Whole-Heartedly Following (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Proverbs 3 5-6

These two verses have helped me get through some crazy times in my life. When I felt called to leave my university and go to Bible College halfway across the country. When I accepted a position as a youth minister in a small rural town with only one paved road. When I moved back to Washington after living in Kansas. When I moved to a small town and church back in Kansas. When I started school (each time I’ve gone back). When I started bi-vocational ministry. The list could go on.

The point is, whenever I have had to make big decisions in life, these verses have helped me have comfort in the fact that as long as I’m seeking God first, with my whole heart, I have confidence that he will direct my paths.

Seeking God with your whole heart doesn’t mean that you won’t have doubts – I know that I have had plenty of them! But it does mean that you are confident that you are willing to take the steps necessary to do what you feel God has called you to do in spite of those doubts. It means that you’re focused on his will for your life instead of your own plans. It means that your desire is to bring glory to God instead of to yourself.

When your heart is aligned to God’s will and God’s plan for your life; when you’re not depending on your own understanding; when you’re seeking him in all ways; then he will show you which path to take. That doesn’t mean, however, that he will show you quickly or in your time – he will show you in his time.

I’m in the midst of a season of waiting on the Lord. I am trying to seek God with my whole heart. I am trusting in his plan and timing. But he hasn’t shown me the path I’m supposed to take. Instead I just see roadblocks and do not enter signs. While frustrating at times, I know that I need to have patience and wait on the Lord. He WILL direct me and open up the path he wants me to take.

In times like these it is helpful for all of us to ensure that we’re following God with our whole heart and seeking his will. If we are, then he promises to direct our path. No matter what season you are in – waiting, going, or seeking, trust that God has a plan and path for you.

Assurance of our Faith (Hebrews 11:1)

Hebrews 11 1

The writer of Hebrews begins chapter 11, a chapter filled with heroes of the faith, by stating that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. The word translated assurance is an interesting word. In one sense, it has to do with the guarantee of ownership of something – in other words the title deed to something one possesses, much like a house or vehicle has a deed. The title deed for the things we hope for in Christ is our faith.

Faith is the essence of the Christ-follower’s walk with God. We have faith in the fact that Jesus, very God in the flesh, came to earth, lived a sinless life, died a horrible death, was raised up from the dead, and is now in heaven preparing a place for us. That’s the essence of the gospel message – the core foundation of our faith. For the Christian, there is no greater truth.

Yet, while we believe that truth, we can’t see that truth with our own eyes. Instead, we have to first rely on the character and trustworthiness of the writers of Scripture, themselves inspired with the very words of God. When we read the eye witness accounts about Jesus and his resurrection, when we read the accounts of the many miracles of God, and we see not just fairy tales, but real life, historical events that took place on earth. We recognize the miraculous workings of God and we are encouraged in our own faith because we see a glimpse of who God is and what he is capable of.

When we look back into the pages of Scripture, it is helpful for us to remember that the God we serve is the same God Moses, Abraham, and Paul served. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is the constant source of truth and love. So when we are anxious, confused, or downright distraught, we can reread the pages of Scripture to strengthen our faith.

While we cannot see God face-to-face, we have the experiential and Scriptural knowledge that he is living within each one of us who believes. If God now lives within us, though we cannot see, we can have faith, which gives us assurance in trying times. The Holy Spirit within us should give us comfort, peace, and ultimately faith; faith in Christ and faith that he will get us through everything that comes our way.

Confidence in Christ (Psalm 112:6-8)

Psalm 112 7

The first question you may ask in reading this verse is who is the “he”? As I always remind people, “Context is King,” so we have to go back a verse to see the context. The “he” in this verse refers to the righteous. In fact, verse 6b says that the “righteous will be long remembered.” So then, who is not afraid of bad news? The righteous.

But who exactly are the righteous? The righteous are simply those who are in a relationship with Jesus – those whose sins have been covered and forgiven by the blood of Jesus. When you accept Jesus’ sacrificial payment for your sins, your sins are blotted out and your unrighteousness is converted to righteousness in God’s eyes.

As a redeemed, righteous, follower of Christ, we should not fear bad news! Why? Because our eternal destiny is secure in Christ! Not only is our eternal destiny secure, our present lives are also improved because we have the Spirit of God living within us and he will never leave us in our times of distress.

Verse 8 really adds the punch I love to this passage: “They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly” (NLT). As a follower of Christ, we should be confident and fearless. We can be these things because we have faith in the Lord. We cannot be confident, fearless, and trusting on our own – we need God’s assurance and assistance. When we put our trust in God instead of ourselves or someone else, then we find true confidence in life.

Think back to the story of the men put in the fiery furnace because they wouldn’t bow down to the king’s statue (Daniel 3). God gave those 3 men the courage to stand up to the king! Ultimately God choose to save them from the flames, and he promises us the same salvation when we put our faith and trust in him!

The Money Trap (Hebrews 13:5-6)

Hebrews 13 5

During times of uncertainty people often look to different things to find their security. One of the biggest things people turn to is money. They feel like if they have enough money, they will be secure. So begins the relentless pursuit of money and all it can bring.

