Root Canals And Rotten Hearts

I spent two and a half hours in the dentist chair this week. Apparently my tooth decided that it was no longer needed and the cells started self-decaying from the inside out. This kind of internal rot was about six months away from killing my tooth entirely! The crazy part is that I didn’t feel anything weird or suspect a problem at all. It’s a good thing I went to the dentist and got X-rays! So, while I was enduring the tooth torture my root canal reminded me of another rotting problem.Using the waterdrill
 
Our rotten hearts are in desperate need of a great surgeon:
 
1 – Every Heart is Rotten to the Core – Every heart has its wicked side. No one can claim pure innocence. We have wicked thoughts or actions on our records. Even if we don’t want to admit it the diagnosis is clear: you and I have a heart decay problem. From the Psalmist to the Apostle Paul the Bible explains that our heart condition is a product of sin. (Rom. 1-3) Sin is like the cells that erode our heart from the inside out. Nothing good comes from sin, in fact sin only leads to death. If we don’t find a way to take care of these self-destructive “sin cells” in our heart we will eventually die. But hey, you might think there is nothing wrong with your heart and that it doesn’t need any help. Well, that’s what I thought about my tooth.
 
2 – We Need a Heart Check up – Just like I needed X-rays to see the decay in my teeth we need God’s word to evaluate our heart. Again the Psalmist expresses this when he says, “Search my heart and see if there is any wickedness in me.” (Psalm 139) Have you ever given God permission to examine your heart? Have you looked inside the Bible lately to get a heart check up? Many people want to look other places to evaluate their heart. They want to compare their life to others or compile a list of good things they’ve done. But, nothing you can do on your own will fix your heart problem. That’s like me thinking if I just ate healthier I wouldn’t need a root canal. That would be some dangerous denial! The decay can only be taken care of one way. It has to be killed.
 
3 – The Gospel is God’s remedy for Heart Decay – Only through the work of “the great dentist” (jk) can our sick heart be healed. Check out this great paraphrase of Ephesians 2:1-5 from the Message.
    “It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.”
    God can take your sin dead heart and give it life! He can reach into your heart of decay and stop the destruction. Only by His sacrifice on the cross and through His grace does God say, “come to me all who are decaying, and I will give you life.” “Sit in my chair and trust me to take away your decay problem.”  trust
 
4 – The Great Exchange – The dentist took out the decaying cells and replaced them with a strong and enduring material to save my tooth. If I had waited any longer than 6 months I might not have been able to save the tooth. We must always act quickly and depend upon God to rescue us from our sinful decay and destruction. It is a matter of urgency. Have you allowed God to reach in and pull out the decay of your sin, forgive it, and give you His life instead? By God’s grace through salvation He gives us His Spirit to dwell inside us. He takes up residence where those sin cells once controlled you. Instead of a destiny of destruction you now have a future of glory! Out with the old and in with the new. God gives us life for death.
 
You have been made alive in Christ! What a marvelous truth. So simple and yet so life changing. Free from decay! Given new life!
 
Don’t go it alone and think you know all the answers to life and your heart. Get a professional opinion for what you need most. When it comes to matters of your spiritual destiny I suggest seeking out the God who made it all. I think His professional opinion on your heart condition will save you a lot of pain in the long run. You can trust Him to not only diagnose what you need but to fix it and make you stronger than you ever were before.
 
-Josh


The New Normal

While I was recovering from Mono this spring we found out I have Lymes disease. It’s something that will take a while to move past. People keep asking me if I feel back to normal yet and my response has become, “I don’t know what normal is anymore. I’m living in a new normal I guess.”
 
Maybe you are going through something in life right now that is painful, frustrating, or confusing and you feel like you don’t know what normal is anymore either. I bet that is what Moses started to feel a few weeks into wandering around in the desert. After 40 years of being a shepherd Moses had become accustomed to the wandering lifestyle but his sheep didn’t complain. I’m sure Moses had moments where he would have gladly traded in the whiny Israelites for the dumb sheep. Moses had to get used to a new normal.
 
normalI heard someone say once that “normal” was just a setting on your dryer. So, who gets to define normal? Does normal ever really stay the same?
 
