the media about depression and suicide over the past few weeks. The shock of Robin William’s self-inflicted death has spurred this conversation. Looking from the outside, Robin seemed to have everything that most of us aspire to in life–career success, financial security, and a loving family. We have a difficult time accepting that this man who had brought us so much joy and laughter was not laughing along with us. Depression is a serious condition and far too many people struggle to overcome it.

Most people will never face know the depth of depression that would lead them to consider ending their lives. However, we all experience seasons of sadness and despair. These periods may result from the death of a loved one, illness, failure of a marriage or relationship, loss of employment, or any of a number of other causes. Some times it is difficult to accept our loss and move forward with live. Embed from Getty Images

Recently a number of pressures have weighed heavily on me. I found myself thinking constantly about these pressures. I wasn’t worried about them–I recognized that there was nothing I could do about these situations except to pray. Yet, I had a difficult time letting go and enjoying life. The refrain of the old Peter, Paul, and Mary song Old Coat rang in my head frequently. It goes “Take off your old coat and roll up your sleeves, Life is a hard road to travel, I believe.”

Life is often difficult. None of us will escape hard times. Many of us recall that Jesus himself told his disciples, “In this world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) However, that is only a portion of the verse. The complete verse reads, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

The key to having true peace and joy in life is to remember that Jesus has overcome the world. When we fix our eyes upon Jesus instead of focusing on our problem, we can “be of good cheer.” Today another chorus has been my anthem. It is from the old hymn Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. The chorus says,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

If you are struggling with sadness and despair, I urge you to fix your eyes on Jesus. In Him you will find true peace and hope.
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Fragrance of Christ

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“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 2:14 – 17

When I think of sharing the word of God with others, I generally think in terms of speaking to people and touching them with God’s love. But here Paul is telling us that we can attract people to God by the fragrance we give off. Fragrances are generally considered to be pleasant smells, such as the scents of flowers or perfumes, or if you prefer, the aroma of your favorite food.

To diffuse means to disseminate or to spread in all directions. Close your eyes and think about the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting across the air and tantalizing your nose. You turn and breath deeply, trying to identify the source of the scent. Perhaps you follow the scent back to the source.

That is what Paul is admonishing us to do. We need to give off a pleasing scent that will let people know that we know Jesus. We are acquainted with Him and we have the knowledge of His Word in us. That knowledge diffuses and attracts the lost to Him. For those who reject Him, the aroma isn’t pleasant, however. Rather, it reminds them that they are on a path leading to death. That is, perhaps, why those who reject Christ are so hostile to His followers.

It is my desire to reflect Christ in all that I do. And that includes giving off the fragrance of Christ and diffusing His knowledge wherever I go.

Is your aroma enticing others to Christ?

Praying for the Unsaved

 

What is your motivation when you pray for the lost to be saved?  Generally I am motivated by the desire that the person I am praying for will have the best possible life on earth and a future in Heaven.  I don’t want anyone to go to hell, and I am certain the world would be a much better place if more of its inhabitants had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I read a devotional this morning by Charles Finney (Principles of Prayer, Day 6) that challenges that motivation as selfish and the wrong reason to pray for the unsaved.   Finney states that we tend to think about how our lives would be improved by the salvation of others, when we should actually focus on the glory God receives when a sinner comes to repentance and salvation. We need to pray that people come to Christ so they will stop dishonoring God through sin and so that God will be glorified by the conversion.

Perhaps you have known someone whose life was radically changed when he accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior.  Those close to such a person can’t help but notice the difference that salvation has made, and many of the person’s acquaintances are drawn to Christ through such a conversion.  God is glorified through all conversions, and our desire should be that God receives the honor and glory due Him. Jesus told us the Heaven rejoices over every person who comes to Him.  “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) 

Christians need to pray frequently and fervently for the lost to be saved.  If we pray with the expectation that God will be honored as sinners turn away from sinful lifestyles and that God will receive glory as the world notices the changes, I believe we will see a great move of God in our nation.  We need to pray for the salvation of not only our loved ones, but also for the salvation of persons of influence.

Can you imagine the impact on our society if many of our political leaders, celebrities, and other public figures came to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and began to live according to God’s ordinance?

 

Preach the Word

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“Preach the Word:  be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge the duties of your ministry.”  2 Timothy 4: 2 – 5

I read these verses in my devotional time this morning while doing a self-study on patience.  I was struck by how appropriate these verses are for our times.  It seems that almost daily I read about laws being passed or courts rulings being handed down that are opposed to God’s Word. Yet, those making the laws and the rulings claim to be acting for the best interest of our nation and trying to do what is ‘right.’  I believe that most of them do believe they are acting to correct injustice and bring about fairness.  The problem is that they are using human reasoning without basing their decisions on a foundation of truth.  As Paul told Timothy, they have found ‘teachers’ who will tell them what they want to hear, and these teachers provide them with justification for making decisions that are contrary to God’s teachings.

