Whenever someone gets married, we say they are "taking the plunge," or making a "leap of faith." Everyone recognizes that going into marriage, you can't possibly know everything about the person that you are committing to spend your life with, and yet, we do it anyway. We admit we don't know it all, but that what we do know is enough.
In the Bible, in the letter to the Hebrews, the 11th chapter and 1st verse, we read that "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," and in the sixth verse of the same chapter we learn that "Without faith, it is impossible to please God." As a parent, this makes complete sense to me: without my son having faith in me, he will never please me. Never. His faith in me is the evidence that we have a good relationship, that he acknowledges my love for him and my good intentions toward him. If he continually questions me and never trustfully relaxes in my presence, how could I ever be pleased with that relationship? It is the same in our relationship with God, our Father, and rightfully so.
Similar to marriage, if we have committed to spend our lives with Him, what we do know about Him should be enough. That doesn't mean we stop getting to know Him after that commitment is made - most married couples learn far more about each other after the wedding day than they do before - but it does mean that we live out our days in both knowledge AND faith - growing in both, but not swerving from what we originally held to when we made that "leap of faith" to begin with.
This reflection on faith, led me to look up places in the Bible that shed more light on the word. Here is what I learned:
1. Faith is more precious than gold. (1 Peter 1:7)
2. Faith results in the salvation of our souls. (1 Peter 1:9, Ephesians 2:8)
3. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. (1 John 5:4)
4. Faith is required for miraculous healing. (Mark 10:52, Luke 8:48, Matthew 9:2, 22, 29, Matthew 8:5-13, Acts 6:8)
5. It doesn't take much faith (relatively speaking) to be able to live out life to the fullest (the size of a mustard seed would suffice). (Matthew 17:20)
6. Faith purifies and sanctifies hearts. (Acts 15:9, 26:18)
7. Local churches are established by faith. (Acts 16:5)
8. Faith brings comfort. (Romans 1:12)
9. Faith is counted as righteousness by God, which is good news because there is no one who actually IS righteous, not even one. (Romans 4:5-20)
10. Faith is the key that grants us access to God's grace. (Romans 5:2)
11. Things that don't come by faith, are often sinful. (Romans 14:23)
12. Faith exercised apart from love is worthless. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
13. There is only one true faith. (Ephesians 4:5)
14. Faith brings unity. (Ephesians 4:13)
15. Faith is a shield against the devil. (Ephesians 6:16)
16. God's promises are inherited through faith and patience. (Hebrews 6:12)
17. When faith is tested (and it WILL be tested), the believer acquires perseverance. (James 1:3)
18. Faith is a required prerequisite when asking God for wisdom. Faith that God is all-wise and that He willingly imparts wisdom to His children. (James 1:6)
I also learned through studying the scriptures about faith that we have internal and external responsibilities once we have invested faith in God:
Internally we are to:
Externally we are to:
It is a beautiful cycle - attending to our faith internally leads to a stronger desire to demonstrate our faith externally, and those experiences of acting on our faith in God fan the flame of our internal faith-walk even more, until 10-25-50 years later we celebrate anniversaries of faith in Christ and marvel at how much more precious He is to us now than he was when we first believed, and tell the world how glad we are that we took that leap of faith!
This morning the students in the youth group at our church were involved in every aspect of the service. <It was great.>
During the "preaching time," our youth pastor interviewed three of the high school students and asked them some very important questions that had some very important answers. I thought they were worth passing on:
1. "How do you want older adults to pray for your generation?"
2. "How can the older generations help your generation?"
Will do! Thanks, Image Youth Group!
Do you ever feel tempted to play God? To take over? To make something happen the way you feel strongly it should happen? To get involved in the “how” of something that you feel confident in the “what” or “why” of? You have!? Want to be best friends? I am tempted to do this on a regular basis.
