Faith/Feelings

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December 4

Friday, December 4th, 2020

There are a lot of emotions which people experience during the Christmas season.  There are the devastating ones like loss, loneliness, and lifelessness. They lead to a feeling of why bother? Why not just give up? There are also those emotions which carry a sense of settledness. Joy. Peace. Knowing you are loved.

One that is all too common is one called discouragement. How do I know that? I’m fighting it tooth and nail right now. This has been an unusual year to be sure. The virus lead to decreased attendance until we had to lockdown. Then when we could open again our attendance began to creep back up slowly. And I was okay with that. Then recently the spike has hit and we are back to people staying home. I know this is best, especially for those directly impacted by the threat to their health or those they love. But that still doesn’t ease the angst of one who loves people and feeds off seeing them.  So after an up, then a down, then an up, and now a down,  I have found myself fighting off being discouraged. For the most part I’ve been doing well. My hardest time? This past Sunday when it hit me again.

This all came back to me and I saw it again when I read Paul David Tripp’s Day 30 devotion from 40 Days of Faith. While his devotion focused on how God has each of my days written down even before I was born, it caused me to stop and think about my own heart. I had to remind myself that what happens (has, is and will) does not surprise Him in the slightest. He’s not wearing the suit of the guy with question marks all over Him.

On the contrary, He authored this all with a combination of wisdom and grace. That means He knows my disappointment and discouragement and comes alongside me with an arm around my shoulder and eyes full of understanding saying, “I’m here Bill. Don’t get discouraged. You are going to be surprised when this all shakes out. But you gotta trust Me.”

So I do the only thing I can do. I cry on His shoulder and lean into His chest and resign myself to His warm and steady heart beat.

November 27

Friday, November 27th, 2020

Have you ever noticed how sometimes life just doesn’t make any sense? Seriously, when you think you get it, life throws a curveball. When you think life is smoothing itself out, you hit a bunch of potholes and you find yourself trying to navigate around them. Or you are just enjoying the pleasure of a nice, relaxing drift on a boat in still water when a pop-up storm hits that threatens to capsize you and maybe even your faith.

On Day 22 of his little book 40 Days of Faith, Paul David Tripp writes:

Don’t be discouraged today. You can leave your ‘what-ifs’ and ‘if-onlys’ in the hands of the one who loves you and rules all things. (p.50)

Later he writes even more:

He knows, he understands, he is in control of what appears to be chaos, he is never surprised, he is never confused, he never worries or loses a night’s sleep, he never walks off the job to take a rest, he never gets so busy with one thing that he neglects another, and he never plays favorites. (p.51)

How’s that for reassurance? We certainly live today in a day of insecurity and unrest. What more reassurance do we need than words like these about a God like that? Is life out of whack for you? Screwy? Twisted? Hassled? Unsure? You now know the One who knows all about it.

“Father, thank you for being in control. For not being surprised. For being the calm in the storm. Help me to trust You implicitly.”

November 5

Thursday, November 5th, 2020

As I write this it is the morning after the election. I went to bed earlier than I have lately because I was tired and because I did not want to watch prognostications of early returns. I am here this morning having woke up my normal time and having purposely not looked at election results on my phone.  It is interesting then that I would read the following words in Romans 12: 33-36:

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To him be glory forever. Amen.”

I learned a long time, and then read it again recently, that we are all control freaks to some extent. Some more than others, but we all want some control. That goes for all areas of our lives. And yes, our country and its politics.

Power is an ugly thing. The more power we have, the more we want. It is control. I did not watch or get on my phone this morning for a reason: I wanted to keep in mind that God is in control and I do not understand His ways. I do not know the future. What I must do is trust. Trust His plan. Trust His sovereignty. Trust His ways. Trust His purpose. I am not in control; He is. Amen.

October 28

Wednesday, October 28th, 2020

As I was reading during my Quiet Time this morning, I ran across a word that appears to be missing in our world, and specifically, in so many lives today.  You can find the word throughout the Bible but hardly a more poignant reminder than Romans 5. Here is what it says: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces HOPE, and HOPE does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been give to us.” (vv.3-5)

See the word? H.O.P.E.  How many people do you know today who are without it? Many don’t see hope. They see despair. Cities burning. Protests still going on. People being killed. Crime escalating. Fighting. Division. Injustice. It is easy to give up hope that things will be better.

That would be human nature. It would be easy to feel like Jeremiah, Elijah, Micah and others who, at times, wanted to quit and give up. Habakkuk asked the question many of us ask, “How long, O Lord, how long?” (1:2)

We can choose despair or hope. As a Christ-follower, I have a hope others don’t. It is a hope that does not put us to shame, does not disappoint. We are never left alone. Even in the darkest times, we have a light that shines.

