Faith: What is it and How do I Obtain it?

I’ve ridden this spaceship called earth for quite a few rotations around the sun. (How did you like that colorful tactic for not telling you how old I am?) In that time, I’ve experienced great loss, family health crises, divorce, natural consequences of sinful choices and many other things we humans experience in a lifetime. At this point, there are some things I know beyond a shadow of a doubt: God is who he says he is, he will do what His Word says he will do, he loves me with an unconditional love, he created me and wants his very best for me (always!), and he is in control of this universe he created.

This faith that I have in God gives me peace in the midst of trials and confidence that everything that happens to me and to my loved ones will be used by God to make us more like him. Nothing anyone can say or do would make me believe that God is anything but good. Nothing that happens could make me believe that God has turned his back on me. And nothing I could read or hear would make me doubt that God is the creator of the universe or the intelligent designer of yours truly. I believe God’s Word from cover to cover and trust his plan for me. I have faith. The definition of faith is, “to give up, surrender, or commit”. When we come to Christ, we give up our own desires, surrender to his leadership and call, and commit to live our lives in honor of him.

When you and I come to Christ it is only by God’s gift of faith that we do it. We cannot work our way to God through good deeds or worldly success. Ephesians 2:8-9 says this:”For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”It is only by God’s grace that we can come to him in faith. How does God give us this faith? Well, saving faith comes packaged in the gospel message—the message of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice he made for us. Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” When the gospel message goes out and people respond in repentance, turning to God, they are receiving the gift of faith and are then regenerated and given eternal life. And we cannot please God without faith and belief in him. Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.”

One of the outstanding verses on faith is Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The word, substance, is the key. In the Greek it is the word, hupostasis, which means the opposite of hypothesis or theory! Faith is substance. It is reality—and that reality is the Word of God. One person put it like this: Faith enables the believer to treat the future as present and the invisible as seen.

You may be saying, “I know someone who seems to have so much faith and never seems to get rattled by life’s difficulties. I would love to have faith like that.” Well, the good news is, our faith can and does grow as we go through life. God tests our faith and as we pass the tests, our faith grows.(James 1:3) We can also pray that our faith would increase. (Luke 17:5, Luke 11:9-12) The Bible says that God continually works in us to sanctify us, making us more like him. Hebrews 12:2 calls Jesus “the author and finisher (or perfector) of our faith”

Just like with other godly traits that God builds and refines in us once we come to him, we can cooperate with him as he ripens and strengthens our faith. We do this by regularly spending time in the Word, praying to God (when God answers our prayers it strengthens our faith), and spending time in community with other believers (strong faith can be catchy!).

In addition, I believe that the spiritual incubator of a (truly) Christian home can do a lot to instill and solidify strong faith in the children raised there. I believe that God blesses godly parents who pass on their faith and who model unwavering trust in God. I am blessed to have been raised in such a home.

If you have never accepted God’s free gift of eternal life, do so today. By faith, believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that he died to pay your sin debt and rose again to prepare a place for you in heaven. Commit to turn away from your old life and towards Jesus. Give up trying to work your way to heaven. Instead, come to Jesus by faith…and witness the fruit of a life lived for him.

You, too, can have faith—an extraordinary, unshakable, confidence in God’s promises, power, and presence. All you have to do is ask.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7

Posted in Christianity, finding peace, purpose, Salvation, Spiritual Encouragement, Theology | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Devotion to God: What Does it Look Like?

Back in the 1970’s, Olivia Newton John sang a song called, “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. It was a song about the depths of devotion someone had for their love interest, even after their love had been spurned. Most of you are singing it in your head right now—it’s quite a catchy tune! Well, the lyrics of that song got me thinking about that word: devotion. It’s a word with a very deep and powerful meaning. It’s defined as: a strong love or loyalty to a person or cause.

As believers we are called to be devoted to the person and cause of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” In Mark 12:30, the word strength is added to this command. These profound words, heart, mind, soul, and strength, represent everything we are—a picture of complete devotion. And in the case of a believer’s devotion to Christ, this is not hopeless but hope-full devotion. Our devotion to Christ culminates in the hope of an eternity with Him!

In this life there are many things that vie for our attention and devotion: our job, our reputation, our church, our hobbies, our spouse, our children, etc. All of these things are a part of life, to be sure, but they can also distract us from what (who) should be our primary focus and first love, Jesus Christ.

