Living by Faith

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV)

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there were several things I’ve learned this year that have helped me to cope with fear.  In the post, I only mentioned two of them:

  • The passing of time.  As time passes, the things we fear tend to move by us.  However, this doesn’t work well if more fear causing things line up in front of us.
  • Take no counsel from fear (or arrogance).  This was the main subject of yesterday’s post.

But there is a third thing that I’ve learned this year that has helped me to cope with fear and many other things:  learning to live by faith.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago something that I heard from James Macdonald:

Everything is a test of faith.  Everything.  Therefore, everything will either grow our faith or shrink our faith.

Letting this permeate my being has been huge.  I also discussed this in a post a couple of weeks back and wrote this:

When we believe this, it changes how we see the things happening in our lives — i.e. we see things as being allowed by God — and that change[s] the way we react to things. If we view events as us vs. life, our reactions can be hostile and volatile. But when we see things as being allowed by God, we are more likely to respond in a way that pleases God (or at least our chances better).

I haven’t lived this out perfectly, but I do live better and handle things better when I do remember this.

 

Never Take Counsel From Fear…Or Arrogance

“Never take counsel of your fears.” – Stonewall Jackson

This past Sunday, our pastor delivered his final sermon of 2016, “Four Fears Banished by Christmas.”  In this message, he detailed four times in the Christmas story where people encountered fear:

  • Luke 1:12 – Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who is overcome by fear when an angel visits him to give the news he will soon have a son.
  • Matthew 1:20– Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, also encounters fear as he ponders the situation of he and Mary.
  • Luke 1:29-30– Mary experiences fear as she encounters the angel Gabriel.
  • Luke 2:9– The shepherds were filled with fear as the angel visited them and the glory of the Lord shone around them.

Our pastor pointed out that fear is a God-given emotion, so experiencing fear is not always sinful.  But like anger, fear can either be used sinfully or righteously.  For example, it is appropriate to fear the Lord and we are told that experiencing this is the beginning of knowledge.  In the four examples above, the people experienced fear, but they are given perspective through their encounters with the angels.  This new perspective includes a reminder of where they are in God’s plans and thus their fear is transformed into faith.  Accordingly, it is very important how we process fear.

To be clear, the sermon wasn’t about “how to deal with fear,” like some sort of self-help seminar.  It was about the gospel.  Jesus Christ has come and He is coming again.  But living in Christ is supposed to change everything, and that includes how we view things.  Accordingly, it changes how we handle fear.

That’s where this intersects with me.  You see, for me, 2016 has been the year of living in fear.  And to be clear, I haven’t handled it very well.  Sleepless nights, gut-churning with acid, mind-racing.  All the good stuff related to not processing fear properly.  That’s been my year.

On the surface, it’s easy to say, “You’re not trusting God.  Trust God and do not fear.”  But in reality, it’s a lot harder to process.  As I’ve told Sweet Wife over the last several weeks, it’s like my insides are shaking all of the time with because of the stress and fear.  As a Christian, I know that this response has been wrong, but it’s just been hard to constantly regain perspective when you have to battle the fear and anxiety all of the waking hours.

But over the last few weeks, several things have happened that have really helped me.  First — and this is an easy one — some time has passed.  As time moves by the events that create fear also pass.  If they pass and nothing takes their place in the fear line, then things tend to get better.  My improvement has been somewhat because of this.

But on the other hand, there always seems to be something lining up to cause fear.  During 2016, it has been a seemingly daily, weekly and monthly thing.  If that sort of pace is always at play, then fear is always something that has to be handled.  And that brings me to the quote from above, “Never take counsel of your fears.

When I heard this, it immediately clicked with me because I have been taking counsel from my fears.  My fears have been giving me my marching orders.  In my line of work, I have to make a lot of decisions and I have to plan for things.  For most of the year I have just “hoped” that 2016 would be better because time is passing, yet I also realized recently that as things continue to pop up and go wrong that I am making decisions from a place of panic and fear, rather than from solid data and experience.  When I heard this quote, I realized what I was doing wrong and realized that I needed to stop this practice immediately.  And so I am trying.

The reality is also that some of the problems that have occurred in 2016 have also happened because of arrogance.  For a long time, things have gone really well and when that happens one tends to think that everything they touch will turn to gold.  And when that happens, the fundamentals of decision making can go out the window.  I can recall one specific situation where I simply made a bad decision in 2014 (out of arrogance) and now that chicken has come home to roost.  So instead of dealing with a situation back in 2014, I arrogantly proceeded with my own plans and this year I’ve been fearfully dealing with the problem.

There has also been one other major game-changer for me in relation to processing fear, but I hope to touch on that before this last week of the year is finished.

So as I ponder 2017, I am looking forward in hope.  I know that Jesus has saved me and that an eternity with Him awaits.  All other things offer no comparison at all.  This should be my all-time perspective.  We are reminded in 1 John 4:18 that perfect love casts out fear.  Ultimately, this world and its fears and trials and struggles will pass away.  For those in Christ, a new world and an eternity away.  Those struggles of today won’t be in that future perfect eternity.

