Monday, September 29, 2014

Do You Have Faith in God or Faith in Faith?

By Allen White

He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20

I used to aspire to having great faith. It seemed to me that people with great faith would never question God or His ways. These giants of faith would never freak out or worry. They would just automatically trust God no matter the circumstance. I came to realize that this idea of possessing great faith was a mistake. I didn’t really desire faith in God. I was pursuing faith in faith. How twisted is that?

Jesus gave these instructions to His disciples after their failure to cast a demon out of a boy. The desperate father came to Jesus to ask for help saying that the disciples couldn’t get it done (Matthew 17:14-18). The disciples didn’t understand why they couldn’t do this. In another incident, they reported that a man who wasn’t one of them was casting out demons (Mark 9:38). They told him to stop.

Jesus explained to them that the key wasn’t in ostentation or willfulness. The key was having faith. In fact, if they had faith as small as something familiar like a mustard seed, they could tell a mountain to move, and it would move. Now, before you launch your divine excavation company, let me clear up a couple of things.

Faith along with grace is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Some people think that if we believe something strongly enough that it becomes faith. That may be a great New Age visualization technique, but it’s not faith. Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Faith is belief in what we can’t see (Hebrews 11:1). Faith comes from God (Romans 12:3).

The second thing is that God only moves the mountains that He chooses to move. We can’t just randomly point to mountains and command them to move. We shouldn’t be that powerful, and we’re not. God will give us the faith to accomplish what He chooses to accomplish. Sometimes God gives the faith for a radical deliverance from sin. Sometimes God gives us grace in daily doses. How it comes is His choice?

What do you need to trust God for today? What thing in your life seems impossible? We serve a mountain moving God who will give us the faith that we need.

“Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith” (Romans 4:13).

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

You Can’t Surprise God

By Allen White

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD "— and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5

We all put sin into different categories. There are sins that only really terrible people commit that we would never commit. There are sins that we enjoy. “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” There are sins that we can justify. “I’m only doing this because of the way that they’re acting.” There are sins that we don’t realize are actually sins. And, there are sins that we have absolutely no explanation for. We don’t like doing it. We can’t stop doing it. We don’t understand why we’re doing it. We just sin (Romans 7).

There is a certain pleasure in sin. If people didn’t enjoy sinning, it would be a very difficult sale. Sin doesn’t need a great deal of marketing. We’re ready to buy. But, shortly after sinning, the pleasure is replaced by guilt and shame (Hebrews 11:25; Jeremiah 3:25). Sin separates us from God. Okay, maybe we make it into Heaven by the skin of our teeth (Job 19:20; 1 Corinthians 3:15), but if sin stands between us and God, then it’s harder to turn to God. If we don’t feel that we can turn to God with an area of life, then we turn back to sin. (Wash. Rinse. Repeat.)

God already knows everything that there is to know about us. In theology, we say that God is omniscient. That God knows everything. He has all knowledge. He doesn’t need to learn. He just knows. There is nothing that you can tell God about yourself that will surprise Him. God is never going to say, “Oh, Myself, I didn’t know that about you.” He already knows.

Confession is not for God’s sake. It’s for us. In confessing, we say, “God, I can’t seem to do any better than what I’ve been doing. The way that I have chosen to run my life is not working. Please forgive me for violating your commands and empower me to live the life that You have chosen for me.” God does not berate us. God doesn’t chide us with “I told you so.” God doesn’t make us pay. Jesus already did.

Andy Stanley puts it this way, “Do you think God can be trusted? Or do you think you need to take things into your own hands?" In our own hands, we can certainly make a mess of things.

What sin do you need to give up on today? What do you see in your life that is not working? Confess that thing to God. Seek His forgiveness. Want His help.


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

How Much Control Do We Really Have?

By Allen White

For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Psalm 40:12

David epitomizes the mess than we can make of our lives. Sin and shame leads to more sin and shame, which leads to still more. David felt like his life was so overwhelmed that his sin outnumbered his success. The weight of his sin was more than he could bear.

Have you ever made a mess of things? Have you ever caused trouble? Have you ever had to face the music? Welcome to the human race.

In recovery, we learn to “Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control.” Sin is an oppressive master. Christ is a caring master. When we give the control of our lives to sin, our lives spin out of control. When we give control of our lives to Christ, we experience life and peace. Ours is not a perfect life, but it is far better than the alternative.

We love Christ’s care. He loves us always, forever and no matter what. He won’t reject us. God loves us more than any person we will ever meet. We are all in favor of receiving Christ’s care. But, what about the control part?

We’ll gladly give our life to Christ’s care, but the second part is to submit our will to Christ’s control. That’s a whole other deal. David saw that his control of his own life led to a lack of control. Many of us have experienced that too. But, this isn’t a one-time, “I surrender all” sort of deal.

It’s a daily deal. It’s a situation by situation deal. It’s a decision to follow Christ or follow ourselves. It’s a choice to seek Christ’s guidance or to think that we know best.

