Give Me Faith

“I need You to soften my heart and break me apart
I need You to open my eyes, to see that You're shaping my life
All I am, I surrender

Give me faith to trust what You say,
That You're good and Your love is great
I'm broken inside, I give You my life

I may be weak but Your Spirit's strong in me
My flesh may fail, but my God You never will”

           (Give Me Faith - Elevation Worship)

I know I usually open my posts with a Scripture, but this song has been resounding loudly in my soul all day long. My heart has been overwhelmed with just about every type of emotion over the last two weeks, and the chorus of this song is a prayer I just can’t seem to get away from: “give me faith.”

As someone who devotes much of my time to various forms of ministry and trying to convince others of the love and goodness of God, it feels awkward to admit that I’ve had to continually pray for Divine reminders of these things. After all, they’re two of the most basics aspects of Christianity. Yet I think it’s because they are in fact so fundamental that Satan makes a special effort to convince us that God is either impressed by our strength or ashamed of our weakness. When we don’t fully believe that God’s love is unconditional and that His grace is free, we inevitably exhaust ourselves trying to earn what we so desperately need.

It’s true that faith and doubt are complete opposites by definition, but I think they often share close quarters in the secret places of our hearts. Even Peter, who had enough faith to step out of a boat onto raging waters with Christ, was overwhelmed by doubt and fear just seconds later and began to sink (Matt. 14:30-31). It’s as if the disappointment we feel every time the love of the world fails keeps us from ever fully trusting in a love that cannot fail.

But God isn’t the earthly father that turned his back on you; He’s your heavenly Father Who imparts “the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Rom. 8:15) He isn’t a fair-weather friend who doesn’t have time for your problems; He’s “a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Prov. 18:24) Your boss may capitalize on every opportunity to criticize your mistakes, but the strength of Christ is perfected in weakness and depravity (2 Cor. 12:9-10). He doesn’t hold your humanity against you; He delights in you as His child and “will joy over thee with singing.” (Zeph. 3:17)

You don’t have to make God aware of your fears. He already knows what troubles your mind and burdens your heart. Pray for faith to believe that you really are the object of the greatest love that has ever existed, and that you be made “confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)

 

Grace – The Riches of His Goodness

Untitled-1“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
(Romans 3:24)

I'm someone who generally tries very hard to think as logically and as rationally as possible. Even though I was taught to believe the Bible since I was very young, my commitment to God is based on a personal certainty that Christianity just makes sense. For example…

  • My conscience confirms that sin is wrong; the Bible defines sin and its consequences (1 John 3:4; Rev. 20:15).

  • The beauty of nature points to a divine Maker Who is described in Isaiah 40:28 as "the Creator of the ends of the earth."

  • Thousands of Biblical prophecies have been irrefutably fulfilled in exact detail, and many last-days prophecies are continuing to unfold.*

Despite what anybody says, you don’t have to commit intellectual suicide to become a Christian. In fact, to fully know the truth is impossible without becoming personally acquainted with Jesus, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6)

Of course there are some aspects of the Gospel that no human mind can fully comprehend. The underlying principles of grace and unconditional love defy human logic altogether – especially when you consider that we are offered so much more than salvation from hell. The Son of God Himself stands at the door of our hearts, offering a relationship that will radically transform every moment of the rest of our lives (Rev. 3:20).

If this doesn’t astound you, consider Paul’s analysis of grace in 2 Corinthians 8:9,

“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He
became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.”

Even though God’s grace cannot possibly be matched by human generosity, imagine passing a stereotypical homeless person on the street who asks you for money. You could brush him off like most people, or give him $10 and feel proud of yourself for the rest of the day. Would you even consider withdrawing every penny from your bank account and handing over your life savings? Would you volunteer to take his place sleeping under the bridge and sign over the title to your house? Hypothetically speaking, would you trade your good health for tuberculosis and frostbite?

Probably not – and yet that’s only an imperfect picture of the grace of God. According to Isaiah 53, He alone “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (Vs. 4) When we had “turned every one unto his own way”, the Father “laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Vs. 6) Our redemption was fashioned through the gruesome crucifixion and marvelous resurrection of Him “Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

No matter how hard I try, I can’t make sense of the grace of God. It goes completely against the grain of human/Adamic nature that mixes ulterior motives of selfishness and pride with nearly everything we do. But even though it may not seem logical, God’s grace is a very real extension of His immeasurable love for humanity. It’s absolutely undeserved and yet completely free.

*http://www.reasons.org/articles/articles/fulfilled-prophecy-evidence-for-the-reliability-of-the-bible

Remembering Redemption

"He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt
cast all their sins into the depths of the sea."
(Micah 7:19)

As Christians, we often speak of God's "sea of forgetfulness." We rejoice in the grace and forgiveness of God, and for very good reason. Aside from the fact that He "hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities", we can take comfort in knowing that the Master of creation is on our side and counts us as beloved children He has "bought with a price." (Ps. 103:10; Rom. 8:31; 1 Cor. 7:23)

Simply put, our redemption is an invaluable gift and one that we should keep in constant view. Our attitudes and actions should be influenced above all else by the realization that we are among "they which are written in the Lamb's book of life." (Rev. 21:27)

But equally as important as recognizing who you are in Christ is remembering who you were before Christ. Let's take a look at Paul's assessment of our spiritual state before salvation:

"And you...were dead in trespasses and sins."
(Ephesians 2:1)

Contrary to common illustrations that depict man as drowning or dying in sin, the reality is that we were already dead, buried in the grave of wickedness. The thief had stolen, killed and destroyed, leaving us spiritually lifeless and morally corrupt (John 10:10). Our tombstone was engraved with the ominous epitaph: "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 8:12) As Paul continued in verse 12, we were "without Christ...having no hope, and without God in the world."