As I stand in the present and make decisions, those decisions need to be made with a clear head and a pure heart.  That cannot be done when taking counsel from fear.  And that cannot be done when standing before the mirror of arrogance.

A Christmas Message for John the Baptist and Us

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:1-6 ESV)

One of the things I find neat about the Bible is that there are real people in it.  By that, I mean that the human authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, didn’t whitewash people or their stories.  If someone had a flaw or question, it was there for all to see.  Take for example Moses as a murderer and David as an adulterer and murderer.  And, also, take for example John the Baptist.  What did John the do wrong?  Well, it wasn’t what he did wrong, it was that he asked a question.

Remember, John the Baptist is Jesus’ earthly cousin and did a Holy Spirit inspired leap in his mother’s womb when Mary, with baby Jesus insider her, visited his mother.  This is the John the Baptist that was used by God to prepare the way for Jesus by his preaching of a message of repentance.  This is also the same John the Baptist that baptized Jesus in the Jordan at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.   Yes, this is that John the Baptist.

As this passage notes, John is now in prison.  And despite all of the things he’s done and seen and felt, he now has a question:

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

When I would read this question earlier in my Christian life, I have to admit I would sneak in a condescending thought about John.  “What?  You are John the Baptist!  You baptized Jesus and told people to repent!  And now you’re having doubts?”  But now, as an older Christian, I read this with a lot more empathy and it now strikes me as one of the saddest verses in the Bible.

John is in prison and not the cushy federal kind where he gets to play cards and golf all day.  No, he’s in a prison and in the not too distant future, he will beheaded based on the whim of a leader.  He’s in prison.  He may be all alone or he may be in the company of his society’s worst and meanest.  The conditions are probably deplorable and at best he’s separated from friends and companions.  And it’s in this dark moment that he sends a question to Jesus: “Are you the one?”

To someone with an accounting background (like me), a more succinct answer may have seemed the better option.  “YES!” Instead, Jesus answered in a different way.  Instead, He said this:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus didn’t answer like an accountant, “Yes, John.  The Holy Spirit told you in the womb!  You should know this!” Instead, He gently reminded John of the truth.  Jesus told the messengers to go and tell John what they had seen and heard:  the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor receive good news.

Can you see how this message and the delivery of this message would be an encouragement to John’s faith?   The messengers would go and say, “We’ve seen these things!”  And John would likely tell himself, “Yes, and I’ve seen them to.”

John asked the question even though he knew the answer.  John wanted to hear again the answer to the question, “are you the one?”  Jesus, are You the messiah?  Are you the One who was promised?

Jesus’s answer to Him was essentially the Christmas message.  Yes, Jesus is the One.  Jesus, God’s Son, has come to us.  He is God with us, Emmanuel.  And no matter who we are or where we are, we need to hear this Christmas message too.  If we are long-term followers of Christ, we need a reminder of the gospel.  Or, if we’re that lost soul staring at Christmas, we need to hear the message.

As James Macdonald reminded his listeners this week, during this time of year, the gospel message is being pumped through malls and stores and through radio stations and through music services!  The world is being told that Jesus has come!  Every year, regardless of how crass or over the top with consumerism the Christmas season seems to be, God is blessing us by using this holiday madness to prime others to hear the gospel.  We have the opportunities to either ask the question “what does this mean?” or we have the opportunity to be the ones who explain what we’ve seen and head.

 

How to be Acknowledged by Jesus Before the Father

“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 10:32-33 ESV)

There are certain verses in the Bible that give me a real long pause.  This is one of them.

In this passage, Jesus is telling us how He will respond to the Father on our behalf.  If we acknowledge Jesus “before men,” then there will be a positive acknowledgement on our behalf to God the Father.  But if our witness for Jesus is shown as a denial, He will also “deny” us before God.

For me, there are a lot of questions that flow out of this:

  • When do I actually acknowledge Jesus before men?
  • How am I doing at acknowledging Him?
  • Have I ever denied Jesus before me?
  • Do I deny Him and not really know it?
  • What about all of those times in the past when I may not have done my best?
  • Does this relate to one big event where I have to acknowledge Jesus?
  • And what if I blow it at that one big event?

The questions could go on and on for me, but what I really want to know for sure is that Jesus would give me a positive recommendations before my heavenly Father.  So how can we be sure of this?   To help, here are some things to consider.

Confess Jesus

First, we need so make sure that we actually have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Romans 10:9-10 helps to explain how we can have this relationship:

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  (Romans 10:9-10 ESV)

As we can see from this passage, there appear to be two central things that occur.  We see that there is something that changes in a person’s heart and we then hear an outward confession of Jesus Christ.  A heart change can only occur from God’s gospel and His Spirit being at work and once that work has occurred, there is a willingness — and need — to confess what has happened.