The truth is “normal” is such a misleading word. Normal for one person may be abnormal for another. Normal is not static, it is constantly being redefined. It can shift and move even within a short space of time. To keep from becoming tossed to and from emotionally by the ever shifting circumstances we need something that grounds us, something that transcends even our situation. Moses had exactly that. He had a place he went to get away from the chaos. No matter what happened Moses could depend on one thing. God’s presence.
 
While the rest of Israel was content to stay away from God Moses knew the power of pushing into God’s presence. Israel was content to go back to Egypt and languish as slaves for the sake of familiarity. The presence of God was too unpredictable and scary to them. Maybe they were afraid God would just become another task master. But Moses became so deeply dependent on the presence of God that he proclaimed, “I don’t want to go anywhere if you aren’t there God!”
 
It can be easy to despair over your life right now and get lost in the “normal” day-to-day. That’s when you need to be grounded in God’s presence. You need a place to refocus what matters and center on the constant grace of God. “In His presence is fullness of joy!” I think this was ultimately why the 12 disciples left their homes and followed Jesus around for years. They believed there was something about the presence of Jesus that helped their lives make sense. In Jesus they found purpose and meaning they couldn’t find anywhere else. The “normal” lives of the workplace or even the religious arena started to appear abnormal. They wanted a new normal.
 
What is “normal” in your life right now? What drives your decisions or your schedule? What stresses you out or wears on you?presence
 
Each day we have a chance to spend time in God’s presence. Each day we need a steady diet of His word. We need a mountain, a tent, or a hammock to escape to and soak up some time with God. Ironically during my months of Mono it was precisely the presence of God that sustained me. A new normal that transcended my circumstances and gave me purpose.
 
Fashions come and go. Seasons don’t last forever. Stages of life are temporary. But spending time with God your Father is the same yesterday today and forever. It’s life-giving and satisfying. It’s your foundation. It’s won’t doesn’t move even when everything around you may be.
 
-Josh


‘Tis The Season To Be…

The air is getting cooler. The leaves are changing color. The smells of pumpkin and cinnamon waft into your nostrils. Christmas decorations are already on the shelves at Wal-mart. It’s fall! Well maybe we don’t have cool air and pretty leaves in Florida but for most of the country the seasons are changing. There is something profoundly spiritual about the changing of seasons. Just like the weather and holidays that come and go our life is full of ever-changing circumstances.
 
In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon writes these famous words;
“For everything there is a season,

    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.” – (Ecc. 3:1-8)

We can have seasons of joy and victory followed by seasons of suffering and frustration. Seasons of faith could come right after a season of doubt. I remember feeling so trapped as a teenager in my circumstances. When will school ever end? Lord please heal my acne! Can I just be a kid forever? So, I want to share a few four-seasonsthings about seasons that may help you.
 
1 – They Don’t Last Forever – This can be good or bad news. It’s comforting to know that a bad season will pass but it’s hard to take when a good thing must come to an end. For someone who is suffering right now that is a much-needed truth. It won’t always be this way. There are many seasons in life that naturally pass. For instance a 2-year-old will eventually grow out of diapers. A child will eventually be able to stay up later than 8pm or a teenager will be free of acne. You might be in a natural season right now that is difficult. But remember, school will eventually end, you’ll be able to drive a car, shed your awkward growth spurts, and make your own decisions. Don’t be overwhelmed by a something in your life right now that will naturally pass soon. But maybe your difficulties are regarding your poor health, a broken family, or financial hardship. While I can’t guarantee that those circumstances will change in this life I can share with you the promise of your future with Jesus. Someday after this life “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away.” (Rev. 21:4)
 
2 – They Have A Purpose – I know it can be hard to see purpose in suffering but there is. It isn’t always easy to put your finger on the “why” of suffering but if God, who is good, allows it then it must have a purpose. I won’t offer any platitudes about why your suffering is worth it, rather I’ll just point you towards Jesus to meet with Him. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Rom. 5:3-5) While I’m still trying to figure out why God has allowed sickness and pain in my life I won’t stop pursuing my Savior. I have chosen not to hold on to questions I can’t answer but rather a Savior that I can know intimately. Don’t lose sight of your Savior in any season. Learn to embrace each season for what it has to offer.
 
