Thursday, October 31, 2013

Developing Real Faith

I don’t think there was ever a time that I didn’t “believe” in the existence of God, but it got me wondering about the big difference between believing and faith.  Are human beings born with the knowledge of him, or is it acquired along the way?  In my case the most logical explanation was that my parents had planted the deity seed in my head. As a child I never ran into resistance from atheists, and the society we lived in, and the church we attended sparingly watered the seed.  That said, the roots of my little  plant didn’t go very deep. I didn’t really “believe” in God as much as casually accepting him. Everyone around me seemed to feel pretty much the same way, so I never pursued it any further. I placed him on a shelf, like a dusty, old, broken  clock.

So then, what causes one to leave that ho hum state, and enter into real faith?   I can‘t prove it, but I think that God has created a built-in curiosity about him in every human being.  At some point that curiosity kicks in and causes us to seek out information on the Him. You can’t learn Spanish by osmosis, and you can’t truly believe in God without learning all you can about him.  Then, like any good student, ask questions, hard ones, put him to the test, don’t just passively accept.  You need to be certain of what you believe in, and why.  God will then ask you what your decision is on Him.  Is he real, dependable and worthy of our faith or not.  There are only 2 answers.  How sure are you of your faith?  What is it based on, and what is it made of?  He offers all that we need to develop that faith in his word, but the decision to believe is ours alone. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17. Get into the Word, and develop real faith!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Support Team

While visiting a friend in the hospital, recently, our conversation was interrupted by three women who entered the room.  One pushed a blood pressure, temperature, etc. monitor cart, while the others clutched clipboards and pens. Cheerily they introduced themselves as the patient’s “Support Team“.  They went on to say that it was their daily job to check in on each patient. The purpose of their visit wasn’t completely social, instead they asked questions like: Are the medications controlling your pain level? Is the food to your liking?  Can we do anything to make your stay more comfortable? Etc. In other words they wanted to make sure nothing was lacking in the care my friend was receiving, and if it was, they were there to fix it.  I joked that I’d like to be visited by this group on a daily basis too. Who would turn down the opportunity to have their needs met, and never suffer lack?  

The fact is when you fully trust in God, this same kind of support team becomes available to us.  Now don‘t think that he‘s some kind of genie in a lamp, who appears in a puff of smoke ready to grant our every wish. Nice as that may seem, being lack-free is not a matter of having all that we “want“. We all know that what we want, and what we need are two different things.  For instance, I may want a big ole Snicker bar, but my body needs fresh fruit. God offers us a "super hero" support team in the form of the Trinity, who is there to bolster up our areas of lack.  Those missing parts may be physical, emotional, or even financial.  Most of all he wants us to be full of the spiritual gifts, the intangible things that only he can supply.  These precious gifts include prophecy, knowledge, faith, healing and the ability to give good advice to name just a few.

Paul knew that the church needed to be encouraged by God‘s support team when he wrote these words, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus, who will sustain you to the end…” 1 Corinthians 1:4-7. So the next time you need something, call in the Team, remember he also tells us “You do not have because you do not ask God.” James 4:2.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Famous Last Words

My husband loves the western channel.  Anything with cowboys in it holds his rapt attention.  I will watch for awhile, or at least until one of the characters utters his last words.  There he lies, in the dust and rocks, his faithful horse by his side.  Someone gently lifts his head, and holds a canteen to his parched lips. He sputters and falters with the words as they painfully they come out revealing where the gold is buried, or the location of the bad guy’s hideout, something very important…life-changing even!

 After Jesus’ resurrection, he lived another 40 days with the disciples.  You can bet those were important words, but when he was about to ascend to his father, those last words were precious.  Do you know what they were?  The disciples wanted to know when he was coming back to kick some Roman butt, and make things right.  Jesus told them “"It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  Yes, his last words empower us to act.  So pull on your boots pardners, there‘s gold in them thar words!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Becoming Doubt-Free

Does the definitive statement about Christianity, the one reply that will convince every questioning, lost soul of the reality of God, exist?   Yes. Now, let me qualify that answer by saying it will be a different statement for each individual.  Each of us has his/her own queries, misconceptions, and doubts, about God, some “thing” that keeps us from a true relationship with him.

 The definitive story on doubting can be found in John 20.  Travel back with me to that first Sunday, seven long days since Jesus’ resurrection.  “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 19. The disciples, hiding behind heavy doors of fear, were amazed when Jesus appeared in their midst quickly replacing doubt with his perfect peace.

