Sunday, September 23, 2012

How Worship Can Bypass Our Fears

By Allen White 

So the LORD said to him, "Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon."

Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
 Genesis 15:9-11 (NIV)

I hope that didn’t just spoil your breakfast. This passage seems a bit unusual at first. From yesterday’s reading, we see Abram questioning how God will fulfill the promise. Abram even tells God what will happen if God doesn’t deliver on the promise: Abram’s servant will inherit everything. Abram needed to make sure that God understood the consequences of His inaction.

Isn’t it great that God is so patient with us? We can freely talk to God about anything. He won’t get angry. He won’t strike us dead. He’s a patient, loving Father.

In response to Abram’s doubts and fears, God instructs Abram to offer a sacrifice in worship to Him. There’s a principle here (and it’s not be careful that the financial vultures of the world don’t steal your tithe). The principle is that when we struggle with doubt and fear, it’s time to connect with God.

The great thing about worship, especially singing, is that worship can bypass all of the things our brains are stuck on and connect our hearts directly to God. Whether it’s psalms, hymns or spiritual songs, sung or recited, worship is the vehicle God can use to bring us to a more peaceful place.

Often I find myself reaching back to the old songs I learned as a child. Maybe that was a safer time. Maybe they’ve just been with me longer.

When you are anxious and afraid, get in your car, turn up some praise music, and make a joyful noise. Other drivers might think you’re insane. If you don’t sing, then open the Bible’s songbook, the Psalms, and read them aloud to yourself (not while you’re driving though).

As we worship God, we connect with Him. Our doubts and fears can melt away. “Peace, peace, wonderful peace, coming down from the Father above, Sweep over my spirit forever I pray, In fathomless bellows of love…”

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The One Thing Better Than Certainty

By Allen White  

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. "

But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir."

Then the word of the LORD came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. He also said to him, "I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it."

But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?" 
Genesis 15:1-8 (NIV)

One of the few constants in life is uncertainty. Let’s examine what we pray about. We pray for certainty that a job interview goes well. We pray for certainty about our family’s future. We pray that things will go well on our vacation. We pray that the prognosis will be good. We pray that life will be less difficult or that we could at least see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Don’t get me wrong. The Bible instructs us to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6-7). But, there is one thing better than certainty: God Himself. He doesn’t give us complete instructions. He might only give the next step. He doesn’t promise comfort and ease. He doesn’t offer to make us healthy and wealthy. He does promise that He will never leave us and never forsake us.

The issue rests on getting to the place where God’s presence with us is enough. It’s not an academic exercise. It’s not a willful decision. God becomes enough for us when we can surrender to Him in this current round of problems knowing that the next round might be right around the corner.

Abram wrestled with uncertainty. Think about this: Abram is having an actual conversation with God. We don’t know if Abram heard an audible voice, but Abram did understand that he was communicating with the Almighty. Many of us have longed to hear God speak so directly to us. If we could just hear God say it, then we would have clarity. Then, we would be certain.

Abram in direct conversation with God Himself confesses, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?" Seriously? How can you use the word Sovereign and ask “how can I know” in the same sentence? Abram isn’t so different from us.

God took Abram outside and asked him to look up. Abram looked at all of the stars, and then God reassured him.

When do you feel uncertain? When do you wonder if God will deliver on what He has promised? Tonight, step outside and look up at the stars. If God can take care of all of that, He certainly will be there for you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When Faith Becomes Unnecessary

By Allen White

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

We live by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7 (NIV)

Abraham had faith based on God’s promises to him in Genesis 12:1-3. Abraham didn’t have “sight.” God gave the promise of making Abraham into a great nation, but at the time Abraham didn’t have any children. God gave Abraham a promise of making his name great and of being a blessing to all peoples. Abraham didn’t even have a square foot of land or a place to park his camel. Abraham started his journey with plenty of faith, but absolutely no “sight.”