To say we needed help would be a serious understatement; we needed miracle, and a miracle is exactly what we got:

  • We were dead, “but God, who is rich in mercy…hath quickened us together with Christ.” (Eph. 2:4-5)

  • We were “children of wrath” who are now called “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:3; Gal. 3:26)

  • Our “unclean lips” have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Isa. 6:5; Ps. 34:8).

True life is found only in knowing Christ (John. 17:3). If you’ve accepted God’s gift of salvation and eternal life, never forget where you came from or the price that was paid for your soul (Rom. 6:23). Instead, take a moment today and “look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.” (Isa. 51:1) It may be God has brought you further than you think.

Blogging Bible Bits

Capture

If you’re reading this, then chances are you already know that writing has been a part of my life for many years now. And despite the fact that I’ve not been especially active in the blogosphere over the last 12 months (sorry!), I've often felt that my ministry would involve a commitment to writing on a regular basis.

Another aspect of my life you may or may not be familiar with is that I'm a firm believer in the importance of Scripture memorization. Scripture Memory Fellowship, a ministry that has been instrumental in my own spiritual life over the years, is one of few organizations dedicated solely to the practice and principle of memorizing Scripture, and I've been honored by an invitation to serve as a weekly contributor to their brand new website which debuted today: www.scripturememory.com.

In case you're unfamiliar with the ministry of SMF, our goal is a simple one: to get God's Word into people's hearts systematically. We have a variety of resources available, including memory books which organize verses by topic, and audio CD's with whole chapters set to music. My blog posts will point to these resources when appropriate, as well as highlight other methods of Scripture memorization I have found to be effective.

To be clear, this does not mean I’m discontinuing my posts here. In fact, as I return to writing on a regular basis one of my goals is to publish more devotional materials right here at A Look at Life from Deerstand. I’m simply sharing this news in hopes that you'll take a few minutes to look around the new site and send me any feedback or questions you may have. I'd also be interested in knowing what you'd like to see written about on the blog.

Please check back often and, as always, keep in touch!

NOTE: If you’d like to purchase any Scripture memory tools from the website, be sure to use the coupon code “welcome” during your checkout for 20% off through 11/30/14.

No More Pretending

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
-James 5:16

Our culture is one that glamorizes perfection. If you're not sure what I mean, just turn on your T.V. or take a trip to the mall. Commercials tell us we're incomplete without the latest and greatest gadgets. Photoshopped supermodels tell us what we should wear. The car that just passed you on the highway was newer than yours. In some way or another, we are confronted on a daily basis by the lie that our shortcomings are unacceptable.

But the truth of the Gospel is that God sees our shortcomings as opportunities to lavish us with His grace. Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10,

"And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

"Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."

Take a moment to reread these verses and fully grasp what Paul is trying to teach us here. He's saying our weakness is not only acceptable, but it is actually a glorious thing when placed in the hands of our loving Savior. We don't have to have everything together emotionally, financially, or even spiritually - which is a good thing for people like me. Instead, Paul insists that our inadequacies can actually bring glory to God when we allow the power of Christ to “rest upon us”. This means abandoning our own tendency to "just try harder" and allowing the strength and grace of Jesus to reign over every aspect of our lives. As in Paul’s case, this could mean learning to live with a “thorn in the flesh” that God chooses not to remove for reasons we may never understand (2 Cor. 12:7).

My experience over the last several months, however, has been that viewing my own weaknesses through the lens of grace is much easier said than done. Even though most Christians I know would agree with everything I've written so far, it seems that most believers, including myself, are obsessed with convincing everyone else they've got it all together. We try to look perfect every Sunday morning and play the part of a Type A Christian, while on the inside a majority of us are battling doubt, fear, and/or depression on some level.

How do I know this? Because I’ve seen too many people who played the part of Super Saint simply give up without warning. Everyone thought they were happily married until he left. No one knew she was depressed until she attempted suicide. He never talked about his doubts until he quit going to church. People who played the part perfectly week after week were entrenched in the greatest spiritual battles of their lives, but were too afraid of condemnation to reach out for help.

Do you see the resemblance yet? While pop culture is telling us how many Instagram followers we should have, the church world is setting its own standards of spiritual excellence. If you need just one more friend on Facebook, you might be tempted to accept that request from someone you may or may not have passed in Walmart last week. If you lack a little faith in God, pretending to be stronger than you really are is usually easier than admitting your doubt, especially when you’re convinced no one else will relate to your struggle.

The only problem with this masquerade of perfection is that it’s just that: a masquerade. Somewhere along the line we tend to lose sight of our daily need for grace and then exhaust ourselves trying to impress God and everyone else with our faithfulness. We’ll request prayer for a sick relative or a lost family member, but dare not admit our own discouragement for fear of appearing weak. We try to measure up to standards of commitment set by other believers, not realizing that many of them are playing their own small role in this charade.

What's so wrong with this type of Christianity is that it effectively "sets aside the grace of God" (Gal. 2:21) in one's relationship with the Lord and his relationship with fellow believers. And a life devoid of grace is hardly worth living.

"Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?"
-Galatians 3:3

Despite my own propensity to overcomplicate things, I have arrived at the conclusion that the key to victory in almost every battle one can possibly face is simply to trust in God's love and grace, to lean on the “rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). Paul's point in Galatians 3:3 is very clear: grace is what saved us and grace is what keeps us going. To the extent that we trust in our own strength we are prone to failure, but when we cast our burdens upon the Lord it becomes evident that only He can sustain us (Psalm 55:22).

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