“Father, thank you for hope that shines its light into the darkness of despair. Help me share the hope I have in You with others.”

October 5

Monday, October 5th, 2020

One of the things I have always encouraged in people is to question, i.e. they have the right to question what I say. But when they do, always go to the Word! Two things come into play: 1) The only dumb question is the one not asked; and 2) Ignorance is not bliss. It’s the latter I’m thinking about this morning. Not knowing is okay. But there is also the matter of not knowing because we don’t care. That is ignorance. And that is not bliss.

I agree with Chuck Swindoll (not that he really cares whether I do or not. 🙂 ) when he writes:

“Slice it any way you wish, ignorance is not bliss. Dress it in whatever garb you please, ignorance is not attractive. Neither is it the mark of humility nor the path to spirituality…On the contrary, it is the breeding ground for fear, prejudice, and superstition.” (“Good Morning Lord…Can We Talk? p. 274)

It’s so easy “to plead the fifth” as they often say on TV shows. I’m going to plead ignorance, which in this case, leads to silence. Question: how can that lead to biblical wisdom and knowledge? It can’t. And doesn’t. And therein lies the rub. We have far too many who say they follow Christ who DO NOT KNOW because THEY DO NOT ASK.  Maybe a favorite pastor or radio/TV personality says something and rather than investigate we accept it as “gospel” or we lock step to the party line. That can be-and usually is-very damning. Face value vs faith value. Only trust the Word.

“Father, may I be a student of Your Word. May I find my answers there and not in man. Help me to know and be wise, not live in ignorance.”

September 23

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020

I have never met a person who said, “I love adversity.” In fact, the opposite is most often true: we try to avoid it like the plague. We read garbage like Your Best Life Now and think “I want my best life now. I want ease. I want comfort. I want prosperity.” We listen to trash that promises us health, wealth, prosperity, and comfort but leaves out the struggles, doubts, questions, adversity and unfulfilled dreams that are sure to come. If they do, we are told it is our lack of faith.

I read an interesting quote recently:

Adversity is sometimes hard upon a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity. Thomas Carlyle, Scottish philosopher

I’ve been listening to podcasts and reading lately about this whole idea of adversity and prosperity. It all relates to the pandemic we have been facing since March and its testing of our wills and outlook and patience. I know I’m sick and tired of masks, mandates and social distancing, etc that have come with it.  But, you know, we would not know how good things are, or could be, if not for when things get tough. Our Christian life is the same way. To live without adversity would never show us how good God is on a daily basis. I’m not asked to understand; I’m asked to trust. My vision may be cloudy now; it will become clear someday. While not desired, adversity is to be expected and even welcomed.

“Father, help me not to lament and complain about adversity.  Help me to see it as Your hand and move upon my life.”

August 25

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020

One constant throughout the past 6 months -give or take a few weeks- has been the presence of fear. For some it is very palpable. One can almost see it in the eyes, brows, or body language. At times one can see a paralysis present, so much so that a person is afraid to interact with others at all. When this whole virus thing started, I saw someone at Kroger wearing a Hazmat suit, covered top to bottom. That’s not saying there were and are those with legitimate health concerns, but a Hazmat suit?

But there are other kinds of fears also. It’s the fear of moving forward, of moving beyond the status quo. It’s the fear of traditionalism. We can see this fear in certain words/phrases we use or hear: (1) We’ve never done it that way before; (2) I’ve always been this way; (3) Those are the rules!; (4) Where will you get the money?; (5) Try to be normal; (6) Don’t make waves; (7) Failure is not an option; (8) That’s not my responsibility; (9) We don’t have room; (10) He’s never going to learn. {Note: I’m grateful to Chuck Swindoll for that list}

The sad part? I’ve probably heard most of those…and to my shame… admittedly have used a few of them in my own rationale and in my judgment of others. Each of those phrases basically is fear wrapped in a different package. That’s not saying there aren’t times when fear is legitimate, or caution is essential.  But when fear become a real ghost that haunts us, it has gained too much power. Paul wrote these words in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and self-control.” Let’s not allow irrational fear paralyze our desire to follow Jesus. Let’s not allow fear to get a foothold in our lives.

“Father, please replace fear of moving forward with faith to trust. Help me to not to cloak fear with excuses.”

August 11

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

One of the more humorous-but more challenging to the faith-sections of Scripture is found in Acts 12. Herod had killed James, John’s brother. When he saw that it pleased the Jews he arrested Peter and threw him in jail also. My guess is his plan was to do the same to Peter as he did to James. He knew enough of the Jewish Law and culture to keep Peter in prison until after the Passover.

