Faith is only the beginning

How many people think living the Christian life is easy? How many Christians operate under the delusion that once they’ve given their lives to Christ, everything will work out and be easy and perfect and they’ll never have to struggle with anything again?

I think the Christian community we live in now, in 21st Century America, has communicated that accepting Christ is the hard part and living life with Him (and for Him) is easy.

In a certain light, that’s true. Living for Christ is easy in that it’s easy to know what decisions you need to make; He has told us quite clearly in the Bible what we’re supposed to do and what we’re not supposed to do. What’s difficult is actually doing it. What’s difficult is waking up every morning and reminding yourself that you have chosen to live for God and that your life needs to reflect that. What’s difficult is staying positive and continuing to believe that God is going to work everything out when you are in the middle of a storm that never seems to end.

So many Christians I have spoken to get the idea that once they accept Christ all their troubles will be over, and that’s not true. Living the Christian life is hard. Doing the right thing is hard.

When we decide to believe in Christ, when we choose to place our faith in Christ, we become a new person, yes. But the old person we used to be is still rattling around inside of us. And the world outside us doesn’t change either. Our faith is all that has changed.

Faith is another thing I think a lot of Christians get confused about. I think people believe that once they decided to trust Christ that everyone gets this magical ability to simply believe everything God says without question. Again. Not true.

Having faith doesn’t mean you don’t question. Having faith means you believe even if you have questions.

Faith is a gift that God gives us, yes. And when we accept Christ, God gives us the faith to believe Him, but that doesn’t mean that our faith is automatically big enough to handle the truly difficult struggles of our lives. No. It needs to grow.

Have you ever met anyone with incredible faith? Someone who God could allow anything — absolutely anything — to come into their lives and they wouldn’t bat an eyelash? I have met many people like this, but I can tell you that they weren’t “born” with that kind of faith. They had to develop it. Their faith was small when they started, but they put God to the test, and He never let them down. And when their faith was tested, they hung on to it and when the trial was over, they came out stronger for it.

The passage today is a long one, and I went ahead and included the beginning verses, too, just for context. 2 Peter 1:3-8 says this:

 3 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

5 In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

 8 The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 2 Peter says that when we came to faith in Christ, God gave us everything we would need to live a godly life. And not only that, He gave us a way to escape a life of darkness and sadness caused by the world.

But how?

I think it’s interesting how lazy a lot of Christians are (myself included). Maybe it’s the influence of modern-day America. I don’t know. Or maybe it’s a knee-jerk reaction to legalism. That could be.

Let me be very clear so I don’t miscommunicate this. There are nothing we can do that will save us. Works don’t make us right with God. Only belief in Christ allows us to have a relationship with God.

That being said, faith is just the beginning of that relationship. If you don’t work at your faith — if you don’t take steps to help it grow — it will stay small and ineffective and your life as a Christian will not be what God intended it to be.

You must have faith. But according to this verse, to live a godly life, you need to supplement your faith with a few things. And this list is in an order for a reason. If you think about it, you have to have each one in order before you can attain the next one.

Once you have faith, you need to have moral excellence. You need to be aware of what is right and what is wrong, and when you are given the chance to do wrong, you need to choose to do what is right, even if it’s difficult.

Once you have moral excellence, learn. Gain knowledge. About anything and everything that will help you live a godly life, that will help you be effective in ministry. If you can understand morality, you will be able to know what is right and what is wrong and will be able to see what knowledge is beneficial and what isn’t.

Once you have knowledge, you must have self-control. You can’t just walk around spouting off all the facts that you’ve learned. You could confuse other people. You can’t walk around telling people how to live. That’s not your place. So you need to learn to control yourself.

And when you’ve learned to control yourself (the most difficult person to control, and–really–the only person you can control), learn how to endure patiently. It doesn’t matter if it’s people or situtations. God allows them into your life for a reason, and you can learn something from them.