My family and I have recently been watching a show called Ultimate Cheapskates on TLC. The show is about people who are saving money by living and doing things in odd ways. One man participated in multiple medical research studies. One man turns the breakers off in his house at 9pm. One family all sleep in the same bed so they don’t have to heat and cool the other bedrooms. Many of them dumpster dive for their belongings, food, and even medication. It’s unreal what people will do in order to save a dollar.

When our focus in on money, whether it’s saving it, hoarding it, wanting it, or spending it, our focus comes off of the Lord. It is the Lord who says he will never leave us or forsake us. No one and no thing can ever say that with complete certainty. Our money will be gone at some point and in the end, what will it matter? You don’t see a U-Haul on a hearse – you can’t take it with you.

The next verse in this passage says, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid’” (13:6a). When we put our confidence in the Lord, we recognize the inability of money to save us or provide security for us and we rest in him and his care. Don’t put your trust in money, put your trust in God.

Power in the Word (Psalm 56:3-4)

Psalm 56 3-4

These two verses form a chiasm in the Hebrew. A chiasm is simply a structure that the Psalmist used to highlight something important. In a chiasm the central idea is always found in the middle. In our verse, the chiasm is this:

(a1) What I am afraid

(b1) I put my trust in you

(c) In God, whose word I praise (or I praise God for what He has promised)

(a2) I trust in God

(b2) So why should I be afraid

What can mere mortals do to me?

You can see how David moves from a point of fear to the point of trusting God, not being afraid, and then exclaiming how mere mortals cannot do anything to him. In the center of it all is the reason for his trust and confidence: God’s word. God’s word is trustworthy and when God says something that is the way it is.

God created the world simply by speaking it into being – it is in that powerful word that we put our trust. When David was feeling afraid and was being pursued by his enemies (as he was in this passage), he took comfort and found courage in the Word. John tells us that the Word is Jesus (John 1).

When our fears start to take hold of us, we simply need to remember that Jesus had the power to simply speak the world into existence, so certainly he has the power to be there in our time of need! When you’re feeling afraid, go to the Word of God and find comfort in the words given to us all – the very words of God.

Remember the Lord is with You (1 Chronicles 28:20)

1 Chronicles 28 20

In Scripture, we are told that David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Because of this, David wanted to build a permanent Temple for the Lord. God, however, gave David the plans, but told him that his son, Solomon, would be the one to build it. In this verse, David is commissioning Solomon to do just that and reminding him that God will be with him during the project.

Solomon was the wisest person in the world. People would come from around the world to consult him – to hear him speak wisdom. Yet, when it came time to commission Solomon for the building of the Temple, David found in important to remind him that God would be with him and not forsake him during that time.

It’s remarkable to me that a man filled with such wisdom still had some doubts about himself and his standing before the Lord. So much so that his father felt the need to remind him of those facts. When we are having our own doubts about God being with us, we can take comfort in the fact that we are not alone in our concern. Even Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, had his own concerns.

While we may find ourselves in good company with King Solomon, we must heed the advice of his father David when he reminds him (and us) that God will be with us always. Don’t believe for a minute that you are going through this time alone – God is with you! If you need help remembering that, go back and read the previous devotions or reach out to your pastor. As a pastor myself, I know that I’d be happy to talk with you and walk through this time with you. You are not alone!

Ask for Wisdom (James 1:5)

James 1 5

A verse about wisdom may seem to be out of place in a series of devotions about fear. But wisdom is the trait of utilizing knowledge and experience with common sense and insight. True wisdom, of course, comes from God, and in our times of fear, it does us good to ask God to share his wisdom with us.

When we are in a place of uncertainty, when we are focusing on the wrong things, it is critical that we turn to the Author of true Wisdom to guide our hearts and minds back to the truths of Scripture. In Scripture, as we have studied thus far and will continue to study, we see God over and over telling us to not fear because he is with us. This knowledge comes from Scripture and from our experience with God in the past. When we find ourselves spending time, energy, and mental focus on things that are not in line with what God’s Word has said, we need to ask God to give us his wisdom to get us back on track.

When we ask for wisdom, God has promised to give it to us. What a great promise given to us when we are in need of reassurance about the truth of God’s Word!

The next verse says, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). When we ask God to give us his wisdom, we should ask with full confidence that he will answer our request. If we doubt that God could or would give us the confidence of his wisdom, then James says that we are like a wave blown and tossed by the wind. Instead of making us fearful, however, that verse is meant to give us courage and boldness when approaching God’s throne.

And if we still have doubts, then we can do as the man who was asking Jesus to heal his son did, when he cried out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). When we face doubts of any kind, we need God’s wisdom to pull us through. Relying on God’s wisdom means that we remember the knowledge he has given us in Scripture as well as the experiences we have had with God when he has been faithful to us in the past. When you forget those things, ask God to remind you and believe that he will.

Fighting the Battle (Psalm 115:11)

Psalm 115 11

If you fear God, then you should trust him. And why shouldn’t we fear God? There’s a lot of talk about God being loving and caring, and I’m one of the first to describe God that way, but there’s also a part of us that should fear God, meaning we should be in reverent awe of his power and majesty.

