The grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

What is faith and how do we find it?

I’ve grown up hearing stories of heroes from the Bible and from everyday life who accomplished great things because they trusted God to do something miraculous. From Abraham to John Bunyan, from Joseph to Jim Elliot, from Ruth to Amy Carmichael … so many heroes, and the one thing they all had in common is faith. But faith is such an innocuous term anymore. If you even look it up in the dictionary, the first definition is practically generic. Faith means, “belief in someone’s abilities.”

So what is faith? And why does it matter so much? And why are there so many connotations?

The grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

The grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

In this verse, along with about 240 others in the New Testament, the word faith (πιστις) refers to being persuaded. This is the actual definition of the word out of Stong’s Greek Lexicon: “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation.” So when the Bible talks about faith, at least when it uses this word, it’s talking about being persuaded that Jesus is who He said He was.

But this isn’t just a random Bible verse pulled out of Scripture. This passage is talking about the gifts the God gives us, the results of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So not only is faith being persuaded, it’s also a gift from God. But faith goes beyond the fuzzy, ethereal, feel-good pep talks some Christians use when they feel like waxing eloquent about something. Faith is a choice, and if you are a follower of Christ, faith is something God has already given you.

We have to make the choice to take God at His Word, yes. But once we do that, you’ll find it’s not so difficult to believe that God is there. The Bible won’t seem so far out anymore. And life doesn’t seem accidental like it used to. You stop looking at coincidences and start seeing purpose and plan. And the more you get to know Jesus, the easier it is to let Him take over your life.

So what is faith? Faith is choosing to believe what God says instead of what anyone else says. Faith is listening to what the world uses as evidence and choosing to believe what the Bible says about it, even if it’s contradictory or controversial. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that faith is blind, though. It’s not. God isn’t asking for a leap of faith from us, at least not when it comes to trusting Him initially. He’s already provided all the proof we need of who He is. The difficulty is choosing to listen to your peers versus choosing to listen to Him.

Faith is consulting the Bible before you check with your favorite talk show host. Faith is talking to God about a situation before you call a Christian radio station. Faith is letting go of what you know you don’t need to hold onto, even though your peers look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Faith is knowing who God is and walking side-by-side with Him every day. Faith is seeing Him in the small things. Faith is seeing Him in the big things. Faith is seeing Him in everything.

And the Holy Spirit is that still, small voice at the back of your mind that whispers not to worry. He’s the one who reminds us that God has a purpose and plan for our lives, and all we have to do is trust Him.

The same God who walked with Abraham, Joseph, and Ruth is the same God who gave vision to John Bunyan in prison, who gave courage to Jim Elliot in his last moments, who inspired Amy Carmichael to do the unthinkable, and He’s the same God who I talked to this morning and asked to help me write this devotional in a way that makes sense to somebody. I know that. I know it’s true because the Bible says it is, and I know the Bible is true because I know where it came from. I know God is God because He says He is. Creation proves that He is. His work in my life proves that He is.

Anyone who says different doesn’t lack faith. They just have their eyes closed.

So do you want faith? Guess what, Christian? You already have it. It’s that still, small voice at the bottom of your heart that urges you to take a chance on God. You probably know the one I’m talking about. It’s the one you shove to the back of your mind. I do it all the time. But what happens if you listen? Do you think there was anything special about Abraham, Joseph or Ruth or any of the other heroes out of the Bible? Do you think there was anything special about John Bunyan, Jim Elliot, or Amy Carmichael or any of the other heroes of faith from history?

No. The only difference is that they made a choice to listen and obey when God spoke.

What is God telling you to do today? Do it. Trust Him. And if you don’t feel like you can, ask Him to help you have faith. You have the faith already, but ask Him to show it to you. He will.

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New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Choosing to live by the Spirit

I’m hoping that spring will be here soon. In other parts of the country (maybe the world), spring may have already settled in but not in Kansas. In Kansas, we’ve enjoyed a few days of summer and apparently today winter is coming back for a (hopefully) last hurrah. Spring is a wonderful time of year where life comes back to the world, a beautiful picture of what God does in our lives. Yes, the allergies are awful, but watching the world turn green and smelling the blossoming flowers and feeling the warm breezes is absolutely worth it. Spring reminds us that life doesn’t end when we think it does.

I have an orchard here at my little farm. It’s nothing spectacular, just a few apricot trees and pear trees that give new definition to the concept of organic. But in springtime, after the blossoms have fallen, the fruit starts to appear. And it’s a good reminder for me that trees that don’t look like they’re accomplishing anything are actually working–they’re producing something.

New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New apricots in the orchard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:16-24.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

What does it mean to live by the Spirit? Some people take it too far, I think, and turn Spirit-filled living into some emotional experience. I’m not saying living by the Spirit is void of emotion; that’s not it at all. But I really think a hallmark of Spirit-filled living is balance. You aren’t ruled by emotion. You aren’t ruled by the law. You’re ruled by the Spirit.