Faith and Sight relate like light and darkness. When we enter a dark room and flip on the light, darkness is quickly overcome by light. When we have sight, whether we call it proof, evidence, miracle or fulfillment, we no longer need faith for that thing to happen. If we believe that God will provide for our needs (Philippians 4:19) and our needs are met, then we don’t need faith for that. We don’t need faith for something we can actually see.

We hear people talk about the great faith that produces miracles (sight). The reality is that “Sight” doesn’t come from great faith. When we gain “sight,” we no longer need faith. It’s when we lack sight, when we’re unsure, when we reach our wit’s end (or as John of the Cross calls it “the Wall”), that is when we need faith.

What is faith? Faith is not believing something so strongly that it comes into reality. I could work myself up into an emotional froth believing that my car was red, but at the end of the day, it will still be black.

Faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:81 Corinthians 12:9). Faith is assurance and certainty when we lack sight (Hebrews 11:1). Faith doesn’t make anything less real. Faith shows that God and all that He promises is real.

What do you need faith for today? Ask God. He will give you the faith you need (Romans 12:3).

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Day When Truth Slept

By Allen White

One day Jesus said to his disciples, "Let's go over to the other side of the lake." So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!"

He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. "Where is your faith?" he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him."
 Luke 8:22-25 (NIV)

Why were the disciples in the middle of a storm? Their peril came as a result of following Jesus’ instructions. The disciples did exactly what Jesus said and found themselves in the middle of a storm. This wasn’t just any storm, but a squall that caused them to fear for their lives.

As Jesus pointed out, the disciples lacked faith. When we lack faith, fear quickly fills the void. We might not fear deadly peril, but we could certainly fall victim to fear’s cousin, worry.
The disciples’ fear was founded maybe in their experience on these waters or the deaths of other fishermen in this type of storm. Their fear arose from what they believed: “We’re going to drown.”

But, the disciples’ thinking was not based on the truth. The Truth, Jesus, was asleep in the back of the boat. Deception said that they would be lost at sea. Truth said that the all-powerful Creator of the universe had authority over nature. Jesus spoke to the wind and waters. Calm was produced.

The disciples’ fear didn’t subside, but was soon accompanied by amazement. Their next statement reveals the root of their fear: “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him." If the disciples had known Jesus like this before their boat set sail, then their reaction to the storm might have been very different.

What storm are you facing today? What are you worried or afraid about? It could be that you have a misunderstanding of who God is. Look to the Truth when your anxiety meter has hit red. You might not have the answer, but He does.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Over ____ Billion Saved

By Allen White

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. Genesis 12:3 (NIV)

It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. Romans 4:13, 16 (NIV)

The fatherless Abraham became the father of numberless offspring. According to Paul, Abraham is the genetic father of God’s people, but the exponential factor is that he is the spiritual father of all who live by faith. We can’t count the stars in the sky. (The Milky Way alone has over 400 billion stars). We can’t count the sand on the shore. We lost count of the hamburgers sold at McDonald’s. Abraham’s family is quite a brood, indeed.

God chose Abraham. Abraham didn’t particularly merit this choice. If there was a qualification to be chosen, then Abraham found favor based on upon the weakness of being childless more than anything else. Once the promise was given, Abraham’s faith was necessary to move forward.

God chose us. We were not particularly qualified. In fact, if the test is the Law, then we’ve all failed miserably. All of this must be accepted by faith. We can never earn something that we’ve been freely given.

We accept God’s call by faith. Our problem is that we’re easily distracted, and we don’t listen very well. As we connect to God through His Word and through prayer, He directs us to the next step of faith.

How do we know that we’re hearing from God? A quote by Ed Stetzer is a pretty good test: “Mission is the opposite of self.” How do you rate today?

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

When God’s Promises Might Seem Empty

By Allen White

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. Genesis 12:2 (NIV)

Abraham has 75 years old when he acted on this promise. Having children was really not an issue at this point. Abraham’s father, Terah, had his oldest son, Haran, at 70 years of age (Genesis 11:26). For Abraham, God’s promise was still full of possibilities.