After that, learn godliness. Learn what it means to be truly like God. Know His characteristics and do what you can to incorporate them into your life. Obviously, there are some aspects of God that we can’t ever be like (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.) but there are qualities that we can share. His creativity (not that we can create anything, but we can come up with new ideas). His love. His joy.

The next step is brotherly affection. Learn to love your fellow Christians. This is hard because oftentimes Christians are the hardest people in the world to love. But if another person believes in Christ, that person is our brother or our sister, and God has commanded that we love each other.

And after you learn how to love fellow Christians, show love to everyone. Love the people around you who aren’t Christians. Love the people around you who think they’re Christians. Love the people who hate you. Love everyone.

Do you see what this is? It’s a process.

When you first come to know Christ, your faith makes you whole. Yes. That’s done. It’s immediate. Have faith in Christ and be saved from your sins.

But the life you live after you decide to have faith is a step-by-step, day-by-day process that will take the rest of your life on Earth. It’s not something that happens overnight, and it’s not easy. And there are good days and there are bad days, but the more you grow in your faith, the more effective you will be as a Christian. The more you live like this, the more useful you will be to God.

Faith is a choice. Living it is a series of choices. But as 2 Peter already said, we already have everything we need to live like this. We just have to look for it. And if we ever get turned around, we have the Bible as our roadmap.

The rest of the story

I think a lot of Christians pick and choose what they want to read/believe out of the Bible. But if the Bible really is the Word of God, we should believe all of it. And if it isn’t, we should believe none of it. There’s no middle ground with Scripture. If even one part of it isn’t true, the whole thing goes down the drain.

There are so many people I know who read the Bible and only remember the verses they like, skimming over the verses (and the books) they don’t like. I was the same way when I was younger. You would have never caught me reading Habakkuk or any of the other Minor Prophet Books of the Old Testament; and you sure wouldn’t have seen me anywhere near Deuteronomy or Leviticus. They didn’t seem to make any sense.

But one day I guess I just got to thinking that avoiding those books was like picking and choosing what I believed about the Bible. And that’s not right. The Bible is whole and real and full and never lies, and the more you get to know it, the better you will get to know God and who He is and what He wants for your life.

And I will tell you that getting a modern translation (like the New Living Translation or the Message) helped immensely. The laws written in some of these books are peculiar enough to read without having to sort through 400-year-old English.

And while I love getting a daily Bible verse, sometimes I need to get deeper into a chapter or even a Book to understand the meaning of it. It’s never a good idea to pick a verse out of the Bible and think you can understand what it means without understanding its context.

The verse this morning is a good example:

Deuteronomy 7:9

9 Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.

Yes! That’s an awesome verse about God’s faithfulness. And I can tell you right now I need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness. I’m kind of in a valley right now. I’m learning how to deal with the stuff going on in my life and to maintain my positive, joyful outlook on things. But most of the time I still feel like the time we went camping in Colorado and ended up in a valley, and we had to wait until nearly 10:00 am before we could see the sun over the tops of the mountains. I know God is out there and I know He’s working, but I can’t see Him yet. So remembering that God is faithful to me (and to everyone else) and loves me unfailingly is a great thing to remember.

But . . . is that ALL this verse is saying? Why is it there? What spurred the writer (Moses) to write this down? Well, obviously God told him to write it down, but what is the purpose for it?

This is one of those verses that I like to see and understand the context for the verse. Deuteronomy is especially important to make sure you have the right context for anything you take out.

So . . . . this is the whole paragraph:

Deuteronomy 7:7-11

 7 “The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! 8 Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. 9 Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. 10 But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him. 11 Therefore, you must obey all these commands, decrees, and regulations I am giving you today.

To really understand, you’d need to read the whole chapter (it’s a good read, actually; Deuteronomy is honestly a fun book), but God is warning the people of Israel not to marry the pagan people they are conquering on their journey to the Promised Land. God told them that He was going to deliver seven nations that were bigger and stronger than they were to the people of Israel, and He commanded them to destroy those nations entirely and not to intermarry with them. Because by intermarrying with them, the people who didn’t follow God would turn Israel’s heart away from God. (Sound familiar?)

