Christianity 201

February 3, 2018

There’s a Difference Between Doubt and Unbelief

Grab a warm drink and settle into a comfortable chair. Today’s is longer than usual. It’s our annual visit to the blog of K.W. Leslie and there was so much to choose from. Click the title below, read this at source, and then click the header to navigate to other pieces.

Doubt’s Okay, Unbelief’s the Problem

I’ve been told more than once, “In the scriptures, Jesus came down awfully hard against doubt. How then can you claim doubt is our friend?

’Cause Jesus’s objection wasn’t actually to doubt. It was to unbelief.

Contrary to popular opinion—and way too many bible translations—doubt isn’t the opposite of belief. Unbelief is. Doubt’s not the same as unbelief. Doubt means we’re not sure we believe. Unbelief means we’re totally sure—and we don’t believe at all.

Doubt’s what happens when we sorta kinda do believe. But we’re not entirely sure. So we suspend judgment till we get more evidence. And often that’s precisely the right thing to do. Y’realize Christians constantly get scammed by false teachers, fake prophets, and con artists who tell ’em, “Stop doubting me and just believe!” In so doing they’re trying to keep us from practicing discernment, because if we did use our heads we’d realize what they were up to. They don’t want us to think. Just feel. Follow your emotions, not your head. Ignore the gray matter God gave you, and listen to your brain chemicals… and ignore the fact most of us can turn them on and off if we tried.

Unbelievers definitely try to describe themselves as doubters. I’ve met plenty of nontheists who claim that’s what they really are: Doubters. Skeptics. Agnostics who are intellectually weighing the evidence for Christianity… but we Christians haven’t yet convinced them, so they’re gonna stay in the nontheist camp for now. Makes ’em sound open-minded and wise. But it’s hypocritical bushwa. Their minds are totally made up; they stopped investigating God long ago. They don’t believe; they’ve chosen their side of the issue; they’re straddling nothing.

Real doubt might likewise mean we’ve totally picked a side. There are Christians who doubt, but they’re still gonna remain Christian. (After all, where else are they gonna go? Jn 6.68 They’ve seen too much.) And there are nontheists who doubt, so they’re still gonna investigate Christianity from time to time, and talk with Christians, and try to see whether there’s anything to what we believe. Part of ’em kinda hopes there is. Or, part of ’em really hopes there’s not—but the Holy Spirit is making them doubt their convictions, ’cause he uses doubt like this all the time.

The goal of doubt is to get us to stop playing both sides, and finally pick one once and for all. The point of an open mind, as G.K. Chesterton once put it, is like that of an open mouth: At some point it’s gotta close on something solid. Belief—and conversely unbelief—means it has closed. Doubt means the question is still open. It’s not wrong to doubt. It is wrong to never deal with those doubts.

Our second guesses, or our unbelief.

Here’s one of the better-known stories about Jesus “rebuking doubt.” He was walking on water; Simon Peter wanted to do that too; the Holy Spirit let him give it a try. It’s a faith exercise. Worked as long as Peter trusted the Spirit… and stopped working the moment he stopped trusting, and started second-guessing.

Matthew 14.28-31 KWL
28 Replying to Jesus, Simon Peter said, “Master if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.”
29 Jesus said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and came to Jesus, walking on the water.
30 Seeing the strong wind, Peter feared… and starting to drown, he called Jesus: “Master, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus stretched out a hand, grabbed him, and told him, “Tiny-faith, why’d you backtrack?”

The KJV has Jesus ask, “Wherefore didst thou doubt?”—interpreting edístasas/“to rethink” as doubt. It actually wasn’t that. If he had doubted, he’d have never stepped out of the boat. You don’t try walking on water unless you’re pretty darned sure you can walk on water. As demonstrated every time someone walks on ice: They’re entirely sure the ice is thick enough to walk on. If they have any doubts, they stay off.

So how’d Peter go wrong? He backtracked: “Wait, what’d I get myself into? I’m walking on water in this weather. I must be nuts!” He lost his nerve. He let his fears overwhelm his circumstances, and fell over instead of stepping forward. Movies tend to depict Peter slowly sinking into the water, but I’ve no idea why. Matthew implies he fell right in. Strikes me as far more dramatic.

Jesus fished him out. I don’t know whether he stood Peter back on the water with him, or dragged him back to the boat; I just know Jesus rescued him, ’cause he does that. But note he called Peter oligópistos/“tiny-faith.” Jesus didn’t call him no-faith, but tiny-faith. Like I said, Peter had enough faith to get out of the boat, and that’s considerably more faith than your average Christian. (More than the other students too.)

But he didn’t rebuke Peter’s doubt, ’cause doubt isn’t even the issue. It’s second-guessing ourselves, even though the Spirit is clearly okay with what we’re doing, and has empowered us to act. It’s, “Wait; I don’t wanna do this anymore.” God’s kingdom needs commitment. If people are gonna act in faith, and the Holy Spirit’s gonna empower us to do miracles, we’d better darned well follow through.

The rest of the time, Jesus’s rebukes again weren’t against doubt, but unbelief.

