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Faith

This past week I listened to someone preach through Hebrews 11, the “faith” chapter of the Bible.  I began to think about what faith really is and looks like.  I thought that I could write a post about faith, Hebrews 11, the faith “hall of fame”, and so on.  But as I recently laid down and had a few moments to meditate, the thought came that I should write about what faith means to me.

First of all, how do I define faith?  Well, let me use the Biblical definition:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)

If I could put this into my own words, I would say that faith is my conviction to trust God’s promises, that I have a future hope better than this world, which hope I cannot see at this present time.  I can understand that there are things invisible through observing the things that are visible.  I understand that there is a Creator by observing the things that are created.

My faith comes from believing that God’s Word is true and that He demonstrated His love for me by sending Jesus Christ to take the penalty for my sins in his flesh.  Through believing in His Son, I receive the Holy Spirit of God, who helps me and strengthens my faith.  Through believing that, on God’s accounts, I am now crucified and raised with Christ, I now have guaranteed eternal life and victory over sin.

As I read through Hebrews 11, I see many great Biblical “heroes” who demonstrated great acts of faith.  I read about Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites, Rahab, and so forth.  I read that people subdued kingdoms, stopped the mouths of lions, escaped peril, received ones back from the dead, and more.  But then I read that others were tortured, mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, cut in half, tempted, killed, or were nomads.  The Scripture says that the world was not worthy of this later group and that they did not receive the promise of their faith during their lifetime on earth.  However, they, along with us, will receive something better from God.

Faith is not just mountaintop experiences, although such experiences are wonderful.  Faith is also walking, well faithfully, though the valleys of life and still trusting God’s promises even when we cannot see.  In Scripture, I don’t see the faith that some of these preachers on television and the radio speak about.  I don’t see God instructing us to speak the word and believe without wavering to get a new car, house, job, or money, money, money.  I once heard someone say that the world will be drawn to God when they see how he causes us to prosper.  I could understand the point trying to be made, but wouldn’t unbelievers also consider God when they see someone trusting Him when their world is falling apart around them and they have a worldly reason not to trust Him?  I’m not saying that the only way to point people to God is through suffering, and believe me I am not going about looking for more, but I want us to consider what would really make a lasting testimony of God’s grace and faithfulness in someone’s life.

My faith in God has caused me trust Him even while in the darkest valley of my life.  Faith has helped me to realize that God knows what is best for me at all times, even when evil happens to me.  He can turn that evil around to work good in me, if I don’t fight against Him.  Faith has led me to trust God at a deeper level and to set my eyes more on the unseen than the seen.  OK, that part is not always true because there are days when what I see pulls at me to indulge in…well whatever.  But through faith in believing God’s Word that says I am crucified with Christ and dead to sin, I can overcome the temptation and press on towards Christ and my promises awaiting in Heaven.  If I do stumble, I also read that even the great “heroes” of the faith stumbled at times, but God was merciful to them and he is also merciful to me.

So, what is faith?  Is it believing that God will give us our wants, or that He provides us with all of our needs?  What is our greatest need?  Is it not to have His forgiveness and mercy?  I believe that is my greatest need.  Through faith, I believe that all of my sins are forgiven and I am completely righteous in God’s eyes, not because I feel like it (because I don’t) but because God says so.

I don’t believe that faith can be stagnant.  I heard someone say that faith is not like a pond but is like a river.  We can’t rely on a one-time faith experience, but should exercise it daily to keep it vibrant and growing.

Blessings,

Andy

 

 

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Where’s the fire?

How many times have I intended to write a post, only to not find the determination to follow through?  I even started several of them, but could not seem to find the proper words to bring them to completion.  Being frustrated with my lack of passion to write, and wanting freedom from the duty to try to complete my earlier thoughts, I recently cleaned out my “draft” posts and decided to start afresh.  So here we go…

Spring is almost here.  It is the time of year when the earth brings forth new life and we celebrate the resurrection of our Savior.  It is also the time of year when a dark cloud hangs over the anticipation of a particular date – April 18.  It will be almost three years since our beloved Isaac passed on into heaven.  Even after the long cold winter we experienced, it is still difficult to be fully excited about the change in season, at least until we pass that day.

