Faith

“(15)’Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water.  (16) So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.’

(17)Then Jesus answered and said, ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you?  How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.’

(18) And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.  (19)Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’

(20) So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’”  (Matthew 17:15-20)

Faith.  It is one of the hardest concepts to grasp and hold on to; and it is one of the most pivotal things asked of us.  In my life I have begun to only recently understand the difference between faith and knowledge.  Quite often I thought knowledge was faith, and sadly most people mislabel knowing something is true as faith, or as trust.  When knowledge does not require faith or trust.  Sometimes you have to have faith to gain knowledge, but once you have that knowledge your faith needs to move beyond it. 

For me, personally, it took faith to read the Bible.  It took faith for me to believe the Bible.  It took faith in God’s word and character, and in Jesus’ word and character, to accept the very fundamental truth of the Bible.  Through this faith I have gained knowledge of a saving, grace-filled existence and relationship with my Lord and savior.  I am grateful for this.  I savor this.  But believing the Bible is true is no longer a matter of faith for me.  I have accepted it as fact.  It is now knowledge.  Faith no longer plays a factor in my acceptance in this.

This is where I once stumbled around like a blundering blind person.  I thought that my knowing the truth of the Bible gave me faith.  It doesn’t.  Faith requires you to believe something, when you don’t know if it is true.  You don’t have the sure answer; you don’t know the true answer, to not have that apple of knowledge.  Faith grows from chance.  Faith requires I push myself to believe the impossible.  For Christ has told me nothing will be impossible for me if I could have the faith of a mustard seed. 

Can you then imagine how small my faith was when that is all I had to go on in seeking for answers in the Bible?  The disciples had Christ right there in front of them.  Jesus told them even though they knew He was Christ, and they believed they could cast out demons, heal the impossible, and feed thousands out of nothing ….Christ still considered their faith smaller than a mustard seed.  This is just baffling to me when I look at my own faith.  How tiny it must be.

“(5) And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’

(6) So the Lord said, ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.  (7) And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’?  (8) But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink.’?

(9) Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him?  I think not.  (10) So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants.  We have done what was our duty to do.’”(Luke 17:5-10)

God has commanded us to believe in His Son Christ Jesus of Nazareth.  God has commanded us to believe in His teachings and in His Word.  In Faith we went seeking God and we found the knowledge of these commandments.  Following these commandments as servants of God doesn’t give us faith.  It means we are doing what is expected of us.  But it doesn’t increase our faith.  It doesn’t challenge us.  We know what God asks, and so we do it.  However, acting on knowledge will not challenge my faith.  It will not give me the opportunities to increase my faith.

Our daily routines as Christians or basic moral choices in our behaviors do mark us as servants of Christ.  Our obedience to God does distinguish us from the unsaved.  The closer we follow God’s word does show our knowledge of God’s wishes and will in our lives.  But it will not show you how much faith I have.  Me being a good Christian will not show God that my faith has increased beyond that first step I had to take in accepting His word as truth.  I have to do something more.  I need to do something more to fan the flames of passionate faith.  But oh how easy it is to fall into the comfort of knowledge, and how easy it is for me to pass that off as faith.

So how can I possibly do more to keep my faith alive? 

“(21) And Peter, remembering, said to Him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.’

(22) So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Have faith in God.  (23) For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, will have whatever he says. (24) Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you will receive them, and you will have them.’” (Mark 11:21-24)

And that right there is the hardest thing about actual faith.  Having it without doubt.  Believing in something that goes against the World and Science for no other reason than faith.  Faith, for me, is looking at my life, at my reflection, and seeing the demons of sin that plague me…and casting them out.  Demanding with soul deep conviction they leave me alone and not having a single doubt in my heart that I will be left alone.  But doubt, oh sweet horrible doubt, robs me of so much faith.  I am pretty sure after the sin of pride the sin of doubt is my worst.