faith3 – They Are Cyclical – This observation mostly applies to the positive seasons. As my mom always said, “All good things must come to an end.” It’s hard to take at first when something awesome dries up. You may feel like things will never be the same. In one sense you are right – nothing ever stays the same. But on the other hand during a season of frustration, pain, fear, or suffering it can be good to know that seasons of hope, joy, peace, strength, and comfort will come back around again. I wish I could say that seasons of hope and joy would last as long as the summers of Florida (8 months). They come and go as God wills it. Remember that by the grace of God they’ll be back again. Don’t despair and don’t give up – God is faithful. “Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love and the future to God’s providence.” – Augustine
 
Don’t define your life by one season. Allow them to ebb and flow and don’t allow any season to derail your direction. Stay strong and move forward. Allow God to speak into each season, sustain you through them, and lead you ever forward into His love.
 
-Josh
 


Follower or Fan?

Two years ago I took some college students up to Alabama for tornado relief work. We plugged the address for the church we were planning on staying at into our GPS. After driving for a few hours in the dark, and the rain, we arrived at our destination – an empty field on a farm. The GPS took us about 30 minutes away from where we were supposed to be and told us to turn right into a field. Have you ever had bad directions like these? What about bad directions in life? Has anyone ever given you advice that blew up in your face?
 
Directions-Confusing-sIn Kyle Idleman’s book “Not A Fan”, he describes two categories of people: fans of Jesus or followers of Jesus. Fans of Jesus know how to do sword drills and get awards for bible memorization. Fans of Jesus love to attend potlucks and have Christian bumper stickers. Fans of Jesus are adamant about Bible translations and rapture timelines. Fans of Jesus love to show up at least once a week and cheer for Him. But, fans of Jesus are too comfortable, cowardly, or compartmentalized to actually follow. A follower of Jesus longs for intimacy with Jesus not just knowledge about Him. A follower of Jesus sticks with Him even during seasons of suffering or sacrifice. A follower of Jesus is willing to go wherever and do whatever their Rabbi does. Are you a fan or a follower?
 
Before you too quickly answer that question are you willing to pray this prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you…” (Psalm 139:23-24a) Think about this last year and how you spent your time and your money. Think about what motivates you or the things you dream of. Think about your passion in life or your goals. What direction are you actually headed? A fan of Jesus isn’t really headed anywhere, they are just all talk. A follower however, is defined by movement, by action. They are going somewhere and it is the way of truth and life. (John 14:6)
 
Let me ask you this question: Do you know Jesus? This is another question you might be tempted to answer too quickly. But before you answer be aware that I’m not referring to book knowledge. Too many people think that just knowing information about Jesus is enough. They go to church or bible study dutifully and soak up lots of great stats on Jesus. Like their favorite athlete or movie star, Jesus is someone they know a lot about but still don’t have a close relationship with. This word “know” takes on a different meaning in regards to a relationship with Jesus. The Hebrew word yada’ at its core imply’s oneness. You can’t actually “know” God without intimacy. Would you say that your dreams, desires, time, or money are one with God?
 
The problem with following Jesus is that it’s exclusive. In today’s culture everyone wants to keep their options open in romantic relationships or even regarding their weekend plans. There is a fickle voice that says, “maybe something better will come along”. Like a football fan who gives up on his losing team a fan of Jesus will give up when things get rough. The world around you is great at giving directions. Even your friends and family will throw in their two cents, or more, whenever possible. But meditate on this: who do you think is really qualified to give you direction for your life? You can only go in one direction. No matter how hard you try to split yourself by following God and _______ at the same time it will never be possible. The call of Jesus is to forsake and follow. To truly follow Jesus you must “unfollow” everything else.
 
follow jesusI realize that following Jesus comes with a cost. In fact, Jesus himself laid it out pretty clearly when He called for His followers to take up a cross and come after Him. Whether He was referring to a literal cross or a figurative one the message still stands as a call to sacrifice for His sake. That’s not all Jesus said though. He also repeated over and over that whatever we give up will pale in comparison to the riches we receive in Him. In our feeble temporary minds it’s easy to think that the creature comforts of this world or our personal dreams are valuable. These things will never match the power, beauty, fulfillment, courage, peace, hope, joy, and life that come with Jesus. “In Him there is fullness of joy forevermore!”, says the psalmist David.
 