I once took a strengths assessment and discovered that one of my greatest strengths is my sense of responsibility. That sounds good, right? Don’t you want to have people in your life who have a strong sense of responsibility? Who won’t bail on you in the middle of something? Who will take ownership over a task? Who will not drop the ball? Who think ahead and count the cost before committing? That sense of responsibility has served me very well these past 39 years – it helped me get good grades in school, complete my college degree, be a faithful spouse, a devoted mom, a dedicated employee. It has helped me stay on top of finances and keep the housework from getting completely out of control. Not a bad strength to have!
So what is lurking on the flipside of the coin of responsibility? For me, it is a tendency to want to control things that are either beyond my ability to control or exceeding my right to control. As a responsible mother, I want to raise my son with attention to detail – I don’t want any character issue, health need, spiritual discipline, or mental aptitude to go unnoticed or unattended. Why? Yes , because I love him, but also because I feel responsible. The danger comes when I take my responsibility to far. I stop focusing only on my responsibility to do the right thing in a given situation and, in addition, take on the responsibility for the outcome of the situation as well.
To be responsible for myself: my actions, attitudes, and words; is a wonderful thing. To take on the responsibility for anything beyond that is where I start to get into trouble.
In a scientific research environment, experiments are conducted to arrive at conclusions that can lead to helpful solutions to difficult problems. Lots and lots of experiments are conducted before the solution is reached. In order to get the specific desired outcome that they are looking for, scientists isolate all the different variables that could have an effect on the outcome of the experiment. They do this in a sterile environment where they control every possible variable. That way when they complete an experiment, they know exactly how and why the result was achieved and they can replicate it.
My overreaching sense of responsibility would LOVE for life to take place in a controlled, sterile environment. I don’t know about you, but in the complex world I live in, I can do all the right things and still end up with a result that is riddled with the effects of all the variables I couldn’t control along the way… variables like other people’s actions, attitudes, and words, my own limited understanding and perception, and the effects of an unseen spiritual war that is going on all round me at all times.
Repeat after me: “I am only in control of myself! I cannot control any other person on this planet without eventually hurting them. I cannot control every variable. I cannot control other people’s priorities or their desires. I cannot control the outcome of any situation, only my role in it.”
Responsibility is a wonderful attribute, but taking responsibility for things that are clearly God’s responsibility is, at best, setting me up for frustration and, at worst, paving a road that leads to deception and destruction. I think I need to create a pin board somewhere in my mind for my “Junior God” badge. Any time I find myself overstepping my bounds, I’ll remind myself to head to that pin board and hang that badge back up where it belongs. There is no such thing as a Junior God, but there is such a thing as a “dearly love child of God,” and that is the badge I want to wear instead.
How about you?
When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video." As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up. What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish. Many times God will orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
"You are capable, competent, creative, careful. Prove it."
That was the fortune hidden inside my cookie on Friday night at the local Chinese restaurant. I had to laugh. I once heard my Dad jokingly say that my first words were, "Prove it!" I'm naturally a questioner and an analyzer. A truth-seeker. I want things to make sense and to be backed up by logic and facts (life of the party, I know). On the other side of that coin, if something can't be proven, I often have little time for it. I'm not a big fan of philosophical discussions or "what ifs" (much to the chagrin of my visionary, possibility thinking husband). This fortune, turned the magnifying glass back at me though. If I am who I think I am, then I should prove it, right?! It should be backed up by predictable actions and decisions that become "facts" about me and my character.
It is such a blessing to have people in our lives who do what this fortune cookie did for me... remind us of who we are and challenge us to live it out. It is even better to have His Word written on our hearts reminding us of who God says we are and how He's already proven it!
2 Corinthians 5:17 - "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed way. Behold, the new has come!" ESV
Galatians 5:1 - "For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." ESV
Ephesians 5:8 - "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." ESV
The reality is, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, and no one has anything to prove to me. God has proven what is ultimately true. It is now up to us to walk in that truth. Daily.
