Spiritual Formation

Faith is Not a Feeling

by-faithIn Hebrews 11:1 we are told that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Then after giving us a wonderful definition of faith, the author of Hebrews goes on to give us a list of men and women who were commended for their faith in remainder of the chapter. These people where simply men and women who took God at His word and obeyed His command.

For example, we are told that God asked Noah to build an ark because He was going to bring a massive flood. Noah took God at His word and built the ark (v5). God told Abraham to go out to a place that he would receive as an inheritance. Abraham took God at His word, left his familiar surroundings, and he went (v.6). God indicated to Sarah, who was long past the age of childbearing, that she would conceive a son. The Scripture states: “She considered Him faithful who had promised.” She took God at His word. Regardless of circumstances, despite arguments of logic and reason, and regardless of how he or she felt, each person mentioned in Hebrews 11 believed God and His word and chose to be obedient despite of their feelings.

Feelings are neither right or wrong, but as Christian’s we do not depend upon feelings or emotions, but we place our faith (trust) in fact — the trustworthiness of God and the promises of His Word. You see feelings are valid, but not always trustworthy. However, God’s Word is. Therefore, God’s Word is:

  • truer than anything I feel
  • truer than anything I experience
  • truer than any circumstance I will ever face
  • truer than anything in the world

Why? Because heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Word will not. This means that no matter how I feel or what I experience, I can choose to depend on the truth of God’s Word and his faithful promises. You see, you and I can either grow accustomed to listening to our feelings, thoughts, and circumstances, letting them control us, or we can be in the habit of taking God at His word despite our feelings and life experiences. We need to choose with our wills to believe that His Word is truer than our feelings.

The promise of God’s Word, not our feelings, is our final authority. Therefore the Christian needs to live by faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word.

Soul Care

imagesThe most common response I hear to the greeting, “How are you?” is “Busy.” I hardly ever hear someone say they’re enjoying a “peaceful, joy-filled day.” I know people don’t talk like that, but you get the idea.

As leaders, it’s imperative that we practice what we preach, specifically when it comes to the topic of margin. I don’t think there is any way we can talk with integrity about “the abundant life” Christ offers, if we haven’t come to grips with this issue ourselves. I know many pastors who are stressed out and overloaded, and I wonder…why? After all, doesn’t Jesus say, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”? Is it possible that we are no longer taking the correct yoke—Christ’s yoke—on ourselves? Or is it possible that we have bought into a worldly idea that puts the highest value on more, bigger, and better, rather than faithfulness, obedience, and love? When my surrender is complete and Christ’s yoke is accepted, my soul will find rest.

At its core, margin is about trusting God and loving others. By creating margin in our lives, we allow our body and soul to have the internal resources to love God and love others. I suspect the people who passed the wounded man on the road had no margin, while the Samaritan who stopped to help him did. Jesus seemed to think he had the right idea.

That leads to a question: How would the people around you describe you? A great leader? A good teacher? A man or woman of faith? Or would they boil it down to say: He/she is really loving?

Creating Margin

be_still_and_know_that_i_am_god1How often have you been asked the question, “Are you staying busy?” If you’re like me, I imagine you’ve been asked that question a lot, as if “staying busy” is the ultimate objective in life. However, this is the world we live in. A world that demands us to add more detail to our lives. We live for events we can post on Facebook and keep ourselves busy as a badge of honor and significance. And I admit, I fall prey to cultural demands just as much as anyone else. However, lately I have been asking myself, how much is enough, knowing that we can only handle so many details in life before we exceed our threshold and find ourselves on overload.

To understand overload we must first understand our own limits. Physical limits are measurable, we only have so many hours in the day. We are only one person and can’t be in more than one place at a time. So we need to understand our own limitations. Humans are not infinite. We have limits to our ability–and we must recognize them and be at peace with them. God created us to live within certain limits for our own well-being. Therefore, overloading occurs when the requirements upon us exceed that which we are able to bear, resulting in disorganization or frustration.

In the past, margin was a normal part of people’s lives. By default, rather than by choice, people lived slower, more deliberate lives. They had time to help a neighbor and attend social events. Yet even if we agree that margin is good, for many today it seems like a luxury. There is so much to do, so much to see, etc. And if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves exhausted and burned out. In fact, in our technological word, overload happens naturally, but creating margin takes work.

So today, I find myself thinking of ways to create a little more margin in my life. And if we find our emotional energy is gone, how do we get it back? Here are ten options that I have seen work:

1. Cultivate social supports – Some people fill us, others drain us. Therefore we need to intentionally develop relationships that nurture us, with people who understand us and care about us.

2. Get a pet – Pets are capable of bonding, loyal and often affectionate—just the kind of things that increase our emotional reserves.

3. Reconcile relationships – Broken relationships are huge emotional drains. Resolving the tension helps to fill our tanks.

4. Serve others – A University of Michigan study found that those who performed regular volunteer work showed dramatically increased life expectancy, as well as experienced more joy.

5. Rest – “Be still and know that I am God!” Have you tried this one recently? If not, try to set aside time regularly for quiet and rest, even if it’s just a few minutes per day.

6. Laugh – Laughter is good for the soul. Read Proverbs 17:22.

7. Cry – Allow yourself to release the grief, the pain or sorrow. Tears can release the tension and heal the soul.

8. Create appropriate boundaries –  We need to be able to say “no” at times, or other people’s demands will overwhelm us.

9. Give thanks – A lot of negative things go away in our life when we are thankful.

10. Worship – Make sure you’re taking regular time to be with Jesus and worship Him. It puts life into great perspective.

