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Advancing the Conversation of Jesus

Get your Daily Encouragement with the 180

Learn in this study step-by-step tools to help you be encouraged, lifted up in your faith, and to maintain a faith lift the rest of your life! This study will get you out of the dumps and gain the confidence in Jesus to conquer and accomplish anything He has for you in the future! This study will give you a true lift and change your life!
Introduction

No matter your status in life—financial, relational, professional—there is only one thing that really matters. Is your life working for you? Is what you are doing getting you what you really want? The question made famous by Dr. Phil, “How is it working for you?” is most appropriate today. When life isn’t working, a low-grade depression sets in. The most natural thing to do is to blame something, anything for what’s not working. Or, better yet, it’s easy to blame someone for your predicament. And, when your life isn’t working, it’s out of control and when your life is out of control, you will find yourself in a swirl of anger. Circumstances and people just aren’t working the way you want them to work.

Over the years, this is when life seems to get busy for us. Emails, phones and appointments seem to multiply all around us. When people are depressed and desperate, they are willing to take a look at most anything that offers some kind of hope. Yet with all of my training and experience, I am more and more convinced that the only possible, long-term answer is to look up. UP for me is not religion or its systems, not a list of beliefs, nor a set of propositions; it’s a person. His name is Jesus.

  1. S. Lewis once criticized those who believed that man could have a personal relationship with his Creator. He said, “It’s absurd! It’s as absurd as thinking that Shakespeare could have had a personal relationship with one of his characters, like Hamlet.” Later, after thinking about it, Lewis came to a totally different conclusion: “Shakespeare could have had a real and personal relationship with Hamlet, if he had written himself as a character in the play.” That’s exactly what I believe Jesus to be—the character God wrote into the play of life who is able to establish a real and personal relationship with mankind—one person at a time.
Lesson 1 - When Your Back's Against The Wall

The world is in a funk and the spirit of depression is in the air. It’s everywhere! I sense it no matter where I go—parties, dinners, at religious gatherings, breakfasts, coffees, riding on the airplane, at the car wash, in the neighborhood and at family events. The depression of the day is financial, yet to most people this is not the worst problem. The worldwide financial crisis is horrendous and affects all of us, but it serves to reveal even deeper and more menacing problems and stressors.

So, where do you turn in times like these? What is it that you can hang on to, when you find yourself saying, “Why?”, “Why me?” or “Why Now?” How do you obtain a sense of guidance?

You can turn to clichés, yet moral maxims are confusing. One of my favorite teachers, Bruxy Cavey, started me thinking on how fickle modern clichés actually are:

  • Better safe than sorry OR nothing ventured, nothing gained.
• Absence makes the heart grow fonder OR out of sight, out of mind.
• Look before you leap OR he who hesitates is lost.
• If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again OR don’t beat your head against a brick wall.
• Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today OR don’t cross that bridge until you come to it.
• You’re never too old to learn OR you can’t teach an old dog a new trick.
• Many hands make light work OR too many cooks spoil the broth.
• The early bird gets the first worm OR all good things come to those who wait.
• Birds of a feather flock together OR opposites attract.
• The pen is mightier than the sword OR actions speak louder than words. • Some things need to be untied and not cut OR others need to be cut and not untied.

Clichés and moral maxims are only descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive or guides for life. You can use these clichés to excuse or rationalize anything you want to do.

So, what about turning to the Bible? Not necessarily. The Bible gives specific guidance to a specific people in a specific context and is not an instruction for you to apply literally for you in a different situation. Not just flipping open the Bible. It’s not a matter of click, drag and drop it into your situation today. To take a “proof-text” or your favorite Scriptural promise and to count on this for your guidance from the Lord may not be the best thing to do. There’s something more to be learned here. There is a better way to obtain guidance.

If your approach to guidance is to use what we call “proof-texts” to find your guidance, you may find the wrong guidance, not fatal or maybe not hurtful, but not precisely appropriate—what God intended. For instance, early in the Gospel of Luke Jesus tells His disciples not to worry about carrying their wallet or packing their clothes or planning for what they might eat. If you tried to apply this as a disciple of Jesus today, you won’t get very far—to anywhere. Later on in Luke Jesus tells the disciples to pick up their wallets and clothes.

Or, when Jesus said the Holy Spirit would come to His disciples and bring all things to their remembrance, this is not for us to apply today. He was speaking to them in a specific context at a specific time, so that they could write down the words He spoke.

The Jabez prayer has some terrific insights in it, yet to pray it as a spiritual charm or to specifically apply it to you right now, today, just may not be what the Lord has in mind. Apply the principles, but don’t claim them as your promise from God.

Or, take the popular passage used by Christians to pose a challenge to our country: If My people who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. This is not for the USA or any other nation today, but was specifically given to Israel in a particular context. Again, there are some good application principles here, but it is not there for us to hang on to for specific guidance to our situation so that God will do with us the same thing He did with Israel.

In Jeremiah 31 we have an insight into the difference in the way God works with people today versus the way He did in the past. Listen to it: “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. This is essentially the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant God has made with mankind. Principally, God is spirit and must be worshipped and related to in spirit and in truth.

You can turn to the written code of Scripture, but there is a whole new way that is not like the rules set up in the Old Covenant. It is a new covenant that is not written down, but operates inside out from your minds and hearts. Instead of the Law of Moses, today we are to live under the law of Christ.

The Ten Commandments have become most highly regarded out of the Old Covenant. All are good, but Jesus transformed them. Remember when Jesus was asked to state the greatest commandment? It didn’t come out of even the big 10 and He couldn’t give just one. You see, obtaining guidance when your back’s against the wall will not come out of a written code, but is relational with Jesus.

You see, the “word” became flesh; the “word” did not become a book or more words or a system of beliefs or doctrines. Our guidance comes in relationship with a person—Jesus.

Paul had a strong opinion about this when he shared his experience with the Philippians (3:4-14). He said: If others think they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

So, where can you get the guidance you really need from the Lord? This guidance can only be found in your relationship with Jesus. You know Him and know what He wants. We would rather have a good Bible verse or rule to follow, but Jesus doesn’t want it this way. Jesus reveals this kind of dynamic when He says, “My sheep hear and know my voice.” So, are you getting to know Jesus better and better? And, are you listening to His voice? Why would Jesus say this is true, if it weren’t? Why does Jesus refuse to give a code or a passage from the Law when asked to present the greatest of all the commandments. It’s because He was giving to us all the relational answer we need to hear—“Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.”

GUIDANCE. Take the word GUIDANCE and you have the answer. It’s G-U-I-DANCE. Or maybe you could say it this way: G—God, U and I DANCE. GOD, YOU AND I DANCE TOGETHER in a personal relationship with Him through Jesus and Jesus will guide our lives.

Lesson 2 - So, How Do You Hear The Voice Of Jesus

Yesterday I spoke of how important it is to hear and listen to the voice of Jesus, the Shepherd, rather than rely on a series of clichés or even your favorite passages of Scriptures by taking them out of context.

So, how do you hear the voice of Jesus? I want to offer 5 essentials to prepare you for hearing and listening to the voice of Jesus:

FIRST—Immerse yourself in the Scriptures. Read, reread and meditate on the Scriptures as you would a love letter, not a research paper. Always search for Jesus wherever you are reading, not getting sidetracked with anything else. Remember it’s the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law. This was the mistake the religious leaders who confronted Jesus made and He was continually correcting them. They were so wrapped up in Bible memory and organizing the Scriptures into doctrinal systems that they missed Jesus in the process.

It is fascinating to me to think about what the Scriptures were that were around when Jesus was working with His disciples. It was the Law or Torah, the Writings, which included the Proverbs and the Psalms and then the Prophets. When Jesus was confronted and tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus quoted Scripture to resist the evil one. He quoted verses out of Deuteronomy. Then we see Jesus walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus and He did something that blows me away. In Luke 24:27 it is recorded: He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. Jesus walked them through the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms in order to open their minds about Himself.

Then Philip had a very special divine appointment with the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the scroll of Isaiah in his chariot. In Acts 8:35 it says: Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. Philip used the Old Testament to teach this interested official about Jesus.

SECOND—Be aware of the Jesus themes throughout the Scriptures. In order to seek Jesus in the Scriptures, especially the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, look for the major themes about Jesus there. For instance, there is the theme of the glory or the Shekinah glory—the visible presence of God—throughout. Beginning with the presence of God in the Garden, the burning bush, the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day that led the children of Israel through the wilderness, the star of Bethlehem and then Jesus is the ultimate Shekinah glory—the visible presence of God—on earth. Check out the many times the Angel of the Lord or the Angel of Jehovah appeared in the Old Testament. Most think this was actually Jesus. The theme of the Messianic deliverer of those who are surrendered to be His people is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. The theme of the suffering Servant, the Son of Man and the Son of God is embodied in Jesus and clearly presented in the Gospels. Jesus was the uniquely born one—the holy one of Israel—born of a virgin by the Spirit of God.

Jesus fulfilled and gave meaning to every mark and letter of the Mosaic Law. Jesus fulfilled every longing of the heart of the Psalms—to dwell among us. And, Jesus also fulfilled the many Messianic prophecies. The Scriptures all speak of Jesus and find their culmination in Him, so look for those themes that find their way to Jesus.

THIRD—Count on His wisdom. If you are seeking to hear and listen to the voice of Jesus, ask for His wisdom as you live your life the best you can. In one of the early writings of the New Covenant—the book of James—there is a very insightful passage: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 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. Those who doubt should not think they will receive anything from the Lord; they are double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:5-8) I ask for wisdom every day and sometimes many times a day and I count on it as I make decisions, wanting to hear the voice of Jesus as I move through the day.

FOURTH—Be sure to seek Jesus within the context of a few. One of the most important ways for you to hear the voice of Jesus is to operate within a supportive community. It’s learning to practice the “one anothers” in the name of Jesus. Remember, it’s when two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus that Jesus will show up and make His presence known. When this happens, you will recognize and hear His voice.

FIFTH—Discipline yourself to listen when you pray. When you pray, don’t just do all of the talking and asking; take the time to listen for an answer. This seems so simple, yet it is very difficult to do. It takes some painful discipline to sit quietly and listen.