What does it mean, practically, to be devoted to Christ? Perhaps it means sitting in your quiet place with your Bible open 18 hours a day ruminating on scripture? Or maybe it means being up at the church every time the call is put out for help in some area—tirelessly serving on committees and teaching Bible classes? No, in fact, much of the evidence of devotion to Christ is not even visible to others. Some of the most devoted Christians I know are: behind the scenes prayer warriors, generous (and anonymous) givers to missions and ministries, people who spend time in the Word and in prayer privately crying out to God on behalf of others. Devotion to God is not something that can be measured by the number of hours we volunteer at the local homeless shelter nor the length of our Sunday School attendance pin. (OK, I guess I showed my age there…no such thing as a Sunday School pin anymore or even the term Sunday School!)

The point is: Devotion to God involves more than service hours, singing in the choir, or church attendance. Devotion is measured by our heart attitudes, our motives, our thoughts, our desire to spend time in His Word where we can hear from and commune with Him, expressing our love and adoration. It is measured by the sacrifices we are willing to make of our time, effort, money and comfort—with a joyful heart, expecting nothing in return. Devotion to God is reflected in how we treat our family and friends on a day to day basis. It is measured by how tightly we hold onto the things of this world—a telltale sign of a lack of total devotion to God. Devotion to God means loyalty to him and to His cause. We are not to be blown this way and that by “every wind of doctrine” letting the world determine what is right and true, rather, we stand on the Word of God and let it be the standard to which we rally. That is devotion.

God, and only God, knows if you are truly devoted to Him. Although, devotion to God often shows itself in a believer’s countenance—devoted followers are often more peaceful, contented, effective, consistent (not sin-free, of course).

Step One (in being more devoted to Christ) is spending time in His Word—real quality time. Reduce distractions. Start with prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate His Word and reveal what God is trying to say to you. Praise and thank Him for who he is. Pray that God would give you a new level of devotion to Him. Don’t be surprised if he leads you to let go of some of the things—even good things—that are getting in the way of total devotion to Him. Be prepared to make some changes in the people, places, and things that are in your life.

God loves you and wants your total devotion—he wants all of you. This life is only a blip in time. I have a magnet on my fridge that says, “This life will soon be passed. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” Keep that in mind this week as you reevaluate your level of devotion to the one who died for you, ensuring an eternity in the glorious presence of God.

Posted in Christianity, Church Life, Spiritual Encouragement, Thankfulness | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Recognizing and Effectively Utilizing a Hidden Asset in the Church

Exhausted nursery workers, smocks spattered with dried formula and spit-up; elderly children’s Sunday school teachers ready to retire but alas, there’s no replacement in sight; overextended pastor’s wives heading up the understaffed women’s ministry committee; frazzled kitchen workers, needing many more hands to prepare food for the flock—any of that sound familiar?

It should. Surely you’ve noticed that there never seem to be enough volunteers to fully staff the church on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights? Just look in the bulletin or take a gander at the fancy screen mounted up front—you’re likely to see announcements for several positions or areas of need. Better yet, keep your eye out for the disheveled children’s minister or wide-eyed nursery manager darting swiftly through the aisles drumming up last minute workers. It’s a scene replayed weekly in most churches in America.

In fact, the latest statistics show that around 20% of church members do the bulk of the work within the local church. The purpose of this post is not to answer the question of why this is the case but instead, to point churches to a quiet, covert, underutilized group of people who may actually help with this urgent and persistent situation.

Tell me more, you say? What am I missing?  Well, you’re forgetting the most underutilized group in society at large—the introverts!

You’re missing them because: They will not show up for a volunteer tryout of the praise team—even though they may have a lovely voice. They will not hunt down the head of the nursery department to tell them they would love to serve. They would never knock on the pastor’s door to let him know they have extensive experience in business and would, therefore, be an asset to the finance or personnel committee.

Introverts are reluctant to put themselves out there. They often have the skills and confidence for the job at hand. They are not necessarily shy and can actually be comfortable in front of a crowd. They are often excellent leaders/speakers. A trait shared by many, if not most, introverts is humility. Therefore, seeking out a position—even though they know it’s in their wheelhouse—smacks of pride and self-promotion. That’s something that many introverts just can’t get past. 