Throughout the New Testament the apostles healed the sick, cast out demons, and performed miracles.  ORDINARY men, believers like you and myself, did the same.  Stephen spoke with authority on God to the point where Satan, demons, had to listen to him because he had faith.  Stephen wasn’t an apostle.  Preachers in the bible, deacons in the Bible, saints and believers in the Bible were so filled with faith that the Holy Spirit was powerfully alive in their hearts and it poured out through their actions.  Now I haven’t read every verse in the New Testament yet….but I have yet to see a single hint that these gifts…the abilities…this miraculous faith…was going to be taken away from us.

There are various sections in the Bible were people spoke in tongues, had visions, interpreted dreams, had dreams, could see angels and demons….and it is written in the Bible…..our book of God based TRUTH…that these are all faith-filled gifts given to us through the work of the Holy Spirit.  I have yet to read a passage or a verse that says the Holy Spirit will only allow us these miraculous talents for the first 50 years of the church, or the first 100 years of the church, or only to the first 100,000 believers in Christ.  The Bible says we are all blessed, touched, and given these faith-filled gifts. 

If we just had the faith of a mustard seed.

When Peter, after Pentecost, came to the man who had been lame all his life—a man who had spent all his life begging in the Synagogue of Jerusalem—and told him that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk there was no doubt in his mind, no doubt in his heart that the man would do just that.  He had a faith much larger than a mustard seed at that point.  He knew Jesus would answer the call to glorify Christ through this miracle.  Peter didn’t doubt.  Peter didn’t say….”Jesus Christ please heal this man” ….he spoke with a faith I find terrifying and mindboggling and utterly beautiful.

That’s faith.  That’s the faith we need to strive for.  That’s the faith I need to hunt down with a vengeance.  To seek it avidly in my day to day life.  Now keep in mind Faith is about glorifying God.  And keep in mind “Jesus said to him (Satan), ‘It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” (Matthew 4:7)  The point of a faith filled life isn’t to see how many miracles you can pull off in a day.  Or how many people you can impress.  Or to test to see if God is actually listening to you and paying attention.  Those motives aren’t about faith. 

Faith comes from a loving, devout, pure heart that only seeks to do the work of Christ, through Christ, and for the glory of the Lord.  And that faith, THAT faith….is what we need.  It is the sort of faith that is missing.  Sadly today too many things are considered impossible.  It isn’t.  If we have had the faith to accept Jesus as the Only begotten Son of God and we had the faith to believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life …then there is no way He lied to me.  There is no way those verses above aren’t true.  And there is no reason I shouldn’t be able to have the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit written in my Bible. 

The only thing that holds me back is doubt.  The only thing that keeps us in a miracle-less world is a faith that is so much smaller than a mustard seed.  Jesus has called us to behave as Christians.  Jesus has commanded us to live our lives according to His word.  But Jesus has also told us we can do the impossible if we just believe.  IF we stop basing our actions and our judgments on the limited knowledge this world has to offer and if we put it someplace higher.  Some place stronger.  Some place that can move a mountain from the land into the sea with a blink of an eye. 

I want that faith.  I hunger for that faith.  And I won’t find it in the safety and security of my knowledge of the Bible.  The Bible is my foundation for knowing God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  The endless reaches of my faith breach out from that through living, growing, and stepping into the unknown of a loving relationship with Him.  I just can’t settle any more for having a knowledgeable faith.

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Fear, Love, and Obedience

“(12) And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, (13) and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good? (14) Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it. (15) The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. (16) Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. (17) For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-17)

We are to fear God, to love God, and to obey the commandments God has given us. Namely love one another as He (Jesus) has loved us. It is the ‘fearing’ part I always had trouble with understanding. Why should I fear an all-loving, all-merciful God? Now the ‘love’ part I thought I always understood but have only just realized I hadn’t a true clue what love was until these last few years of my life. Being obedient is self explanatory. You just do what you are told. It had always sounded simple enough. However, funny thing is all these have changed for me. I can no longer do one without doing the other two, at least not properly.