When I was growing up I practiced two things seriously - gymnastics/cheerleading and piano. In high school, I stopped practicing piano because I lost interest and in college, after taking a gymnastics class that humbled me to my core, I stopped practicing that too. Today I can play a couple of songs on the piano and I might be able to do a cartwheel if I stretched REALLY well first... other than that, there is nothing about me or my life now that suggests that I spent hundreds of hours of my life PRACTICING these two disciplines. Why is that? Because I stopped practicing those things and started practicing other things.
I was thinking about that this week when I read several verses in the Bible that talk about practice. It made me want to know more about what the Bible says is worthy of our life-long practice, not just a few years of devotion, but a lifetime! This is what I learned.
FIVE THINGS TO PRACTICE AND ONE WARNING:
1. We are to practice FEARING GOD. Why? Because that is where true wisdom and understanding begins.
Psalm 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
2. We are to practice TRUTH, HONOR, JUSTICE, PURITY, LOVE, and EXCELLENCE. Why? Because the God of Peace will be with us in those endeavors.
Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
3. We are to practice USING OUR UNIQUE GIFTS. Why? So we can be a blessing to others.
1 Timothy 4:13-15 Paul tells Timothy, "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress."
4. We are to practice DISCERNING GOOD FROM EVIL. Why? Because this demonstrates our maturity and enables us to teach others.
Hebrews 5:12-14 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
5. We are to practice FAITH, VIRTUE, KNOWLEDGE, SELF-CONTROL, STEADFASTNESS, GODLINESS, BROTHERLY AFFECTION, and LOVE. Why? Because these things keep us from being ineffective.
2 Peter 1:5-10 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
What would happen if we added these 5 areas to our "to do" list each week?
What would happen if we put our time and energy into practicing the things that God says are worthy of our effort and stopped putting so much time and energy to the things that are not?
1 WARNING: Avoid preaching without practicing. Why? You become a hypocrite and you set others up for failure.
Matthew 23:2-4, Jesus says: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat,so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger."
Time to practice.
A couple of weeks ago, I told my son a story that helped renew his faith in God's existence. It got me thinking. How do I know God exists? I have no idea how long this post is going to turn out to be, but I'm going to pour out from my heart whatever comes to mind from my personal experience that reassures me that I know MY GOD exists. I am going to focus on ways that are personal to me, this isn't going to be an academic or intellectual endeavor this time around, although the evidence is staggering! (Check out the references at the end of this post for more information on the more universal evidence pointing to God's existence.) These reasons are all mine. You could refute them in a million ways, and explain them away, but it won't take away from my joy or my confidence. My hope doesn't rest on these experiences, (that hope comes from the Bible and the Bible alone) but my faith has been strengthened by them along the way.
1. I have been protected from COUNTLESS mishaps as a naive younger woman that cannot be explained. I should have been harmed. Period.
2. I once read my Bible one morning and then went to work and shared what I had learned with a co-worker who sobbed, telling me that she had randomly opened her Bible that very morning in desperation and read the exact same portion of scripture and got up bereaved because she didn't understand it. I had, unknowingly, interpreted it for her, and it spoke directly to a situation she was going through that I was unaware of.
3. I have woken up in the middle of the night with crystal clear ideas about ministry that I couldn't have come up with on my own.
4. I have been offered jobs and promotions that my own knowledge and skill set could not have commanded on their own.
5. My soul has been saved. Of that I have no doubts.
6. I have a strong desire to be in church with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Every. Sunday.
7. I have had just the right friends at just the right times in my life.
8. My heart rate accelerates alarmingly whenever I am in a Bible Study or Sunday School class and I feel like I am supposed to speak up about something. Whatever comes out of my mouth in those moments is passionate and very different emotionally than any other context where I might share things with a group.
9. There has been more than one occasion in my life when I needed a certain amount of money and God has provided it either to the penny, or above and beyond.
10. When we moved across the country (at God's leading), we left before our house had sold. We got a solid offer 100 miles before our car crossed the border into the new State we would be living in.
11. When our foster daughters were brought to our home, I experienced the most unbelievable feeling of peace and a sustaining energy that I had never felt before. I sensed God's pleasure and His provision.