May you give up on following the world and its bad directions and turn your allegiance to God’s direction for your life. And may you stop just being a fan of Jesus who knows about Him, and become a follower of Jesus who pursues oneness with Him. It will be the best decision you’ve ever made!
 
-Josh


Where You Go I’ll Go

Being stationary has never been my thing. I’m more like a nomad. I think I’ve moved close to 22 times in my life so far. Several of those moves had to do with my parents missionary vocation. But, many of those moves had to do less with vocation and more to do with vision. If there is one central culture to my family it has always been that we go when God says go. This, after all, is the core commandment of being a disciple of Jesus – GO.
 
There is a profound statement by Moses in the book of Exodus; “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” Moses didn’t want to move unless God moved first. He didn’t want to go unless God went with Him. But, Moses proved over and over that whenever God said “move” he moved. Moses knew the power and the significance in following God daily. Out of all the men in scripture I believe the heart of Moses was the most committed to being intertwined with God’s movement. David “got” God’s love, Solomon “got” God’s wisdom, but Moses “got” God’s movement. gospel
 
No matter how hard you and I evaluate, educate, and plan we can’t control the future. (James 4:13-15) One of the greatest weaknesses of traditional Christianity is its fascination with organization. While the early church understood the importance of planning, more often they emphasized moving. Organizing and educating is not the vehicle of the Gospel. You are the vehicle of the Gospel. In God’s unthinkable plan He has given us the task of taking the message of salvation to everyone. Our story and their story meet God’s story and lives change, transform, and come fully alive! But this mission isn’t carried out purely by education, it is cultivated and created through relationship. The mission is; go make disciples. (Matt. 28:19)
 
Each of us can struggle with this “stationary” Christianity where staying put in our faith is safe. We don’t want to “move around” from place to place following the mission of Christ let alone leave our city or our country. It’s scary. It’s messy. It’s uncomfortable. We may be willing to “go” but only on our own time, in our own way, to our pre-selected places. How would your life change if you really told God you’d go wherever the gospel was needed? What would it look like in your life to be less stationary with your faith and more mobile?
 
Changing to a mobile way of faith might radically change things for you. I love this statement I adapted from John MacArthur, “You should never have your roots sunk deeper than the will of God.” Let that hit you like a freight train. Now, ask yourself these two questions: “Where are my “roots” sunk right now?” and, “Are my current roots sunk in God’s will or my will?roots-of-power
 
Addressing your “root” problems won’t be easy. We often plant roots into things within our lives without noticing their impact on our ability and availability to GO for the gospel. Things in your life will have to die when you pull them out of your life. Roots that need to be pulled up may range from the way you spend your time to the way you spend your money. It could affect your personal dreams or even fears. But in order to be a “goer” on mission, instead of a pampered saint at home, some roots need to be pulled.
 
This Go Gospel mission has 3 stages – my neighborhood, my area, and far off places. Let’s start with your neighborhood. Who is in your neighborhood that you can go to? Will you rearrange your schedule or your finances to be more mobile for your neighbors? Will you have eternal conversations instead of ones about the weather? Will you ask hard questions instead of trying to stay out of their business?
 
Moving around the world while I was growing up gave me a valuable perspective on evangelism. It’s anywhere and everywhere. You don’t have to go far and you don’t have to be a “professional”. Just go. Be mobile. Be available. Pull up your earthly roots and instead find your roots in the will of God. Make it your prayer tonight, “God, I don’t want to go if you’re not there, AND when you move I will move with you.”
 
-Josh
 
 


Who’s Your Daddy?

Have you ever wanted to be adopted? I’m not talking about the times when your family is so embarrassing that you don’t want to be associated with them. But have you ever wanted to know what it’s like for someone to sacrifice their time and money to make you theirs? Adoptions in our economy can cost upwards of $30,000 and take over a year to finalize. And yet, God went further then we ever would. He sacrificed His only son to pay for us. God gave up everything to make you His child.
 