Mark 9.19-24 KWL
19 Jesus replied to his students, “You untrustworthy youngsters.
How long am I gonna be with you?—how long must I cover for you? Bring the boy to me.”
They brought him to Jesus. The spirit saw Jesus and immediately pitched a fit.
Falling on the ground, the boy rolled and foamed.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has this been going on?”
The father said, “Since he was a little boy.
22 Many times it throws him into fire and into water, to destroy him.
But if you’re able, help us! Have compassion on us!”
23 Jesus told him, “If you’re able. Those who believe in God, can do anything.”
24 The father of the little boy immediately shouted, “I believe!… Help me through my unbelief.”

When people get desperate, they’re not gonna cling to their unbelief. They’re willing to try anything. Including stuff they don’t really believe in at all. That was the deal with this guy and his demonized son: The evil spirit was mimicking epilepsy, which is why too many interpreters assume this was epilepsy. But the father realized it was an evil spirit, ’cause an epileptic seizure doesn’t intentionally throw its sufferer into fire or water. He realized there was some malevolence behind his boy’s condition. And since the pagan “physicians” (really, witch-doctors) were not only no help, but likely put these critters into his son, it was time to try the exorcist. First Jesus’s students—who, to Jesus’s great annoyance, weren’t up to the task, even though he’d trained them. Then Jesus himself, who could totally do it—but he wanted the father to act, not in desperation, but belief. Same as he expects of anyone who prays to him: Do it in faith!

But if we have our doubts? He can work with that. ’Cause when the father asked for Jesus to help him through his unbelief, Jesus did, and cured his kid.

Mark 9.25-29 KWL
25 Jesus, seeing the crowd gather rapidly, rebuked the unclean spirit,
telling it, “I command you speechless, mute spirit: Get out of him, and never enter him again.”
26 Shouting and tearing him up, it came out. The boy looked dead, so many people said, “He died.”
27 Jesus gripped the boy’s hand, lifted him, and stood him up.
28 Entering the house, when they were by themselves, the students asked him this: “Why weren’t we able to throw it out?”
29 Jesus told them, “That species can’t be thrown out by anything but prayer.”

In other words you can’t throw it out. Only God can. So don’t presume you have the power to drive out every evil spirit you come across, just because you’re God’s kid. Always pray for help. You might need it. But I digress.

Doubting fellow Christians.

Jesus is infallible. Our fellow Christians aren’t. That’s why we’re actually instructed to doubt them. Test them, make sure what they tell us is consistent with good theology. It’s gotta jibe with the scriptures, with what other Christians teach, with common sense, and with our previous God-experiences. We don’t just blindly follow one another. (Not even me. I could be wrong too, of course.)

Problem is, we Christians are way too likely to unquestioningly accept the things our favorite preachers tell us. We’re more apt to listen to them than even the Holy Spirit! The Spirit may tell a man, “Help the needy,” but his pastor’ll tell him, “God helps those who help themselves.” The pastor is quoting Benjamin Franklin, not bible. But to the man, karma sounds way more fair to him than grace. So he follows his pastor, not the Spirit.

Even the best of us get suckered into following our prejudices instead of God. Likely you’ve heard this story before: God sent a prophet, whom the story calls “God’s Man,” to condemn King Jeroboam ben Nebat for idolatry. En-route home, God’s Man encountered an older prophet who, for whatever reason, led him astray.

1 Kings 13.14-22 KWL
14 He rode after God’s Man and found him sitting beneath an oak.
He said, “Are you God’s Man who came from Judah?” God’s Man said, “I am.”
15 The prophet said, “Go with me to the house, and eat bread.”
16 God’s Man told him, “I won’t go with you or come with you.
I won’t eat bread, won’t drink water in this place.
17 The message to me, the LORD’s word, is ‘Don’t eat bread, don’t drink water there.
Don’t return the way you came.’ ”
18 The prophet told God’s Man, “But I’m a prophet like you!
An angel spoke the LORD’s word to me, saying, ‘Bring him back to your house.
He will eat bread; he will drink water.’ ” But he lied.
19 God’s Man returned with the prophet, and ate bread and drank water at his house.
20 As they sat at table, the LORD’s word came to the prophet who’d brought God’s Man back.
21 He called out to God’s Man who came from Judah, saying: “The LORD says this:
‘You rebelled against the LORD’s mouth and didn’t keep the command your LORD God commanded.
22 You returned, ate bread, and drank water
in a place where I told you not to eat bread and drink water.
So your corpse won’t come to your fathers’ tomb.’ ”

Very soon after, a lion killed God’s Man, and the older prophet buried him in his own tomb, thus fulfilling this prophecy.

Yeah, it sounds harsh. But we don’t know all the circumstances behind God’s odd instructions to God’s Man: Maybe they were meant to keep him from getting killed by lions! In any case, the main point is God’s Man didn’t doubt. He heard, “I’m a prophet too,” and his discernment went right out the window. He accepted the lie because he wanted to fill his stomach, and didn’t care God had instructed otherwise. Any loophole would do.

We pull the same stunt all the time. Plenty of Christians accept everything our preachers tell us, without a doubt, without a concern, without question, because our preachers are telling us just what we wanna hear. We aren’t engaging in the sort of healthy skepticism God wants of us when he told us to test prophets and teachers.

1 John 4.1 KWL
Beloved, don’t trust every spirit, but put the spirits to the test to see if they’re from God,
because many fake prophets have been coming out of the universe.
1 Thessalonians 5.19-22 KWL
19 Don’t quiet the Spirit: 20 Don’t dismiss prophecy, 21 and put everything to the test.
Hold tight to what’s good. 22 Stay far away from what seems bad.

