“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”—Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV).
While comparing prices in the cereal aisle of a local store, I overheard two women discussing the state of our country—the bickering, the unrest, the demonstrations, the unknown. Their conversation revealed they are Christians. However, their faith in God wasn’t evident.
Then, a few days later, I saw the following posted on a church marquee: “What does faith look like?”
Hebrews 11:1 gives an excellent definition of faith. It’s substance. It’s evidence. Faith is believing the Word of God and then acting upon it, in spite of how we feel or how things might appear, because of God’s promises.
The substance and evidence God’s Word says it is.
Pastor James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel, says we can’t embrace the realities of faith until we rid ourselves of faulty notions:
- Faith is not a head-in-the-sand position. McDonald says, “It isn’t denying, ignoring or hiding from the obvious or inevitable. It’s not pretending something is real when deep down you really don’t believe it. That’s fear, not faith.” Fear is the opposite of faith. When we live in fear, we are living in denial of the hope that God will take care of us no matter what trials we face.
- Faith is not anti-intellectual. Says MacDonald, “It’s not a warm feeling that requires you to check your intellect at the door. That’s feeling, not faith.” It’s so easy to let our feelings dictate our lives and forget what the Word says. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us to “be anxious in nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
- Faith is not a shallow, positive mental attitude. MacDonald adds, “It’s not a platitude to ‘just follow your dreams.’ Nor does faith ignore pain and embrace optimism, regardless of the evidence. That’s foolishness, not faith.” That’s why regularly reading and studying scripture, attending church and fellowshipping with other believers is so important.
“‘And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’” The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these”—Mark 12:30-31(NLT).
For over 11 years, I’ve sat down at my computer each week to write this column. It wasn’t part of my retirement plan after leaving education in 2005. But God had other plans.
Although I grew up in the church, I didn’t have a personal relationship with God until my late 40s. I’ve never regretted accepting Jesus as my Savior and Lord. There have been times, however, when I wanted to give up. Trials have left me drained but Jesus has sustained me.
When I grow weary and want to quit writing, His Holy Spirit encourages me through the feedback I receive from readers. Writing for His glory is a labor of love.
We can’t love the unlovable on our own.
Love is the answer to the current discord and hate in this world. If we claim to be Christians, shouldn’t our life reflect the light of His love? If we claim to be Christians, shouldn’t we love everyone, even the unlovable among us?
Love everyone? What about the person next door who disturbs the neighborhood by constantly yelling at his children? What about the neighbor who leaves trash scattered across his lawn, distracting from the beauty of the area? What about the grumpy one who never speaks, even when you try to establish a relationship? I admit it’s not easy and I sometimes fail.
“We never give up. Our bodies are gradually dying, but we ourselves are being made stronger each day. These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing. Things that are seen don’t last forever, but things that are not seen are eternal. That’s why we keep our minds on the things that cannot be seen”—2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (CEV).
January is almost over. If you vowed to make changes in 2017, have you made any progress? Change is difficult even for the most self-disciplined of us.
It’s easier to get stuck in a rut than it is to get out. I believe most of us have been there. We get comfortable in our routines—our comfort zones—and we’d rather remain where we feel safe. Getting out of the boat means we’re vulnerable.
Remember Peter. As Jesus walked on the water toward the boat full of disciples, Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” Jesus replied.
Peter stepped out of the boat. Even though he could see Jesus walking toward him on the water, his fear of the strong winds led him to take his eyes off of Jesus. What happened? His faith deserted him and he began to sink.
In Matthew 14:31, we’re told, “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ He said, ‘why did you doubt?’”
Doubt can hold us back from making changes in our lives. We focus instead on the “What ifs.”
What if I fail?
What if I make the wrong choice?
What if others think I’m crazy?
“The whole earth is full of his glory”—Isaiah 6:3(KJV).
Listening as our associate pastor read the familiar words, I marveled anew at God’s love for us. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
God didn’t have to create anything. He didn’t have to create the birds of the air or the flowers we love to pick or the other multitude of creatures and plants for our enjoyment. Just as He created us for His pleasure, He wanted us to enjoy and take care of His creation. Oh how we have failed—all of us. I take comfort, however, in the fact that He never fails us.
