What Fuels Faith?

prayer, bible study, holy spiritI am of the opinion that you can never talk about or study faith too much.  As followers of Christ, our faith and belief in Him and His saving work is the foundation on which we base our lives.  We have quite literally staked our eternal existence on the fact that Jesus Christ was and is the son of God and that if we believe with our hearts and confess with our mouths this truth that we shall be saved.  This is the first step in our faith journey but it can not and must not be our last.

Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me. Psalm 66:20 (KJV)

It was God’s mercy that authored His salvation plan and the same mercy that is still available to us today.  Just as the Psalmist said, because God is merciful He listens to our prayers and does not turn His face away from us when we call on Him.  And that is the key component in the fueling of our faith.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (NASB)

John 15:5 is one of my favorite verses because it so plainly states how we can be successful and fruitful followers of Christ.  Out of our faith comes our good works and our faith is sustained by abiding (staying) in Jesus.  And we abide in Jesus through our prayers and time spent one on one with the Holy Spirit in meditation and adoration.

Our day should start in prayer and prayer should be our first response to trouble, to joy, to sorrow, to worry, to doubt, to danger and to most anything that comes our way.  Proper prayer focuses our eyes and hearts on God who is able and who is strong to save.  It is God who delivers us and God who provides the strength that we need to overcome.  And most importantly, it is communion with the Spirit that provides the critical component in stoking the fires of our faith as we stay grounded and rooted in Him.

Prayer as a response must be practiced.  It is not a natural human response.  Unless we are taught and encouraged to pray without ceasing, we will wither on the vine and our faith will be weak and small.  Even after salvation we will more likely resemble the lost and unsaved than the saints of God if we neglect time spent in prayer and study of God’s Word.

Rejoice always;  pray without ceasing;  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB)

Do you have a desire to grow your faith in God?  Do you want to know Him better and be a larger and stronger force for good in your home?  The place to start and the place to stay is in prayer and fellowship with the God who can provide all that we lack and so much more than we could ever ask or imagine.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,  to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (NASB)

Going Is No Substitute For Growing

Holy Spirit, God's presence, Impatience is and has been an unfortunate companion of mine for as long as I can remember.  Once I have a picture of something in my mind, whether it is a goal, a place or a thing, the next thought that comes along is “how soon can I make this happen?”  I suspect I am not alone in thinking this way.

When God called me to write and speak His truth I jumped in with both feet, full of enthusiasm and energy.  I read several books on how to set up and maintain a blog and the associated software and I had grand visions of a high traffic website that inspired and encouraged people on a daily basis.  I wanted to write as often as I could and when I wasn’t writing I wanted to tell people about the call that God had placed on my life so that we could rejoice and grow together.

Everything was possible, everything was exciting and I pushed myself to absorb as much knowledge and information as I possibly could for the task at hand. And it was fun!

As good and as noble as all of that was it didn’t take but about six months or so before I was beginning to feel exhausted and burnt out.  Talk about a letdown!  I went through a little bit of self loathing, a little bit of depression and a lot of anxiety over the fact that I might have been going about this all wrong.

I was spending so much time and energy trying to produce and create that I neglected the source of my creativity and the giver of all good things.  I set unrealistic goals for myself based on standards that I created in my own mind.  Instead of making my relationship with the Lord the number one thing in my life I made the task that He had given me my focus and that is where my time and energy went.

God given tasks are a blessing and a serious responsibility.  I will never forget the day that God called me and how awesome (there is no other word for it) a moment that was.  But it was awesome because of how close at hand God was to me.  It was His presence, in almost a physical way, that made it so powerful.  And now I see that there is nothing better, no greater blessing, than being in the presence of the Lord.  It is what I was made for and it is satisfying and healing down to the depths of my very soul.

The work is important.  I would not suggest otherwise.  The mistake comes when we allow the work to interfere with our longing for and seeking of God’s presence.  Only He can give us what we need to properly do His work and He gives it to us when we stay in close fellowship and communion with the Holy Spirit, when we stay in the study of His Word and when we pray without ceasing.