Fear. There are many ways to fear, many types of fear, and several definitions for fearing. I know that a lot of times in the Bible when it speaks of men being in Fear of God what it really is saying they are in awe of God. To see someone that pure, that holy, that intensely good that it is so painfully obvious what you are seeing is not of this world….is frightening in the intensity of being in awe or shock. To see someone so pure I would feel fear simply due to my own impurities, fear of offending this beautiful being before me.

Another type of fear is strictly fear. To be afraid of what God will do or what God will think of you and your life. Whether or not you believe in God right now, one day you will come before His judgment seat and you will be terrified. God, this man, this Triune entity has control over your eternal soul. Will you spend it in heaven, or will you spend forever (which is a very long time) in the torments of hell? Imagine how frightened you are staring down the barrel of a gun, or how scared you would be if someone were trying to kill you by any means. Now God can do more than kill you, He can wipe you from ever existing. The wrath of God is something to fear if you incur it. This sort of fear isn’t usually the fear believers have toward God. AT least not once they are saved.

The fear I have of God now leads into the aspect of loving God. I fear displeasing God, of hurting my Lord, of dishonoring the ginormous gift of my Savior, and of disrespecting the very Man who has blessed my life in so many ways. It is the same type of fear you feel in disappointing your parents, or in hurting your loved one. Just intensify that by a lot. Because I love God I have fears concerning Him. I want to please Him. I want to do as He commands of me. I want Him to look on me with favor and pride. And because I have all these worries and these fears I can’t help but love Him. I could never feel these things or this way unless I loved him. If I didn’t love Him I wouldn’t care. And if I didn’t care that would leave me only with the fear of His eternal judgment on my soul.

To love God is more than just saying I love Him. It is more than saying a prayer once or twice a day. It is more than going to church every Sunday because I am supposed to. I am in love with God. It is about getting excited to spend that time at church with Him; like a date night. It is about feeling that giddy excitement in speaking about Him as I do in speaking about my soul mate. To love God as I believe this passage suggests with love God…it comes without strings. There are no requirements He has to fulfill or meet or do for me to love Him. I simply do. To love God is to hold it as a truth in your heart. Nothing can take away my love for God. Nothing can negatively change my love for God. And no matter what happens to me—torture, maiming, death, or name your persecution—I will never denounce or pretend to feel otherwise. To love God, and to love your neighbor, is to love them more than yourself. It is to choose to put that love before what society deems acceptable, appropriate, or deserving. To love God with all your soul is to jump feet first in that bottomless pool of adoration, feet first, and to swim with unadulterated freedom of youness. If that makes sense. There are no ifs. There is no such things as a but. And ‘chances’ simply don’t exist in this type of love.

Now if you love God like this, and you fear God in any of the aforementioned (or not mentioned) ways…how could you be anything but obedient? When my soul mate asks me not to do something because it causes him pain, do I go out and do that thing? No. I don’t. If my husband says he doesn’t like me dressing promiscuously because he wants to be the only one who sees me dressed like that; do I go out and do it? No, because I respect him. I love him. I understand the specialness of it. So when I read through the things God wants of me, commands of me, I obey them. They are good commandments. They keep me safe. They keep me happy. He doesn’t ask anything outlandish of me. Why wouldn’t I obey Him?

Granted I am by no means perfect in my obedience. I am human. I am a sinner. I try not to use that as an excuse to get away with some things, but it is the truth. But I will never stop trying. I will never say I have done enough. I could never do enough.

So, yes, I will “circumcise the foreskin of my heart”. I will cut away that which covers my heart from Him, which keeps my heart from Him. I will remove everything I can that hinders me from exposing my whole heart to the Lord. I won’t do it perfectly. I will fall down probably more than I stand up. And I know at times I will have to crawl because my ankles no longer work. Actually, I won’t. I know in those moments God will scoop me up and carry me. Because He loves me more than I can ever comprehend about dreaming to love Him.