As I glanced out my kitchen window this morning, I was surprised by God. A large red-headed woodpecker was enjoying the suet at the feeders hanging on the edge of my deck. This beautiful creature, along with the various other birds that visit each day, are stunning. The variety in their size, shape and color leaves me breathless. How easy it would have been for God to make them all alike. How boring would that be? But, He didn’t.
Clear distractions, focus on each moment.
God loved us so much that He went out of His way to create, to spend five days deliberately preparing a Creation He called “good.” In today’s world, it’s sometime difficult to find the good in the midst of all the chaos.
A recent quote by an unknown author gave me pause. The author said, “The New Year is a time to learn to rely more heavily on the grace of God.”
To do this, I’ve realized I have to let go of some things to make way for His work in my life. Here are some suggestions to help all of us unclutter our lives:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life”–Psalm 139:23-24 (TLB).
From the posts I’ve read on social media and remarks from friends, I’m certain most of us are glad 2016 is behind us.
Although 2016 was a challenge, I held out hope for a promising ending. However, I was confronted with disappointing news several days before the end of the year. It wasn’t just one piece of news—it came in a bundle of three—all on the same day.
I turned to trusted friends, asking for prayer. The next morning while writing in my prayer journal, God’s Holy Spirit revealed an answer to my “Why?” The reply came, “We each have free will.”
Have I fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit?
We can choose to follow God’s leading or we can select our own path. I trust the path others have chosen is the path God has prepared for them. I must walk forward, faithfully, on the path God has prepared for me.
While each day offers an opportunity to examine our spiritual lives, a new year is especially conducive to searching our hearts and our lives to see if they line up with God’s plans. Ask yourself the following questions:
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 3:13-14(NIV).
Since 2001, I’ve packed my belongings and moved five times. That averages moving every three years. However, I did remain in one house for almost 11 years. If you’ve ever moved, you know the challenge it involves. While looking forward to a new adventure, there is still the logistics of dealing with possessions one has accumulated over the years.
When I prepared to move this last time in April 2016, I realized, once again, how much I had amassed. During the 11 years I’d lived in that residence, I lost my only surviving parent. My mother had passed in 2004, followed by my father in 2007. When my sister and I met to assess their belongings, we each chose things we wanted to keep. Then, we allowed family members to make their selections. Everything that remained was given away.
As the apostle Paul said, we must forget what is behind.
We must cling to Jesus.
As I cleaned out cabinets last April and started packing, I came across some of my mother’s crystal, as well as other decorative and delicate items stored on the top kitchen shelves since September 2007. Almost nine years later, the keepsakes had remained untouched, except for one beautiful cut-glass vase I’d used many times. Why was I hanging onto things that were not useful to me? Why had I toted them home in the first place? Gathering dust, they had remained hidden from sight.
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” – I Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV).
Unless you have no access to media, you know that the word “divisive” would best describe 2016. Lines were drawn. Anger increased and hate-filled words filled the airwaves and appeared on Internet sites. Christians were not exempt.
I don’t want to dwell on the ugliness, but we, as Christians, need to seek unity, stand firm in our faith, show grace to those who do not and hold our leaders—at all levels—accountable. But even more important, there’s one more thing we must do. We must pray for the wisdom and well-being of our elected leaders.
We can learn from the words found in Ezekiel 22:30. “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”
Prayer creates a revolutionary spin on the natural tendency
to resist or resent authority.
We are the ones who must stand in the gap for our leaders. We must lift up our nation with all its faults before the throne of God and pray that He continues to work in our midst.
In “The Battle Plan for Prayer” by Stephen and Alex Kendrick, the authors write: “Since the influence of people in these positions can cause such a ripple effect, and because their various roles are fraught with hard choices and difficulty, the Bible commands us to pray for all those in leadership over us. (See 1 Timothy 2:1-2 above)