We’re expected to entertain a certain degree of healthy skepticism—healthy in the sense that the goal isn’t to reject everything, but test everything. Keep what’s good, shun what’s bad. We expect prophecies, moves of the Spirit, and solid teaching. But at the same time we’re meant to confirm prophecies, test spirits, double-check our teachers, and compare what we’ve heard to the scriptures, to Christians, and to reason. God isn’t just okay with this: He ordered this.

A fake prophet, false teacher, and iffy Christian will call it unbelief, and call our devotion into question. That’s their tactic, meant to frighten us into leaving them alone. Works too well, too often. Way too many Christians never admit our doubts, never publicly ask questions, keep our mouths shut, and meekly allow ourselves to be led astray. Every legalistic church, every child-molesting pastor, every fool who teaches something stupid and ridiculous and embarrasses Christianity with it, has benefited by the fact Christians refuse to doubt. We refuse to engage our brains, and apply any critical thinking. It makes us look like idiots. But whenever we refuse to ask questions, we are idiots.

Every Christian should doubt. Make sure it’s of God, and once you find out it’s him, follow him to the ends of the earth. But first we gotta reasonably confirm it’s him. So don’t slack on that.

January 13, 2018

Bold, Protocol-Defying Prayers

NIV Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

This is a short excerpt from Draw the Circle: A 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. It was today’s selection from a devotional service I subscribe to, Devotions Daily from Faith Gateway.

Crazy Prayers, Crazy Faith

This woman is driving me crazy. – Luke 18:5

I love the parable of the persistent widow. I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think persistent is a nice word for crazy. This woman is crazy, but when the cause is a righteous one, it’s a holy crazy!

We aren’t told what injustice took place, but she was on a mission. Maybe her son was falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Maybe the man who molested her daughter was still on the streets. We don’t know for sure. But whatever it was, she wouldn’t take no for an answer. And the judge knew it. The judge knew she would circle his house until the day she got justice or the day she died. The judge knew there was no quit in the crazy woman.

Does the Judge know that about you? How desperate are you for the blessing, the breakthrough, the miracle? Desperate enough to pray through the night? How many times are you willing to circle the promise? Until the day you die? How long will you knock on the door of opportunity? Until your knuckles are raw? Until you knock the door down?

The persistent widow’s methodology was unorthodox. She could have, and technically should have, waited for her day in court. Going to the personal residence of the judge crossed a professional line. I’m almost surprised the judge didn’t file a restraining order against her. But this reveals something about the nature of God. God couldn’t care less about protocol. If He did, Jesus would have chosen the Pharisees as His disciples. But that isn’t who Jesus honored.

Jesus honored the prostitute who crashed a party at a Pharisee’s home to anoint His feet. Jesus honored the tax collector who climbed a tree in his three-piece suit just to get a glimpse of Him. Jesus honored the four friends who cut in line and cut a hole in someone’s ceiling to help their friend. And in this parable, Jesus honored the crazy woman who drove a judge crazy because she wouldn’t stop knocking.

The common denominator in each of these stories is crazy faith. People took desperate measures to get to God, and God honored them for it. Nothing has changed.

God is still honoring spiritual desperadoes who crash parties and climb trees.

God is still honoring those who defy protocol with their bold prayers. God is still honoring those who pray with audacity and tenacity. And the crazy woman is selected as the gold standard when it comes to praying hard. Her unrelenting persistence was the only difference between justice and injustice.

The viability of our prayers is not contingent on scrabbling the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet into the right combinations like abracadabra. God already knows the last punctuation mark before we pronounce the first syllable. The viability of our prayers has more to do with intensity than vocabulary. It has more to do with what we do than what we say.

Don’t just pray about it; act on it.

There are defining moments in life when we need to prove to God that we mean business – and I don’t mean “business as usual.” In fact, it’s only when “business as usual” goes out of business that we’re in business – the Father’s business. That’s when we’re on the verge of a spiritual breakthrough…

July 3, 2017

Praying for Healing

Once again we’re visiting Biblical Proof, the blog of Alfred Shannon, Jr. There are some great articles here dealing with subjects that should interest you. Click the title below to read this one and then navigate the site to look at other topics. Also, note the writer’s perspective on healing vs. miracle healing. A cessationist might believe that the day of miracles is over but still adhere to the admonition in today’s key scripture passage. For such people, definitions have to be adjusted to fit with an overarching theology. What’s important here however is the importance of asking God for help.

Praying For The Sick

Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him (Jam 5:14-15).

I have noticed that when we pray for someone who is sick, frequently the prayer goes something like this:

“Our Father in heaven, we thank you for the many blessings you have given us. . . . We come to you in prayer especially at this time in behalf of our brother who is sick. We pray that you will bless the doctors and nurses who are attending to him. We pray that you will be with his family in this hour of crisis that they might minister to his needs and be a source of comfort, consolation, and strength to him”.