God is not like our buddy down the street. He is not like our athletic heroes. He is the Creator of the Universe – the one who simply spoke all things into being. As creator, he has the power to create, but also the power to destroy, all with a word. So when we think of God, love should be part of it, because God is love (1 John 4:16), but God also deserves our awe and respect. It is only by the grace of God that we can even approach him; let us not forget the privilege that it is.

The second part of the verse tells us that if we do fear God, he is our helper and shield. The word shield captured my attention as I read this verse. The history of shields is vast – dating back thousands of years B.C. Shields were clearly around when the Psalmist penned these words. I did some research on shields and it was very fascinating how humankind has changed and modified the shield throughout history. In Bible times it was probably made from animal hides.

What captures my attention, however, is that a soldier was never armed with just a shield. The shield is a defensive weapon which is meant to be carried in the opposite hand/arm from the weapon being wielded. So when we picture the Lord with a shield in one hand defending us, we can also picture him with a sword in the other attacking for us.

God is not just playing defense for us – he is offensively attacking that which seeks to destroy us. When we are filled with fear, remember that Jesus has already fought the battle for us – we just need to stand beside him and be confident (“trust”) in him and his ability to protect us.

Peace in the Midst of Unrest

Let’s just be honest. Today I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Yes this week is a busy week, but today’s overwhelmed feeling feels different. I don’t know why.

At the Ministerial Alliance meeting yesterday, one of the activities we did was to draw a clear rock out of a bowl. The clear rock was to remind of us our baptism and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. On the rocks were the Fruit of the Spirit. The instructions were to either draw a rock and see what the Lord brought you, or find a rock with the word you wanted. As you might have guessed, I just reached in.

The rock I got was “peace.”

I smiled to myself when I saw what word I had drawn, because honestly that’s not how I’ve been feeling as of late. Hurried and busy would be a couple of good words. During this past weekend excited and joyful would be on the list. But peace? No way.

What is it about that word that makes me revolt against it so strongly? It’s as if it’s a foreign word with little relevance to my life right now. On my personal spiritual retreat, the words I came away with were, “I will fight.” And yet, the fruit of the Spirit is peace.

I did a quick word study for “peace,” as found in Galatians 5’s list of the Fruit of the Spirit. Strong’s says that peace is “Particularly in a single sense, the opposite of war and dissension. Among individuals, peace, harmony. Metaphorically peace of mind, tranquility, arising from reconciliation with God and a sense of a divine favor.”

Looking at that last sentence, I wonder if I have “peace of mind arising from reconciliation with God and a sense of divine favor”? I certainly have been reconciled with God through my faith in Jesus, but what about the “sense of divine favor”? Do I really sense a divine favor?

If I stop and look at it, certainly I do. But is that what I’m focusing on most of the time? No. And there it is. That’s the reason I don’t feel at peace. I am focusing on the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the craziness of life, I need to focus on two things.

First, I need to focus on the fact that I am reconciled to Christ through my faith and baptism in Him. Second, I need to recognize all of the blessings that God has given me. I need to be thankful for my family, my friends, my church, and most of all, the salvation given to me at Calvary (see point 1!). If I can remain in a state of gratitude for what God has blessed me with, and be reminded that God has always been there for me in my times of need, that will help me remember that he will be here in my current time of need, frustration, and busyness.

So my friends, I wish you peace.

Finding New Strength

You caught me. I’m still engaged with those eagles! (http://www.dickpritchettrealestate.com/eagle-feed.html#) But this time I’m thinking about this verse from Isaiah 40:31:

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.

2016 was a very difficult year for many people. There were certainly some cultural issues, whose effects are still being felt. But there were also personal struggles – illness, financial hardship, heart break, and loss. What I see in this verse is that when we put our trust in God, God will give us new strength. And not just any strength, but strength like eagles soaring in the air.

When you look at the baby eagle in the video, though, you don’t see much that you would want to aspire to. At just days old, the baby barely moves around and is totally dependent on mom and dad. Yet that’s how we all start out in our faith. We don’t yet have wings that will carry us through the hard times – we are just babies. It takes time and perseverance to develop the wings of an eagle. And even after the wings develop, it is still a challenge to learn how to use them.

If you’re going through a tough time right now, I would encourage you to not lose hope. Rely on God to get you through this, and have faith that he will. In saying that, I encourage you to seek the counsel, support, and love of your local faith community and pastor. They will be there for you as you walk through this troubling time. And as you traverse the valley together, you will come out the other side stronger in your faith and feeling more like an eagle whose wings will carry you through your next journey.

If you’re struggling to have hope for the future, take a little time and write down in a journal or even a Word document, how God has blessed you. Make this gratitude list so that you can see the many ways God has been faithful in the past. This will help encourage you for the future. God will never leave you nor forsake you – even if it feels like it sometimes.

Whatever your struggle, I pray that God would bless you and help strengthen you in the days and weeks ahead. If you have a personal situation that you’d like me to pray for, please contact me (kevin@hayschristianchurch.org) and I will pray.