Another issue for introverts is that extroverts are everywhere at church— busily working, leading, serving, overextending. An introvert would never push them aside. In fact, the leadership of your church loves extroverts for their enthusiasm, visibility, and willingness to serve. ( We’ll get Susie to do it, she never says ‘no’) Remember the old saying, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”? Well, your church leadership loves that saying. After all, it’s hard and time consuming to search out the introverts quietly watching from the bushes. 

How do you recognize the introverts in your church? Introverts can definitely be very faithful attenders. They love the church and treasure their deep relationships with friends and fellow Life Group members. They are often the quieter ones at a church fellowship, perhaps in a deep conversation with one or two other people, or maybe they are sitting by themselves in the church cafe, quietly drinking a cup of coffee.

When it comes to plugging introverts in at your church, think: informal counseling, committee work, kitchen help, teaching, choir opportunities, helping with ministry projects, ushering. There are introverts in your church who would love to serve in these areas and many more. Remember, however, introverts will not want to be overextended due to the fact that having time alone for quiet reflection is so important to them.

Your congregation is filled with gifted believers with willing hearts. It may just take some extra effort to find them and ask them to help. Never assume that your introverted members don’t want to help/lead/volunteer/teach. Many of them are at home thinking about how they would love to teach or to be on a particular committee. They are just waiting to be asked face-to-face or reached out to in an email or text. When extroverts are the only ones recruited to fill all the volunteer positions in the church, introverted people are robbed of the blessing of serving, and others are robbed of the joy of serving alongside these calming, caring, talented people.

Here’s one caveat: Unfortunately, a common trait of introverts is that they often let calls go through to voicemail (!), preferring to prepare themselves mentally for the issue at hand instead of giving an off the cuff response. But, hopefully, church leadership will be persistent and patient with the introverted sheep in their diverse flock and begin to mine this hidden jewel of eager volunteers. 

 

 

 

Posted in Christianity, Church Life, Spiritual Encouragement | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How Should Believers Respond When the World Has Turned Upside Down?

Few would argue that our country is in for a wild ride over the next few years. Laws will change. The educational climate will change. Daily living will change. Culture will change. America, itself will change in ways we never thought possible. In fact, life as we know it, will probably never be the same.

How should we, as believers, respond to this unprecedented upheaval of traditional values and beloved American freedom?

Well, this one thing, I know: God and His Word will never change!

God’s Word still gives us direction for life. It still holds a treasure trove of wisdom and guidance for life’s difficult choices and challenging seasons.

My mission, as a believer, is still the same. Here is a verse that I have claimed as my life verse for many years:

“He has shown thee, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of thee? To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” Micah 6:8

That mandate hasn’t changed. It hasn’t changed for you, and it hasn’t changed for me.

We are still called to treat others justly— our neighbors, our friends, even our enemies. When the world is unjust, we are to act justly.

We are still called to show mercy to others in dire circumstances—and in this time of pandemic and political upheaval there are many— those who have lost their jobs or are experiencing desperate illness. There are people who are emotionally distraught due to new stresses or strained relationships. All of these situations call for mercy—mercy with hands and feet!

We are still called to walk in humility and love knowing that we are sinners—lost forever were it not for the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Our greatest weapons against satan’s tactics in the world are humility, love, and prayer rather than arrogant and hateful discourse. We can disagree. We can call and email senators and representatives. We can (and should) vote! We can even engage in political discussion to a certain point, as long as the atmosphere remains a loving and respectful one and humility is the attitude of our hearts.

But prayer is truly our greatest weapon in this world—an underrated and underutilized tool for change. Believers should be on their knees praying for our country and its leaders daily.

“The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

“Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” 1 John 5:14-15

“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16

And we can rest in the fact that God is still in control! He is still on His throne overseeing and sustaining this world that he created. We will absolutely not understand everything that is happening in our world in these challenging days. But God knows. He tells us in His Word:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

And, as Moses said to Joshua as he was preparing him to lead the Israelites into the promised land:

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8

Fellow believers, there is no need to fear as we face these unprecedented changes and assaults on Christian liberty that will most assuredly happen in the coming days. We can have inner peace and confidence that God is with us. As Jesus was preparing His disciples for His impending death He reminded them not to be afraid:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

So how should we, as believers, respond to the the troubling, life-altering events in our world?