This paragraph goes into why God is helping them. God didn’t save the people of Israel because they were so much better than everyone else. He saved the people of Israel because of the promise He made to Abraham, the Father of the Jewish Nation. Then, comes our single verse that we read above. However, it’s followed by a word that can mean something really great or something really scary: but.

God loves you, but . . .

Read Deuteronomy 7:9 and you get the idea that God is a God of faithful enduring love and nothing you can do would ever separate you from His love. And that’s true. Nothing will ever separate us from God’s love.

But

The verse next verse reminds us that, even though God loves us, He won’t hesitate “to punish and destroy those who reject Him.”

Why? He’s God. He is Sovereign. He has the right to punish and destroy whatever He wants because He made it all. We’re all blessed that He hasn’t punished and destroyed all of us simply for breathing, after everything that we’ve done to wreck the world He entrusted to us.

That’s something Christians like to forget about God. We want everyone to see that God is Love. And He is. God is synonymous with Love. But (there’s that word again) He is also a God of wrath. He is a God of justice. He is a God of perfection. And anyone who isn’t perfect (or that isn’t covered by the blood of His Perfect Son) can’t have anything to do with Him. And that person can’t say they are without excuse. Romans tells us that even nature itself screams that it was created by God. And those of us living in 21st Century America are inundated with the truth of Scripture; it’s just our pride that keeps us from accepting it.

God is indeed God.

He is faithful. He is loving. He is enduring. He will never give up on you or me. But He is constant and unshakable and He will not be anything less than He is, and that is a quality we all appreciate while it’s positive in our favor. Unshakably faithful. Unshakably loving. But what about Unshakable Perfection? Unshakable Justice? Unshakable Wrath? We don’t much care for that side of Him because when it’s aimed at us, we don’t feel like we deserve it.

See what I mean?

The Bible is an amazing Book, and we should never take it for granted. Don’t just take a verse someone gives you and assume they know what they’re talking about. Don’t just take a single verse out of Scripture and assume you can get everything you need to know from it. Read it. Read the whole chapter. Read the whole Book. It’s your responsibility to work out what you believe and why.

It’s worth it.

No ifs, ands, or buts.

The simple life

I love the Bible. It’s truly the most amazing book I’ve ever read, full of every sort of story you can imagine. Every story that’s ever been written has roots in the Bible, whether people believe it or not. Today’s verse is so clear, so simple, so wonderful — I’m not even sure what to say about it. . . . .

The verse of the day was actually a single verse, but I went ahead and included the whole paragraph where it’s found. And if you want a truly awesome read, you should look at the whole chapter.

1 Peter 3:13-17

 13 Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. 15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way.[c] Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

Don’t be afraid of threats. Worship God like He’s the only Person who matters to you, and if someone asks you why you are always full of hope, make sure you tell them why. Make sure you tell them that you have hope because of what Christ did for you. But . . . don’t beat them over the head with your salvation. Salvation isn’t a club to bludgeon people into submission. And the Word is a sword, but it’s not to stab unbelievers with. People who don’t believe in Christ aren’t our enemies. They’re just people God made who haven’t come back to Him yet, and usually the reason they left God and won’t come back to Him is because of Christians.

Live your life with a clear conscience. Always do what is right, even if it means that you will suffer for it. Live in a way that you have no regrets. Live a life looking forward and not mulling over things you’ve done that you can’t change. Live the way you’re supposed to — live the way Christ did — and don’t do anything to compromise your witness, and if you do compromise your witness, apologize. Do what you can to make it right.

And then, if people speak out against you, they won’t have any basis for it. Everyone who matters will know why you live the way you live, and everyone who matters will see the kind of life you live, and the people who say mean things about you will simply be branded as people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

We are called to be an unusual, peculiar people. People who love others in spite of what they do to us. People who help others less blessed than us even if we barely have enough to sustain ourselves. And, because of human nature, even if we live the way we’re supposed to, there will always be someone who hates us. The Bible says somewhere else that Christ was hated; so why do we expect to be loved if we live like He did?