In Search Of The Best Thing Ever

God's presence, Holy SpiritLately, I haven’t had as much of the Lord’s presence as I want.  The fault in this is entirely mine.  God’s Word says that we have not because we ask not and as long as we are asking in Jesus’s name and in the Father’s will, it will be granted to us.

I had to stop and do a self inventory.  Have I been seeking Him with my whole heart?  Have I been lifting my heart and soul in praise to Him?  Have I let any sin come between Him and I?

In this I can only bow my head and ask for the Spirit’s help.  I know that in my flesh there is nothing good and that part of me wants to do what God hates.  Left to my own devices I will stray and seek after the things of the world rather than God’s righteousness.  But God’s Spirit that lives in me desires fellowship and oneness with the Father and whispers to me in that still small voice when I being to turn aside.

There is such mighty power in sincere prayer that seeks the very heart of God.  There is literally nothing that God would not do for us to see His will done through us.  Yes, he desires to use us as His hands and feet and yes, we are to be ministers of the gospel in this world but before that God wants our hearts perfectly aligned with His in sweet fellowship and companionship.

Before we can minister to the world we must be ministered to by His Spirit.  Before we can proclaim His greatness among the nations we must be proclaimed to by His Spirit.  And before we can be usable vessels we must be filled with His Spirit and emptied of the things of this world that crowd Him out of our lives.

Whether we realize it or not, we are all vessels.  We are containers that God crafted individually and with great care to hold not only the spark of life but also His Spirit, God in us.  Apart from Him we feel that emptiness and try to fill ourselves with everything else that this world offers only to find that nothing truly satisfies and nothing really lasts.  Except God.

Our worship persists because He persists.  Our works for Him have eternal significance because He is eternal.  And our relationship with Him grows from day to day onto forever because He is forever and He never fails.

If I have less of Him than I want it is only because His Spirit is prompting me to seek Him above all else and to focus on Him to the exclusion of everything else.  As important as our jobs, families, schools, churches and friends are, busyness can be our enemy and our enemy will use our busyness to separate us from God.  Don’t let him.

Today I am taking some extra time to just stop and be still with God.  I want to worship and I want to listen to what He has to say.  My prayer for you and I is that we would be filled with His Holy Spirit and His presence would surround us as we go.  Would you pray the same prayer for those you know?

God Changes Us For The Good

thankfulness, gratitude, praiseFresh out of bed and still bleary-eyed I stumbled into the bathroom to start my morning routine.  I would need to leave for work within the hour and I did not want to be late so I was already starting my mental checklist.

I glanced out the window at the early morning light that glowed and defined the tall pines and old oaks of the forest that began at the edge of our yard.  As I did so I was struck by the need to just be still and raise my hands towards heaven.  I began to praise God for His goodness and His love and I thanked Him for His grace and mercy and for including me in His redemption plan.

All of a sudden I was filled with an overwhelming sense of love and peace and I knew that just for a moment, I had touched the heart of God and that He had touched me in return.  I began that day with a smile on my face and a song in my heart that stayed with me and colored every moment and every interaction with joy.

Practicing gratitude and looking for opportunities to be thankful can open our eyes to moments like this.  A year or two ago I am quite sure that I would have missed the Spirit’s tug on my heart so soon after tumbling out of bed.  I would have been too focused on “me” and my needs and my dull spiritual receptors would not have tuned in to the call to praise.

The great news is, things are changing.  Rather, God is changing me and I am encouraged by His work!

I’m still not perfected, this is a process and a work in progress.  I still miss Him, sometimes, when He shows up and I am distracted and the flesh in me is in control.  That makes a moment like my spontaneous praise and worship all the more precious because it shows me that God is not through with me yet.  It is proof that He is changing me from the old man that I was into the new, holy child of the King that I want to be.

But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength;
Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For You have been my stronghold
And a refuge in the day of my distress. (Psalm 59:16) NASB

 

 

Waiting Is The Hard Part

patience, Acts 1, Holy SpiritFor many of us (myself included) patience does not come naturally.  We want what we want and we want it now.  This is just human nature and without proper instruction and God’s help we will remain impatient creatures indefinitely.