12. I have been able to forgive offenses that would have haunted others for decades.
13. When my son uttered his belief in Christ and asked for forgiveness of his sins at the tender age of 6, he said and did some very specific things that made my heart sing and tears roll down my face. I had been fearful that he would attempt to make that decision too early in life and that he wouldn't really understand it and that I would be plagued with doubts. I have never doubted the reality of that experience for him.
14. I felt compelled to spend some time in intensive research of a specific portion of the Bible. My husband agreed to me being away from the house for 3-4 hours a day for a month as I studied and wrote. When it was all said and done, we didn't know what I was supposed to do with the final product. We prayed about it. Four months later a friend called and asked me if I would speak at weekend women's retreat at her church. I had already prepared for it and I didn't even know she was going to ask.
15. My husband is not the man that I spent my college years looking for, and yet he is completely and utterly perfect for me in every way possible. He came into my life unexpectedly and in a desert place (literally).
16. Many times when I read the Bible I find myself getting very excited or weeping, or compelled to act on what I've read. This book was written by men who lived 2,000 years before I came on the scene, who lived in a very different cultural context. There is no other book I have this reaction to.
17. Two of our foster daughters' mother was in a coma and very near to death. I taught them to pray for the first times in their lives and we daily prayed for her recovery. She bounced back.
18. My son has an inner joy and an adaptability that we could never have instilled in him on our own. It is a gift from God that has sustained him through a lot of changes.
19. My parents moved to Southeast Asia as missionaries before my son learned to crawl. I prayed that he would somehow be able to bond with them and love them well even though the distance couldn't have been greater. They never spent a Christmas, Thanksgiving or birthday with us for the first 8 years of his life. As an 11 year old boy, he LIGHTS UP at the thought of spending time with them and loves them deeply as though they lived down the street.
20. I am rarely without a song in my heart.
These are a few of my faith-builders over the years. They are not yours. They aren't the bottom-line proof of my faith in God, but they are the icing on the cake.
Looking for more concrete answers to your questions about God:
1. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website - go here and click on "Questions."
2. Evidence That Demands A Verdict - a book by Josh McDowell
3. Give Me An Answer website - by Cliff Knechtle
Or - pick up a Bible - say a prayer telling God you want to find Him - seek out a Bible believing church to start attending - and see what happens:
"You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." - God. Jeremiah 29:13
This weekend, some friends took Tim and I to the Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival. It wasn't my first time hearing bluegrass music, but it was my first time at a bluegrass FESTIVAL. As I sip my coffee this morning and think back on the experience, I can't help but think the church (global and local) could learn a lot from the bluegrass music culture.
CHURCH, Listen up!
I hope everyone reading this gets a chance to go to a bluegrass music festival at some point, but more than that I hope that you get yourselves involved in a local church and be people who make the church more joy-filled and effective in its work.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
"You and I are in little (our sins excepted) what God is in large." - A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.
I am pondering this quote today. Genesis 1:27 tells us that we were made in God's image. With the exception of our sin nature, the stuff that makes us up is a minute version of the stuff that makes up God. That is worth a few moments of reflection, and could even change the way we view ourselves and others forever if pondered with the proper weight!
If you are single, you have probably been asked what you look for in a potential date/spouse. If you are married, chances are you've had a single friend ask you what they should look for in a mate. How do you answer? Our laundry list of desirable traits might read like this:
- a sense of humor
- good with children
- spiritually mature
- attractive (to you)
- a good communicator
The list could go on and on. Look back over the list for a moment. Is there any trait that does not apply to God? God embodies the most complete, perfect, holy version of every trait that is attractive to us in another human being. The qualities in others that draw us to them, are the very qualities of God; the qualities that God himself possesses in FULL MEASURE.
The challenge that comes with this knowledge is three fold:
1 - To view God accurately - not to withhold from him in our minds the very characteristics that we admire in others, not to downplay His perfection or His ability, not to make Him something that He is not in our thoughts - something that is on the same level as what we have observed here on earth. He is entirely other, beyond what we can fathom in His perfection.