I love verse 17. If we do wrong, we’ll suffer. That’s pretty obvious. So is it smart to do wrong and suffer for it when it’s not what God would have us do anyway? If doing wrong ultimately hurts us and hurts the people around us, why do it? Isn’t it better to do what is right, even if we’ll suffer for it? If we do what’s wrong, we have no defense. But if we do what’s right, God will back us up. And even though we might endure a little bit of suffering from people who don’t know what they’re talking about, in the end, we will have maintained our witness. Our consciences will be clear. And the people who are watching us (there are always people watching us) will see that we’re different, that we’re full of hope, and they’ll wonder why. And maybe, if we’re fortunate, they’ll ask us and we can tell them that we live for Christ and Christ alone.

Don’t be afraid. Live like Christ. Worship God. Know what you believe and why. And stick to it. 

It’s simple. It may not feel simple somedays, but it is.

Great Scott!

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to know the future? I think that’s one of the reastons why science fiction is such a popular style of writing. There’s something in us that wants to see and know what is beyond tomorrow. But it’s also interesting to me that every story that deals with time travel usually comes back to the concept that knowing the future is a bad idea.

The most notable example is probably the Back to the Future series. All Doc Brown wanted to do was build a time machine that would usher in an era of peace, but simple meddling in the future (a couple of them) turned his and Marty McFly’s lives on their heads.

We don’t know the future. We honestly can’t know our own future. It’s something interesting to think about but even in the secular world there seems to be a consensus that knowing the future (let alone trying to change it) is a bad idea.

But, there’s an exception.

God knows the future. He knows the future because He created it. Heck, He created Time itself, so Time has no meaning to Him.

We weak, puny human types can’t wrap our heads around that. We are bound by the laws of Time because we were created within Time. But God can do whatever He wants with Time. He can look forward. He can look backward. He can step back and see how all the pieces of our fractured broken lives fit together in the beautiful masterpiece He’s painting.

Be honest. Take yourself ten years ago. Would you have wanted to know that you’d be where you are today? Would you want to know what you’d have to go through, the people you would hurt, the people who would hurt you, the challenges yoou would have to overcome, to get where you are today? Would you want to know the responsibilities you would have today?

I wouldn’t have. It would have scared me to death.

But God knew. And He started ten years ago getting me ready to tackle the job He had for me now. I didn’t understand it ten years ago. And I didn’t know that was what He was doing. But that was His plan.

I mean, think about that. God had our lives planned out from the beginning of time. He knew us before time even started.

2 Timothy 1:9 says,

9 For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.

 I know there are a lot of questions about why God does the things He does. I’ve heard people wonder why God would create the universe when we–His creation–were just going to wreck it. I’ve heard people wonder why God would create Satan when He knew Satan would convince Adam and Eve to sin.

Sometimes there aren’t answers.

But one thing I do understand is that God created everything because He wanted to have a relationship with us. He wanted to have a one-on-one relationship with you and with me where we could talk to each other every day. That’s why He created us. That’s why people are the crowing achievement of God’s creation because He designed us to be able to relate to Him.

He loved us so much that even before He made time itself, He knew He would have to save us and He decided we were worth it.

Do I understand it?

No. I don’t have the ability to comprehend love like that. But I’m thankful for it.

All I know for sure is that God loves me and that He’s working the future out for my good. And even if that’s all you know too, you’re good to go. What else do you really need to know? Knowing the details of the future can be bad for your health, so it’s better to just leave it up to God. He’s seen the future already, and He knows what’s coming . . . without needing to generate 1.21 gigawatts.

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Many times I wonder why God allows trouble to come into my life. Most of the time, that answer is impossible to know. It could be just the fact that this world is broken and bad, troubling things happen constantly. It could be that there’s something in my life that God doesn’t want and He’s allowing circumstances to reveal that truth to me. In either case, though, no matter where the trouble came from or why, there’s something I can learn from it.