I believe that the disciples were impatient men.  Notice their question to Jesus in the first chapter of Acts:

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

They had reason to be excited.  Jesus was alive!  He really had come back from the dead!

I am sure that the disciples believed that if Jesus could overcome death then he could do anything.  Not only that, they believed that Jesus would continue on with them and eventually overthrow the oppressive Roman government and begin his earthly rule as a king.  Their question to Jesus reveals their impatience and the type of salvation that they were looking for. (an earthly one rather than a spiritual one)

So they asked Jesus a simple question:  “Hey, is it time for you to restore Israel and fix our political situation?” was the gist of what they were saying.  And how did Jesus answer them?

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;  but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

He tells them that the knowledge that they are asking for is beyond them and belongs solely in the dominion of God.  Then he redirects their inquiry and their energy into an altogether different task.  They are to be witnesses of God’s grace and message of redemption when they have received the power of the Holy Spirit.

Put in another way, Jesus was telling the disciples that they would receive all that they needed (the power of the Holy Spirit – which is now available to all believers all the time!) and that they would be made perfectly fit for the task at hand and not to worry about what would happen when because those details belong in God’s hands.

I don’t know about you but I find this passage incredibly comforting.  Like the disciples I sometimes (ok, frequently) ask God questions about “when” or “why”.  And sometimes He answers me.  But more often that not He tells me exactly what Jesus told the disciples:  “I have given you all that you need.  I am making you perfect for the task at hand.  Be my witness and leave the “when” and the “why” up to me”.

Are you a redeemed child of the King?  If so, rejoice that God is making you perfect.  Waiting may be hard and we may not know or understand God’s timing but we can know and understand His heart.  And that is enough for now.

Worth The Trouble

trust, Holy Spirit, James 1Trust in God.  When everything seems to be going wrong and you feel despair, choose to trust in God.  When nothing’s working and you have no strength left simply tell Him, “I trust you”.  Calm yourself in His presence and remember that He holds your “right now” and all of your moments to come.  Come back to that place where you can be still and know that He is God.

How is trust formed?  Not easily.  It takes time and it takes trouble.  And the greater the trouble that He brings you through the more your trust grows.

For most of us, we resist trouble.  We look for ways around it instead of trusting that God will bring us through it.  We stress and agonize over it.  We worry ourselves to sickness trying to find solutions for it.  But it is only in the midst of trouble that we can learn to fully depend on His strength and His grace to make it through the day.

James says that we should embrace trouble.  Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,  knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)  To James, the outcome was worth the trouble.  The outcome was so worth it that he considered trouble to be an occasion for joy!  James looked forward to becoming perfect and complete in his faith, worthy of the one who called him.  And to get there he was able to face trouble with a positive outlook.

Being joyful in the midst of trouble is not natural.  In fact, it is distinctly unnatural.  It requires a conscious choice to focus on God and the goal rather than our circumstances and the moment.  And once again, it comes back to trust.  Can we trust that God is really here with us?  Can we trust that He is big enough to carry us when we can’t seem to take another step?  Can we trust that on the other side of this present trouble is an eternal reward and an end to all suffering?

It’s not easy.  Without the Holy Spirit’s help it is in fact impossible.  But Jesus knows our weaknesses and he has suffered all things so that we can be sure that we have a heavenly father who really understands us and knows our grief and sorrow intimately.  Trust in Him.  Only trust in Him.

Three Complimentary Doctrines Part 3 – Guest Post by Jeff Perry

doctrine, faith, bibleLet me start by saying how grateful I am to Jeff for his teaching and insight.  My faith has been strengthened and my knowledge increased as a result of this excellent article and I present to you now the conclusion of “Three Complimentary Doctrines”. – Matt

God created mankind with the ability to reason and respond.  Genesis 13:11 “So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan…” Webster’s dictionary defines free will as, “The power of making a reasoned choice or decision or of controlling one’s own action.”