So, how am I?  Well, I wish I had some fire lit under me to tackle my callings in this life (hence the title of this post).  Most days I feel as if I float through life.  The enthusiasm that I had the first and even second year after Isaac’s death, to turn around the experience to help others, has diminished somewhat.  I still want to share with and help others who are grieving after the death of a child, but it is not my driving force and passion.  Everyday life has returned to – well – everyday life.  I go to work, Brenda home schools the children, we gather together in the evening, and we wrap-up our day.  Then we do it all over again.  Were we supposed to return to this hum-drum routine?  Or, rather, should we not be serving our Lord joyfully through the “normalcy” of everyday life (and not considering it “hum-drum”)?  How long do we have to endure this life?

I think there are really only three things that keep me going these days:  God’s word; the unconditional love and support of my wife and children; and my relationships with close family, friends, and brethren in Christ.  The word of God has been my life support.  If there is one positive from this experience, it is that I have learned to cling to the grace and truth of Jesus Christ, especially when the world offers other means of false comfort and peace.  I realize that there are things about God that I don’t understand, and I am trying to be OK with that (do I really have a choice?).  I wish I had answers to my big questions.  But if God didn’t give Job the answers to his big questions, then I should be content with the same.

Lately, some annoyances in my life have really been getting under my skin. I have been impatient with others and harbored bitterness over some perceived injustices.  I know the Lord calls me to forgive (up to 490 times right?), but doesn’t that only apply to my “brother” and doesn’t he/she have to apologize first?  You see how I rationalize my anger?  Oh yeah, I can be angry, as long as I don’t sin, right?   Anyway, I’m not liking that stinky attitude coming out of my heart.

I hope you don’t mind me just being honest about where I am spiritually.  We could really use your prayers.  I wish I could share some great spiritual insight and breakthrough with you, but it seems that I’m just wandering through the desert land.

On a lighter note, I did want to share a recent family “selfie” below.  Yes, we do have a new dog.  His name is Stride and he appears to be a collie/German shepherd mix.  He is a little over a year old.  We adopted him near the end of 2013.  We have been challenged to get used to Stride’s energy and personality, but things are improving and we are learning to accept each other.  Our previous family dog, Mikey, died suddenly in early October 2013 while we were away on vacation.  That was a very sad experience for us.  Also, our two cats that Brenda and I had from early in our relationship died within a short time frame.  So, the last half of 2013 was a little rough for us as the older generation of our pets all died within a short period.  For us, losing a pet is not nearly the same experience as losing a child, but it is sad and difficult.

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Well, I think I will actually close a post for now!  If a fire kindles underneath me, maybe I will write a little more often in the future (no promises though).

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Andy

 

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Better Than I

or “Letting Go the Need to Know Why”

The other night we watched Joseph – King of Dreams.  This is an animated movie that is adapted from the Biblical account of Joseph, son of Jacob (renamed Israel by God), as found in the book of Genesis.  The customary artistic license is taken with this movie, but nevertheless it closely resembles the Biblical account.

About 2/3 of the way through the film, there is a musical number titled “Better Than I”.  The song underscores images of Joseph’s time in prison intermixed with flashbacks of his life, especially his trials and betrayal by his brothers.  It is really a song about surrendering to God and allowing Him to teach us through our circumstances, while at the same time releasing our need to understand the “why” of our circumstances.  The song touched the hearts of both Brenda and me.

A significant portion of our journey through grief can be consumed with trying to understand “why” this tragedy happened.  Although we ask God, there really isn’t a clear answer.  We know that death happens to us all and, according to Scripture, God has appointed each of us our time.  In a similar manner, Joseph did not appear to understand the meaning of his trials while he was experiencing them.  It was only after many years, preserving Egypt, and reuniting with his brothers that he was able to say:

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. (Gen 50:20)

So, let us press on in faith, fulfilling the mission that God has for us.  Let us turn our grief around and reach out to others who are hurting.  Finally, let us lay our strong desire to understand at the altar and trust God with our questions.  If He reveals anything to us, we can thank Him.  Otherwise, we can be assured that He knows better than us.

Lord, give me the strength to do what I say.

Meanwhile, enjoy the song:

Blessings,

Andy

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Grief, Spiritual and Emotional

 

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God’s Forgetfulness

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psa 103:12)

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. (Heb 8:12)

How can God not remember our sins anymore? Obviously, since God is omniscient (all-knowing), He does not just struggle to remember things like we do. He does not need to keep “to-do” lists so that He doesn’t forget to pick up that item at the grocery store. He doesn’t forget someone’s name. He doesn’t forget what He did yesterday. So what do these verses really mean?