You will find these 5 essentials to be most helpful as you seek to hear the voice of Jesus in times like these.

There is one more thing that seems vital in hearing and listening to the voice of Jesus. It may be the most critical dimension of all! In John 6, Jesus was asked: “What must we do to do the work of God?” Jesus answers this most simply with: “The work of God is this: TRUST THE ONE GOD HAS SENT.” Or, simply put: learn to trust Jesus with everything—your security, your family, your business, your future— everything! When you have the courage to trust Jesus with everything, believe me, you will hear and listen to what He has to say. This is the ultimate expression Jesus is looking for as you learn to respond to His most revolutionary words ever: FOLLOW ME! I think Jesus is saying to of us: “Can you hear me now?

Lesson 3 - When Your Future Is Out Of Control

Every day when you wake up, you are blasted with the message that there is something fearful out there that can harm you or bring on inevitable disaster for you and even the planet. I don’t care what channel of news you watch; they are all the same. There is a feeding frenzy on the bad news and when the bad news begins to turn into good news, the news isn’t worth covering any longer.

We just witnessed this with the fires here in southern California. When the fires are threatening, there is non-stop coverage to the point of layers of repetition. Or, if there is a slow day in the news—a day where nothing disastrous is imminent or a serial rapist is not on the loose or no asteroid is heading straight toward planet earth, then they still are bound to make something up and interview a man who once talked with a space alien.

Bad news is everywhere! When this stream of bad news is set before us, it is usually about something that is about to happen or could happen—in the future. This bad news always elicits fear. Fear occurs when your future is out of control. Remember years ago when we were in the gas crisis; the lines at the gas stations were amazing. Those who waited in line might have had gas in their tank, but they wanted to top it off. They were fearful that there would not be any gas tomorrow.

Fear is a horrible thing that can actually paralyze you and keep you from moving forward with your life. Fear of the future can also cause you to make bad or unwise choices. There are several common fears. There is the fear of missing out that we see demonstrated by Adam and Eve in the Garden. Moses feared being embarrassed when he was to go before the people of Israel and before Pharaoh. This was a sense of feeling inferior for sure. Paul probably suffered from the fear of being wrong and therefore lived a dogmatic life, attacking the people of the Way who were walking to a different drumbeat. Fear is always about the consequences we feel we are going to face in the future. Those who fear the future are most likely to fumble the present!

By the way, have you noticed that many of your fears have nothing to do with you personally? Like when the fires are burning without any possibility of getting to you, it still generates fear. This is also true of the mighty hurricanes that rip through certain parts of our country or earthquakes anywhere in the world. Just like second-hand smoke; I call this second-hand fears. Whatever makes your future spin out of control; fear is the result. Fear turns out the lights in your life so that you are faced with darkness and doom in your future. Fear is the darkness where negatives are developed.

What’s interesting is that you can’t control the future. There is nothing you can do. It takes a certain amount of pride to think you can. So, what is the answer to this dilemma?

In the book of I John there is a great antidote given for fear—to actually cast it away from you. It says: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. PERFECT LOVE DRIVES OR CASTS OUT FEAR FROM YOU! Perfect love is complete love. If we can experience this complete and full love, then fear will be cast away!

In this passage there are three kinds of love relationships referenced. FIRST—God loves you. This is the first step in casting out fear so that you don’t have to experience its paralyzing hold on you. God loves you no matter what and He is not waiting for you to perform well enough to achieve acceptance with Him. This is the essence of the Good News of Jesus. Jesus came to communicate the love God has for us. You are to make the decision to receive God’s unconditional love for you.

SECOND—You love God. You are to reciprocate God’s love for you by responding to Him—actually focusing on God with a heart of gratitude and love for Him. Practically speaking, as you learn to follow Jesus, you show your love for Him by your obedience to Him—trusting Jesus with everything!

THIRD—You love others. You first receive God’s love for you, then reciprocate this love back to Him and finally you are ready and freed up to release your love for one another.

Now think about this! If you are caught up in God’s love for you, your love for God and then your love for one another, there is no room for fear. Therefore, fear has to go! When you are experiencing this kind of love in your life, you will find your faith muscle getting stronger and there will be no fear of your out-of-control future. You can turn your fears over to Jesus and let Him at the controls.

Try this on for size: When fear knocks at your door because your future is out of control, send faith over to answer it.

Lesson 4 - When Your Present Is Out Of Control

When your future is out of control, you will have fear. When your present is out of control, you will have anger. People and circumstances just aren’t doing what we want them to do and are out of control—the spouse or child who is out of control, the driver who just cut you off on the freeway, the water heater just blew up and your car has broken down—again!

In addition to the people and circumstances that are out of control, there is one more thing that continues to fuel anger in your mind. It might be called brain-chatter. Here is how it works. You can do the following: Expect the worse. Personalize everything. Live by the power of the “shoulds”, shoulding yourself to death. Specialize in mind-reading games, thinking you know what’s really going on. Take in criticism and block out compliments. See everything in terms of black and white. Compare, compare, compare. Over-generalize—always and never! Blame and attack. Insist that nothing be changed. You must always be right and never, ever wrong. Thinking this way is a guarantee to fuel your anger!

Anger occurs when you are frustrated with your present being out of control. And every time you try to control your life you are rejecting God’s ability and willingness to control your world. There is a certain sense of surrender you must give in order to allow God to control your life.

Maybe the most important factor in surrendering the controls of your life in the present is the Spirit of Jesus Who now lives in all who are genuine followers of Jesus. Just to give you a sketch of what the Spirit of Jesus does in your life, check out the following:

(1) He is the seal of God in us (Ephesians 4:30). He is like an engagement ring that promises the fulfillment of marriage. The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is our guarantee that God will continue to do His work in us until the return of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus—the presence of Jesus living inside us right now.

(2) He leads us to life. This work of the Holy Spirit is closely related to His sealing. Paul alludes to this work when he says, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Through this work of perfecting us God intends to “conform us to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). He’s leading all believers to being like Jesus. In this work of leading us to life “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).

(3) The Holy Spirit is our enabler (John 14:16,26). It’s like spiritual adrenalin! There are times when His enablement is very clearly recognized for what it is, such as at the time of Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell believers permanently). This would be a special enablement of the Spirit.

Many people feel the need to label the experience (the second blessing, the baptism, the filling, slain in the Spirit, etc.), seek it again, propagate it as an experience for everyone, and hold it up as a prerequisite for spiritual maturity. This kind of experience can become so important (“I can’t know God’s fullness without it!”) that people will do anything to get it. Just keep in mind that “all the fullness of God dwells in Jesus in bodily form” and the mission of the Spirit of Jesus is to glorify Him.

(4) He instills desires in us. In Galatians 5:16-17 Paul says: “But I say walk by that which is spirit (reborn spirit), and you will not carry out the desire of that which is flesh (old sin nature). For the flesh sets its desire against that which is spirit, and that which is spirit sets its desire against the flesh”. The reborn spirit has spiritual desires in contrast to the desires of the flesh.

(5) He intercedes for us. The Spirit “helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). He is our constant Helper in our finite efforts to relate to the infinite God of the universe.

(6) He illuminates the Word of God for us. The non-spiritual man (non-believer) “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are (only) spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things” (I Corinthians 2:14-15).

(7) He gives us wisdom. “But if any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). It’s a wisdom “not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age” (I Corinthians 2:6). He will give us wisdom so that we can make wise decisions for His glory and our good.

(8) He works all things together for good. In the same context where the Spirit is said to be our prayer partner, one of the most popular promises of all is delivered: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). It’s not that He’ll work everything out to be good, but that He’ll work everything (trials, tragedies, etc.) together with something else for good.

Once you surrender your will and the controls of your life over to the Spirit of Jesus one day at a time, then you have the possibility of turning your anger into a force for God and your good. Anger is a feeling that is neutral. You will have these feelings from time to time. There is nothing wrong with being angry.

There are two passages that offer great insights here. In Ephesians 4:26 it says: Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. In other words, don’t let this natural emotional expression of anger fester into resentment. And then in James 1:20 there is a warning: For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.

A lot of what triggers the anger with people who seem out of control in our lives is the tendency for us to judge in a condemnatory way. It’s that old problem of wanting to be right and straighten out the rest of the world according to our standards.

To this I want to share something I heard many years ago: There’s so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it’s very difficult to decide just which of us should reform the rest of us. I think what we must do is to get over ourselves and to turn the controls over to Jesus. And the only way I know to do this is to surrender to the Spirit of Jesus who lives within you.

Lesson 5 - When Your Past Is Out Of Control

Out of control! Life just gets out of control no matter which way you turn. When your future is out of control, fear grips you. When your present is out of control, anger pops up. Today I want to discuss being out of control in the past. When your past is out of control, it’s usually due to guilt.

Dealing with your past can be so destructive. Most tend to dwell on the past so much that it becomes impossible to move forward. Some spend so much time focusing on the past that they just can’t see anything else. They are stuck there. It’s like having a rear-view mirror that is larger than your windshield. You have to stick your head out of your window to see where you are going and that’s dangerous!

What must happen is to take the past out of your future and put it back into the past where it belongs. But this, in itself, is not enough. You see, you might think you are burying your past, but when you bury it alive, your past will nag and haunt you, working toward your destruction. Somehow you have to do something to put your past to death, then your past will be under control.

One of the first things to do with your past is to identify its source. In II Corinthians 7:10, Paul compares two kinds of sorrow: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. One kind of sorrow that surfaces out of past mistakes is a sorrow that comes from God. This kind of sorrow is good in that it causes you to make changes, which is called repentance here. Sorrow that causes you to change is Godly sorrow and you will have no regrets. Note when you are moved to make changes, you are out of your past and are very much alive in the present. The other kind of sorrow brings about death and destruction. This is the kind of sorrow that rises up out of your past to condemn you and to spiral you down to your destruction.

The second thing to do with your past is to resolve it. There are three ways you might attempt here: FIRST—Sometimes you need to remove yourself from the annoying, toxic connections from your past. This is very necessary for those who are in the recovery process from chemical and relational addictions. You have to get some new playgrounds and playmates.