There is nothing in this prayer that should not be prayed for. However, the prayer frequently comes to an end without the one leading it ever asking the Lord to heal the sick body of the person who is suffering. In my observations at the hospital, I see the doctor in pretty good health, not worried about how to pay his medical bills, and doing quite well. The nurses attending to the needs of my loved one also look cheerful, in good health, and generally doing better than the one lying in the hospital bed. The family and friends who come to cheer and comfort the sick also seem relatively in good condition. Any of these can properly be the objects of our prayer. However, in this situation, who is most in need of our prayers? Obviously, the sick person who is in such poor condition that he had to be admitted into the hospital. Why should anyone be so reluctant to pray for him?

Have we so studiously avoided the errors of modem Pentecostalism that we are afraid to ask the Lord to heal the body of someone who is sick? I hope that we have not reached a point in our faith that we no longer believe that prayer does any good. Before proceeding any further, let me close a couple of doors. There are two erroneous concepts of the present operation of the world:

(1) The Pentecostals are wrong when they promise miraculous healing to those who are sick. There are no miracles being performed today. Faith is not a condition to physical health.

(2) The naturalists are also wrong who teach that everything is governed solely by natural law. The deistic concept of the universe teaches that God created and empowered the universe; ever since creation everything has occurred as a result of natural law. The naturalists deny that God even created the world, but are agreed with the deists in believing that all things that happen are the result of the operation of natural law. Neither believes that God intervenes in the affairs of man. Neither of these concepts are true. God does work in the affairs of men, as is expressly stated in such passages as Daniel 4:32. I am afraid that some Christians may be approaching the deistic concept of the world. That would be the case if one were to conclude that prayer does not change things.

When Hezekiah became aware that he was sick with an illness that would lead to death, he prayed to God and wept (2 Kin 20:3). The Lord answered his prayer and extended his life for fifteen years.

The 116th Psalm records the praise of a saint delivered from death. He described his condition:

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

Then called I upon the name of the Lord; 0 Lord, I beseech you, deliver my soul (3-4).

The psalmist brought his plight before the Lord and asked for his divine assistance and aid.

If we cannot directly ask for God’s help when we are sick, how can we praise and glorify him when we are healed? If we believe that he has nothing to do with our recovery, why praise him for deliverance? Why not solely give thanks to the doctors, nurses, and natural laws that enable us to recuperate? Most doctors will tell you that they cure no one, but that information evidently hasn’t gotten into the minds of God’s children. Doctors are not God and it is impossible for man to heal anyone. Only God heals! (Jer 17:14)

I plan to ask for God to heal me when I become ill. I am not asking him to perform a miracle, but I am asking him in his providence to heal my sick body. There is not a father or mother among us with a sick child who has not unabashedly taken their prayer directly to God and asked him to let the child live!

Why are we afraid to say in public what we pray in private? Let us not hesitate to ask God to extend the life of our loved ones, to heal their sick body that they might resume their role in the home, and to strengthen them during the hours of their sickness. Let us also recognize that the God who has the power to heal also has the privilege of saying to me like he did to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). I will pray earnestly until I clearly see that the answer to my prayer is “My grace is sufficient for you.” When I so perceive his reply, I will quit asking for healing and ask for the strength to accept what has come to me.

In the meantime, let us avoid the tendency of allowing our reaction to Pentecostalism to drive us away from asking God to heal the sick.


Here is our runner up from Biblical Proof which looks at the prayers of sinners (not to be confused with the sinner’s prayer.) Does God Hear A Sinner’s Prayer?

April 26, 2015

True Faith Involves Risk-Taking

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This post today is from Josh Surratt at Seacoast Church and was part of a series on the church blog.

Marked by Risk

Do you embrace risks or avoid them? What about spiritual risks that test your faith? In the final week of our Marked series, Pastor Josh Surratt examined Mark 14 [listen to the series; this one is week 8] and the story of a woman who took a bold act of faith even as Christ’s own disciples backed away.

“While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head.”

-Mark 14:3 (NLT)

At some point in our spiritual journey we’ll be called to take risks that lead us outside of our comfort zone. Whether it is deciding to follow Christ, giving financially, or simply sharing our faith with others, God constantly leads us to places where we must decide whether to play it safe or take a risk. Often times we’d rather cling to our security than take a risk. However, taking risks is what defines our faith and nurtures our spiritual growth.

Being followers of Christ requires us to take risks that demand an extraordinary amount of faith. These aren’t always easy risks to take. Our decisions might make others uncomfortable, sparking criticism or judgment. We may even find ourselves choosing to play it safe to avoid being marked as a worldly failure. However, we must remember that God has resourced us to do his will and we’re equipped to give our all to God.

“But Jesus replied, ‘Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.’”

-Mark 14:6-9 (NLT)

No matter how much criticism we face, our acts of faith will be remembered and rewarded. The woman in Mark 14 invested everything that she had in Christ. It was a dark time as Jesus approached his inevitable death upon the cross. Yet even as his disciples were waiting to flee, she dared to take a bold risk to declare her relentless faith in Christ.

This story teaches us three things about taking risks:

1. Truly walking by faith involves taking risks.
2. Taking spiritual risks will often invite criticism, even from other believers.
3. When you do what you can by faith, you will be remembered.

God doesn’t just call upon qualified people to do his will, rather he qualifies those who answer his call. When we reach the end of our lives, do we want to be remembered as the person who almost did or could have, or the one who did all that they could with all that they had? As this series comes to a close, let’s remember all the ways that we’ve been marked and embrace taking risks in our spiritual journeys that will ultimately bring glory to God.