You can be a follower of Christ and have the Spirit of God in you without being filled by Him. You can believe in Christ but not allow the Spirit to work. So how do you live by the Spirit? Well, first of all, you have to know what God wants, and that’s where Bible reading comes in. And then you have to communicate with God, and that’s where prayer comes in. And then you have listen. That’s the hard part for me. Sitting still and listening for God’s voice is difficult when I feel like I need to be rushing around doing ten things at once. But once you can get the point where you learn to recognize God’s voice and obey, you’ll start noticing a difference in your life. And others around you will start noticing too.

Today’s passage is pretty long but it’s one of the best set of verses about living by the Spirit. It’s a good measurement because if you’re living by the Spirit, your life is going to have certain qualities:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These nine qualities are often called the Fruit of the Spirit, and they are what the Holy Spirit will produce in our lives if we listen to God’s voice and obey.

So for the month of May, I want to study the Fruit of the Spirit. I want to know what they are, what they mean, and what they look like in our lives. I want to make sure I have them because I want to live a life that is Spirit-led. And the first step of accomplishing that is to be still and listen.

Just like verses 24 and 25 say above, as a follower of Christ, my sinful nature has been nailed to the cross. It has no power over me anymore, and through God’s power, I can resist. I don’t have to sin. I can choose not to sin through Christ’s strength. But just because sin has no power over me and heaven is my eternal destination doesn’t automatically mean that I am filled with the Spirit. I have the Spirit; He’s a part of my life. But that doesn’t mean I let Him lead. And that’s what I want.

It’s not required to live by the Spirit if you’re a Christ-follower but it’s the kind of life that God desires for us. It’s the kind of life that can make a difference in the world, and the beautiful thing is that we don’t have to do anything. God has already taken care of the truly hard part. We just have to listen and take God at His Word, and while that can be challenging sometimes, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal.

So make up your mind. You can be a Christian and cling to your hell insurance or you can choose to let the Spirit lead. The choice is yours, but I say if I’m going to live for Christ, I want to live all out.

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 New Year’s Resolution Wagon keeps losing people . . . .

How’s everybody doing on your New Year’s Resolutions? It’s just over halfway through January. Is everyone still chugging right along? Or have your good intentions fallen by the wayside?

I’m actually kind of surprised that I’m still blogging every morning. I figured I would probably accidentally sleep in one morning or throw my alarm across the room and go back to sleep (actually, I can’t do that anyway because I have to get up to reach my alarm; I did that on purpose). But it actually feels nice to still be doing what I said I would do at the beginning of the year, and I’m praying that I have the discipline to continue. 

It’s good for me to communicate like this, and I know it certainly keeps my focus where it should be for the whole day. It’s funny to me because so many of you have told me that what I write on here helps you too, and that’s awesome!! But I am totally talking to myself most of the time. I was telling a friend yesterday (Shout out to Ethan!) that if anything I write at this time in the morning actually makes sense, it has to be God because I am the farthest thing from a morning person in the universe.

I’m honestly not very good at New Year’s Resolutions. I think I said that when I started. I don’t usually make them because I usually can’t keep them. And I don’t like making promises I can’t (or won’t) keep. But I guess that’s something people do a lot. As much as I don’t like it, I know I still do it. Our word just doesn’t mean as much as it used to because so few people keep it and so few people actually mean what they say.

I was reading the verse of the day this morning and the only thing I could think about was what would it be like if God didn’t keep His promises? Wouldn’t that be awful? Think about all the promises that He’s made to us and what would happen if He decided one day that it was too much trouble? I’m so thankful–so very thankful–that God isn’t like that. I’m so glad that when He says He’ll do something, we can have no doubt that He will do it.

The verse this morning is 1 Corinthians 10:13.

13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

 This is another verse Bible-thumpers will get all riled up about, all usually focusing on the last part of the verse. That God never allows us to be tempted beyond what we can stand. But very few ever see the middle of the verse. God is faithful.

One of the best messages my pastor ever brought was on this one verse. Ironically, he preached it the Sunday before September 11, 2001. And to this day, one truth out of that message still follows me everywhere: “When we are less than we should be, God cannot be less than He is. He is faithful.”

It’s who God is. Faithfulness is one of God’s defining characteristics. He is faithful. He is trustworthy. If you trust Him with something, He’ll take care of it because that’s what He does. And you shouldn’t worry that it won’t get done because God has it under control. God can’t deny Himself.

Now, that’s not anything like saying God can create a rock He can’t lift; that’s stupid. What that means is that God isn’t limited by our human weakness. The word can’t has no meaning to Him because there’s nothing He can’t do; He is who He is and He has no reason or need to be anything else. The ability to do things or say things that contradict what is right and true isn’t a strength; it is a weakness, a flaw brought on by our fallen natures. We hear that God can’t do something and instantly we think that He’s limited in someway and therefore can’t be God, but the truth is that we are the ones who are weak. If we were strong — if we were perfect — we would never do wrong.

It encourages me because I know that no matter where I go or what I do or what I get into, God will always be there. And He will always be faithful to forgive me when I screw up. And, boy, do I screw up. It happens more than I would care to admit.

So if you’ve fallen off your New Year’s Resolution wagon, what the hey? Get back on it. Be faithful to it. If you’ve said you’ll do it, do it. Imitate God by keeping your promises. And when you screw up, God will forgive you. Because He promised He would and He always will.

He is faithful. And that makes me want to be faithful to Him.