I think the best example I can think of is my job situation for the last ten years. My first job was at my town library, and I loved it. And that carried on into college, where I worked at the Campus Library at Pensacola Christian College and (apparently) did well enough to merit a promotion to the Circulation Desk when I was halfway through my freshmen year (everyone else working at the desk was either a junior or a senior). After I came home and began attending Wichita State, I worked at the WSU Libraries, first as an assistant in the Dean’s Office and second (after I graduated) as a staff person at the Circulation Desk.

I enjoyed my work very much (and I simply adored the people I worked with), but it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to write. And there were so many times I felt like I was helplessly spinning my wheels, doing nothing but going around in circles and never actually accomplishing anything. It was depressing and frustrating. And I was upset with myself because it felt like all my life I had worked to be able to get jobs that paid the bills but sapped all my energy from my writing.

Please don’t misunderstand me, though. I loved where I worked, and I loved the people where I worked even more, no matter if it were Haven, PCC or WSU. (There was an in-between time where I worked as a customer service rep for a tax accountant software company and calmed angry attorneys down via telephone while they cussed me out. That job I hated. But I met a really awesome lady there who I’m still friends with to this day!)

Then, God opened the door (wide open) for me to leave the world of libraries and move on to the job I have now. And, even though I struggle with learning how to deal with the amount of stress I have now, I love my job.

But I can tell you without any hesitation that if I had tried for this job when I was fresh out of college, I wouldn’t have gotten it. I didn’t have the people skills. I didn’t have the office skills. And, honestly, I didn’t have the writing skills. Even though my job(s) working at libraries didn’t utilize my writing skills, I worked on them on my own in the background. For five years, I worked jobs that had little to do with my degree, and then I got a job that uses all of it . . . but I couldn’t have gotten the job if I hadn’t had all the experience I’d gained at my other jobs.

Now . . . . that’s a very long story to use as an example of what I learned through that whole situation, but it’s a true story. At the moments where I felt discouraged and frustrated, I should have remembered that God uses every circumstance in our life to teach us something, to get us ready for what’s coming, to prepare us for the road that’s ahead. Through all that, I learned that God has used every occurence in my life for the last ten years to prepare me for the job I have right now. And I can only assume that the stress that I’m encountering in my job right now is training for whatever is next for me in God’s plan for my life.

I thought of all this when I read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 this morning.

 3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

God knows what He’s doing. He never makes mistakes. He always keeps His promises. So we can trust Him. And when He tells us something is for our own good, we can believe that it really is, even if it feels like it’s not fair.

That’s comfort.

Comfort is knowing that even if a circumstance or situation looks impossible God is able to work everything out perfectly. Comfort is not worrying at all, whether it’s about things we can control or things we can’t. It means letting go of what troubles us and letting God put the pieces back together.

When everything looks like it’s falling apart, take comfort from God because He already knows how to fix what’s broken.

And then, when you realize that God really does know what’s going on, use what you learned. Don’t just sit on truth like it’s something nobody needs to hear. Whatever God taught you through the experiences He allowed to take place in your life is something that everyone needs to know. That’s the other thing that I’ve learned. God teaches us lessons through life that apply to everyone we know.

I can’t tell you how many times the story of my “God-job” has encouraged other people. It makes God’s hand in my life very clear, and that’s something that everyone needs to know. And I can’t tell you how many times I have been encouraged about how God took care of someone I love, and even if their circumstances are completely different than mine, God still provided for them the same way He’s provided for me.

We live in a troubled world. Our world is broken, shattered to pieces by our own hands. Our relationships are wrecked. Our governments are hanging by a thread. Unemployment is higher than the sky. And people are sad, discouraged, and lonely.

Hey, Christians! Take comfort from God. He wants to comfort us. He doesn’t want us to worry. He doesn’t want us to be afraid. He’s got us covered. He’s going to work everything out, and when He’s done, His solution will exceed our expectations. So take comfort from that . . . . and share the love. Let the rest of the world know how God comforted you in your time of need. And maybe when the world sees that you really do need God and that He’s never let you down, they’ll understand that they need Him too.