Bonus item: C.S. Lewis on Modern Bible Translations.

March 31, 2015

Living on the East Side of Jordan

Today we pay a return visit to the writing of Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. She continues to work through both an Old Testament passage and a New Testament passage (and one from a Psalm) in each day’s writing. To read more in this series, click the title below and then click the blog header to see the daily chronology unfold. If this resonates with you, consider becoming a daily reader of her daily devotional.

PuzzlePuzzles in the Bible

In studying the Word of God, I’m beginning to see it in a very broad view. It (and all of history) has four parts: creation, fall, redemption, new creation. The first two are described in just three chapters. The last one is hinted at more than described but can be found in the last part of Revelation. The redemption part fills most of the Bible. I’m also seeing how each narrative, each piece of poetry, the writings of the prophets and of course the stories of Jesus and the new church all fit into this larger plan.

But there are puzzles. In Numbers 32, God’s people are about to enter the land of promise, and while they will encounter enemies and battles, they will eventually enjoy this new land. This is both a genuine historical event and an illustration that points toward the redemption of God’s people through faith in Christ and the entrance of Christians into a new way of life.

The puzzle is in the OT illustration. A couple of tribes decided they didn’t want to go into that land God promised them. Moses was upset. He reminded them of God’s anger when the entire group refused to go in forty years prior. He warned them, “For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”

However, they said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” They wouldn’t live there, but they would help the others go in and fight for what God had promised them.

So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the Lord for the war, and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the Lord, until he has driven out his enemies from before him and the land is subdued before the Lord; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the Lord and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the Lord.” (Numbers 32:15–22)

I’ve wondered what part of God’s redemptive plan is illustrated in this historical event. I’ve one answer, but this is pure speculation on my part. In the narrative, His people entered the land He promised them, just as Christians are to enter new life in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. Those who helped them go in, but did not live there are like some Christians who do not seem to desire that rich manner of Christian life. They are content to be God’s people, but ‘live on the east side of Jordan.” They care about those who move forward in their spiritual lives, even help them by prayer and support, but are not concerned to move on themselves. Again, my explanation is speculation. If there are better answers, I’d love to hear them.

The NT is mildly related, not to the OT story, but to my attempts to better understand it. Paul was writing to a church that was fighting over which was the best speaking gift. He said, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:37–40)

God didn’t want them quarreling or forbidding the gifts they didn’t prefer. Instead, they were to be orderly, obeying the commands of the Lord and desiring the gifts that explain His will. He didn’t tell them to push aside the gifts they looked down on, but to recognize the Word of God as the Word of God. This is not about being the ‘best” but being godly people. I can speculate about meaning, but God does not want me to look down my nose on those who do not agree.

The reading from the Psalms expresses the hearts of those who stayed on the east side of the promised land, and it expresses how I feel when I cannot understand why God allowed them to do that or what significance it has for His people now.

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13–14)

Sometimes saying “I don’t know for sure” comes out of my mouth with great reluctance. I like to know all the answers, and the bottom line for everything. This time, I am not sure. Maybe God allowed those tribes to stay out of the land of promise just to humble me – the person who thinks she can know everything – and show me that I must wait on the Lord for this one.

June 16, 2014

Trusting God While Running For Your Life

Be merciful to me, my God,
    for my enemies are in hot pursuit;
    all day long they press their attack. (Ps. 56:1)

Trusting God 3

We’re always looking for ways we can promote the work of new authors, and today we’re introducing you to Scott James whose first book is coming out in October from Broadman and Holman. Scott is a doctor and attends the church where David Platt teaches; we discovered this at David’s blog where you’re encouraged to read it at source; just click the title below. You may also want to have your Bible open in a separate browser to Psalm 56.

Trusting God in the Mire: Reflections on Psalm 56

By Scott James

“In God we trust” may be a familiar idiom, but what does it look like when the rubber meets the road? Let’s take a look at a biblical example of what it means to trust in God in a practical sense. In Psalm 56, David gives some substance to the nature of trust.

Running for Your Life

Look first at the extraordinary situation from which David pens these words. The introduction of this Psalm says that it was written when the Philistines had seized David in Gath. Here’s the backstory: David is a young man whom God has anointed to become the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1, 12 13); the current king, Saul, is obviously not in favor of this, so Saul turns against David (1 Samuel 18:10ff) and sets out to kill him (1 Samuel 19:1). David is therefore running for his life and unfortunately ends up in the hands of his greatest enemy, the Philistines—carrying their slain hero’s sword, no less (1 Samuel 21:9–10). This is clearly not a good situation for David. The people of Gath immediately recognize David and, with a mixture of cowardice and cunning, David feigns madness to escape the deadly situation (vv. 12–15).

David wrote Psalm 56 in the midst of this terrifying situation. In it, David admits that when faced with a dire circumstance his initial reaction was marked by fear and panic. However, more important than his gut reaction, David asserts that steadfast trust in the Lord is the only solution to a troubling scenario like this. Easy to say, but what does that kind of trust actually look like?