Free will is the unrestricted ability to respond.  Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”  The Bible stresses that the moral responsibility for moral actions rest squarely with free moral agents and not with God.  God is not responsible for someone’s ignorance or passivity to what has been revealed by God through nature, special revelation and conscience.

One problem people see with the doctrine of free will is that it looks contradictory to the doctrine of predestination.  To answer this question Dr. Harold Willimington states, “No one has ever demonstrated a contradiction between predestination and free choice.”  Most conservatives and Grace Churches but not all, including Baptists, Presbyterian and Reformed churches suppress this doctrine and elevate predestination, over mankind’s free will.

What does the Bible teach?  Let us look at 4 important accounts where both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are both present.

1. The cross was both predetermined (Revelation 13:8) and freely chosen (John 18:11).

2. Jesus’ betrayal was both necessary (Luke 24:7) and freely chosen (Matthew 26:46).

3. Joseph’s enslavement was both intended by his brothers and by God.

4. Lastly, salvation is both chosen by God (Grace) and chosen by us (Repentance).

In John 6:37 we see both play out, “All that the Father gives Me (Predetermined) will come to Me (Free Will).

In conclusion, we have defined what a doctrine is, why it is important, and we looked at three key Christian doctrines.  Can we as Christians reject a doctrine? Absolutely, Scripture teaches us in 1 Timothy 6: 4-6,

“If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”

We can reject man made doctrines.  If the Bible doesn’t teach it, it is not a sound doctrine. If there is a verse that discredits a portion of the doctrine, Scripture is right and the theory needs to be rendered.  If lying is not an attribute of God (Titus 1:2) then we can trust what He has said through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Psalm 19:7 “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.”

Secondly, we must always remember doctrine is not Salvitic. We are people of the book because of the Person the book points us toward, Jesus.  Jesus himself proclaimed, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.”  Jesus is the crimson thread that is woven into the tapestry of His Word.  Someone can memorize the entire Old and New Testament and it merits nothing in the eyes of God.  Salvation is only received thought believing in His Son Jesus Christ by faith.

Romans 10:9 “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

 

The Spiritual Diet Plan: It Works for Me

Influence,Spiritual Diet,Holy SpiritIf you’ve been following along this week, you will hopefully have noticed that we have a theme.  That theme is influence.

On Monday we talked about how the things that we choose to put into our bodies have an influence on us, either for good or for evil.  We discussed how even things that are normally good can influence us for evil, if we use them in the wrong way or in the wrong attitude.

On Tuesday we went a little bit deeper with the idea of influence and painted a mental picture of Jesus and all of the other things that we let influence us sitting around the table of our mind and heart.  As we drew the mental picture we came to the conclusion that Jesus must be first at the table of our mind and heart and that our other influences should support that arrangement.

If, over the last two days, the Holy Spirit has nudged you about certain influences in your life that are pulling you away from your relationship with God, then it might be time to take a look at a Spiritual Diet Plan.

The Spiritual Diet Plan encompasses all areas of our life.  It may indeed involve cutting out certain foods or drinks that are having a negative influence on our walk with God, but I suspect that for most of us, it’s in the realm of entertainment and social activities that the real work is to be done.

I shared a story on Monday about how my love of reading fiction novels was leading to an overindulgence of fantasy.  As the Holy Spirit revealed this to me, I made the decision to remove fiction books entirely from my life for a period of time so that I might focus more fully on the Lord.  As a result, my reading time now is focused on the Bible and on books that encourage and nourish me spiritually.  This was how I put the Spiritual Diet Plan into practice in my own life.

It has made a massive and wonderful difference.

As I began to spend more time in the Bible and in books that pointed me towards a fuller and deeper relationship with God, I found that I naturally became more focused on Him and His kingdom.  The influence exerted on me by my new choice in reading material was overwhelmingly positive and helpful whereas the influence exerted on me by my previous reading material mostly left me mentally muddled and distracted.

If you need a Spiritual Diet Plan, exactly how you implement it will be up to you and the Holy Spirit.  I have an overactive imagination and a love of fantasy so I am very careful to minimize my intake of those types of influences.  For you, it will likely be something completely different.