SECOND—Sometimes you need to let it go. Simply let it go. There are times when you can do nothing to resolve your past or to do so will stir up more trouble. The common illustration of this is when you have been wronged, maybe financially and you choose to spend an enormous amount of negative energy to correct this wrong. It just isn’t worth it. Let it go!

THIRD—Sometimes you may need to seek the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness moves in two directions—either people you have hurt or people who have hurt you. When you have hurt others, it’s important to solicit forgiveness. Make a list of people you have hurt. Write out what you want to say and be completely honest. Keep it simple and be specific, taking personal responsibility for what you have done. Then, you must be willing to face any and all consequences. By the way, when you solicit forgiveness, make your method of communication as personal as possible.

Jesus taught us to solicit forgiveness: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24) It’s interesting to note that if don’t solicit forgiveness, you can’t work well for God.

When others have hurt you, it’s vital to forgive them. This is the ultimate act of “letting go”. Forgiving is not forgetting, excusing or tolerating another person’s hurtful acts against you. Jesus taught how important it is to forgive: For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15) In other words, God will not work well for you.

There are 5 steps to forgiving those who have hurt you: 1. Remind yourself that they are only human. 2. Relinquish your right to get even, because you never will. 3. Be ready to hurt in order to heal—willing to take the pain without making anyone pay for it. 4. Pray for them and wish them well.

  1. You may have to repeat the process. When you forgive, you don’t do it for others, but for yourself! This will set you free from the paralysis of guilt that haunts you from your past and is the ultimate way to resolve your out-of-control past

Recently, I was given a terrific visual on how to handle a past that is out of control. After listening to a client emotionally rehearse how many people had victimized her over the years, the attorney cut her off and handed her client a porcelain frog. She said, “Take this as a reminder for your life. A frog cannot jump backwards—only forwards. Don’t be quick to jump into your past and dig it up. Stay in the present and when you jump, jump forward.”

When your past is out of control, make like a frog and jump forward!

Lesson 6 - When You Are Out Of Control

The theme of being out of control continues! Fear appears when your future is out of control. Anger shows up when your present is out of control. And, guilt gnaws away at your gut when your past is out of control. All three of these render you paralyzed, damaged and ineffective. There is a fourth kind of paralysis—shame. Shame is the residue of having been seized by fear, anger and guilt. It manifests itself in a similar way to a low-grade infection—even a low-level depression. Shame is a tainting of your personness—a blight that leaves you feeling inadequate or feeling not good enough. With shame it’s not that your past, present or future are out of control, but you are out of control; like a small boat being tossed about in a storm or a Ping-Pong ball that is driven by the wind and once in awhile experiences a hard hit.

There is a rule of survival in the harsh Australian Outback. If your vehicle breaks down in a remote area, stay with your vehicle. This is contrary to how you might initially want to react. I mean, you have no alarm system or phone whereby you can call for help. You are stopped in a very remote place where it might take several days before another human being happens to drive by. Many don’t follow this survival rule and attempt to walk to a place where they might find help. Eventually, they are reported missing, a search locates their vehicle, but no one is there. The Coroner’s investigation later confirms that vehicles are more easily located than walkers, there was more water in the vehicle than walkers can carry, and the extra exertion demanded of walking hastened the dehydration and sunstroke that led to death. They died because they tried to save themselves. This survival rule is so counter-intuitive that it’s just too difficult to sit still and wait to be found—to trust that someone is on his way to rescue them.

This introduces a most foundational principle that defines most of our lives most of the time. This principle simply stated is: God is God and I am not! The tendency is for man to play God to some extent. “God, I can handle this one. I’ll call you if I need anything.” The most deceptive thought of all is that somehow we can live our lives without God and His empowerment. It’s a self-centered belief that we can and must solve our problems, make our way out of our predicaments and save ourselves. It’s the pride of believing that somehow we are in control, when just the opposite it true. Our past, present, and future are out of control with the result that we are personally out of control.

Jesus lived this way. He confessed: “By myself I can do nothing,” (John 5:30). This principle of survival is not just a rule for the Outback; it’s a principle for life. There is a story Jesus told about the Pharisee and the tax collector: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Who is the winner here? The one who is full of himself (the Pharisee) and believes he can somehow perform well enough to save himself is the loser. Jesus says of the tax collector: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble them- selves will be exalted.”

The world says love yourself—save yourself, Jesus says deny yourself—lose yourself. Now, here is where the great exchange occurs! Jesus says: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). He also says: “What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?” The great exchange here is: you try to save your life and you will lose it, but if you lose your life for Jesus you will save it.

Remember the little boy in the midst of the hungry thousands. For the boy to offer the crowds his lunch would be a noble but futile gesture. So rather than give the first hundred people half a crumb each, he gave his lunch to Jesus. Making Jesus the central focus transformed the situation. Then, not only the boy, but thousands were being fed with something that moments before was totally inadequate by itself.

The secret is to hand everything over to Jesus and then wait for him to move. Give yourself to Jesus and he will give himself to you. Lose yourself in him and you will find yourself in Him—no longer restricted to human possibilities.

Just as the boy could not expect to be fed after giving away his lunch, so people cannot expect to thrive emotionally if they give away their self- esteem—unless they give it to Jesus. Then a miracle takes place.

One of the thoughts that helps to hold my focus together is found in Psalm 127. I repeat it to myself frequently. Check it out. Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. I desperately want God to be my builder and to watch out for my security. How about you?

Maybe the ultimate expression of the mystery of the great exchange be- tween Jesus and you is: You get God and He gets you! Such a deal!

Lesson 7 - When In Trouble, Refocus By Rejoicing

Faith works, when life doesn’t! This week as we continue dealing with the stressed out world in which we’re living, I want to walk through three ways to handle your troubles. Remember, it’s not what happens to you, but how you handle what happens that counts. There are three ways to reframe your situation by refocusing on the right things.

We spend a lot of time studying and considering the teachings of Jesus. I just feel like you can’t go wrong with this kind of emphasis. In addition to the five Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts—the earliest of the writings can prove to be most valuable and helpful in embracing the teachings and principles of Jesus as a lifestyle. James is one of these writings.

James begins his book talking about trials and how to handle them. He says: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

This is the first way to handle your troubles. Note that James starts with “consider it pure joy”, when you face your trials. Talk about counter- intuitive! Consider it a joyful thing to experience all kinds of trials and problems? The reason? You must understand that these trials are a testing of your faith. He doesn’t mean by this a test in order to trick you or to trip you up. It’s a testing that is a refining of your faith—purifying and improving your faith. In other words, these trials have come into your life in order to make you stronger.

Now note that there is a goal for this testing of your faith. It is to produce in you perseverance. Perseverance is a strengthening of your faith—a certain resolve or a solid determination to hang on or hang in there. This kind of faith is strong enough to endure and handle anything that comes your way.

James goes on to say: Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. This is the ultimate payoff! Your faith is strengthened by your troubles to the point that you are becoming more and more mature and complete, lacking in nothing!

You see, there are two responses to problems. You can focus on your problem or you can focus on the positive result that will be produced by your problems. If you focus on the problems, you will surely fall into deeper trouble. When you brood over your problems, you’ll hatch despair. Instead of focusing on the trouble that has just dropped into your life, refocus on the product—what you are going to learn and get out of it.

There is an important insight here that could go unnoticed. He says con- sider it a joyful thing to encounter various trials. In order to refocus on the product rather than the problem, REFOCUS ON REJOICING over the problem and not spend your time and energy moaning and groaning over what has just happened to you. You don’t get anywhere having a pity party and inviting others over or singing your latest “Woe is me” song. Refocus your mind and heart on what God is going to do to strengthen your faith during this trial to get ready for whatever comes next for you and for others around you.

There is a great promise that underlies this thinking. It’s what I call the promise of great endings! It is: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) All things—no matter what things—God causes to work together with something else for good. This is not saying that whatever happens is good, but God will cause all things to work together with something else for your good and His glory.

Note the requirement here is “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” I would restate this as “to all those who are interested in following God with their heart—who want to follow God’s purpose for their lives.” You can count on it. The God of gods—the Creator of the universe—is concerned enough to process all that happens to you in such a way that it works together with something else for your good.

Don’t focus on your problems or your troubles. Wallowing around in your trials will only make things worse and make you bitter. In fact, you will discover that most of the things you fear never are as bad as you had imagined and most of the bad things that have come into your life can be processed in a healthy way. It’s as if you have been mountain climbing over molehills all along. So, refocus on what God is doing in the midst of your trouble and even get excited about it. There is a great gift coming your way.

I continually remind myself that the Bible never says, “It has come to stay.” Instead it says, “It has come to pass.” So, whatever it is that you view as the biggest trouble in your life, THIS, TOO WILL PASS!

Lesson 8 - When In Trouble, Refocus By Requesting

According to James in his early writings there are three ways to handle your troubles. The first way is to refocus by rejoicing in the product God is working in you. God is using your trouble to purify you and make you stronger—refocusing on the end result rather than the problem itself is what’s required here.

The second way to handle your troubles again involves refocusing. This time it is to refocus away from your problems and request the wisdom of God necessary to get you through this difficult time.

James says (James 1:5-8): If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God. There it is! He has just made it clear that if you encounter various trials and troubles with an attitude of joy, knowing that the testing of your faith will produce perseverance. And if you do this and allow your faith to be tested and purified by your troubles, then you will be lacking in nothing. However, if there is a lacking in your life, it will be a lack of wisdom. When you encounter various trials and troubles, the most common thing you lack at that time is the wisdom to know how to respond and what to do. You need the wisdom to know how to handle your trouble! So, go to the author of wisdom. Go straight to God and ask Him for wisdom. You are requesting His perspective on your problems from His vantage point, so that you are not limited to your own point of view, which is limited.

Next James says that God will answer your request by giving you the wisdom you are asking for. He says: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. Note God will give you the wisdom you need to handle your troubles and He will give it to you in a generous way. He will give you even more than you need to process the problems you are facing. And, He will give this wisdom to all who ask for it. This is one of the few times I’ve ever seen where God lets it be known specifically how He will answer your request. In the case of a wisdom request, you will get it.

