Pretty flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Questioning your faith can make it stronger

One night this week, as I was driving home, I noticed a big flashing sign that said a part of the highway would be shut down. I made a mental note, but I didn’t worry about it because the sign said it would be open during the times I normally travel.

So I got on the road the next morning and approached the highway junction, and I was surprised to see a sign that said: Right Lane Closed Ahead!

Well, the other sign had said it would be open. Was it wrong?

Not wanting to take any chances, I jumped into the left lane and continued on. And continued on. And continued on. And surprise, surprise, surprise—the right lane wasn’t closed after all.

I could have trusted that first sign, but I wasn’t sure.

Has that ever happened to you in your faith? You heard the truth first and then someone contradicted it and you questioned your beliefs?

It’s happened to me. I think I know what I believe and then someone I respect or someone who I think knows more than I do tells me I’m wrong. And it shakes me. And I spend a lot of wasted time worrying that I’ve been making the wrong decisions.

I used to stress myself out, but that doesn’t really accomplish anything. I don’t learn anything from it, that’s for sure.

What I have learned to do is to go to the source when I have a question. If it’s a question about work, I go to my boss. If it’s a question about writing, I go to books I trust. If it’s a question of faith, I go to the Bible.

Pretty flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

The Bible claims to be the Word of God over and over again, which is different than any other religious type of manuscript. I spent nearly 1,000 words yesterday morning on how the Bible is different from other books, so I won’t rehash that here. Here I’m just going to assume that if you’re a Christ-follower, you believe the Bible.

The Bible should be our go-to source for how to live our lives. Not talk shows. Not 12-step guides. Not our friends. And not even our family members. Yes, consult them. Yes, get their thoughts. Consider their opinions. But realize that the one source for truth is the Bible.

Why? Because the Bible came from God. God inspired the writers of the Bible to pen the words He wanted so that throughout the ages, God could speak to His people.

If you want to build a house, you have to know your foundation is strong. If you want to sit on a chair, you have to know it’s going to support your weight. And if you want to make a difficult choice about your faith, you should know that what you’re being told is true.

It’s okay to question what you’ve been told. It doesn’t matter if it’s your pastor of 20 years. It doesn’t matter if it’s your best friend of 10 years. Your parents? Your siblings? Your coworkers?

I’m not saying don’t trust them. I’m just saying think twice before you put your life in the hands of someone else’s interpretation of Truth without checking it out for yourself.

In the end, the person responsible for your walk is you. The person who will be held accountable for his or her choices is you. You won’t be able to shift the blame because God knows your heart. So you’d better be sure you know what you believe and why, and when someone questions what you believe (and they will), you’d better be prepared to seek an answer in the right place.

Christians can be the most critical people on Earth. We think we know best, not only for ourselves but for everyone else around us. And maybe we’re just trying to help, but I really think in many instances we do more harm than good, especially when we preach at people and refuse to actually help them when they need it.

So don’t let someone’s disagreement shake you. People will disagree with you, and that’s okay. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree. But that doesn’t mean your faith has to get weaker.

Actually, when you have a question about your faith and you take the time and make the effort to seek the answer in the Bible and ask God for His help, you’ll find your faith gets stronger.

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Sunflower blossoming in a brush pile at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A good thing you can’t get too much of

I’m sure you’ve heard that too much of anything is bad for you, even if it’s something that’s good for you. I think that’s one of America’s main problems; we don’t know the meaning of restraint. We lack discipline in every area of our lives. Healthy foods are good for you, but eating too much is bad. Knowledge and education is good for you, but too much can very rapidly turn into an obsession that controls your life. The same with work. Work is good, but living for work isn’t so good.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were something out there that you couldn’t overdose on? Something you couldn’t get too much of?

Sunflower blossoming in a brush pile at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunflower blossoming in a brush pile at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Mark 9:17-27.

One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”

Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.

“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.

He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”

“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”

The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”

Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.

Earlier this year, I did a month-long study of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), looking deeper into what each Fruit of the Spirit actually is and how we can make sure they’re a part of our lives. The thing about the Fruit of the Spirit is that you can overdose on each one of them and you’ll be better off than you were before. Like Love. You can’t get enough real love in your life. Pick any one of the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance) and adding an abundance of any one of them in your life will only improve it.

The one that I needed to focus on this morning was faith. The Bible is full of examples of faith, but there are a few stories in scripture that deal with people asking for more faith. Today’s set of verses is just one.