I think that God doesn’t hold us accountable for our sins anymore. When we are baptized into Christ Jesus (not water baptism, but born again into the Body of Christ), we take on His identity. Jesus Christ was the only sinless person to ever live. When He died on the cross, He took on the guilt of our sins so that we can take on His righteousness through faith. So, when God looks at the account of the believer, He sees the sinless record of Christ Jesus instead of the sinful account of the old man.

So, if God forgets our sins then why can’t we?

One argument against Christianity is that it is too easy to just believe and be saved. Someone can infer that one can sin all they want to and then just believe and be saved (i.e. salvation without consequences). While I can understand that point on the surface, I know that it is not just that simple in the experience of the believer (while perhaps it actually should be!). As someone who has been forgiven much, I struggle with the pain of remembering my past life. My old man and enemy remind and tempt me with those things that once promised “pleasure”. Now I have to fight the battle to cast those memories onto Christ, who has made me a new creature. My history is Christ’s history, not the old Andy’s. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1). Perhaps that fact is easier to read and quote than it is to walk it out.

A brother in Christ recently marveled at the Apostle Paul’s statement about having “wronged no man” (see 2Co 7:2). In context, Paul is speaking about his actions as a minister of the Gospel. However, one could look at Paul’s past and accuse him of falsehood in such a statement. Paul (once more widely known as Saul) was a great persecutor of Christians and held the coats of others as Stephen was stoned for his faith in Christ (see Acts 7:58 and 22:20). I believe that Paul could make that statement because he understood who he was in Christ. Being a new creature, he had wronged no man according to God’s record. What an amazing truth that, if we grabbed a hold of it for ourselves, would enable us to walk in freedom from the guilt of our past.

Let us march on in the freedom of God’s forgetfulness.

Blessings,

Andy

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Christian Studies

 

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Psalm 91 – A Paradox?

On some days, the Word of God is a source of comfort and strength.  On other days, the Word can be challenging and even confusing.  Today was the latter for me as I read Psalm 91.

My Bible does not indicate who wrote this Psalm.  Some believe that it was written by Moses during the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness.  If that is the case, I can appreciate the context in which it was written, knowing the trials and judgments that the Israelites experienced during their time of testing and spiritual cleansing.

I understand the main theme of this Psalm to be God’s protection for His children from dangers and specifically from the judgment of the wicked.  The Psalm speaks of deliverance from snares and destruction; courage to face nightly terrors and daily attacks; and protection from plague and ruin.  The Psalm further states that:

(10) There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.

(11) For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

(12) They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

The Psalm concludes with the following:

(14) Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.

(15) He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.

(16) With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

How do we reconcile these promises with our experience?  I intellectually acknowledge these words as truth, but my heart and soul struggle to entirely believe them.  I know the Lord has been with us both before and after Isaac’s death, but what about at the moment of the accident?  What about the promise in verses 11 and 12?

I can “spiritualize” these words by believing that Isaac’s spirit is safe in the presence of God even though his body was destroyed here on this earth.  I can also draw from other examples in Scripture, such as the book of Job, and conclude that there are challenges and battles occurring in the spiritual realm which we do not see with our eyes.  I know that God is not a liar and therefore the inspired words of this Psalm are true, but I wrestle with their application to our circumstances because of the questions that we have.  I continue to leave my heart open to the Lord for direction.  Even though I struggle with reconciling these truths to our circumstances, I still have peace because I know that God is good and there is an answer, even if I don’t receive it now or in the future.  When I get to Heaven (thank you Jesus), will I even be concerned with the questions anymore?

Still trusting in God,

Andy

 

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Words of Life

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Joh 1:1)

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (Joh 1:14, emphasis mine)

It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I [Jesus] speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (Joh 6:63, emphasis mine)

There are many verses within the Word of God (the Bible) that speak about words and even the Word of God itself.  We could perform an exhaustive study about how words can bring life or condemnation or how a husband is to sanctify and cleanse his wife with his words just as Christ does the church (see Eph 5:25-27), etc.  However, the intent of this post is to focus on the Word of God as our source of truth and life.

Having walked through the valley of the shadow of death (and its shadow seemingly still looming not too far behind us) and experiencing trials and storms, where do we find our source of comfort, strength and truth?  When thoughts of doubt, confusion and guilt invade our minds and so many voices try to persuade us which way to turn, what provides us with proper direction and the roadmap to life?