James then offers an interesting condition: 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. Those who doubt should not think they will receive anything from the Lord; they are double-minded and unstable in all they do.

The condition is that you must believe and not doubt, when you ask for this wisdom from God. When you ask, count on it; God will liberally give His wisdom to you! But if you doubt that He will do this for you, you can count on NOT receiving His wisdom. The result will then be that you will find yourself operating in a storm of instability and uncertainty. So, you can ask for wisdom and count on it, then you will receive it and by receiving it, you will have God’s wisdom and actually have God on your side as you make your way through your troubles. Or, you can ask for wisdom and doubt you will receive it, then you will be left to make your way through your troubles all by yourself. In other words, if you ask for wisdom while doubting you’ll get it, then you don’t have a prayer to get through your trials and troubles.

There is an underlying promise for this principle. This one I call the promise of great escapes. It says: No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (I Corinthians 10:13)

This is an encouraging promise for us. There is no trial or trouble that you can encounter that has only happened to you. You know how it is when you are in the midst of a pile of trouble. Your most common thought is that you are the only one who has ever had to deal with such problems. This promise begins with making it clear that you are not alone in your problem. Others have already or are now going through the same thing.

Then it says that God will be faithful in not allowing any problem to overwhelm you to the point that you will be overcome by it. God will not allow you to face anything that you cannot get through. God will provide the way for you to escape it.

Now, note how you escape this trouble. God provides a way to escape it in such a way that you will be able to endure it—to go through it. This is not a supernatural bailout! He promises to get you through it! This is usually not what we pray for. We usually want to get out of the problem altogether. But God’s promise is to give you a way of escape in order to get through it. The image here is like facing a mountain range. That mountain range is the problem or trial you are facing. God provides a mountain pass to get through it. This is why you are to ask for God’s wisdom, so that you will be able to discover the mountain pass to get through it, no matter how tough or impossible it seems.

This second way James offers for us to handle our troubles is vital. Ask for God’s wisdom to get through whatever you are facing and He will give you what you need. For years I’ve expressed this principle in a very simple way that has been helpful to so many. Take it for yourself. THE BEST WAY OUT IS THROUGH and God is committed to getting you through it. Just ask Him!

Lesson 9 - When In Trouble, Refocus By Reconsidering

According to James in his early writings there are three ways to handle your troubles. The first way is to refocus by rejoicing in the product God is working in you. God is using your trouble to purify you and make you stronger—refocusing on the end result rather than the problem itself is what’s required here.

The second way to handle your troubles again involves refocusing. This time it is to refocus away from your problems and request the wisdom of God necessary to get you through this difficult time.

Now, the third way to handle your troubles once more requires refocusing. As in the first two you are to refocus away from your problems and on to something else. This time it is refocusing by reconsidering your position before God.

Let’s tune in to what James says here: Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. (James 1:9-11)

There are two kinds of positions mentioned here—a person of high position and a person of a low position of humiliation. First, those who are believers in Jesus who find themselves in humble circumstances are to embrace their high position with the Lord Jesus. No matter how poor you are, if you are in relationship with Jesus, you have a high spiritual perspective on life. You see things from His perspective—the vantage point of the highest, richest position of all—a position where there are no impossibilities. He says to take pride in the fact that you have such a high position with Him. If you are poor, refocus on your spiritual riches.

Second, those believers who find themselves rich from an earthly perspective must take pride in their humiliation. Believers who have a lot of stuff are also well aware that they are managers of what God has given them and they know how easily these blessings of riches come and go. If you are rich and you know these riches are temporary and fleeting, refocus on your humility before God.

Trials are the great leveler of both rich & poor! Everyone experiences trouble, no matter your position in life. We all find our joy and satisfaction in relationship with the Lord Jesus.

There is a promise that underlies this principle. I call this one the promise of great expectations. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

God promises to stick with you and “perfect” or complete His work in your life until Jesus comes back. It’s too easy to give up, due to impatience on our part. God is continually at work in you to develop and grow you up spiritually. Let me caution you. The Lord will do His work in His way and in His time.

So, to sum up the message of James regarding how to handle trials and troubles in your life, he suggests three appropriate responses. REFOCUS:

  1. By rejoicing in the end product and not the problem itself.
  2. By requesting wisdom from God in order to make your way through your struggles.
  3. By reconsidering your position with Jesus—whether rich or poor.

Trials and troubles don’t have to be bad things in your life. Don’t waste these trials; allow God to use them to strengthen your faith. I saw this on a bumper sticker many years ago: Faith is like a kite—a contrary wind makes it go higher! So, the next time a problem pops up in your life, treat it as a friend and allow God to do His work in your life in His way and in His time.

Lesson 10 - When You're Out Of Options

Most of my adult life I have been practicing therapy—counseling people caught in every problem imaginable. When I first began speaking, it was on the university campus. I was the main speaker for many weekend retreats over a period of 6 or 7 years. The routine was always the same. I usually spoke 5 times during that retreat. On Friday night I always gave the same introductory message that set up the weekend for the other four messages I was slotted to present. Before delivering this message I asked the students and staff to take a 3x5 card and write out the three most important problems they wanted solved this weekend. They wrote them on the card, folded it and turned them in. I then read through the cards that night and prepared the next four messages to meet the needs they had expressed on the cards.

This introductory evening set up a constant stream of students and staff coming up to me to find counsel for whatever issues they were struggling with. Many retreats I was able to get only 4-5 hours sleep each night, because the need seemed so great. I realized through this early experience how people were desperately in need of help. What they were craving was to be able to talk with someone who was safe and who cared.

What I learned was that my counsel primarily consisted of listening to their problems and bringing a different perspective to the predicament. I was basically helping them discover more options to deal with what they thought was an impossible situation.

To be healthy, psychologically and spiritually, it’s so important to have options. Those who are unhealthy find themselves running out of options. And, those who choose the route of suicide have run out of options altogether—ending it all seems like the only logical thing to do.

Depression lingers in your life, when you feel you are out of hope and out of options—no light at the end of the tunnel!

When you’re out of options, you will find yourself scrambling for security and inner satisfaction. When you run out of options, there is one option that is always available and that’s what I want to share with you. Just thinking through a few people who ran out of options in biblical history, there are some interesting insights available to us.

In the Old Testament, Daniel certainly found himself out of options, when he was thrown into the lion’s den. Jonah was a man faced with two distinct options—obey God’s call to fulfill a mission or to disobey—to run alongside God or to run away from God. Well, as you know he made the wrong choice and ran away from God. Then he found himself in the belly of a great fish, marinating in its digestive juices. Now, that was a situation where Jonah was clearly out of options. Both Daniel and Jonah had one option open to them—turn to God. Daniel was persuaded to do this by the lions and Jonah was dramatically motivated into running back to God after running away by his experience in the fish.

In the New Testament, I think of the nobleman who came to Jesus to seek healing for his son. John records the story of the royal official, the nobleman, who had run out of options and believed Jesus possessed the only way for his son to live. Matthew and Mark share the story of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, living in a ceremonially unclean state for all that time. She had run out of options and fought the crowd, where she was not allowed to be due to her uncleanness, and was determined to get to Jesus, believing He was her only option to be healed.

The story of Jesus apprehending Paul with the bright light on his way to Damascus is an interesting scene. In this case, it isn’t that Paul had run out of options. He thought he was on God’s mission, persecuting the followers of Jesus. But Jesus in a spectacular encounter put Paul in a position that he had no other option than to respond in humility.

Here’s the principle: When you’re out of options, there is always one last option available to you. It’s not a belief system. It’s not the counsel of a good therapist. It’s not some secret you need to know. It’s a person—Jesus. Jesus is always available as your last option and would like to be your first option. I’ve noticed over the years that most people come to Jesus by the process of elimination—nothing else works!

When you’re out of options, remember to turn to Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life available to you.

There’s one more thing here. When you’re out of options, it’s too easy for you to be overcome with worry, hopelessness and depression. Remember this: WHEN YOU’RE DOWN TO NOTHING, IT MEANS THAT GOD IS UP TO SOMETHING. SEEK HIM WITH ALL YOU’VE GOT! WHEN YOU’RE OUT OF OPTIONS, MAKE JESUS YOUR NEXT BEST OPTION!

Lesson 11 - Get Over Yourself

Are you a control freak? Really, are you? There is a basic tendency for all of us to want to be in control. At the heart of this tendency is the deadliest of the seven deadlies—pride! Pride is believing that you can actually control things in your life. It’s when you push your Creator-God aside and take over the universe for awhile.

There’s an old Jewish proverb that says: “Pride is the mask of one’s own faults.” It’s when you know deep down that you are not able to control anything, so instead of admitting it, you put on your pride mask. The thing about this is that most people handle life in this way and therefore are playing the game along with you and protect themselves by not taking off that mask. However, pride has a way of showing itself with the destruction that is caused. This fits one of the most popular of proverbs about pride: “Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall.” Your pride will be discovered by its damaging results. When this happens, you will be given another chance to be honest about yourself and abandon your attitude of pride. But even though the opportunity to come clean about yourself presents itself, it’s very hard not to live in the state of denial in order to continue playing the game.

When I see the ugly head of pride showing up in my life and in the life of others, I just want to say: GET OVER YOURSELF! That’s really what is happening. There is too much of yourself that preoccupies all of your thoughts and choices. When your life becomes “all about you”, you are wrapping your life up in a very small package—insignificant and inadequate.

Jesus teaches the answer for this pride problem. He says: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) He uses the word “deny”, but He is actually saying: GET OVER YOURSELF so there is room for Me in your life!

Denying yourself or getting over yourself is really what humility is all about.
Humility is having a right evaluation of yourself before God. It’s believing what God says about you is true and believing what God says about Himself is true.

The most interesting thing about humility is that the more you grow spiritually the more humble you will become. As you grow in your walk with Jesus you will see your life more clearly and will have a better handle on having a right evaluation about who you are before God. Paul, in his letters to the followers of Jesus actually seems to be growing backwards. As the years pass he goes lower; he grows downward! And as his self-esteem sinks, he sees God more clearly as the awesome One who owns and empowers him. He is able to understand what Jesus meant when He said: “Without Me you can do nothing.” Check it out:

FIRST—Paul says in his early years: “I am the least of the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:9) He sees himself as about 13 on the list of the ones Jesus chose to lead out in following Him. Thirteenth! Now that’s pretty high up in the ranks of the followers of Jesus.