In order for us to understand the testing that David’s faith is undergoing, a large portion of Psalm 56 is spent cataloging how his enemies are bent on destroying him: vv. 1, 2, 5, and 6 all detail the unceasing assaults from which David is running. He is trampled, oppressed, attacked, and his cause is injured. He is the subject of evil thoughts and is the target of a strife-inducing manhunt that is ultimately aimed at ending his very life.

Trembling and Believing

In the middle of this catalogue of doom, verse 3 shows us that David is no Stoic—he openly admits fear. But the great thing about this honest confession is that he immediately follows it up with an affirmation of his trust in God. It’s important to see from this that, in some sense, it is possible for fear and faith to occupy the same mind at the same moment.

So that’s what David was up against, but what does his assertion of trust amount to? David tells us three times in vv. 4 and 10 that he puts his trust in God, “whose word I praise.” To trust in God is to rightly value His word. David trusted God by believing that God would actually do what He had promised to do. Specifically for David, the word he was trusting was likely God’s promise to give him the kingdom and make him the head of a royal dynasty (1 Samuel 16). At this point in the story—hiding out from the murderous Saul in desert caves, acting insane to escape the Philistines—this promise seems laughable. Despite present appearances, however, David still believes God’s word, so much so that it causes him to praise God (vv. 4 and 10) even while he is still neck deep in dire circumstances.

With this trust, David confidently speaks out: “I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (v. 4). In v. 9 he states that his “enemies will turn back” because he calls on the Lord as his deliverer. In vv. 12 and 13, David offers up a thank offering, saying to God, “you have delivered my soul from death.” David is so confident of his deliverance that he speaks of it in the past tense. That confidence is not based on guesswork, sketchy prophecy, or bravado; it is appropriate only because God has already told David what He has in store for him. David actually takes God at His word and acts upon it, even when the circumstances don’t seem to match. For David, this meant that he stepped out of the cave while the odds still seemed stacked against him. He continued the fight that eventually culminated in his ascension to the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-3). That is trust in God.

Not Just for David

We too are called to trust God in a way that is every bit as real as David’s trust. Just as David heard God’s word through the prophet Samuel, so too we have a sure word, for the Bible is God’s very word to us. It is the vehicle through which He reveals His will and in it He makes countless promises to us. Our trust is firmly founded in this God who speaks.

We trust in God by believing in what He has said and, no less importantly, by believing that He actually intends to fulfill His word. Hebrews 10:23 tells us that our hope is well founded because “He who promised is faithful.” Just like David, our hope is based on God’s faithfulness, not our present circumstances. So let’s step out in faith like David, praising God for who He is and living lives that show we believe He will accomplish all his good purposes, just as He said He would.

 

 

September 26, 2012

Show Me Your Way

We’re generally taught that God gave Moses Aaron to assist him because Moses was “slow of speech.” But while I believe we can take that literally — as do most commentaries ascribing it to stuttering — I think that it was also a metaphor for a general insecurity or diffidence. We may not have a speech problem but we can ‘stutter’ in our willingness to trust God.

I know I am very guilty of this.  I’ve seen past answers to prayer, and seen evidence of God orchestrating circumstances and using existing situations for His glory in my life, but sometimes I approach a new challenge wondering if God is going to show himself.

Today’s thoughts are from the book we used two days ago, A Year With God: Daily Readings and Reflections on God’s Own Words, by R. P. Nettlehorst, published in 2010 by Thomas Nelson. This entry, number 88, is part of a section titled “Faith and Doubt.”

NIV Exodus 33:12 Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

There’s always room for worry.  No matter how clearly God acts, human beings will want more reassurance.  Moses had seen many miracles.  He regularly talked to God face-to-face.  And yet, with all of that, he wondered who would be going with them to the promised land.  He wondered if he knew for sure where they would be going and what they would be doing.

God did not berate Moses, did not criticize him, did not even ask him a pointed question.  Instead, God quickly reassured Moses and told him again that he would be with him.  Moses – who saw God in the burning bush, on Mount Sinai, and even in the Tent of Meeting where he talked to God as a man might converse with a friend – then asked God if he could see his glory. And God gave him what he asked!

No matter how close we think we are to God, it is easy to start taking our closeness with God for granted.  We need a bigger fix just to feel normal and to know that God is still there.  God accommodated Moses, so don’t be afraid to tell God about the doubts and weariness you may be feeling.

Today’s worship song is Show Me Your Ways by Hillsong

November 29, 2011

Expectancy

At age 20, Sarah is probably the youngest writer whose material has been selected to appear here.  She blogs at the contemporary music site, New Release Tuesday, and without describing the whole process, I really felt God guided me to find this article for you today.

Well, it’s hard to believe, but in nearly a month, this year will be over and a new year will have begun. It feels like 2011 flew by so quickly, yet at the same time, so much has happened.

If you are anything like me, around this time of year, you’re busy with turkey’s and trees, presents and carols, family and friends. Yet, as fun as all these things may be, you also find yourself looking back. It always seems that there is a deep retrospect that comes with the end of another year, or any changing season for that matter. And it’s with that same heart of retrospect, that I normally try to take my end of the year blog and turn it into a memoriam of sorts. Looking back on all the things God has shown me, brought me through, and lead me towards. I’ve done this for the last several years, and not only have I had many people tell me how much it’s encouraged them, in the end, it’s always been a great reminder for me to look back on the faithfulness of God through the last year.