2 - To view ourselves accurately - not to beat ourselves up for having emotions (our God experiences emotions), not to accept a lower standard when a higher one has been set by our Creator, not to see ourselves as greater than we are - no matter how much we excel in a given trait, God is greater still to the nth degree.
3 - To view others accurately - to admire their positive qualities without elevating them to the place of demi-god in our minds, to expect and hope for the best in others because we know they are made of "god-stuff," just as we are (even if they aren't demonstrating it for a season), to refrain from judging them for the qualities that are lesser developed in them than in ourselves - to quote a former Sunday School teacher of mine: "Comparing my vertical leap with my neighbor's is pretty foolish if the moon is the goal." No one can can jump to the moon and the few inches that I may have over my neighbor in my vertical leap is a pretty ridiculous comparison when I consider the actual goal. (Thanks for the illustration, Doug Bridges, I've never forgotten it.)
The lyrics to this song say perfectly some of what I have just stumbled through trying to explain, I hope it blesses you and increases your scope of who our God is and how great He is:
To My 20 Year Old Self,
Hi. Do you have any idea how much potential you have? No, you don’t; I know because I was you 17 years ago. Let me enlighten you a bit from this side of 35, sweet girl. God has wired you uniquely, hand-crafted your personality, your talents, your intelligence, and your creativity for a purpose. Please, don’t get hung up on what that purpose is right now or how it will play out throughout your lifetime. Please don’t let it paralyze you. Please don’t lie awake at night fretting over whether or not to change your major or whether or not you’ll be able to get a job when you graduate or whether or not you’ll ever get married.
Stick with what your prayers and your gut are telling you for now, for today and trust God with the future. Concentrate on your character right now more than your path. “The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half,” (Dostoevsky). In the meantime, don’t pretend that you have got it all figured out, even if people expect you to. Yes, your future may very well include things like a successful career, marriage, motherhood, influence, ministry and more; but it may not look anything like what you imagine those things to be right now – and that is a good thing.
A successful career might be that position at the law office downtown or a low paying job that pays the rent and finds you doing something that you never knew you were made to do. Marriage might mean a white wedding dress followed by 50+ years with a godly man or perhaps remaining loyal to God and God alone for the rest of your days. Motherhood may include bringing up sons and daughters who come into your life through childbirth or adoption, or it could look more like mentoring girls and boys younger than you or foster-parenting for a season. Influence may involve writing that book that everyone reads and raves about or it could be displayed more quietly as you devote time and attention to the handful of special people God puts under your care. Ministry may involve travel and large crowds and the salvation of many, or it may be quietly holding the hands of those who no one else notices and introducing them to a Savior you’ll never be sure this side of heaven if they completely accept.
Whatever lies ahead for you, rest assured, IT IS GOOD. It is so good, that you can’t imagine something better, no matter how hard you try. You can’t make it better by worrying about it now either, so don’t bother. God is the one who makes it good and His work in your life isn’t dependent on your planning or fretting or manipulating your situation. It is only dependent on your obedience. Walk with Him. Trust Him. He knows the way.
“’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 a hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV. Believe Him that this is true, even when things are hard.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 ESV. Trust that He knows your heart better than you know it yourself.
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105 KJV. Learn to love God through relying on His word, the Bible. It is relevant and it is breathtaking.
“The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” Proverbs 20:24 NLT. Don’t be afraid to ask God “Why?” when you don’t understand the detours, but be willing to accept and keep moving forward when he answers with “I’m not going to tell you right now.”
Above all, commit to laying all of your plans and hopes and dreams at His feet on a regular basis. Some of them He may one day give back to you, wrapped in his beautiful grace. Others he will discard, because of His infinite mercy, replacing them with something that He desires you to have even more. Either way, you will have your treasure – a life of meaning and purpose, and a relationship with the God who planned it that way from the beginning.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!