SECOND—As Paul moves into his middle years he says: “I am the very least of all the saints.” (Ephesians 3:8) He now sees himself a little less on the totem pole of Jesus’ followers. He is now no longer thirteenth, but he is the least of all of the saints!

THIRD—Then, later in Paul’s ministry, his view of himself is even worse! He says: “I am the chief of sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15) Whoa! He has gone from thirteenth place to the least of all the saints and now he sees himself as the worst sinner of all! What a reversal! That is the great thing about humility. The more humble you are the more grace you embrace to become more spiritually mature. It is a faith-walk with your Creator-God!

Now, one of the most popular criticisms of a faith-walk of humbling yourself before God is that your faith is a crutch. “Oh, your faith in God is just a crutch!” Have you ever heard that? It’s one of the most common attacks thrust against believers. I have come to realize that the accusation is absolutely right! Faith IS a crutch! But there is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s a natural thing—even understandable! Let me offer two reasons for my thinking:

First, a crutch is good when you need it! If your ankle is broken or badly sprained, a crutch is absolutely necessary. You can’t get around very well without one. When you see someone using crutches, you don’t criticize them or belittle them for using them. Since they are hurting and have been damaged, it’s natural, even wise, to use the crutches! The same is true about your life. When you are in need, hurt and damaged, it’s natural to search for a set of crutches!

Second, a crutch allows you to become healed! Those who are in need of crutches and use them will find healing and relief over time. If you need crutches and don’t use them, you just prolong your pain and prevent your healing!

If you have a pulse, then you have a real need for a set of spiritual crutches. In fact, humans don’t work well when unplugged from a personal relationship with the Creator. Humility is based upon this personal relationship with your Creator—as I said earlier—a right evaluation of yourself before God. There is a wickedness and a wonder about who you are. You have within you a wickedness that is able to do most anything, any place at any time. When you see your need for God, you fall into line before your Creator and you are the created one. But you’re not as bad as you could be! There is also a wonder about you! You have been created in the image of your Creator. When you have a right evaluation of yourself—wickedness and wonder, you take on a true humility.

This humility, then, is to spill over into your relationships, so that you treat everyone else as a fellow-created being. Without humility, pride and self-centeredness reign in your life! Pride is such a prevalent and prominent problem of the human condition—so much so that only a personal relationship with your Creator has the capability of diminishing this deadly, spiritual cancer. This is the reason for the following Biblical principle:

HUMBLE YOURSELF & GOD WILL EXALT YOU! EXALT YOURSELF & GOD WILL HUMBLE YOU!

You can only secure your spiritual crutches by faith—faith in your Creator!

So your faith is a crutch. You desperately need it! Maybe the image of crutches isn’t strong enough. There have been many times when I have felt that my need for God is so great that it would be better to call it an IRON LUNG!

Hey, don’t you think it’s time to GET OVER YOURSELF? Think it over!

Lesson 12 - Four Principles Of The Clanging Cymbals

When your life is out of control and your back is against the wall, you need a faith-lift. Your faith-lift will necessarily emerge from within your heart—inside out. This is why it’s so important to get over yourself with that toxic pride and controlling attitude. You see, there is no room for this kind of toxicity, if you are practicing and experiencing the love of Jesus. In fact, without this kind of Jesus’ love, nothing else much matters.

Paul spoke to this when writing to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. He said:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love must be present in everything we do and say. If the love of Jesus is absent, you may be saying and doing all the right things, yet sounding like offensive, clanging cymbals.

I want to address four primary issues of life that if handled correctly will produce the most beautiful expression of life’s symphony ever—usefulness, fruitfulness, perfect perspective, protection from stumbling, and enthusiastic approval from your Creator. However, these same life issues if handled poorly will produce the most annoying and unsatisfying sound ever—the sound of ill-timed, ill-played, clanging cymbals. Cymbals require skillfulness to play, a symphony with whom to participate and a certain surety of the precise timing of when to strike.

Each of us has been handed a set of cymbals in life and must handle them with care. This four-part series will interact with the fine line between the enjoyment of playing your cymbals correctly and the irritation and embarrassment of holding a set of clanging cymbals.

As we examine each one over the next few days, you are eligible to receive four vital promises from the Creator-God, Himself. The answers to not becoming clanging cymbals and the accompanying promises are found in the first chapter of II Peter. Let’s briefly take a look at the promises you can count on if you apply the principles over the next four days.

FIRST—The promise of productivity! Peter says: For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you embrace the four principles over the next four days for yourself and continue to grow in them, you will experience outstanding fruitfulness in your life.

SECOND—The promise of perspective! Peter says: For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. If you lack the four qualities or principles, you will be blind—not be able to see where you are, short-sighted—not be able to see where you’re going, and forget how your sins have been forgiven—not be able to see where you’ve been.

THIRD—The promise of protection! Peter says: Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble. If you not only embrace these four principles for yourself, but practice them, you will never, in any way stumble.

FOURTH—The promise of prosperity! Here Peter says: for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. You will be presented a special entrance into the Kingdom with all of its abundance.

There is no other biblical passage that is as clear as II Peter 1 about what promises you will receive, if you do certain things. The four principles we are going to examine are found in a few verses just prior to these promises:

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply virtue, and in your virtue, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.

It begins with your faith and ends with love. But note one thing. He says be diligent to supply all these things to your faith—virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. The word “supply” is an interesting term. It means that you are to fully underwrite or sponsor these qualities to your faith. It was used in the Greek city-states and referred to a wealthy citizen who was asked to under-write or sponsor the next big event for the city.

You aren’t to pray for these things, but you are to do these things and practice them with your faith. You are to do them—virtue (an initial step of commitment), experiential knowledge, self-control (self-strength), perseverance (the ability to hang in there), then when you have been hanging in there through the difficult times, you will learn so much and acquire qualities of godliness. Don’t try to do these things alone, but practice brotherly love and then supply unconditional love to your faith.

What’s very interesting is that the same term is used in the fourth promise. Only this time, it is said that God will abundantly supply (underwrite or sponsor) a special entrance into the Kingdom just for you. The image here is an Olympic Champion who is welcomed home by making him a special door or gate named for him to honor him. In this case, if you richly supply these principles to your faith, God will abundantly supply this sort of special entrance for you. And it won’t be just a gate to the city, but to the Kingdom of God. Over the next four days, do your best to embrace each of these principles for yourself.

 

Lesson 13 - The Clanging Cymbal Of Self-Doubt

In the struggle to “get over yourself” it’s important to examine what I call the four clanging cymbals. A clanging cymbal is when what you say and do is absent the love of Jesus and therefore is a cymbal that doesn’t make a certain and attractive sound, but an offensive, clanging sound. Today’s clanging cymbal is SELF-DOUBT.

There are several words that are translated doubt. Doubt is to be perplexed, at a loss, uncertainty as to which way to take, standing in mid air or to hold in suspense—all accompanied by an anxiety and lack of confidence. The Chinese have a great word picture on the word “doubt”. It’s when you are standing on a dock with two boats awaiting you and as you step off in mid air, you are indecisive as to which boat to choose for your landing. Now, that’s doubt! By the way, doubt also includes distraction, because of your state of indecision.

I have two primary concerns with the clanging cymbal of self-doubt. First, there is a personal concern. Here we sit with the message of the love of God, yet most seem to be bent on performing for God’s love rather than confidently enjoying it. There is little personal satisfaction here. It’s not a certain sound, but a clanging cymbal!

Second, there is a relational concern. Here we sit with the love of God, yet it doesn’t seem to be getting through. Those who are believers in Christ are known more for their judgment and condemnation than for loving one another. This, too, is an offensive clanging cymbal.

How can people who claim to have a personal relationship with God live in a spiritual coma? It’s like when the Indians were discussing their problems with the white man. One asked, “What went wrong?” Another answered, “Apparently, when we smoked the peace pipe, somebody didn’t inhale!”

The process of religiosity works like this. You are drawn to the free gift of Jesus—the Good News—and long for Him to help you with your fear, anger, guilt and shame. Just as soon as you receive the free gift of Jesus, you are shifted into a new gear—a new reality. You are told you must get your act together—sort of a turn or burn attitude to living for Jesus.

Then comes the list of secrets or keys to living your life for Jesus in order to travel in first class on your spiritual journey rather than coach. The list is a series of “If only”: If you only had enough faith, if only you read the Bible more, if only you knew the Holy Spirit better, if only you were baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit, if only you understood the gifts of the Spirit, if only you were part of a small group, if only you knew how to worship, if only you were giving more and if only you could perform your walk better, THEN you will achieve a certain level of spiritual perfection.

Your faith walk then turns into a message of condemnation. Comparison and division over who is right and who is wrong is the constant conversation. Now, here’s where your faith noticeably falls apart. Since you cannot achieve the perfection that is taught, you learn to fake it—show up at the right church, carry the right Bible, and join the right groups. Others, rather than fake it, they just flake out. They couldn’t find a way to walk this walk that is required.

So, the process of religiosity is based upon the spirit of condemnation; the process of relationship is based upon the spirit of covenant with Jesus. Instead of “Wash your hands and mommy will love you”; it’s “Mommy loves you, now go wash your hands.” It’s important to read and meditate on the Scriptures, to pray and to operate in a community of believers; it’s not doing it because you have to, but rather it’s because you want to. It’s not a spirit of condemnation, but a spirit of relationship—not a failure mode, but a faith mode.

The clanging cymbal of self-doubt grows up in the soil of perfectionism and condemnation. This religious combination produces nothing positive, but only the negative and that negative is guilt. When you wrestle with guilt, you will suffer from self-doubt.