I want to encourage you with three powerful blessings of our adoption in Jesus Christ.
 
dads-work-life-balance1 – Adoption by God means we have a Perfect Father.
  Maybe you are like me and haven’t had a great relationship with your earthly dad. In my case I haven’t had a relationship at all. My dad died when I was 5. Your story may include a dad who is still around but has hurt you or disappointed you deeply. Perhaps your dad is still alive but not in the picture anymore. We all need a perfect dad. “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow” (James 1:17) It was during my teenage years that this truth of God’s adoption changed my life. I no longer had to suffer without a father. I could count on a new and perfect father. God is a father who will never abandon, disappoint, abuse, or hurt you. He is a perfectly faithful, compassionate and gracious father.
 
2 – Adoption by God means we have a Personal Relationship with God.
  It’s common for people to view God as a distant and busy universal dictator. We often view God through the experiences we’ve had with our earthly fathers and we think God is working late again, too busy to help us with our homework, or disappointed when we didn’t win. Never let your human father dictate your view of your heavenly father. “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 callabba him, “Abba, Father.”” We are not called slaves that must keep their distance, or servants that must work to earn favor, we are sons, and daughters, that have constant access to our Father. The Aramaic word, Abba, used here is reminiscent of a toddler calling out for her daddy to play with her or kiss her boo boo. It is a term of affection and intimacy. God gives us the privilege of calling Him Daddy.
 
3 – Adoption by God means we have a Powerful Purpose.
  “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.” (2 Cor. 5:18) All of this – forgiveness of sins, salvation from death, adoption as sons and daughters – is a gracious gift from God! Through His Son Jesus Christ God has given us a new life and a new family. And, He has given us a new purpose. As His children we are to carry on the family business – and that is the business of Redemption. God, in His great mercy, while we were rebels, brought us into His family. We were not “adoption” material in the slightest. And yet, He saved us and gave us the right to be called sons and daughters of the King of Kings! Now it’s our mission to invite others to the family table. To find those who are far from God and bring them close, to bring them into the family. This is the gospel. This is our new purpose. Greater than any achievement of education, wealth, promotion, or fame is our purpose of reconciling people to God!
 
May you call out for your heavenly Daddy and stand strong in His unfailing love. May you trust His goodness and will over your life. And, may you carry out the family business and bring more to the cross of Christ and the life that we all find there.
 
I’m glad I’ve been adopted. How bout you?
 
-Josh


God Won’t Be Using The iPhone 6

The iPhone 6 is about to come out and every trendy techno nerd, or fashionista, is primed to swoop. It seems we have an insatiable hunger for the latest and greatest. Technology, above all things, seems to outdate itself faster than Justin Bieber. Just when you think you finally have the most advanced way of living someone launches a new “product”. I’m beginning to think Christians treat their relationship with God in a similar vein – hungry for the latest and greatest way to be a Christian.
Do you ever feel like God is far away? Do you ever wonder if God cares? Have you been waiting for God to speak up or fix something? You wouldn’t be the only one. People have wrestled with these issues for thousands of years. It doesn’t matter how technologically advanced you are, technology doesn’t fix the human condition. And, God doesn’t need technology to relate to you. Not only could our technology saturated culture be distracting you from God’s presence but it could be warping your ideas about God.
Lets look at your relationship with God in light of a few technology flaws.
1 – Technology items like phones, computers, TVs, or video game consoles will outdate themselves at least once a year. In other words, they are always changing. Get this – God never changes. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) God has always existed in goodness and love and He will always be that way. Some people look at the Old Testament and think God was angry but now He wants to be everybody’s homeboy. The prophet Jeremiah gave people a message thousands of years ago when God was supposedly an “angry” God, he said, “God has loved you with an everlasting love”. If God has been love for eternity then you can count on Him still loving you today, and tomorrow, and the next day. His love never fails. Technology will come and go but God is forever faithful!Cartoon-89571
2 – It’s a conspiracy theory that tech companies purposely hold back some features on their new products so that they’ll have something more to entice you with in six months, or next year. Have you ever felt like God was holding out on you? Listen – God gives us everything we need. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32) In the Garden of Eden Eve doubted that God was holding back something from her. God is not like a technology company holding back blessings or even spiritual growth because he’s stringing us along for a new product. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Eph. 1:3) God freely pours out the blessing of eternal life now to all who believe! Our problem is that we are always trying to fill ourselves up with other things, like the new iPhone. Instead of living in God’s eternal promises now we clutter our life with temporary junk.
3 -Did you know that there are still 305,000 pay phones in America? The APCC estimated that we made 50 million calls from pay phones in 2012. Don’t miss this – you can still pray. Don’t pass over that gem too quickly. God doesn’t require any upgrades for you and I to talk with Him, enjoy Him, or spend time with Him. We can pray the same way people have been doing since the beginning of creation. We just talk and He listens. There is incredible beauty in this because we are always worried about whether we are worshipping God the right way. Or, we are worried we need to upgrade ourselves and our behavior before God will listen. Churches are always rethinking how to “do ministry” and connect people to Jesus. We spend too  much time trying to invent new ways to “get to God” when the old way still works! Don’t bog your life down with complicated methods of spiritual growth or communion with God. You don’t need the latest greatest quiet time DVD curriculum or Bible App. Just sit down with a bible, read it, and talk with God.Prayer-Quotes-5
That last one may hit you the most. Where have you been overcomplicating your relationship with God? Where have you been looking for a new way to try to connect with God? Stop trying to get to God in a new way and just be with God the old way. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10a) There is no technology needed to have a full, satisfying, adventurous, and eternal life with God. So go, unplug, and spend some time with God today. No new hardware drivers needed.
-Josh