Here’s the deal about being in control: we don’t have that much control. We can be the healthiest people on the planet and get killed while exercising. We can be the most careful investor and still suffer considerable losses. We can be the most giving spouse and still receive divorce papers. We can be the most devoted parent and still see our children rebel. We can be the most faithful Christian and still struggle with sin and insecurity. There is not much that we control.

Control really comes down to just two things: who or what we rely on to cope and how we direct our attitude. Some people cope by working more hours, consuming more food, alcohol, drugs or tobacco, having more fun, starting a new relationship, surfing the channels or the internet, vegging out, numbing out – any kind of escape. When any of these things becomes what we rely on for our well-being, it becomes an idol in our lives. The problem is that none of these things can or will ever satisfy us completely.

If stuff could satisfy us, then we should all be satisfied. Instead, we feel the need for more stuff. Using these substitutes to cope leads to a loss of control. It leads to the despair that David refers to in this psalm.

Giving control to Christ is scary. What if he makes us do something that we don’t want to do? God will never ask us to do something that is impossible for Him to do. He does not control our lives like some sort of deranged dictator. His control comes with His care. Just like you and I want to direct our children onto the right path because we love them so much, our Heavenly Father loves us far more than any parent could ever love a child.

What are you trying to control right now? How are you losing control over that right now? Rather than losing control, I would challenge you to surrender your control to Christ. Even if you have to surrender 12 times in a day over the same thing, His control and care won’t steer you wrong.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Are You Coming Unglued?

By Allen White

The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin. Proverbs 10:8

I am annoyed by repetitive noises. Fans whirring. Pencils tapping. Wheels squeaking. These things will get my attention, but probably not the attention that they want from me.

Fools are the source of repetitive noise. They talk and talk and talk, but have nothing to say. I’ll be cautious here, since I am foolish at times.

The fool gives when he has nothing to offer. The wise, who have much to offer, focus on receiving. The wise know that there is so much that they don’t know. The fool has it all figured out. The wise are teachable. The fool doesn’t want to hear it. I pity the fool.

The wise pay attention to God’s commands, even when they don’t feel like it. When things are wrong around them, they choose what is right. When fools choose to rant and rave and wallow in self-pity, the wise keep still.

When problems arise, the wise learn from the situation. The fool jumps off the cliff. The wise take a step back. The fool rushes in.

It’s easy to be wise when life is manageable. We carefully think things through. We choose to respond rather than react. We can take a breath. But, when things become chaotic, we often lose our minds. Our judgment is clouded. Our brains are overridden by our emotions. Our mouths open and a fire is ignited (James 3).

Most of us don’t neatly fit into the category of “wise” or “foolish.” There are times when we act wisely. There are times when we act foolishly. The Message paraphrases this verse, “A wise heart takes orders; an empty head will come unglued.” Are you embracing God’s commands today or are you coming unglued?

A great way to receive God’s wisdom and ingrain it in your psyche is to read the Proverbs. Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, not because he lived his life so well, but because he asked God for wisdom and received it (1 Kings 4:29). There are 31 proverbs and there are 28-31 days in a month. How about one proverb per day? See we can be wiser already.


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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Meek Doesn’t Mean Wimpy

By Allen White

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Matthew 5:5

The meek would probably be the last among us that we could imagine taking over the world. When we hear the word “meek,” what comes to mind? Certainly not “admirable,” “strong,” or “dominate.” We think more in terms of “wimpy,” “mild,” and “unassertive.”

Often Jesus is pictured in a light blue robe speaking in soft tones. He appears sort of meek. Guys in light blue robes don’t really emit strength. (He usually also has blue eyes, which seems more Nordic than Semitic, but now I’m off the topic.) Jesus wasn’t wimpy. He worked for a living. He built with hand tools. There were no power tools (who’s wimpy now?) He got fired up. He confronted the establishment. Jesus took on evil, and He won. There was nothing wimpy or meek about Jesus.

The meek that Jesus speaks about here are not meek by choice or disposition. They are not merely shy or introverted. The meek are those humbled from oppression. Whether mild mannered or fierce, they have been subdued by the circumstances of their lives. They are no longer in a place where they will naturally rise above their situations. The oppression they face put them down and keeps them down. All of Jesus’ audiences were under political oppression, but they also faced religious, racial, gender and economic oppression.

Jesus said that those who are mistreated, dominated and forced into submission, are blessed. Those who are powerless will inherit the earth. The territory that powerful empires sought to possess and control will belong to them. But, isn’t the earth going to be destroyed (Revelation 21:1)?

Years ago, my dad worked with a guy who was a Jehovah’s Witness. They were talking about Heaven one day, and the man said, “This is all of the Heaven that I need” sweeping his arms around. Apparently, he had given up on being part of the 144,000. Earth was to be his Heaven.