Self-doubt is countered in two ways: a confident, personal faith in Jesus and a compassionate love for others. These two counters are based in the Scriptures. John says (3:17-18) Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but to convince the world of the love of God. Paul makes an incredible statement about condemnation as he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome. He says: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Jesus.” Later in that same letter to the Romans (8:35- 39) he says: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The clanging cymbal of self-doubt is not personally satisfying and not publicly attractive. Only the faith to receive God’s gift of Jesus and the love to give Him away will prove to be satisfying and attractive to you and the world around you. Try this on and you fight the clanging cymbal of self-doubt: FEED YOUR FAITH AND YOUR DOUBTS WILL STARVE TO DEATH!

Lesson 14 - The Clanging Cymbal Of Being Self-Directed

In the struggle to “get over yourself” it’s important to examine what I call the four clanging cymbals. A clanging cymbal is when what you say and do is absent the love of Jesus and therefore is a cymbal that doesn’t make a certain and attractive sound, but an offensive, clanging sound. The first clanging cymbal was self-doubt. Today’s clanging cymbal is being SELF-DIRECTED.

As I have often said, most of my life I have lived life my way for Jesus. I was definitely the leader. I didn’t have a handle on what it might mean to wait for Jesus to lead out so I could follow. In other words, I struggled with and was losing the battle over being self-directed.

What I’ve come to realize is that God wants us to be ON CALL to do significant things for Him—even showing up for divine appointments. But instead of being on call, the natural tendency is to live our lives in a position of not being able to hear His call at all—busy signals, disconnections, interference, off the hook or just allowing our machines to answer. Since we haven’t been positioned to hear from God or be on call with Him, the result is confusion. Confusion leads to conformity—going along with the crowd—and then comes a sense of complacency—going it alone.

So, the clanging cymbal of being self-directed is based upon two diversions—going along with the crowd and going it alone. Going along with the crowd means that you have no personal convictions or standards worth dying for. Worse than that, you have very little to personally and uniquely live for. Going it alone necessarily emerges out of going along with the crowd. You see, going along with the crowd is a way of avoiding any personal interaction and relatedness. You simply move the way the wind seems to be blowing at the moment without much thought on your part. So, you are already alone.

Do you see the inevitable outcome in your life if you are always going along with the crowd and going it alone? You have no one else (personally) to rely on. You are all alone and therefore self-reliant. This is why people like to claim they are self-made, but when I hear this I am tempted to say, “You knocked off too soon!” There is so much more to living than limiting yourself to being self-reliant and self-directed. And when you are self-directed, it’s too easy to be driven by people, places and things that limit your drive and fulfillment in life.

SELF-DOUBT was countered by faith and love. The problem of being SELF-DIRECTED can be countered by two qualities as well. The first is virtue. This is the quality that was to be first added to your faith. Virtue is making an initial commitment to follow-through on your faith. It’s a personal commitment to stand alone on your own two feet—to think for yourself!

The second quality is brotherly kindness. You are to stand alone on your own two feet, living within yourself, as you learn to walk with Jesus, but you cannot go it alone and expect to be satisfied with your life. There is a great need in your life to not only walk with Jesus, but to walk with others. You need their support and they need yours. In a real sense you become the answer to one another’s prayers as you walk through life together.

By the way, this is what’s at the core of Jesus’ teaching on what the greatest commandment is. When asked to give His opinion on naming the greatest commandment, Jesus was unable to isolate it to just one. The reason for the difficulty is that the greatest commandment must be two-fold—first, to love God with all your heart, and second, to love your neighbor as yourself. To love God with all your heart is to focus on what He uniquely wants to do with you—to fully express the message of God, which is your purpose in life. You can’t do this and go along with the crowd.

To love your neighbor as yourself requires that you don’t go it alone in life. You need the community of family and friends to fully do life together. Note in this case, if you don’t love yourself, your neighbor is in trouble. When you can love yourself, you are better able to love others. A great reminder of this occurs before takeoff on every airliner: Put your oxygen mask on first, and then you can help your children with theirs.

For me, virtue and brotherly kindness are the best counters to the problem of being self-directed and these two qualities are best summed up in how you see Jesus.

FIRST—You must see Jesus in you! This is a sensing of His presence in you. When you are aware of Jesus walking with you and residing in you, it’s easier to seek Him out for His direction. Knowing Jesus is in you gives you a confidence to stand on your own two feet—to not go along with the crowd, because you know He is in you. You also know you are not alone.

SECOND—You must see Jesus with you! This is a sensing of His power with you. Because Jesus is with you, you can count on His empowerment in your life. In a very real sense, as you connect with others and touch them, you are being Jesus to them. Just as Jesus took on flesh and became man, you are now the flesh Jesus is taking on. Jesus is in and with you! We are not to give away some message to the world, trying to get others to believe it; we are to give Jesus away, for He is the Gospel.

THIRD—You must see Jesus in others! This is a sensing of His potential of being in and with others as He is with you. Jesus gives us the best example here, too. Jesus never saw a prostitute; He saw a woman deeply hurt in need of inner healing with the possibility of being free. Jesus saw something of great value in the maligned tax collector by the name of Zaccheus and invited Himself to go to lunch with him. Jesus saw something special in the woman at the well who had several husbands and the man she was living with was not yet her husband. What’s interesting is that Jesus is attractive to so many who are in need and I think it’s because of the way He looked at them and welcomed them. He was so safe in an unsafe world.

You have a choice. You can choose to be self-directed where it’s all about you or you can choose to be directed by Jesus. He will direct you to stand on your own two feet with confidence (that’s virtue), not going along with the crowd and He will lead you into relationship with others where you can experience brotherly love to counter going it alone.

The clanging cymbal of being self-directed can only be countered by being tied to Jesus while touching people—that’s virtue and brotherly love. To sum it up, think in terms of:

  1. Practicing the presence of Jesus in you! 2. Practicing the power of Jesus with you! 3. Practicing the potential of Jesus in others!

Then, you’ll know Jesus is supernaturally directing you, where you will find freedom and infinite possibilities. Stick with being self-directed and you will be limited to your self.

 

Lesson 15 - The Clanging Cymbal Of Self-Importance

In the struggle to “get over yourself” it’s important to examine what I call the four clanging cymbals. A clanging cymbal is when what you say and do is absent the love of Jesus and therefore is a cymbal that doesn’t make a certain and attractive sound, but an offensive, clanging sound. Each of the four clanging cymbals is countered by two of the eight qualities Peter lists as essential for being most effective and fruitful. The first clanging cymbal was SELF-DOUBT and was countered by FAITH and LOVE. The second was being SELF-DIRECTED and was countered by VIRTUE and BROTHERLY KINDNESS.

Today’s clanging cymbal is SELF-IMPORTANCE. Self-importance continues the “self” theme that we are so good at embracing. What do you think of yourself? If you think of yourself wrongly or in the wrong way, it means your certain destruction! Paul warns of this problem in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome. He says: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:3) So, be careful to have a right evaluation of yourself.

The question is not so much “What do you think of yourself?”, but “What does God think of you?” If you understand what God thinks of you—his unconditional love and acceptance, it means life and confidence and hope!

In the world of Alcoholics Anonymous there is a term that says it all: stinkin thinkin! The Twelve Steps speak of the need of being restored back to sanity. Note the first three steps:

Step #1—We admitted that we were powerless over our problem—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step #2—Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Step #3—Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care and direction of God.

The people Jesus opposed the most were the religious leaders who definitely thought more highly of themselves than they should have. When you have a high level of SELF-IMPORTANCE, you will find that you have a few common tendencies:

  1. The tendency to out-share all that you have done—to speak evangelistically about your life—to overstate who you are.
  2. The tendency to outdo one another, being caught up in the deadly spirit of comparison and competition.
  3. The tendency to outsell one another—to convert others to your way of thinking.
  4. The tendency to out-story one another. This is usually evidenced by not really listening to others share, but just waiting for the opportunity to match the story being shared, which brings the attention back over to you.

The good news is that no matter what your tendencies are, God totally accepts you as you are and loves you unconditionally. The Creator-God sent His Son, Jesus, in the flesh so that we can have a personal relationship with God. That’s the Good News!

The two qualities that we can use to counter the clanging cymbal of SELF-IMPORTANCE are KNOWLEDGE and GODLINESS. The quality of knowledge is not a knowing of a series of facts, but an intimate knowledge—a personal knowledge—a relational knowledge. In a very familiar passage Paul gives a four-step process on how to change your thinking about yourself that will directly counter your sense of self-importance.

FIRST—Offer your body—Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship.

SECOND—Overhaul your mind—Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

THIRD—Obtain a servant’s heart—For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

FOURTH—Operate in a group—For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

Knowledge is all about knowing Jesus better—to know Him. And as you come to know Jesus better, you will experience an automatic adjustment with respect to your self-importance.

Godliness is the natural outflow of this Knowledge. If you aren’t getting to know Jesus better, all you have to focus upon is your self. And if your focus is upon you, then you will not be displaying godliness, but you will tend to play God. Playing God leads to an attitude of comparison with and condemnation of others. However, if you come to KNOW Jesus personally, you will naturally be a walking expression of GODLINESS. Paul says that the mystery of godliness is nothing other than JESUS.

So, here is how these two qualities work to counter the clanging cymbal of self-importance. Knowledge is to know Him and Godliness is to make Him known. That’s it—to know Jesus and to make Him known. It’s not all about you and your importance; it’s all about Jesus and His preeminence above everything.

 

Lesson 16 - The Clanging Cymbal Of Self-Control

In the struggle to “get over yourself” it’s important to examine what I call the four clanging cymbals. A clanging cymbal is when what you say and do is absent the love of Jesus and therefore is a cymbal that doesn’t make a certain and attractive sound, but an offensive, clanging sound. Each of the four clanging cymbals is countered by two of the eight qualities Peter lists as essential for being most effective and fruitful. The first clanging cymbal was SELF-DOUBT and was countered by FAITH and LOVE. The second was being SELF-DIRECTED and was countered by VIRTUE and BROTHERLY KINDNESS.

The third clanging cymbal is SELF-IMPORTANCE and is countered by KNOWLEDGE and GODLINESS out of Peter’s dynamic list in II Peter 1.