I sat down a few days ago and began writing this with every intention on making it about 2011 and all the stuff God did this year… but apparently… God had another idea.

A few weeks back while I was in prayer, I had a certain word pop into my head: expectation.

I thought maybe that was something God needed me to pray about, so I mentioned something about it and went on my way thinking it was a one time deal.

…key words in that statement being “I thought.”

The word “expectation” over the next several days (and eventually weeks) kept coming to my attention. You know how you’ll have a certain song stuck in your head, so you’ll try to sing another song to get it out, but you’ll lose your train of thought for ten seconds and find yourself singing that same song again? That’s EXACTLY how I was feeling.

At first, I tried to reason with it. I prayed about it daily, trying to sound all spiritual by throwing in the addition of “Lord, I’m expectant” and not really having an idea about what it meant. I thought I understood, but at the same time, I had NO idea. All I knew was, this word was literally carved into my head and I couldn’t get it out.

This word was weighing heavily on my heart a few weeks back when I finally took it before God in serious prayer, and not just as a flippant afterthought. It wasn’t long after I approached it with validity that God revealed to me why this word was stuck in my head. It was a short but brief answer: “this is for 2012.”

Okay, Lord” I thought, “you want me to be expectant in 2012. I always like to think I’m expectant, but if you need to be more expectant, I will be.”

…key words in that statement being “I always like to think.”

This went on for a while longer, the word still stuck in my head like glue, when it finally dawned upon me this morning. Yes. This morning.

I was reading in the book of Ephesians doing my journaling when I came across a passage of scripture I’ve undoubtedly read dozens of times. It was Ephesians 3:20: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,”

I’m aware that after the word ‘us’, there is a comma. And if you’re anything like me, you’re inclined to just keep reading after the comma, but I felt as I was reading this morning that God needed me to forget about the comma and focus on what He was saying in THAT moment.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” …the NCV translation reads “God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine.”

It doesn’t matter if you’ve grown up in church your whole life or not. I’ve only been a believer for about five years and I still fall into the trap of reading a scripture once, thinking I know everything about it then walking away. It’s easy to put God in a box, isn’t it? I had to drop the know-it-all act as I read this morning and genuinely ask God why this passage had stuck me the way it had.

See, this here is a statement: God isn’t just able, but more than able to do more in our lives than we could ever ask or think! Meaning, not only can He give us everything we ask Him for, but even the things we DON’T ask Him for. He hears our silent prayers and sees our quiet desires the same way He hears and sees the ones we’re open about. He’s able to because He’s GOD.

It was as I finally understood all this, that the whole “expectancy” ordeal became real to me after weeks of struggling with it.

And that’s what leads me here sharing with all of you today.

I had quite the blog written up about how amazing 2011 has been. I was going to tell you about all the things God did for me as I stepped out in faith. I was going to talk about all the incredible, life-changing people I’ve met and talk about how God has individually used them all to mold me into the person I’m meant to become. I was even going to share with you a few thoughts on areas where I feel like I still need to change drastically.

…key word in that paragraph being “I.”

There will be plenty of time to talk about what God has done, but for a change, I feel like He’d rather me talk about what He’s going to do .

I truly believe that 2012 is a year where God is calling His people to start being expectant.

For far too long, we’ve talked about God moving in our lives, but I feel challenged in this new year by God Himself to take it a step further and start expecting things to happen in our lives. To really believe He can do what He says He can do, and expect Him to give us more than we could ever ask or imagine. This doesn’t mean it’s gonna come easy. Every good thing in life requires some sort of sacrifice, but the rewards that come from obedience far outweigh the sting of the sacrifice.

New things are on the horizon for the people of God in 2012. The broken will be mended, the silent will be speak, the impossible is going to happen if only we’d just… you guessed it… expect it. Expectancy is the key to unlocking God’s best for us.

When a couple finds out they are expecting a baby, they don’t wait till they have the baby to get excited about the baby, they start getting excited in that very moment. They plan, they prepare, they know that in a matter of months, their lives are going to be different. God wants us to feel the same way! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the same person I am this time next year. I am expectant for new things, new opportunities, and the promises of God coming to pass in my life as I serve Him whole-heartedly. We need to be planning, preparing, and getting excited about what’s to come! Why? Because, our God is able to do, you guessed it, “do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine.”

Don’t ever think what you expect of God is too big either. We have a God who is more than willing to hand you a gold plate if you asked Him for a silver one, and a diamond one when you ask Him for a gold. He’s a great romancer in that element of surprise. He always like to take it a notch higher then what we want because He’s constantly after pursing our hearts with His love.

See, God wants us to dream bigger than what we know we are already capable of, because when we finally start dreaming bigger, fully knowing that we can’t do it on our own, it gives Him the platform to move and takes all the pressure off of us to make it happen. We need to understand that as hard as we might try, it’s not up to us. We just need to obey.

Friends, this has challenged me, and I believe it’s meant to challenge you too. Let 2012 be a year of expectancy on God. Don’t let anyone tell you that your dreams are unattainable. It’s not up to them. Continue to seek God and watch Him unfold the next chapter your life. Be willing to move when He says to and take action when He needs you to. Don’t fear change, but rather, embrace what comes new. Let God “romance” your heart in this next year, His surprises will absolutely take your breath away.