Certainly Facebook and other types of social media are easy to identify as a possible distraction for many people, but really it can be anything that you are allowing to influence you negatively.  Ask yourself this:  Is there anything that you consistently look forward to more than your relationship with the Lord and getting to know Him better?  If something just popped into your mind, that’s a sign that you might need to decrease something so that He might increase in your life.

The Spiritual Diet Plan then is the process by which we narrow and eliminate those distracting influences which get in the way of the type of relationship that the Lord wants to have with us.  In their place we must add and build up those things which will influence us for the good and support Christ as the center of our existence.  It’s past time that we as believers take a hard look at our own lives and proclaim loudly by our actions that absolutely nothing is more important to us than our Savior.

Is there anything that you have identified in your life this week that might need to be narrowed or eliminated so that you might have a stronger relationship to God?  And, what are you observing about other Believers around you?  What common distractions and negative influences might you help them overcome through your prayers and encouragement?

 

Three Complimentary Doctrines Part 3 – Guest Post by Jeff Perry

doctrine, faith, bibleFor the last two weeks Guest Blogger Jeff Perry has blessed us with his wisdom, insight and teaching on the three complimentary doctrines of the Holy Spirit, Predestination and Free Will.  This is the third and final part of Jeff’s article and I am sure you will join me in thanking God for Jeff’s faithfulness and in asking for the Lord’s continued favor in Jeff’s life.  Jeff’s conclusion is below.

God created mankind with the ability to reason and respond.  Genesis 13:11 “So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan…” Webster’s dictionary defines will as, “The power of making a reasoned choice or decision or of controlling one’s own action.”  Free will is the unrestricted ability to respond.

Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 11:28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”   The Bible stresses that the moral responsibility for moral actions rest squarely with free moral agents and not with God.  God is not responsible for someone’s ignorance or passivity to what has been revealed by God through nature, special revelation and conscience.

One problem people see with the doctrine of free will is that it looks contradictory to the doctrine of predestination.  To answer this question Dr. Harold Willimington states, “No one has ever demonstrated a contradiction between predestination and free choice.”  Most conservatives and Grace Churches but not all, including Baptists, Presbyterian and Reformed churches suppress this doctrine and elevate predestination, over mankind’s free will.

What does the Bible teach?  Let us look at 4 important accounts where both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are both present.

1. The cross was both predetermined (Revelation 13:8) and freely chosen (John 18:11).

2. Jesus’ betrayal was both necessary (Luke 24:7) and freely chosen (Matthew 26:46).

3. Joseph’s enslavement was both intended by his brothers and by God.

4. Lastly, salvation is both chosen by God (Grace) and chosen by us (Repentance).  In John 6:37 we see both play out, “All that the Father gives Me (Predetermined) will come to Me (Free Will).

In conclusion, we have defined what a doctrine is, why it is important, and we looked at three key Christian doctrines.  Can we as Christians reject a doctrine?  Absolutely, Scripture teaches us in 1 Timothy 6: 4-6, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,  and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”

We can reject man made doctrines.  If the Bible doesn’t teach it, it is not a sound doctrine.  If there is a verse that discredits a portion of the doctrine, Scripture is right and the theory needs to be rendered.  If lying is not an attribute of God (Titus 1:2) then we can trust what He has said through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 19:7 “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.”

Secondly, we must always remember doctrine is not Salvitic (does not bring salvation).  We are people of the book because of the Person the book points us toward, Jesus.  Jesus himself proclaimed, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.”

Jesus is the crimson thread that is woven into the tapestry of His Word.  Someone can memorize the entire Old and New Testament and it merits nothing in the eyes of God.  Salvation is only received thought believing in His Son Jesus Christ by faith.  Romans 10:9 “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I am so thankful for Jeff’s piece.  It came at exactly the right time and I am confident that God will use it to further His kingdom and instruct His saints in righteousness.  I thank the Lord for you, Jeff Perry, and may God Bless you. – Matt