I am convinced that the Bible is our primary source of truth and life.  The words that are recorded have been inspired by God (see 2Ti 3:16) and are to be rightly divided for proper understanding and application (see 2Ti 2:15).  The Bible is the tool by which I measure any thought or spiritual inclination.  I hardly trust my own thoughts and motives and thus, before I declare that God spoke to or led me about something, I must examine if the voice is consistent with the revealed Word of God.

Some passages are difficult to understand.  Fallible man has mishandled and twisted Scripture either unintentionally or intentionally for his own advantage.  I tremble at times to communicate my understanding of a passage, not wanting to misuse the Word and mislead family, friends, readers, etc.  However, I trust in the Bible’s accuracy and hold on to its certain revelation of truth.  I have appreciated its value tremendously over this last year.  Even though it was hard for me to turn to it during those first few weeks after Isaac’s death, I have found my courage and strength in its pages.  It is as if the words project life from the page into my spirit.  The pages of the Bible are two-dimensional, however the words seem to have the third dimension of depth behind them.

During a recent gathering, some brothers in Christ and I were sharing some Scripture from our hearts.  One of the brothers mentioned how when the Word becomes life to us, we can recite it without much effort.  Instead of an exercise in memorization, because we have read and meditated on the Word it becomes a part of us and has brought life to our souls.  We can share that life with others to encourage them on their journey.  I hope that you can find life and peace through reading the Word of God.

Blessings,

Andy

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2012 in Christian Studies

 

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Walking by Faith

Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2Co 5:6-8, emphasis mine)

This verse has taken on a whole new meaning in my life over this past year.  My desire has greatly increased to be absent from my body and present with the Lord.  However, the fulfillment of that desire will be determined based on God’s will and timing and not mine.

I have never walked by faith this deeply before.  I’ve had to trust the Lord through some trials in my life, usually brought about by my own sinful choices.  However, I’ve never been handed quite a test where I’ve had to journey solely by faith, without seeing the physical evidence of the object of my trust.  I can’t see into Heaven to see Jesus and my son who has gone on before me.  I have to trust in the unseen.  Even though death has won this battle here on earth, I have to believe that, through Jesus Christ, eternal life and victory in Heaven is available to everyone who believes.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1, emphasis mine)

Sometimes I envy others who experience the visual, audible, tangible or even evidently miraculous manifestations of God.  I assume that they are absolutely certain of His voice or appearance.  However, God doesn’t normally speak to me in an audible voice or through visions, dreams, prophecies, etc.  He primarily speaks to me deep in my heart, with His still small voice (I assume that He knows what’s best for me and what form of communication suits my gifting and personality).  Sometimes I question the source of that voice and ask “was that really the Holy Spirit or just my own thought?”  I have to exercise a lot of faith to believe that it is God speaking to me.  He not only calls me to have faith but then also gives me the strength to exercise it.  My faith then serves as the evidence that God exists and is relational.

How do I know when it is God’s voice?  Whatever I hear must not contradict His written Word.  If any voice calls me to disobey the Scriptures, it is not from God!  If the voice urges me to seek my own glory and not God’s, then it is not from Him.  If the voice condemns me to hopelessness, it is not from God.  A lot of times the voice convicts me of a sinful thought or attitude, leading me to the cross where my sin is forgiven and then to repent towards God.  As I think about what the Holy Spirit might say to me, I turn to Jesus’ own words about the Spirit:

Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you. (Joh 16:7-15)

Lately, His voice is providing us with comfort.  He is reminding us of His love; the sufficiency of His grace; the complete payment for sins that Christ made on the cross; His goodness and mercy; that we have eternal rewards waiting in Heaven if we hold fast; that His children are here to comfort and help us; and that we cannot always see what is real.  He is calling us to walk in a deeper level of faith.

As I wrote this post, I was reminded of two songs by Jeremy Camp.  These songs were from his album titled Stay.  The lyrics to most of the album’s songs were inspired from Jeremy’s journey through the illness and death of his first wife.  Two of those remarkable songs are “Walk by Faith” and “I Still Believe”, both of which declare having faith and believing in God even when we don’t understand the circumstances of our life.  I hope that you are learning to walk by faith no matter what circumstances you are facing in your life.

Blessings,

Andy

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Family Updates, Grief, Spiritual and Emotional

 

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