The gospel is telling us that we are sinners and we are told that the penalty for our sin is death.  Because of this we a need a Savior that can reconcile us back to God by paying our penalty on our behalf.  We have this in Jesus.  And when we accept Him by faith, we receive a pardon for our sins and the ultimate reward of eternal life with God.

Naturally, our response will be to tell the world!

Follow Him

Once we know Jesus, we are commanded to walk as He did.  We are told this in Colossians 2:6:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.  (Colossians 2:6 ESV)

Christianity isn’t simply a one-time decision.  It’s a lifetime and lifestyle of following Jesus Christ.  He came to give us life and to give us that life abundantly, but that life is found in Him.  We can best live this life when we daily choose to follow Christ as we read in Luke 9:23:

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  (Luke 9:23 ESV)

Make Disciples

Once we are followers of Christ, we will want to obey Him and one of the principle commands He gives us is to multiply His gospel message so as to make more disciples.  We read this in Matthew 28:19-20:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

Making disciples, by its very nature, would involve “confessing Jesus.”  It would be very hard to simply show someone Jesus, as if painting a picture.  Calling others to follow the Christ would obviously involve a “call” as we explain the need for a Savior and the purpose of serving Him.

Practice Repentance

Following Jesus Christ does not mean that we will be perfect.  Hopefully, as we practice following Jesus there should some sort of change in our behavior.  Hopefully, if we came to Christ while committing outward, egregious sins those would decrease.  But…as we draw closer to Christ and as He continues His sanctifying work in us, we may actually find that we are even more aware of sinful practices in our lives, even though the world outside of us may not see them as we do!  What I’m trying to say is that we will be sinners until we are called to be with the Lord and because of this, we should continually practice repentance until we see Him.

We are told how to do this in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (1 John 1:9 ESV)

Conclusion

Getting to Christ can be very difficult.  The period in our lives before we understand the gospel can be dark and lonely with lots of damage done.  We may have all sorts of habits and practices that make letting go and accepting Christ hard, but accepting Jesus as our Savior involves nothing more than reaching out, like a beggar, to take the crust of bread that is being handed to us.

Once we are His, the world will try to tear us away from Him.  Satan will try to drive a divide between Christ and us.  But once we are in Christ, nothing will snatch us away from Him as we are told in John 10:28:

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  (John 10:28 ESV)

We aren’t promised an easy life in Jesus, but we are promised life in Him.

So what does all of this have to do with Jesus giving a positive witness for us?  Everything.

We are called to the perfection of Jesus Christ, but we will never live up to it.  Therefore, we are constantly called back to His gospel message.  And when we constantly go back to His gospel, we are reminded to constantly confess Him.

If we are in Him we should certainly fear Him — because God has the power to destroy the body and soul in hell — but as long as we are truly clinging by faith to His gospel message we don’t have to fear that He will deny us before His Father.  Instead, we can boldly approach the throne of grace.

 

Who to Rightfully Fear

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  (Matthew 10:28 ESV)

Wow. What a verse. What a game changer. This changes everything.

This year has been a year of fear for me. I have worried and worried and worried over so many things. My only relief has been casting my cares on Jesus, but, unfortunately, I always grab them back from Him.

But this is verse should change my perspective on everything. Should I fear trouble at work? Should I fear failing? Should I fear adversaries? Should I fear the future? Should I fear the unknown? The answer to all of these is the same: no.

Rather, my fear should be toward the one that can destroy my body and my soul in hell. My fear should be toward God.

But this isn’t the fear that we might have toward an abusive parent or violent spouse. No, this is the fear of knowing something is greater than us, that something is our master, that something is our creator, that something is sovereign over us.

This fear changes our perspective. It changes how we view life and the things around us. We are living under the gaze of an all-knowing, all-powerful God.

If we aren’t ever reconciled with this God, our fear is justified. We will be destroyed. That’s a promise.

But this God doesn’t want that to happen. He has made a way for us. He had made a way for us to come to Him. He has done this through Jesus Christ.

Thank You, Jesus.

Father, let me remember this every second of every day. Let me live in this knowledge and let it change me and how I handle things. I pray this in the name of Jesus, amen.

 

A Jar of Clay

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.  (2 Corinthians 4:7-12 ESV)

This passage is on my mind a lot lately.

I’m not in any way under the stress experienced by the early Christians Paul was encouraging here.

But this can still be a great reminder.  If Jesus can be manifested in the extreme scenario of the early church, He can be supreme in whatever we are called to endure.

I am thankful for this.

Make It or Break It 

Recently, I heard James Macdonald make a comment similar to this:

Everything is a test of faith. Therefore, everything is an opportunity to either grow or shrink your faith. 

If we agree with this, it can change our perspectives and change our lives. 

When we believe this, it changes how we see the things happening in our lives — i.e. we see things as being allowed by God — and that changed the way we react to things. If we view events as us vs. life, our reactions can be hostile and volatile. But when we see things as being allowed by God, we are more likely to respond in a way that pleases God (or at least our chances better).

Just something to think about.