God’s promise, however, went well beyond Abraham’s immediate family. While Abraham had some means, his world was being turned upside down. What he had relied on would be left behind. How do you form a great nation with land occupied by other peoples? How do you start a great nation when you haven’t even started your own family yet? The key is faithfulness.

My grandmother would have been 102 years old this year. She never had much materially. She did have twelve children to raise. My dad and his brothers and sisters eventually moved away from the boot heel of Missouri to become preachers and factory workers, truck drivers and teachers. They married and had children. Their children had children and grandchildren. When my grandmother passed in 2008, her twelve children had multiplied to 120 children, grandchildren, great-grands and some great, greats too. From one to 120 that’s quite a feat, and we didn’t even count spouses.

The remarkable thing about my grandmother’s children is that they also became God’s children. They are Abraham’s children as are all believers. The faithfulness of one person is significant.

The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Galatians 3:8-9 (NIV)

“Father Abraham” had many sons, indeed. You and I can be thankful for Abraham’s faithfulness. Through this one man, God developed a connection with humanity that extends to every believer.

Stop right now and thank God for that connection with you.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chop Sticks, Sopwith Camels and Faith

By Allen White

The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.” Genesis 12:1 (NIV)

When I was 19 years old, I packed my bags, hugged my parents at the Kansas City International Airport and traveled 36 hours to the other side of the world to serve as a short-term missionary in Hong Kong. Word of advice: a window seat is not that great. Blue sky and blue water look exactly the same. Choose an aisle seat close to the bathroom. Just sayin’.

While I was there, I had the chance to sit down with a veteran missionary, who was a legend in our church. He very quickly gave his opinion of my summer mission trip, “I don’t understand why you kids have to come check out the mission field to decide whether or not you want to become a missionary. If God has called you, then you should just come. You don’t need to see if you like it first.”

I left his office, hat in hand, ready to finish my “vacation.” Our team saw God do some pretty amazing things in the hearts of our Chinese friends that summer. Apparently, God has a much different opinion of short term missions.

That trip opened my eyes to a lot of things. Sitting here writing, I can’t believe that it was over 25 years ago. But the difference between my trip and Abraham’s was vast. I had a 747. He had a camel (and not even a Sopwith Camel). I had a place to stay, people to take care of me, food to eat, and a clear picture of what would happen. Abraham had little of that.

The biggest difference was that at the end of the summer, I knew that I would fly back home and return to college. Abraham was on a one-way trip.

Did my journey require less faith than Abraham’s? Not necessarily. God gives us the faith to accomplish the things that He puts before us.

What has God put before you? What is He challenging you with today? He will give you the faith and ability to proceed as He directs.

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Christ-follower or Connoisseur?

By Allen White

Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find? Proverbs 20:6 (NIV)

Words can be very powerful. Words can also be empty and meaningless. If we say the right things, but refuse to do the right things, then we fall into the “clanging gong” category of 1 Corinthians 13.

We all want to give and experience unfailing love. We want true devotion to God and to others. We would like the same back from them. But, often the desire and the reality are miles apart.

The key is faithfulness. They say it takes seven years for a married couple to become compatible. But, then, there is also the seven year itch. Some are about to forfeit a great marriage five or ten years down the road, because it’s hard right now. While we would never expect someone to remain in an abusive situation, many just want to escape an uncomfortable situation. Faithfulness and a commitment to growth can take your marriage to a much better place.

What about church? We’ve become such consumers and connoisseurs of Christianity. Was the music to our liking? Was the sermon entertaining? Did it end on time? Did we feel good afterward? If things don’t suit us, then we look for something that we like better. Really?

It’s not about us. When we give ourselves fully to God, we give up our rights, our preferences, and our comforts. Christ gives us something far better. He gives us eternal life with God. He gives us a deep connection to our Creator. Christ leads us into a life of sacrifice, so we can reap far greater rewards. That doesn’t sound very popular, but if we can just get there, we would never turn back.

What are you tempted to give up on today? How would your faithfulness change things?

What things do you say, but can’t live up to? Maybe it’s time to stop talking and start doing.

These are hard things to think about today. I care about you too much to not say these things.

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