The Anatomy Of Faith – Part II

Note: If you didn’t read last weeks Devotion, Part I, then go back and read that now. This week is meant to build on that conversation on faith.
 
My son is learning how to ride a bicycle and it’s scary. He seems confident on the flatlands but when the little hills come he freaks out. The other day I stood downhill and told him to come towards me. He repeatedly refused as I coaxed him onwards. Eventually he began to creep down the hill. I stayed near him all the way down the hill ready to catch him if he fell but didn’t touch the bike or him. When he got to the bottom I gave him a rousing cheer!
 
The interplay of God’s promise to act on our behalf and His call for us to step out in faith will always hold its tension. It would be wrong to assume that we are mere puppets under God’s control. But conversely, it would be false to believe we are fully on our own. Scripture is filled with examples of God supernaturally empowering people to do things beyond their own capacity. And yet, scripture is also littered with examples of people who God called to move, to speak, and to act out of their own humanity. God’s sovereignty over the universe is not up to us, it’s beyond our control, but what we do about God is a decision of our faith.
 
Christian author and theologian A.W. Tozer says this, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”. What do you think about God? For some that might be; creator, one true god, and salvation. For others God conjures up nothing because He doesn’t exist in their mind. Ultimately, God will exist whether we think about Him or not but what we decided to do with Him determines our destiny. This is equally true about gravity. I may refuse to believe in its existence and that it has any effect on my life but that opinion could be rather life altering. Faith is processed through the factory of our mind. It is a decision based on evidence and empowered by conviction. We must exercise faith because it is necessary.faith-road-wallpaper_1920x1200
 
I share this because it is common for people to treat faith as a feelings based decision or lifestyle. This is precisely why so many Atheists and Agnostics disregard Christianity. They believe it is irrational and full of mushy-gushy, emotionally charged, needy people. They say Christians believe the Bible and God just to make them feel better. While it’s true that a relationship with God often makes me feel better, that alone is not what determines my decision to place my faith in God for eternal life. My faith in God doesn’t make things happen it connects me to what is already happening. We must look at the evidence for the validity of the Holy Bible and its divine power as well as the person of Christ and His power. We must take in to account not merely the empirical data in science or history but in the lives of others. The irony is that data only takes us so far without human experience. Until we have experienced something we hesitate to say it is true. So it is that without faith we cannot truly experience the divine.
 
The last thing that we must process about faith is that it’s personal. God has chosen to offer Himself and salvation in Christ to those who will accept it. In the end faith is not a system it’s a decision of your mind and of your will. There are lots of people who have “casual faith”. They are the kind of people who thought God was a good idea until things got hard, inconvenient, or uncomfortable and they abandoned Him. That’s not really faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It’s being confident that God is who He says He is even when this life gets hard. Faith weathers a storm because it is confident of a shining sun on the other side. Is your faith in God casual?
 