My dad replied, “So, what’s the point?” (Now, you understand where I get it.) If Heaven is a place on earth, then what’s the point (Belinda Carlile)?

Sure people have fantasies about “What if I was in charge?” or “If I ran this place, things would be different.” That’s not where Jesus was going here.

What Jesus has in mind, goes along with the prophecy from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
       because the LORD has anointed me
       to preach good news to the poor.
       He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
       to proclaim freedom for the captives
       and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1). In fact, Jesus read this passage in the synagogue in Luke 4. He concluded, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

What is impossible for the meek, those humbled by oppression, is possible with God. Those regarded as a possession will possess. They will rule and reign with Christ (Matthew 19:28).

How are you feeling oppressed today? What situation do you feel stuck in or powerless over? God has justice for you. God has hope for you.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

When We Deserve the Stick, God Gives Us the Carrot

By Allen White

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. Jeremiah 31:3

Jeremiah prophesied these words during a time of Babylonian supremacy over the known world. The sinfulness of God’s people in the Old Testament usually resulted in their submission to a conquering nation. Rebellion toward God resulted in surrender to another power. (There’s a lesson there, but for another day).

The Babylonians weren’t interested in rehabilitating God’s people. Babylon’s interest was self-interest. They wanted to take over the world. They were the conquering empire of the day having defeated the Assyrians. Their only motive was to take as much as they could and to keep it under control. God used people who were completely uninterested in the well-being of His people to teach His people.

It’s easy to portray biblical prophets as all gloom and doom. They are often presented as borderline lunatics wearing sandwich signs proclaiming, “The end is near.” They were the original sources of hellfire and brimstone preaching. Yet, ever prophet in the Bible speaks a message of hope and reconciliation. This passage is no different.

God through Jeremiah reminds the people that He has shown His grace and mercy to them in the past. It was undeserved then and it’s undeserved now, but that’s the nature of grace. God loves His people with an everlasting love – a love that will never change regardless of what we’ve done. As long as we have breath in our bodies, God will give us another chance.

Then, God says, “I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” God doesn’t drive us with guilt and fear and shame. Those are the devil’s tools. God doesn’t back us into a corner – turn or burn! God draws us out with His kindness. When we deserve the stick, God gives us the carrot.

God knows who He is. He is not threatened by our sinfulness. He is greater than our sinfulness. God doesn’t need to make us feel bad about ourselves. We already feel bad about ourselves, and if we don’t, then we will soon enough. Life is just that way.

But, this may sound too good to be true. The people of Judah received the assurances of this prophecy (Jeremiah 30-31) while they were headed toward captivity. It would be about 60 years until they saw their deliverance. But, in the middle of their situation, God extended His mercy, His grace, His compassion and His kindness to them.

What are you in the middle of? Do you feel like God is on your side? God wants to love you. God wants to forgive you. God wants to help you. Ask Him to show you His kindness today.


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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Feel Like Dirt? Guess What?

By Allen White

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14

The psalmist doesn’t choose flowery language to describe how we came about. He doesn’t go to “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Instead he goes back to our basic element: “from [the ground] you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Boy, doesn’t that just make you feel like dirt?

Have you ever made anything out of dirt? A mud pie perhaps? I used to dig dirt and dam up the creek behind our trailer when I was young. (Yes, we lived in a trailer in Kansas -- tornado alley, Dorothy and Toto and all – we had faith). I never expected my mud dams to stand the test of time. I wasn’t presenting a danger to the trailer park. No one was destined to live in a houseboat any time soon.

Dirt gets wet and washes away. Dust lacks substance and blows with the wind (another Kansas reference, awesome). Not to make light of dust, but it really doesn’t amount to much. Oh, and we’re made of dust.

God didn’t build our bodies to last forever. He didn’t compose our being to stand up against every circumstance. He created a vessel that is fragile and flawed, a clay pot (2 Corinthians 4:7). We were not created to depend solely on ourselves and become “self-made.”

When we crack under pressure, God is not surprised. Life is more than we can take. But, God has compassion on us.

Parents will do anything for their children. Whether it’s my grandmother eating the neck and the tail of the chicken to give her brood of twelve the better parts or me sacrificially taking my children to Chuck E. Cheese’s, we want what’s best for our kids. Greater love hath no father than…

When our kids scrap their knees, we don’t tell them to “Deal with it.” We cleanse their wound and apply a bandage. We hold them and comfort them. We distract them with candy or soda (don’t tell their mom). We have compassion on our children.

Our Heavenly Father has compassion on us. He knows that we are facing more than we can deal with. Whether it’s our fault or not, God is moved by the things that cause us pain. He didn’t design us to withstand everything. He created us to live life with Him and to depend on His strength.

What are you facing today? Do you feel too weak to handle it? Have you tried time after time and the only result is more frustration? Well, you’re in good company. You are just as weak as everybody else. But, we have a Heavenly Father who knows what we lack and has compassion. Let Him help you today.

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