The list could go on! What have you found to be helpful in creating margin and refueling in your life?

Approaching God With Confidence

a-place2wrshpIt seems almost daily that I am hearing of great hurt in the lives of those around me. Families on the brink of divorce, battles with cancer, loss of loved ones…the list goes on and the occurrences seem to be on the increase. For those struggling, each prayer request is unique…seeking relief from the pain, anger at the loss, crying out for peace in the turmoil, understanding from the trouble, strength in the fear and uncertainty. Yet for those that know the Lord, despite the affliction, many are comforted by the One on the Throne. Although we all have our own stress and strain, perhaps not as deep as others, we are assured that our requests can be made to God and that we can seek refuge in the One who created and knows us. He knows both our strengths and weaknesses and yet he still invites us to come boldly to the throne.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 NIV

Another translation says “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:16 NLT

Isn’t that great news! That we can come boldly to the throne with confidence, remembering who we are approaching, the Creator, the Alpha and Omega, the Omniscient God. He knows our needs and loves us so much that he offers us his mercy and grace.

I often can’t even begin to understand the suffering of those around me. Nor can I imagine enduring my own stress and strain without my Savior, but I am confident in the One on the Throne and I know that I can seek him with confidence in my time of need. I am comforted in the fact that I can boldly call upon him in prayer lifting up those who need additional comfort and support.  I can seek Him with sureness, knowing that he hears each request, sees each tear and feels each heartache. It is with this assurance that I know I will receive his mercy and grace. What a blessed assurance!

He Will Reign

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” – Revelation 11:15, NIV

imagesI love this verse, from which Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus originates, because of the definitive message that God is in charge and a day is coming where we will be united with all the saints in a glorious celebration of eternal life. And I look forward to the day when we all live in the real life Hallelujah Chorus. Where pain, sorrow and death are no more.

In these verses, we read that God has won the battle over evil and when our struggles will be over. In the meantime we have our work before us. To know what that is, we have to stay connected through worship, prayer, Bible reading and in community.

For the day is coming and the time is short. God’s kingdom is at hand…now is not the time to stop and wait. Now is the time to press on and show our joy and rejoicing with all those we meet, so that all will hear of the name of Jesus.

Love Builds Up

tumblr_m98r37c2F01qdxd12o1_500We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. – 1 Corinthians 8:1-2, NIV

As Christians, we might be well qualified to give the right doctrinally correct response in any given circumstance, but as Paul tells us, our response needs to be done in love. Do we genuinely care about the person we are giving advice to? Or are we only interested in how wise and clever our advice sounds? Paul tells us knowledge alone puffs us up and makes us proud. If we genuinely want to help someone, we need to do it in love.

Rick Warren often quoted as saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” One of the best ways we show we care is by listening. Mostly people can work out for themselves what they should or shouldn’t do. What people really need is a sounding board so they can talk through the issues with someone who is prepared to listen objectively and then allow the person to come to their own conclusions.

The Amplified Bible puts it like this: “Yet mere knowledge causes people to be puffed up…, but love…edifies and builds up and encourages one to grow [to full stature]. If we respond with love, not information, we encourage others to grow into their full potential.”

A 6 X 6 Plan

imagesAs a leader, what do you struggle with everyday? For most of us, our answer would be time! However, at the 2012 Global Leadership Summit, Bill Hybels challenged leaders to consider that its really our work habits that leaders struggle with on a day to day basis.

Watch as Bill Hybels talks about an exercise that helps his daily work habits. We can’t sprint for 6 months, but we can for 6 weeks. What would your 6×6’s be?

:: The Gift of Peace

Peace is one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given to us! In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet Isaiah foretold of the peace we would experience upon Christ’s arrival. On any given day, we experience many negative emotions that will try to rule our hearts. This happens when we spend too much time being anxious, angry or fearful. But the good news is that we have the power to choose between letting our emotions rule us or letting the Prince of Peace fill our hearts and mind with tranquility and thankfulness.

The babe in a manger reminds us that God cares about us and wants to change our lives. When He works in the lives of his people we see love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace.  The name Prince of Peace reminds us that only through Jesus will we truly have peace of mind. Christ can indeed bring peace to any situation. The most difficult circumstance, the most ruthless enemy, the deepest pain – none of these are beyond Christ’s reach.

As you worship this Christmas, open your heart, soul, mind and body to his perfect peace. Let the peace of God’s presence transform you today and every day. He can calm your heart and mind. No one brings peace like Jesus.

Generational Curses?

I was recently asked this question regarding Exodus 34:6-7, which reads, “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6, 7) The question was concerning verse 7, about punishment for third and fourth generations, and whether this changed with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Here is my response…

There are no generational curses in the life of a Christian. In Jeremiah 31:29-30, God promises us that the children will no longer pay for the father’s mistakes; but, we should also remain in covenant with Him (Ezekiel 18). However, there are spiritual consequences to our rebellion towards God, and it is OUR rebellion, not our ancestors, that is relevant here. However, I do believe we are prone to certain generational sins, because of how we were raised. However, on judgment day, everyone shall give an account of himself to God (Rom 14:12), and for this reason, we need to accept responsibility for our own sin.

In addition, we shouldn’t be quick to blame our personal hardship on the generational sins of our forefathers either. A good example is found in John 9:1-3 where Jesus encounters a blind man who was blind from birth. The text reads, “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man who was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” So in Jesus’ words, sickness, disease or suffering does not automatically mean there is sin in the camp. Therefore, we should not blame our misfortune or our family’s misfortune on the sins of our ancestors. We alone are answerable for our own sins.

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