Most of these decisions have to do with morality.  Sexual immorality is not merely tolerated, but celebrated, as the freedom to do as one pleases.  Abortion is hailed as giving women the right to have control over their own bodies.  Divorce allows couples to easily dissolve their unions and go their separate ways in the search happiness.  Proponents of these views include many who claim to be teachers of the gospel.  Rather than teaching, correcting, and rebuking those in their charge, these false teachers have given into liberal viewpoints and and political correctness; they are seeking to build their own kingdoms by telling their congregations “what their itching ears want to hear.”

Paul charged Timothy to preach the truth.  Biblical truths are not meant to ease our conscience and allow us to sin without guilt or remorse.  Instead, they were given to convict us when we go astray and lead us back onto the straight and narrow path that leads to God.  Those called to be ministers and evangelists are charged with correcting, rebuking, instructing, and training their flocks and to do so “with great patience and careful instruction.”

In the previous chapter of this letter, Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  2 Timothy 3:16-17   If we are to become the people God intends us to be, we need to spend time daily in God’s Word.  We need to read the Bible and allow it’s truths to penetrate our hearts–to rebuke us when we go astray, correct us when we are in error, and instruct us how to live in a manner that pleases God.  And we need ministers who will teach sound doctrine–the truths of God’s Word.  In this way, we will avoid chasing myths and can be equipped to do the good work that God has called each of us to do.

Resilience Despite Mistakes and Adversity

I have just finished chapter 5 of Jodi Detrick’s book The Jesus-Hearted Woman.  The chapter is titled ‘Resilience.’  In it Detrick discusses the need to continue fulfilling the tasks God has called us to even when (1) we make mistakes, (2) others hurt us, or (3) life throws curve balls our way.  Detrick refers to these events as My Bad, Their Bad and Too Bad.  Her discussion questions at the end of the chapter focused on Joseph and the resilience he needed in order to become the leader God desired him to be. Unfortunately, Joseph experienced a number of My Bad, Their Bad and Too Bad moments along the way.

As a young man, Joseph had a dream that his brothers bowed down to him.  Unfortunately, sharing the first dream was one of Joseph’s ‘My Bad’ moments.  His brothers already were angry with him because he brought a bad report about them to his father, and they were jealous that their father loved Joseph more than his other sons. This dream added fuel to the fire.  Genesis 37:8 tells us, “So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.”  If this wasn’t enough, Joseph had a second dream in which not only his brothers but also his parents bowed down to him.  And, of course, he shared this dream with his father and brothers–another ‘My Bad’ action. His brothers were angry and wanted revenge on Joseph.

Joseph experienced a ‘Their Bad’ moment when his brothers sold him as a slave to a company of Ishmaelites.  Joseph was bought by Potiphar, a captain of the guard in Pharaoh’s army.  God favored Joseph, and he rose to a position of prominence in Potiphar’s household. Apparently Joseph wasn’t yet ready for the leadership role God had in store for him, as he was falsely accused of inappropriate behavior toward his master’s wife and thrown in prison–another ‘Their Bad’ moment.

We don’t know how long Joseph was imprisoned, but we do know that thirteen years passed between the time his brothers sold him and when Pharaoh released him.  At least several of these years were spent in prison.  It must have been difficult for Joseph to sit in prison year and year waiting for God to deliver him.  I am sure that he recognized that he and his father bore some responsibility for his brothers’ hatred toward him, but he was completely innocent of the charges brought against him by Potiphar’s wife.  It would have been easy for Joseph to become bitter about the circumstances of his life.  He could have convinced himself that God was against him and that his life was over.  But Joseph didn’t get angry and he didn’t give up.  He persevered.  He was resilient despite all the adverse things that had happened to him.

Genesis 39: 21 – 22 tells us, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.  And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing.”  Joseph’s rise in the prison to a position of leadership did not come overnight.  He had to prove to the keeper that he was reliable and responsible. As he did, his responsibilities increased until Joseph was running the prison.   After some time had passed, the king’s chief butler and chief baker were imprisoned.  Joseph interpreted dreams for each of them which came to pass just as he had foretold. Joseph had shared his plight with the butler and asked the butler to mention his situation to Pharaoh.  How he must have hoped that his release from prison would come soon.  Yet, we read in Genesis 41:1, that another two years passed before the chief butler remembered Joseph.  ‘Too Bad,’ but again Joseph was resilient and persevered.