My son had to have faith in my presence and my power to act on his behalf. He had to think about everything he knew to be true of me and our past experiences. He had to decide between being controlled by his feelings or his faith. Despite the severe doubt in his own abilities he moved forward because he had faith in me. We must be careful not to allow feelings to cripple our faith. You and I won’t always feel like trusting God or believing in His promises but we must hold on to them. We move forward by faith. 
 
We must walk, or should I say ride, by faith and not by sight.
 
-Josh
 
 


The Anatomy Of Faith – Part I

I’ve always wanted to find buried treasure! In fact I frequently have dreams at night of uncovering gold coins and precious gems! When I was little I remember attending a carnival that had a big sand pit game where kids could look for buried pennies and nickels. There were a few half-dollar coins in there and I wanted to search for hours and hours to find one. I thought if I just looked long enough eventually I’d find one. I think that’s how we view faith sometimes.

We often think of faith as something that we can achieve if we just work hard enough. We work hard to try to grow it so that it’s more effective. An example of this kind of theology work it’s way in to prayer. One family prays for their daughter to be healed of cancer and she survives while another family watches their son die. Did the family of the boy not pray hard enough? Did they not have enough faith? We are frequently tempted to treat faith as something we need to have more of in order for God to act within our lives or on our behalf.faith_is_by_kevron2001-d5wqkyt

However, God acts on our behalf regardless of how “strong” our faith is. From these promises like; “while were still sinners, Christ died for us”(Rom. 5:8) to “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”(Phil. 1:6) it’s clear that God’s goodness and grace is a gift. In God’s economy His kindness is not a commodity we earn. He blesses, heals, provides, protects, and saves based on His goodness and not on our worthiness. So what makes us think that “faith” works outside this system? It’s easy to incorrectly treat faith as a tactic we can leverage to elicit favor from God.

So what is the function of faith from a biblical standpoint? The author of Hebrews defines it this way, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” Everyone has faith. Some have faith in themselves and some have faith in God. Even evolutionists have faith. It’s about trusting something or someone who we hope will prove to be true. Ultimately it’s not about the strength of our faith, it’s about the object of our faith.

On what/who you place your trust/faith in is critical. The object of your faith dictates the outcome, not the strength of your faith. In other words, whether I have a “strong” or a “weak” faith in my team to win the Super Bowl it’s not up to me it’s up to the players. Teams don’t win because you wore your lucky shirt or prayed harder than the other teams fans. The same is true of your circumstances in life. God’s provision in your life isn’t because you prayed harder than your neighbor – it’s because God is good. I know you might be tempted to see prayer as irrelevant at this point. No, prayer is still vital to your life! Think about this: prayer connects us to God’s will. Without prayer we aren’t able to see clearly what God is up to. Through prayer we position our eyes and our heart to see God’s will.

faith quoteFaith is similar. It isn’t a commodity that we need more of it is a choice that we make. “By faith,” the author of Hebrews says, “Noah built an Ark…Abraham left His home…Israel went through the Red Sea…” In each of these cases faith led to action. Faith connected them to God’s will for their lives. Their faith didn’t direct God’s will, God’s will directed the outcome of their faith. When we put faith in God it’s a choice to follow His will. That doesn’t mean we will always understand it. When confusing or difficult circumstances come our way it’s faith that glues us to God’s goodness. I think you’ll connect with these words:

1 “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
5 But I trust in your unfailing love.”

Did you catch how David ended his desperate rant? “BUT, I trust in your unfailing love!” David understood that the exercise of his faith didn’t determine the outcome, it was God’s unfailing love. Faith is choosing to connect to God’s unconditional love and benefit from it. The Apostle Peter agreed with this thinking as he told believers that their faith was of greater worth than gold. By faith they would have the strength, peace, forgiveness, hope, and grace of God poured freely into their lives to go through anything the world threw at them.

Faith starts with the most basic decision: do you believe that Jesus died for your sins and that by His blood you can be forgiven and receive eternal life? It is by God’s grace and by way of your faith that God saves you and brings you into His forever family. He will never leave you or forsake you. He will guide you through this life and into your eternal home. Our faith doesn’t make this happen, He does. Faith is simply accepting what God wants to do in your life and trusting that when all is done and dusted, who God is and, everything He promised will prove to be true!