Today’s clanging cymbal is SELF-CONTROL and is countered by two more qualities from this list—SELF-STRENGTH and PERSEVERANCE. We’ll examine all eight of these qualities in the session tomorrow. So, we come to self-control. There is a delicate balance between you taking control and realizing that you are being empowered by the strength of God—strengthened enough in order to have a sense of self-control.

Remember a few sessions ago we discussed how our world is out of control. When your past is out of control, it’s all about guilt. When your future is out of control, it’s all about fear. And when your present is out of control, it’s all about anger. Although these are deadly causes of human paralysis, they can serve you well. You see, if you know your life is basically out of control without God, you are in an advanced stage of maturity and growth. Once you understand and accept your powerlessness without God, you are at a balancing point and have a sense of being centered.

Self-control is misunderstood if you think you have the power to control your life. Some of the most “controlled” people I know are addicts. They believe with all their hearts that they can control their addiction and they cannot.

The term self-control is literally self-strength. This is an inner strength and discipline that you can bring to your faith. This is to be understood as a strength that must come from your Creator. Now, that kind of self- control is productive and strengthening. This is an understanding along with the Psalmist who wrote: Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1)

We make the mistake of trying to appease God by giving Him all kinds of things—money, time, and checking off my list of performances. But God cannot empower you, if you think you have it all together. He wants to take your fragility and transform it into inner strength. Remember that Jesus came to reach out to those who were lacking, not those who had it all together.

Paul realized this when he shared his personal story with the followers of Jesus at Philippi. After listing out all of his accomplishments, he compared them to a pile of manure. He said that he saw it clearly that knowing Jesus and focusing on Him is the most important thing of all—all else amounts to a pile of manure.

PERSEVERANCE is the second quality needed to counter the clanging cymbal of SELF-CONTROL. Perseverance is the determination to hang in there no matter what. It’s one thing to have the inner strength that only God can give; it’s quite another to hold on to this inner strength and hold on for all its worth. That’s perseverance. Many times things come upon us that we either weren’t prepared for or just seem to be more than usual. It’s at this point that only perseverance—hanging in there—can get you through it.

In the recovery community there is a great saying: “Don’t give up one day before the miracle happens.” You will get through it; now hold on!

This goes along with what we discussed earlier: THE BEST WAY OUT IS THROUGH.

I want to sum all of this up with this: GOD wants your fragility before He wants your ability. When you are marked ‘Handle with care’, He can then strengthen your life to get through it all! So count on your Creator-God for your inner strength and hang in there!

Lesson 17 - A Full Symphony Of Life

The four clanging cymbals are not satisfying personally and are offensive to the watching crowd. God has a different idea. Instead of an orchestra filled with clanging cymbals, He has in mind a full symphony of life.

In Peter’s second book in the first chapter, Peter reveals that God is all about preparing us for living the life He wants us to live. He says: His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

God through Jesus has already prepared us to participate in the dynamic of divine living with the ability of escaping the corruption that is in the world! He has done this by giving us His most special promises that we can count on.

In verses 8-11 Peter articulates the kind of promises God offers to us, if we will do certain things: For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if any of you do not have them, you are nearsighted and blind and you have forgotten that you have been cleansed from your past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

So, you can count on receiving these promises, if you add these qualities to your faith! If you possess these qualities and practice them, you will be effective and highly productive, you will not be blind in any way, you will be kept from stumbling and you will be given a special entrance into the Kingdom of Jesus. You will be welcomed and celebrated in a special way!

What are the qualities Peter lists? They are the eight qualities that we used to counter the four clanging cymbals. Let’s take a look at them in context: For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-strength; and to self-strength, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.

Each one builds on the preceding one. You start with faith. Then you add virtue, which is an initial commitment to follow through with your faith—to stand on your own two feet. To virtue (that initial commitment) add experiential, relational knowledge. Then add self-strength to your knowledge. At this point, you may feel you have it pretty much together. You have arrived at a certain level of self-strength.

It’s at this point that you need to add perseverance. Just when you think you have it all together, you will find there are many other trials and tribulations you never ever experienced before thrown into your life. There is no amount of self-strength that can handle these. So, you must do all that you can; you must hold on for dear life or hang in there—perseverance. Then, after you have gone through the fires of these extraordinary trials and troubles, you will find that you will experience a new series of character qualities that will emerge in the midst of the trials. You are now taking on dimensions of godliness. What a satisfaction this is—to know you have gone through some of the worst experiences ever and you are rewarded for it by gaining some new and improved qualities in your life. It’s at this point you understand that you cannot go through these struggles alone, but need to operate with a few others for support. This is brotherly kindness. The ultimate expression of a life that is growing and maturing is love—unconditional love. So, now you add this love to your faith. It’s a full symphony!

These qualities are dynamic in that you may not be operating on all eight cylinders at any given time. And, you may be in the middle of cycling through these eight again. You may be working on knowledge and self-strength and find yourself rocking along. Or, you may be in a season of trials that have threatened to be overwhelming and all you can do is to add perseverance to your faith—to hold on for dear life and hang in there.

What I have seen is that you are somewhere along these eight qualities of life—cycling through them. The important thing is to know where you are right now and be able to anticipate what’s next. No matter where you are along the way or where you may have left off, you must continue to get back to the music—to lay down your cymbals and keep playing your symphony.

Note what Peter cautions you to do. He says to make certain of your calling-that God is calling you. You see, even though in this passage you are urged to add these qualities to faith—you add them or literally: you lavishly supply them to your faith-walk, you are cautioned to keep your focus on who is calling the shots in your life. You are to add these things to your faith, but this is all in a heart response to the call of God upon your life. This is the essence of what discipleship is all about. Discipleship begins not with your choice, but with His call. Have you heard His call on your life? Are you listening for it?

 

Lesson 18 - Two Choices - And The First One Doesn't Count!

We began this series with this sentence: When your life is out of control and your back’s against the wall, you need a faith-lift. Well as we continue working on giving you a personal faith-lift, we come to what many have called the Hall of Faith. It’s found in one of the earliest writings in the New Testament in the book of Hebrews. In the eleventh chapter the writer of this book illustrates extraordinary faith exercised by simple, ordinary people with unusual results. Each of these illustrations is helpful in lifting your faith. It’s ordinary people living extraordinary lives!

Hebrews 11 begins with a definition of faith: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

So, what is faith? Faith is the promise of God! Faith gives confidence of “things hoped for.” Faith gives “conviction of things not seen.” It makes things concrete and gives substance to the invisible! Faith gives us a connection with God, because by it we gain approval from God and by it we understand the miracle of creation—”that the universe was formed at God’s command.” Faith makes the promises of God a reality!

I like how The Message expresses it: The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.

In essence you can say that faith is taking God at His word! Faith is not only the promise of God; faith is personal! The writer of the Hebrews goes on to speak about Adam and Eve’s two sons, Cain and Abel:

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

Again, The Message renders it this way: By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous. After all these centuries, that belief continues to catch our notice.

These two brothers lived their lives before God differently. Cain was a gardener and Abel was a herdsman. Cain offered sacrifice to God as a ritual—something he was supposed to do. Abel offered sacrifice to God by faith with his first-fruits—something he wanted to do. So, Cain did what he did to get by while Abel’s heart priority was for God. Therefore, Cain’s offering to God was disapproved and Cain became mad at God and the world, ending in being silenced. Abel’s offering was approved and still speaks today. Cain, because of his anger, killed his brother, Abel. And, even though Abel was put to death, he continues to speak today with this principle of heart-generated faith.

There is something else about faith. Faith is powerful! What makes ordinary people live extraordinary lives? I have found three basic ingredients: FIRST—People of faith keep changing their perspective; they see the God who is there! This is a decision of the will—your choice!

SECOND—They keep committing to personal programming—to hear what God says. This is a discipline of the mind.

THIRD—They keep centering the priority of their hearts on God—to know what God wants! This is a desire of the heart! With this decision of your will, the discipline of your mind, and the desire of your heart, your ordinary faith becomes powerful!

You’ve got two choices and the first one doesn’t count! Either, like Cain, you lose God as priority of your heart and leave the presence of God. Then you’ve got a real problem!

Or, like Abel, you center on God as the priority of your heart and gain God’s approval. Then you’ve got the real power to go through anything. Abel is a supreme illustration of the work of faith. No matter what you offer to God, you must bring it to Him with all of your heart.

So, it’s not a ritualistic, religious act of the mind and body, but totally and wholly a relational matter of the heart. Remember, God looks on the heart and man looks on the outward appearance. So, how’s your heart?

 

Lesson 19 - Life Is Not Just A Stroll In The Park!

As we make our way through this Hall of Faith I want to offer to you a faith-lift by illustrating how several ordinary people were able to live extraordinary lives. We saw the work of faith was in Abel—work that emerged from the heart! Now we come to the walk of faith! “Walk” is a very common word in the Bible. We are urged to walk wisely, uprightly, with integrity, according to His commandments, humbly, worthy, in the light, in the truth, and in Him! To walk is a continuous journey with a destination in mind. Paul used the term “walk” and John used the term “abide” to describe the very same action.

There are only two characters who are said to have walked with God—Enoch and Noah. Enoch was transferred out of this earth to be with the Lord, because he was “pleasing to God.” Noah was transported out of the flood, because he “found favor with God.”

First check out Enoch: By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

The story of Enoch is a brief one. In Genesis 6 it says: Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. Even though the biographical sketch is brief, it is powerful. To be only one of two biblical characters that was ever recorded, as one who walked with God is quite remarkable. And then to have the result be to not face death at all, but to be supernaturally taken to be with God is amazing!

Then Noah is the other man that is noted to have walked with God: By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

In the historical record of Noah’s life it says: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.

There are two primary choices you have with respect to your walk. You can’t serve God and the material world at the same time. It must be one or the other. It’s either walk with God or walk out of step with God. Two choices!

There are two challenges as you reflect upon how to walk with God! 1. See Him—Consider Him. God is there! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is faithful. See Him through Jesus. It’s in Jesus that you find all the fullness of God.

  1. Seek Him out—Count on Him. Draw close to Him through personal faith in Him and practical fellowship with other followers.