Eventually, however, Pharaoh had a dream which his wise men could not interpret.  It was then that the butler remembered Joseph.  Joseph interpreted the dreams, being careful to give all the glory to God.  He shared with Pharaoh that God was giving him an opportunity to prepare Egypt for the coming famine.  Pharaoh appointed Joseph to a position of great power, second in command only to Pharaoh himself.  Joseph was used by God to save Egypt and Joseph’s own family from starvation.

We can only surmise as to why God delayed Joseph’s release from prison.  Certainly, in prison Joseph was developing the leadership skills he would need later as a leader over Egypt.  During those years, Joseph continued to serve the Lord and God’s favor was on him.  As the leader of Egypt, Joseph had grown and changed much from the arrogant teenager his brothers had sold into slavery.  When Joseph appeared before Pharaoh, he was humble and quick to give the glory to God.  God opened Pharaoh’s eyes to see that Joseph was the right person to lead Egypt through the coming famine.

Any one in leadership positions faces My Bad, Their Bad, and Too Bad situations on occasion.  The challenges Joseph faced prepared him for more leadership responsibilities. Like Joseph, we must be resilient and allow the adversities we face to help us develop as leaders.  As we do, we will be able to do more and accomplish more, until we complete the work God has called us to do.

Discerning God’s Will for You

We are two Sundays into the new year, and I have heard two sermons related to accomplishing God’s will for your life.  The first Sunday my brother Andy was the guest preacher at our church.  His sermon focused on not allowing sin to creep into our lives.  He used Samson as an example of someone who allowed the ministry God had given him to be destroyed by sin.  Sin separates us from God and prevents us from hearing from God and accomplishing God’s will for us.

The focus of Pastor Jackson’s sermon this week was that God does have a purpose and plan for each of our lives.  He used Jesus as an example.  Jesus followed the will of His father and perfectly accomplished all that the Father planned for him in only three short years of ministry.

So, it seems more than a coincidence that while organizing our home office that I should come across notes I took 5 years ago on finding God’s will.  God had my attention.  So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to doing the will of God so far this year.

Here are some of the steps I go through to discern God’s will for me.

1) Maintain regular contact with God through prayer, reading the Bible, worship, and listening. I cannot know God’s will for me if I am not spending time with Him each day.  I usually begin my time with the Lord with a few minutes of worship and a quick prayer asking Him to open my heart to what He wants to say to me.  Then I spend some time reading the Word.  Generally some portion of what I read will stand out and I write it in my journal.  I end with prayer, asking that God will guide me through the day and help me to honor Him in all I do.  During the day, I catch myself whispering quick prayers and listening for what God is saying to me.

2) Hold everything up to the light.  When I believe God has spoken to me, I consider if what I believe I heard is in accordance with God’s word.  God will NEVER ask me to do anything that goes against the instructions He has given us in the Bible.

I recall a story on a major evening news show many years ago in which a woman was interviewed for making an ‘unusual’ life change.  The woman claimed God told her to leave her husband and children to become a stripper; she said she was sharing God’s love with those who patronized the night club in which she worked.  WRONG! This woman was clearly acting in opposition to God’s will for her and her family, yet she seemed to firmly believe in what she was doing.  The problem was that she was following an idea that popped into her head, without spending time in prayer and reading God’s word.  If she had communicated with God, He would have revealed to her that her behavior was wrong.

3) Seek input from other Christians. Share what you believe God is saying to you with your close Christians friends and/or your pastor. Ask them to pray with you for you to clearly discern God’s will. Proverbs 15: 22 tells, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  Ideally, you will get godly counsel and your friends will also pray for your success and may even assist you in fulfilling the work you have been called to do.

4) Fast and pray.  When the disciples wanted to hear from God, they typically spent time in prayer and fasting.  An example of this is found in Acts 13:2 -3, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”

5) Ask God to close the doors you are not to go through.  Often we are presented with multiple opportunities which seem to be equally good.  Examples would include being offered jobs by two different companies or being accepted at more than one college.  In these cases, there may not be a wrong choice, but often there is a best choice.  When I was applying to college and when I am looking for a new job, I specifically ask God to let me only get one acceptance or job offer, so it will be absolutely clear where He wants me to be.  In the case of applying for colleges for undergraduate and graduate school, God made it clear to me where I was to go and I only applied to one school each time.  There was some risk to this strategy, as the colleges could have rejected me. But, I was absolutely certain that I had heard from God and was accepted into both schools.  Of course, when I am job hunting, I apply to multiply companies.  God has been faithful to let me be rejected by all by one possible employer.   Knowing God was guiding me, I have been able to go to job interviews with confidence.  God has not let me down.  I have loved each job I have held and knew that God put me there.

God does have a plan for each of us.  As we accomplish tasks and grow in our faith and our dependence on Him, He is able to give us bigger tasks to complete.  I encourage each of you to earnestly seek God’s plan for your life.  His plan will be more amazing and fulfilling that any plan you could device.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11