 The following week, Thomas, who had been absent from that first Sunday service, (ever wonder why?) was present.  All week he’d been bombarded with the other’s first person accounts of having “seen the Lord”, and he was tired of it.  In his frustration he blurted out, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” “I will never believe“, have sadder words ever been uttered, and by a “believer”?  Fast forward 8 days and we find the refreshed 10, minus one naysayer, assembled.  “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  26-28. This scripture proves to me that Jesus not only doesn’t want us to disbelieve, but he wants us to be completely doubt-free. Jesus didn’t have to ask what was bugging Thomas, he knew it and cut right to the chase.

 What obstacle is keeping you from total belief?  Don’t be afraid to voice it, he knows already, but wants to hear it from you.  The last part of this tale is my favorite, “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”  Jesus had proved himself to Thomas and all doubt was dispelled, as he fell on his knees in worship.  This promise was not just for Tom, but read that one line again, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed“…that’s all of us!!  For Thomas, seeing was believing, for you it may be something else, but don’t live in doubt another day!!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Victory Over Tragedy

The seemingly tragic story of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, actually has an amazing conclusion. How can a death by stoning be amazing, you might well ask.  Well, of course the execution itself was horrific, but what I’m talking about is the good that God ultimately brought out of it. To refresh your memory, let’s look back on the story of Stephen.  

The church was growing, and as it did there were those in opposition to the new movement.  In an attempt to quash the group’s enthusiasm, devote Jews trumped up false charges of blasphemy against poor Steve. In his Holy Spirit-empowered rebuttal, (re-read Acts 7 for the details), Stephen was able to clearly and passionately present the gospel message to the assembled congregation.  While there was no altar call that day, and it angered the majority of those in attendance, the scripture tells us that the onlookers agreed that his face was like that of an angel, and he died with the name of Jesus on his lips.  “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:59-60. 

It doesn’t mention if anyone was saved that day, but I’ll bet that many witnesses were deeply, and permanently affected.  We also find out the Saul, who would later become Paul, was standing there giving his approval.  Again, not a good thing, and it goes on to say, in Acts 8, that a great persecution broke out against the church scattering the believers.  Humanly, it’s difficult to see anything good in this saga, but that’s not how God saw it.  What we see as a tragedy, God used to expand his Kingdom.  I believe Stephen knew his role in the unfolding story, and fearlessly, peacefully gave his life for the cause.  If it weren’t for all these events occurring, the church might have lapsed into complacency, but instead it became stronger, “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” With power I might add!  All of us can relate to times of suffering, heartache or confusion, unaware, at the time, of the amazing results that God would bring out of them.  If you’re faced with something today, get your eyes off the obvious, and ask God to show you his perfect plan. He will. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fearfully and Wonderfully MADE!!

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14.  I doubt King David ever took a course in genetics or biology, but he knew full well who was responsible for his marvelous body, not his parents, not evolution, but God alone.  Through the centuries before and since David’s eloquent words of worship were written, godly and heathen men alike have pondered the complexity and perfection of the human form.

 I’ve been reading, A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson, and in the beginning of the book he talks about this subject.  Even though his perspective is more scientific than Christian, it’s interesting to consider.  He wants the reader to realize just how unique they are by visualizing the body in a disassembled state, a dusty pile of protons.  If you’re not too sure about the size of a proton, here’s how he explains it. “A proton is an infinitesimal part of an atom, which is itself of course an insubstantial thing. Protons are so small that a little dib of ink like the dot on this I can hold something in the region of 500,000,000,000 of them, rather more than the number of seconds contained in half a million years. So protons are exceedingly microscopic, to say the very least.” He goes on to say how amazing it is that when all these incredibly minute particles unite they form something, in this case, a human body.

What he doesn’t say, and what I find much more interesting is, what spark gives animation to this lowly pillar of protons?  Stay with me, if all the protons that go into making the cells of the heart,  a kidney or the brain come together, what is it that causes said organ to start operating in it’s own unique way, and then begin interacting with the rest of the organs without losing their own identity and function. While I agree with science that we are all, in the most basic sense, conglomerations of matter, what science fails to explain is what makes this lifeless matter come to life?  I know there are lots of theories, and “explanations”, but none that satisfy my curiosity.  As I said once before, I don’t have enough information to be an atheist or a scientist, I suppose.  While there are many who will scoff,   God explains it clearly back in Genesis 2:7, “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” He formed us from the matter he had created, and then breathed  into that dusty pile of protons the spark of life! David summed it up so well, we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully MADE, not by-products of a cosmic explosion.  I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel very special indeed!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Surrendering All

While singing the old hymn, I Surrender All, it got me ruminating on the word surrender. Normally the picture we conjure up is one of a vanquished army or individual waving a white flag, turning themselves over to the powerful victor.  In fact, one of the definitions is: to yield (something) to the possession or power of another, and not always willingly I might add.  “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” Matthew 16:24-27.