I tend to think that faith is something I have to develop on my own. It’s a choice I have to make in my life every day. I’ve heard people describe faith as a feeling or as an experience, but that’s misleading. Yes, faith can include some pretty powerful emotions and can create some overwhelming feelings, but faith isn’t an emotional response. Faith can create an emotional response, but when you get right down to it, faith is a choice you make, to believe no matter what. There will be days you don’t feel like believing, and it’s those days when you need the steel that comes from choice rather than relying on what your broken emotions will tell you.

But is it okay to ask God for more faith? Is faith something God can give you? I believe it is.

I mean, for one thing, faith is a spiritual gift (1Corinthians 12:9). There are some people who just have a lot of faith. Those are the people who don’t have any trouble believing that God can do everything. Even during times when it feels like their lives are falling apart, they hold on to God’s promises and never give up. That’s not normal, folks, in case you didn’t know. For some people, when they accept Christ, they just get that kind of faith.

For other people, they don’t have it. The Spirit has given them some other kind of gift and faith is something they have to build in their own life.

The verses for today tell a story about a man who believed that Jesus could heal his son. But even though he believed Jesus could do it, the man still asked Jesus to help him overcome his doubt and unbelief, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Life beats us down. Circumstances and situations in our lives discourage us and hurt us and tear us up. We face disappointment. We face hopes that are crushed and dreams that will never come true. And for those people to whom faith doesn’t come easily, it’s okay to admit that you don’t have enough faith. It’s okay to tell God you’re struggling to keep believing. He isn’t going to crush you. He isn’t going to be angry at you. He wants to help you.

And on the flip side, if you are a person who faith comes to easily, it’s still okay to ask for more. You can be greedy about faith. You really can’t get enough of it.

So if you’re facing something hard in your life right now and you don’t think you have enough faith to get through it, tell God about it and ask Him to help you have more faith. He’s listening, and He wants to help. Now, I can’t speak to how He will go about increasing your faith. That’s going to be different for every person who asks, but one thing I know for sure: God is good. So everything He does is good, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Obeying God isn’t a game of hide and seek.

Wouldn’t it be nice if God would tell us clearly what He wanted us to do? I mean, beyond the obvious. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t murder. Love Him. Love others. Those are obvious. Those are the ones we all know, whether we follow Him or not. But what about the specifics? There are millions of choices to make and thousands of methods to go about doing all of those things.  So which one do we choose?

Example? Do we leave our home and travel to a foreign land to love others? Or do we stay home and do the same thing for the people who are hurting all around us? It’s the same concept. Both are obedient. But the choice whether to stay or go has major ramifications. It’s a big deal. How do we know what to do?

The really awesome thing about God is that He doesn’t hide Himself. He never hides from us. It’s the other way around. Even from the beginning, it was Adam and Eve who hid from God after they did wrong, not God hiding from them. And if we ask Him to help us, He will. We just have to be willing to accept the answer.

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaw - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is James 1:5.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.

I think there’s a perception sometimes that we shouldn’t ask God for things because He’s already done too much for us. Or because He’s too busy to listen. There couldn’t be anything more untrue. God wants us to ask Him for things. He wants to give us good gifts. He wants to tell us how to live our lives, but we are rarely interested in listening.

Most of the time, I think we seek Him and seek the path He has planned for us and then, when He answers us, we get scared or full of insecurity and doubt and we shut Him out and convince ourselves that He didn’t really answer us. After all, surely He couldn’t be asking us to do something that is so dangerous or so out of the box! Right?

I know I’ve had this argument with myself many times. I get lost and confused and turned around. I worry and I stress, and I’m at the end of my rope. So I ask God for help (I should have asked for help first before worry and stress set in) and God answers me. But the answer He gives me is something I don’t want to hear. It’s an answer that pushes me beyond what I’m comfortable doing. It’s an answer that requires me to trust Him on a level I haven’t experienced before. So what do I do?

I tell myself I heard Him wrong. I tell myself that I am making up crazy ideas and I go about my day, wondering why God isn’t showing Himself to me. Sound familiar to anyone else?

God wants us to ask Him questions. He’s a wealth of knowledge and information and He loves us so very much. We have access to the Creator of the Universe. We can speak to Him like He’s our Daddy, but many of us don’t because we think He doesn’t want to hear from us. And the rest of us are so petrified by doubt and insecurity, we don’t do what He tells us to do.

Sometimes we have big decisions to make. Other times, our decisions aren’t so big but we still need help making up our minds, especially if the choices we have are both good. God wants to help us make that choice. There are so many ways He speaks to us, through His Word, through other believers, even through nature. He cares about the decisions we make. But He can only do so much for us if we refuse to listen.