And here is where it gets interesting…and humorous…and convicting. The night before Peter was to be brought out, an angel appeared to him and told him, “Get up. Get dressed. Put your shoes on. Follow me.” Peter, thinking it was a dream, did as he was told and wasn’t aware of what was happening until he was out and free. That’s the first great truth: God’s miraculous deliverance.

The humorous part is next. Peter goes to the house (Mary, the mother of Mark’s house) where the believers were praying for his release. He knocked on the door and Rhoda, the servant girl, recognized his voice. First humorous act: she leaves him standing outside! When she tells them Peter is outside, their response is “You are out of your mind.” (v.15). Okay, so check it out. First, she leaves him standing outside. Second, they think she’s nuts.

And third? Well, that is humorous part #3. It is also the convicting part. She was insistent, and I can see them roll their eyes, drop their shoulders and say, “Okay. Let’s check it out.” They even added, “Maybe it’s his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter is still knocking. When they open the door they are amazed.

This is the convicting part. What had they been praying for? The release of Peter. What did Rhoda tell them? Peter was at the door. What was their reaction? Disbelief. Even when they saw they were amazed. I’m thinking they were amazed-not because of the overwhelming realization of what God had done- but because Peter was there to start with.

How much like that I am. I pray for something and when it is answered I am surprised. I shouldn’t be. God has promised to answer my prayer when it is asked in faith. I should stop being surprised and amazed that He would answer, but instead, amazed at His faithfulness.

“Father, help me please to send up prayers in faith, believing you will answer.”

July 9

Thursday, July 9th, 2020

I’d like to continue with the thought from yesterday’s devotion (July 8). What to do about the risen Christ?

A number of theories (“proofs”)  have been put forth concerning the empty tomb.

  • Jesus just swooned on the cross. He passed out from all the torture; was put in the tomb; revived in a cold, damp tomb; then had the strength to push the stone away.  I suspect somewhere in there He also had to over power the guards. Seriously? The more one thinks of that the more ridiculous it sounds.
  • The ladies went to the wrong tomb. Does that sound as silly to you as it does to me, especially given the fact that both Matthew and Mark tell us they were there when they laid Jesus in the tomb AND they even prepared the body with spices and oils. (Luke 23)

There are other theories-just as silly- but I think one of the most incredulous was actually given during that time: the disciples came and stole the body. Matthew 29 records that lie. But what is absolutely “insane” is how it went down:

  • The guards report the body is gone.
  • The guards were bribed by the religious leaders to tell the lie of the stolen body.
  • The guards accept the bribe and spread the lie.
  • The religious leaders promise protection (if Pilate should hear word of it) to the guards.

One big question: if the guards were asleep, how did they know the disciples stole the body? As Biff says to George McFly (Back to the Future 1), “Hello! Think McFly! Think!” Think people. Think! Does not that lousy excuse for the reason sound more more unbelievable as you think about it?  And here is another question: what about those soldiers? To live with that lie over your head and to know you betrayed your army?  To be black-balled in the eyes of your fellow soldiers? No thanks.

Seems to me it takes more “faith” to believe a lie than to believe the truth that Jesus rose from the dead.

“Father, the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead piles up, especially when one considers how ridiculous the theories sound.  I state again how I will stake all I have on the resurrected Christ.”

May 22

Friday, May 22nd, 2020

Is there any of us who hasn’t struggled with prayer? I’m not talking about frequency, or seeing the necessity, or posture, or any of the varied ways to pray. I’m talking about believing God will answer our prayer. Or to put it another way: Is God even listening?

You know how it goes:

  • A dearly loved grandmother is diagnosed with dementia.
  • A much-loved child is diagnosed with cancer.
  • A husband or wife is only given weeks, maybe months, to live.
  • A job ends and days of unemployment turn into weeks then months.
  • A much prayed-for child goes AWOL and chooses a lifestyle we don’t approve of.
  • A pastor/youth pastor goes rogue and leaves everything to pursue lust.
  • A child we have prayed for and prayed over since before birth becomes a prodigal, abandoning their faith.

The list seems endless doesn’t it? Is God listening? Is He deaf? We are praying in faith believing, but it just doesn’t seem to be heard. The prayer hits the ceiling and slaps us in the face, laughing at us.

We may never know the “why” of God’s work. Least not at the moment. Maybe later. Maybe. I honestly have no answer except to say, “Been there; done that; keep praying.” God is listening. It may not seem like it, but He is. Sometimes no matter the sincerity or the fervency or the heartache the prayer goes unanswered. That doesn’t mean God is not listening; it does mean our wish is not His command. God is not deaf. He is not out relieving Himself (as Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal about their god).  God is heart-broken over your heart break. He is shedding tears with you as you shed tears before Him. He does care. He is listening.

“Father, in spite of long lag time, help me to trust, to believe You have things in Your sight.”