Pray! Love! Help!

Take this opportunity to be the image of Christ to a lost and hurting world.

 

Posted in Christianity, Covid-19, finding peace, Spiritual Encouragement | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Importance of Quiet Time, Prayer and Bible Reading in the Life of a Believer

Where do you go when you need help, solace, or wisdom? What about when you have overwhelming feelings of despair, loneliness, or anxiety? Many of us had feelings like these as an unprecedented worldwide pandemic inserted itself into our lives this past year. When faced with difficult feelings some turn to exercise or entertainment, some throw themselves into their work, or even seek counseling (which is, of course, sometimes necessary for deeper issues). And some of us just stuff our feelings inside an already over-cluttered psyche. There is, however, a much better solution for difficult feelings. Did you know that the God of the universe is there for you to turn to for wisdom and comfort? He’s there at any time of the day or night—no further than a whispered prayer or a broken cry for help. We can call on God anywhere—our car, our kitchen, a mountaintop or a back alley–no question about it. But, for believers, it’s also important to set aside (prioritize) a specific time in our day to seek God.

Perhaps you hadn’t really thought about the fact that it’s possible to personally commune with God. In fact, spending time with God is a crucial discipline of the Christian life. We all need to find time in our day to sit in a quiet place, without distraction, seeking help and wisdom from the Lord. You see, just as you must plan to spend time with a friend in order to deepen the relationship, so must you also plan to spend time with the Lord to grow in relationship with Him!

My “quiet place” is at my little antique desk in our bedroom, facing our wooded back yard. I am, in fact, sitting at my desk right now as it is also the place where I write. My husband is at work and our children are grown and out of the house for the most part so finding quiet at our house is not hard. I know it can be a challenge for many of you out there who are in the throes of child-rearing or who work long hours outside the home, but if you can find a creative way to work it into your daily routine, it will bring a new dimension to your life and improve your spiritual and emotional well-being beyond measure.

What exactly are the components of a quiet time? Well, in my case, I begin by pouring out my heart to the Lord with praise and thanksgiving (even during this pandemic I have found numerous things for which to praise and thank Him!). I then ask for forgiveness of sins that I know I have committed and I seek help for those nagging sins that continue to plague me. Then, I simply talk to the Lord about my life. I pray for each member of my family specifically. I always pray that my young adult children, although they are all believers at this point, will develop a deep and abiding relationship with the Lord and continue to walk in His ways. I pray that the Lord will protect them from believing the humanistic and godless ideals of our day and that they will understand the importance of raising their children to love the Lord and His church. Next, I lift up other people on my prayer list or those who God has brought to mind, who need healing or comfort. In my quiet place I can pour out all of my fears, doubts and concerns with no worry of condemnation or judgement. God knows my heart and he knows how to calm and heal it. I also ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Word as I read and study it during my quiet time. I usually have a devotional book of some kind that I am reading so I read the entry and scripture for the day. Then I will open my Bible and read from a particular book. I am currently studying Genesis with some other women in a Bible study so that is where I read today.

An important part of communing with the Lord is listening. No, don’t expect to hear the Lord speak to you in an audible voice, but do expect that he will speak to you in your spirit— giving comfort, wisdom and sometimes, conviction! You will hear him loud and clear! I know I have.

If you are new to having a quiet time and don’t know where to start reading, pick one of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. You will get a beautiful telling of the life of Jesus and will learn about the incredible sacrifice he made for us. Or, you could start at the beginning and try to read the Bible through in a year! Also, maybe ask a pastor or Christian friend for a recommendation of a good devotional to use as a guide.

One more thing before I close: I love to listen to worship music while I clean or prepare dinner, and there are some wonderful, moving, uplifting worship songs out there. Listening to music can be a part of your quiet time but, always leave a block of actual quiet time so you can focus on hearing from God and can really tune-in to what you are reading in the Word.

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me.” Proverbs 8:17 (NKJV)

“Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:3-5

“But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6

“And you will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

“The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

“O God, you are my God; Early will I seek you; My soul thirsts for you; My flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1

Posted in Spiritual Encouragement | Leave a comment