 Jesus knew that  it would be tough for his disciples, and for us, to lay down their lives. Think back, for a moment, to your own surrender story, if you have one.  It probably didn’t come easily, because the things of this world have such a strong pull on us. Now add to that the fact that the enemy constantly taunts us with how much we’ll be missing out on, and the battle ensues. But, when we allow God’s truth to sink into our hearts, the process happens joyfully.  Remember, surrender is not defeat, it is a Win-Win proposition in all respects.

All to Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live.
I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Be Fruitful, Not Nutty

God wants to see spiritual fruit, not religious nuts.  I love that statement, and it’s so true.  Many times we confuse what we think God requires of us, with what he wants for us.  Big difference.  He wants us to develop “fruit” as we stay connected to Him, the “Vine”… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Gal. 5:22-23  Instead of getting ourselves into “jams”, by doing religious-looking stuff,  check His word for what will make us “fruitful” in His Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pure Reflection

A silversmith knows that before he can craft the metal, he must first remove the dross, or impurities from it.  The silver is heated to a molten state, and as the dross raises to the top, it is skimmed off.  This is repeated until the smith can see his reflection in the liquid silver.  What an awesome analogy for our relationship with our “smith”.  God is carefully, and lovingly removing our dross, by turning up the heat of conviction, removing our “gunk”, until he can see His reflection in us. “Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith…” Proverbs 25:4

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fan into Flame

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:6-7.  Paul was speaking to his young friend and disciple, Timothy, when he uttered these encouraging words. As Christians we are called to be active, working team players within the body of Christ, not passive bench-warmers  However, if we are honest with ourselves, many would-be players are twiddling their thumbs on the sidelines.  

The dictionary defines passive as: Not reacting visibly to something that might be expected to produce manifestations of an emotion or feeling. 2.not participating readily or actively; inactive.  Not only are many Christians uninvolved, they are without passion, emotion and feeling for something that should be producing a noticeable difference in them.  

Take for example a Cardinal fan during this season, or throughout the baseball season for that matter, they are animated, pumped with adrenaline and proudly wearing red garb.  They are excited, and eager to tell the world how much they love their team.  Self-control and passivity do not apply to these folks, and it shouldn’t! When you are excited about something, you want to talk about it, heck you want to shout it to the world.  

So why has a big chunk of the church fallen asleep in the pews, and we don‘t hear a peep from them?  In my opinion there are two basic reasons. 1. The individual never really entered in to a personal with Christ, it was merely passed down to them like Grandma’s brooch. Or, 2. The have allowed the original flame of faith, the gift from God of our salvation, to die out.  Either way the results are passive believers, which in itself is an oxymoron…you can’t truly believe and be passive at the same time.

 I mentioned that being on an extended vacation had left my fire in desperate need of stoking.  Thank God for reminding me, through Christian friends and teachers, to get my spiritual bellows out and start fanning.  Has your fire become a pile of smoldering ashes, or worse yet no fire at all?  Get off the bench, read your Bible, find and attend a study group, surround yourself with on-fire individuals, and watch as the dry logs become engulfed in flames! 


Thursday, October 10, 2013

My Everything

Experts say it takes us, on minimum, 3 weeks to really latch on to a positive behavior. Exercise, healthy eating, less TV watching, Bible reading, and the like, all fall into what I would call good habits. Why is it then that those same behaviors can be lost almost as quickly?  Sadly, I have to admit that in the 3 weeks, that I set aside for vacation, it is very easy for me to fall away from, many of my good choices, including my relationship with God.  The sights, smells, and experiences of the world have a way of wooing  me away from what is truly vital to my personal spiritual and physical well being.  Why is that?  It’s not that I don’t realize what’s happening, the problem lies in that fact that I allow it to occur.  I rationalize that I’ll get back into “it” when I return, after all I’m on vacation.  Sure I can pick up my exercise regime, albeit with sore muscles, but can or should we really take a hiatus from our relationship with God?  I’m here to tell you it’s not a good idea.  The world is a fabulous place, and as a photographer I find myself in paradise.  On occasion I’d drop God a quick wish you were here-type postcard once in a while, but in general my attitude was out of sight out of mind, when it should have been absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Now that I’m back, I’m trying to regain my strength, and I know that my Father is there to help me get back in the groove.  In his patient and loving way he keeps calling to me to restore our relationship.  Years ago I made a commitment to love and serve him, and I don’t want to ever break that agreement.  While in London I saw a fence with hundreds of padlocks attached.  Some had messages engraved or scrawled on them, but  the lesson I took from them lay in the their permanent attachment to that fence. That common thread told the world that they weren’t coming off.  This one in particular appealed to me, “You are my everything”. While it was probably meant for a lover, I claimed it as my own recommitment to God.  I may get rusty, and not so pretty, but God and I are locked together for the long haul…it’s good to be back!!