Self Reflections

“(1) Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, (2) all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, (3) all ate the same spiritual food, (4) and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (5) But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

(6) Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. (7) And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’ (8) Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; (9) nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; (10) nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.

(11) Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (12) Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (13) No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10: 1-13)

The ‘Our Daily Bread’ spoke about how it is now so common for us to see high public officials, famous people, and world leaders behave so immorally, or so horrifically.  We are no longer surprised.  Most of us just shake our heads and move on with our lives.  We all stand strong in our own convictions we would never go down those roads or do the things they have done.  Some say this out of pride, some say it out of disgust, some say it out of a higher self worth, and some say it because they are Christians.  I am guilty on more than one occasion for using each of these descriptors as my reasoning to shake my head and move on.

But God warns us—God warns me—to get away from this sort of thinking.  These people are not different from us.  They were not given some greater, more horrific temptation than we face every day that took them down these roads.  It happens one step at a time.  One of the countless tiny sins of my own that I overlook every day could begin to lead me down one of these paths.  I am not above the sins and darkness places these people find themselves in simply because I am a Christian.  In fact I am rather humbled and ashamed by this glaring truth today of my own pride.  Because I have been in those dark places.  I have freely walked down into the murky depths of others that I now shake my head at.

I was lucky.  God offered me a way out, a means of escape, through the blessings of faithful heavenly servants.  I am lucky again that God reminds me that those temptations that led me to those places back then are still real today.  They can find their way into my heart again.  I shouldn’t go shaking my head at the misfortune of these people, proud of my new found freedom in Christ.  I should weep tears of joy that I have been saved.  I should feel my heart break for them, knowing my steps once mirrored their own.  I should be taking their lives as an example from God that Satan never gives up trying.  I should praise the Lord at His continuous deliverance out of those same traps.

I know, for a fact, it only takes one misstep to fall.  I know, for a fact, it only takes one sin to open the door to the enormity of others.  I can’t let my pride blind me to those traps.  I can’t shake my head at the obvious sins of others while I casually excuse and dismiss my own smaller ones simply because they are smaller.  Those larger, obvious sins happen because of those smaller ones we let slide by.  Self reflection and humility are very hard concepts to practice daily. 

Sin is sin, whether it is great or small.  All of it is repulsive and hated in God’s eyes.  God is as heartbroken and disgusted by my foul language and little white lies, as he is against the sins of the man who murdered those people a few Saturdays ago.  My reluctance to obey God’s wants and commands of me is just as offensive to him.  All of this is blatant disobedience to God’s will.  The difference is that between that man and myself … I know better.  I know God and His will for me.  I know it.  I study it.  And I knowingly do otherwise.  I know better.  God is my Savior and I love Him, so yeah I don’t do those grand obvious sins.  But it hardly makes my smaller sins more excusable. 

Which hurts worse…when someone who doesn’t know you nor love you does something to cause you pain…or when someone who knows you and loves you does something to cause you pain?  I know Christ.  I pray to God daily, sometimes hourly.  I seek more ways for the Holy Spirit to live in my heart.  My intimacy with my Lord can only make my small betrayals more painful to Him.  Time and time again you can find in the New Testament how those who know God more will be expected of them and asked of them.  Because I see with my eyes, because I hear with my ears, and because I understand with my heart even my smaller sins are big.  I know better.

If I should be shaking my head at anyone, it should be myself.  But in all this I find refuge, and strength, and love.  Because I know God has provided me with an escape from my earthly ways.  He has given me the Good Book; He has provided me with a Comforter; and through His only begotten Son everything I have done or will do has been forgiven me.  I am not alone.  I will always have the light to get back out of the swampy steps I take.

Light to my feet

“(105) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

(106) I have sworn and confirmed that I will keep Your righteous judgments.

(107) I am afflicted very much; revive me, O Lord, according to Your word.

(108) Accept, I pray, the freewill offerings of my mouth, oh Lord, and teach me your judgments.