“We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.” –Romans 8:22

Love, Blessings, Fireworks, and Confetti,
–Sarah

October 31, 2011

Abiding Eradicates Doubt

Yesterday we looked at spiritual complacency.  Another similar malady that manifests itself in the life of the believer is doubt.  Doug Wolter looks at this at his blog, So That Others May Know, in a short piece entitled, The Mystery of Abiding.

Why do I doubt God? Why do I expect so little from him? After all, if I really am his child, if I really do have access to his throne, if I really have his Son and his Spirit interceding for me, then why am I not asking more of God and believing he will answer? Jesus, you say, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Really? Are you serious? Do you really want me to ask and believe with that kind of boldness, with that kind of heart, expecting you will answer? 

I guess that’s where it starts – with my heart being united with your heart and my words in prayer sounding strangely familiar with your words in scripture. Is that what abiding is all about? When you and me are so intimately connected, so unified as one, that the process is as natural and effortless as a branch bearing fruit?

In the end, it’s a mystery–one that I can’t analyze and figure out, but only experience. Abiding, praying, and seeing the Holy Spirit move in my life is something I cannot comprehend but what I long for more and more for your glory and my good. So teach me to remain in you. Cause me to slow down. Remind me that you are a real Person that I am joined to. And set me free to believe you for great things.

~Doug Wolter

June 23, 2011

Learning The Father’s Love

This is an excerpt from a recent Elisabeth Elliot newsletter, which was in turn taken from a chapter titled “Learning the Father’s Love” from the book A Lamp For My Feet:

When my brother Dave was very small, we spent a week at the seaside in Belmar, New Jersey. In vain my father tried to persuade the little boy to come into the waves with him and jump, promising to hold him safely and not allow the waves to sweep over his head. He took me (only a year older) into the ocean and showed Dave how much fun it would be. Nothing doing. The ocean was terrifying. Dave was sure it would mean certain disaster, and he could not trust his father. On the last day of our vacation he gave in. He was not swept away, his father held him as promised, and he had far more fun than he could have imagined, whereupon he burst into tears and wailed, “Why didn’t you make me go in?”

An early lesson in prayer often comes through an ordeal of fear. We face impending adversity and we doubt the love, wisdom and power of our Father in heaven. We’ve tried everything else and in our desperation we turn to prayer–of the primitive sort: here’s Somebody who’s reputed to be able to do anything. The great question is, can I get Him to do what I want? How do I twist His arm, how persuade a remote and reluctant deity to change His mind?

Poor Dave! His father could have forced him to come into the water, but he could not have forced him to relax and enjoy it. As long as the child insisted on protecting himself, saving the life he was sure he would lose, he could not trust the strong love of his father. He refused to surrender. In this simple story we hear echoes of the most ancient story, of the two who, mistrusting the word of their Father, fearing that obedience to Him would ultimately bar them from happiness, chose to repudiate their dependence on Him. Sin, death, destruction for the whole race were the result.

Learning to pray is learning to trust the wisdom, the power, and the love of our Heavenly Father, always so far beyond our dreams. He knows our need and knows ways to meet it that have never entered our heads. Things we feel sure we need for happiness may often lead to our ruin. Things we think will ruin us … if we believe what the Father tells us and surrender ourselves into His strong arms, bring us deliverance and joy.

The only escape from self-love is self-surrender. “Whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:25, NIV). “Dwell in my love. If you heed my commands, you will dwell in my love, as I have heeded my Father’s commands and dwell in His love. I have spoken thus to you, so that my joy may be in you, and your joy complete” (John 15:9-11, NEB). My father knew far better than his small, fearful, stubborn son what would give him joy. So does our Heavenly Father. Whenever I have resisted Him, I have cheated myself, as my little brother did. Whenever I have yielded, I have found joy.

 

HT: Barbara at Stray Thoughts blog

May 8, 2011

Make My Life a Prayer to You — Keith Green

It’s hard to believe a new generation of Christians is emerging who are unfamiliar with Keith Green, a singer who perhaps was a little ahead of his time in terms of the modern worship movement, but who sadly also left us before his time.  This song is familiar to many of us, but I post it here for those for whom this is something entirely new…

Make my life a prayer to You,
I want to do what you want me to,
No empty words and no white lies,
No token prayers, no compromise,

I want to shine the light you gave,
Through Your Son, you sent to save us,
From ourselves and our despair,
It comforts me to know you’re really there.

Oh, I want to thank you now, for being patient with me,
Oh, it’s so hard to see, when my eyes are on me,
I guess I’ll have to trust and just believe what you say,
Oh, you’re coming again, coming to take me away,

I want to die, and let you give,
Your life to me, so I might live,
And share the hope you gave to me,
The love that set me free,

I want to tell the world out there,
You’re not some fable or fairy tale,
That I made up inside my head,
You’re God, The Son, You’ve risen from the dead.

Oh, I want to thank you now,
For being patient with me,
Oh, it’s so hard to see,
When my eyes are on me,

I guess I’ll have to trust,
and just believe what you say,
Oh, you’re coming again,
Coming to take me away.

I want to die, and let you give,
Your life to me, so I might give,
And share the hope you gave to me,
I want to share the love that set me free.

 NLT Romans 12:1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.

For more info about Keith and Last Days Ministries, go to KeithGreen.com