-Josh

* Come back next week for Part II



Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a kid I remember reading some “choose your own adventure” stories. Each story had periodical pauses where you had to choose what to do next. It would say things like, “If you want to try to swim the river turn to page 23″ or “If you head back into the jungle turn to page 25″. Depending on how you wanted to solve a predicament or achieve a specific goal each choice led to a different outcome. You could read the same story 5 or 6 different ways and come up with various endings. You never knew which path led to the best ending. This reminds me of my own life at times.
 
CYOA LogoPrayer remains one of those Christian mysteries that we just can’t seem to figure out. We are often left with questions such as; Can our prayers actually change God’s will? Would things still happen even if we didn’t pray? Is it always a black and white matter of right and wrong? It’s true that much of how prayer works in the spiritual realm will remain a mystery, but I believe scripture gives us some principles to guide us in our efforts to follow God’s will and make wise decisions.
 
First it must be said that prayer should be viewed more as a method of communication and less as a method of problem solving. It is all to easy to view prayer like a Christmas list or a magic lamp. We think that if we say the right words or rub it the right way God will automatically grant our wishes. Prayer should never be reduced to such formulaic manipulation. However the words of Jesus seem formulaic when He says, “ask whatever you wish in my name” (Jn. 15:7) and “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matt. 7:7). So why don’t we get everything we pray for? Why hasn’t God-given you all your wishes?
 
When you ask God for a new car and it doesn’t appear in your driveway suddenly you probably won’t hold that against Him but what about when you’ve prayed 8 years for God to heal your Dad or brother or yourself? We can’t blame God for ignoring our selfish pettiness but how can we trust Him when He ignores our suffering? There isn’t always an easy answer for this tension. His ways are not our ways. We believe healing is the best fix but what if God views suffering as necessary or, dare I say it, good? Can we trust God with our story? Will He guide us to the best ending?
 
Over the years I have seen that God answers prayer in 4 different ways. Take all the requests, questions, cries, and doubts you’ve thrown at God and filter them through these. They might help you to make sense of things.
 
1 – No – sometimes God answers “NO”. Imagine if God handed out everything to everyone who asked. I don’t think that approach to ordering and caring for mankind would work out well. Maybe the things we are asking for would turn out bad for us or even harmful long-term. For the same reasons a wise parent says no to their kids God is wise to say no to us sometimes.
 
2 – Not now – The right thing at the wrong time doesn’t work out well. It would be ridiculous to give your 2-year-old a .22 caliber rifle for their birthday! That is a gift you wait until they are able to handle it with maturity. On my current teen-prayingdiet I’m not allowed to eat sugar and it would be a bad idea for you to give me chocolate chip cookies. God knows the best timing to answer our prayers.
 
3 – Yes – I can think of many times when God stepped in to my life with healing, provision, protection, and blessings when I asked. Admit it, I know you can also come up with numerous times where God came through for you. God isn’t a cosmic killjoy bent on ruining your life. He is a Father who loves to give good gifts! (Matt. 7:11)
 
4 – Something different – Have you ever had one of those birthdays where you didn’t get what you asked for, you got something better? I remember one year I asked for simple things like clothes, music, etc. and instead got a radiator for a car I was working on! Now you might be thinking a radiator sounds like a lame gift but to me it was the best gift ever. My Mom went beyond what I asked for and instead got me something much more expensive and important. Is it possible that you don’t really know what you need? We think better grades, cooler friends, a clearer complexion, more money, or perfect health would fix our problems and life would be smooth sailing. But sometimes God doesn’t give us what we ask for – He gives us something better. He gives us perseverance, peace, courage, forgiveness, hope, a stronger heart, and more of Himself.
 
Ultimately your future and prayer come down to two words; By Faith. If God made all things and had His Son Jesus died to save you and set you free from death then maybe He is trustworthy after all. So, no matter what page of the story God takes us to we can trust that the ending will be good. Even when the path towards the end is scary and difficult it can be comforting to know the author of life is the true author of your story. Don’t use prayer to get things from God enjoy prayer as a way to commune with the author of your story along the journey!
 
 
-Josh