(109) My life is continually in my hand, yet I do not forget Your law.

(110)The wicked have laid a snare for me, yet I have not strayed from Your precepts.

(111) Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart.

(112) I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, to the very end.” (Psalm 119:105-112)

Today’s ‘Our Daily Bread’ is about the light of God’s Word shining a guiding pathway in our lives.  The author compares it to the headlights of our cars leading us down the road at night.  He says, and true enough, that it is hard to follow the headlights of God’s Word sometimes when we have absolutely no idea where they are leading us through the darkest hours of our lives.  We always want to know.  Thousands upon thousands of years later we still always want that apple of knowledge. 

These last three years of my life have blessed me with a better ability of valuing the apple less, and trusting in God more.  Fresh out of the top rated School of Massage I was diagnosed with cancer.  I couldn’t practice the trade I had spent a year learning, and spent a truck load of money on to get.  After my victory over cancer I tried to get my foot hold into the massage community.  I had my foot hold in it for about a month and a half.  In a freak accident at my second job I completely destroyed my ankle.  I have spent nearly the last two years dealing with this injury.  I have finally gotten to a place where I could get the major reconstructive surgery I needed to reattach the three ligaments that hold your ankle to your foot.  I am now looking at, hopefully, the last 6 months of recovery time.  My chances of ever returning to the world of massage are slim to none.

At first I was angry.  I had spent all this time, and a ton of money, to learn a profession I loved.  And it was taken away from me; twice.  These last three years have been very dark in that sense.  I have had no clue how I will take care of myself, or the student loans I have accrued.  I had no sense of direction on where my life was going, or what it would look like if I ever got to the end of this tunnel.  It should have been terrifying for me.  It should have been one of the scarier spans of time in my life.

It wasn’t.

You see I was coming to Christ right as all of this was happening.  I became a saved soul in the midst of having cancer.  So when my ankle was destroyed in that accident while I was angry at the situation I never found myself wandering close to despair or depression.  I was surprisingly at peace.  It has been a peace I could not have gotten on my own, nor maintained on any sort of level by myself.  My Lord and Savior gave me this huge, ginormous gift in this very dark time in my life.  I learned to trust God.  I didn’t look out into the darkness around me; at least never for long.  My eyes were kept on God’s headlights before me.

And it never really, fully hit me until I read this daily devotional how blessed God has made me.  I could be in such a worse place right now.  I don’t want to imagine where my heart, mind, or emotional state would be if I didn’t have the Word of God.  My Lord and Savior has taken the time to teach me how to trust Him; which is one of the best gifts I could be given. 

I no longer have to worry.  I no longer have to fret.  I can say everything will be alright and feel the honest truth of that deep in my bones.  I have peace.  Soul deep peace that allows me to sleep at night, that keeps anxiety away.  In learning to trust God I no longer have to attempt to put my trust in manmade situations or fixes.  He has guided my path this far without me knowing where I am going; and I know He will continue to take me in the direction He wants me to go.

It sounds strange to me because I was the sort of person that always had to have a plan, to know where I was going, and to know what I was doing.  But in trusting God I have this freedom to enjoy the journey.  It doesn’t matter where I end up because I will end up where I am supposed to be.  I can focus instead on the people taking this journey with me.  I can savor the child-like, giddy excitement of knowing I am going somewhere good.  It is like my own life story of Christmas morning.  God is leading me to a land of blessings and gifts and wonder.  I can’t wait to get there.  And I can’t even fully grasp the gift of not having to try to find it myself.

God is good.  God does love me.  Jesus gave His life for me so I could walk this path without fear.  And the beauty of God’s Word brightens my world around me every day.  His light is true and sure; and I never have to worry about something running out in front of me for me to hit or have an accident over.  As long as His light is my focus, nothing can jump out at me to surprise me and cause me to stumble.  And for all these things I am grateful.  I am thankful.  And I am in love with Him even more today than I was yesterday.