Remember, there are only two kinds of pain—discipline or regret. Walking with God does require the pain of discipline, so do what you can do to start walking. Walking with God is simply watching what Jesus says and does and say and do the same.

You walk with God; He’ll work with you in the midst of your troubles. Or, you don’t walk with God; you’re totally on your own and going nowhere. You choose!

One more thing here: A faith-walk doesn’t require that you have it all together. In fact, you may be experiencing great pain and brokenness right now and wonder how a life of faith might make a difference. Faith is taking all that you know that you are (including your brokenness) and placing it into all that you know that Jesus is. And as you do this, you must leave the results to Him.

 

Lesson 20 - Which Way Is Up?

As we make our way through this Hall of Faith I want to offer to you a faith-lift by illustrating how several ordinary people were able to live extraordinary lives. We saw the “work of faith” was in Abel—work that emerged from the heart! Next we saw the walk of faith illustrated by the only two men who were ever said to “walk with God”—Enoch and Noah!

Today we will examine the “way of faith”. The “way of faith” answers the question, “Which way is up?” and is demonstrated by the life of Abraham.

Abraham has the distinction of being called “the friend of God” three times. He is mentioned over 300 times in 20 books of the Bible. Abe experienced three major encounters with God—(1) when he was called (2) when he was out of options and (3) when he was tested.

FIRST—WHEN HE WAS CALLED. Let’s look at it: By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Abe lived in a place called Ur—an ancient city of Mesopotamia along the Euphrates River. That would be in modern-day Iraq. God calls him to change his lifestyle. He was called into the desert! God promised him a country, generations of descendants, and a purpose—that he and his people would be a blessing to the world! No doubt he was comfortable there in the city. Any resistance that was there must have been the fear of being lost in the grand scheme of things! Are you serious, God, the desert??? But Abraham obeyed and went out of the comforts of the city into the stressors and difficulties of the desert. He said YES to a Higher Calling! This calling was God’s eternal purpose for him. There’s no better place to be on earth—nothing more satisfying, more fulfilling, or more safe—than to be following the call of God on your life! Note this is true, even if you are called out of the comfortable city to the desolated desert.

SECOND—WHEN HE WAS OUT OF OPTIONS. Think of the situation here. God has promised him that he will bless the world through him and through his descendants. Well, in order to have descendants, you must have a child and Abraham and Sarah did not. They were childless and were too old to have any children—probably in their 80’s. But by faith Sarah and Abraham hung in there, still holding on to the promises of God. This was the primary reason why God called them out of the city of Ur to the desert. In Hebrews 11 it is recorded: And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

THIRD—WHEN HE WAS TESTED. Note what happens here: By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Once God had miraculously provided Abraham’s only child, Isaac, God made a strange and tough request! He commanded Abe to sacrifice his only son—the son of promise! The natural resistance here must have been “Why me?” “Why this?” “Why now?” Whereas in his calling from God there was a fear of being lost; here in this test is the fear of loss itself! But Abraham obeyed and offered his son as a sacrifice to God. After God measured Abraham’s total commitment, He intervened and spared Isaac! God’s test was to prove out Abraham’s genuineness! For you today your calling and testing is the way of faith! It’s the only way up! Your calling gives you purpose for going through your testing; your testing gives you proof for your calling! But note that between your calling and testing, it is necessary to practice your faith by waiting on God’s next move and for Him to come through. Waiting!

Waiting is so tough! Do you know why? Waiting is actually trusting— believing and expecting God to come through. In waiting there are some things we are NOT waiting on Jesus to do?

  1. To do His will.
2. To relate.
3. To be responsible.
4. To do what He would do.

So, what are we waiting on Jesus to do?
1. To show up in my life.
2. To give me an answer—impression, a peace, a desire, a thought. 3. To bring people into my life for restoration.
4. To bring people into my life for walking—fellowship & support.

One of my favorite passages is from the prophet Isaiah. It says: He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:1-31)

When you are called, walk toward Him!
When you are tested, watch for Him to come through! When you are out of options, wait on Him!

In Psalm 40:1-3 it says something that kind of sums up the practice of waiting: “I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD.” Now, that’s the way of faith!

 

Lesson 21 - Passing The Bucks Or The Blessing?

As we make our way through this Hall of Faith I want to offer to you a faith-lift by illustrating how several ordinary people were able to live extraordinary lives. We saw the “work of faith” was in Abel—work that emerged from the heart! Next we saw the walk of faith illustrated by the only two men who were ever said to “walk with God”—Enoch and Noah! Then with Abraham we have the illustration of the “way of faith”.

Today we come to the next characters of faith in the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews—Isaac, Jacob and Esau. There is a profound experience throughout the generations that we need to embrace today. It’s the experience of passing on the blessing from one generation to the next.

Abraham obviously blessed his miracle son of promise—Isaac. And now it is time for Isaac and his son, Jacob, to pass on that same blessing: By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

As the blessing is passed on from generation to generation, it came to be the greatest wealth that could be inherited. This blessing was passed on by faith and received by faith with the understanding that one was to carry on the name of the family. Note what was said when Jacob blessed Joseph: He blessed Joseph, and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; and may my name live on in them, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” (Genesis 48:15-16)

Passing along a blessing is not just an ancient tradition, but is also for us today. I’ve come to realize that being blessed and blessing others may be the greatest wealth you can give or receive. This is what I call the “wealth of faith”.

Note there are two dimensions to this blessing concept. First—Being blessed. A blessing is when you feel special. It’s when you feel honored by others, when people are grateful for you, when someone is praying for God’s favor to fall upon you and when you are empowered by others who really care who you are and who you are becoming. It’s knowing and feeling that you are loved for being you.

The act of blessing involves meaningful touch! A very common vehicle for giving a blessing is the “laying on of hands.” Another dimension of giving a blessing is words. A blessing is communicated with our words whether by mouth or in writing. The communication of a blessing has a message declaring high value of the person being blessed. The expression of appreciation or affirmation of another is a way of giving a blessing. Also, included in giving a blessing is a sense of destiny and purpose for your life. When you point out another’s uniqueness or move them toward a special future, you are giving a blessing.

The ultimate blessing you could ever receive is the stamp of approval that you are special and you are OK. Only your Creator can give you a stamp of approval, because he made you. However, there are others God has empowered to uniquely place this stamp of approval on people—parents. God has charged parents to the task of stamping each child: APPROVED and SPECIAL!

Although the most natural place for you to receive the blessing is from your parents, unfortunately very little blessing is passed on from generation to generation. All families have a certain degree of dysfunction about them and therefore are unable to give the blessing their children need.

If you didn’t receive the blessing you needed from your parents, you are not at a total loss. You can find a blessing in a personal relationship with Jesus. God’s blessing of approval and acceptance can be found in the unconditional and sacrificial love of Jesus for you. You can also get your blessing through your relationship with the community of Jesus—through the dynamic relationship of gathering together in the name of Jesus. Remember, it’s when two or three gather together in the name of Jesus that Jesus will show up there in their midst. I’ve experienced so much healing by the touch of Jesus through walking with others. That is truly the wealthy experience of being blessed.

Once you experience being blessed, then the second dimension of blessing can become a reality—Being a blessing. Now, if you can receive a blessing through others from God, then you can also be a channel to release God’s blessing to others! Blessing others is not so much you giving your riches to others, but being able to reveal their riches to them—showing them acceptance and unconditional love. It’s being a friend who speaks well of them and asks God’s favor to fall upon them.

You see, the real wealth of faith is the blessing of God that flows two ways—being blessed and being a blessing. There are two ways you can make this a reality in your life. First—receive the love and acceptance of Jesus for you right now by faith. Count on it! Second—release the love and acceptance of Jesus into the lives of others. The wealth of blessing occurs in exactly this way and in this order. God is blessing you in order for you to bless others. We are told: The God of all comfort comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. So, seek after your blessing from the Lord Jesus and then seek to be a blessing to all He brings your way. Now, that is true wealth!

 

Lesson 22 - The Man Who Wouldn't!

As we make our way through this Hall of Faith I want to offer to you a faith-lift by illustrating how several ordinary people were able to live extraordinary lives. We saw the “work of faith” was in Abel—work that emerged from the heart! Next we saw the walk of faith illustrated by the only two men who were ever said to “walk with God”—Enoch and Noah! With Abraham we have the illustration of the “way of faith”, because when God called him out of his comfort zone, he obeyed. Then in the life of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we discovered the “wealth of faith” through being blessed and blessing others.

Today, we come to a short verse that sums up a long and faithful life in the character of Joseph. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones. Although Joseph’s life is not rehearsed here, he lived a life of faith that was nearly without equal.

Joseph was a most incredible man. His life is impeccable! He just didn’t seem to blow it at all, but was a faithful follower. This exemplary life was primarily due to his strength in saying “I WON’T!” So, I call his life the “won’t of faith”.

The first dramatic scene in the life of Joseph was when his jealous brothers left him for dead. When his brothers turned against him and threw him in the pit to die, Joseph said, “I WON’T GIVE UP!” Although very few would criticize him for wanting revenge, Joseph refused this natural urge.

The second dramatic scene in the life of Joseph was after he was able to secure a most powerful job in a wealthy man’s estate. He was the COO of Potiphar’s house. Note what is said about him: Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there. The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Now his master saw that the LORD was with him and how the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge.

When his boss’s wife tempted him with her body, Joseph said, “I WON’T GIVE IN!” Very few men would have been able to turn down her repeated and intense advances, but Joseph resisted this natural urge. Although he successfully resisted her advances, she accused him of molesting her. This sets up the third dramatic scene in the life of Joseph.

Potiphar believed his wife’s claims and had Joseph put in prison. When he was persecuted for doing right in refusing the temptress, Joseph said, “I WON’T GIVE OUT!” Who could blame him for giving out at this point? He was the focal point of gross injustice.

God was with Joseph in the prison in a special way: But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper. Again, Joseph was promoted to the top position in the prison.

The fourth dramatic scene in the life of Joseph was that he was able to interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker while they were inmates with him in prison. And for doing this Joseph said: “Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house.

Well, the dreams came true, but the chief cupbearer forgot to say a word to the Pharaoh when he was released from prison. He restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand; but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

Later, when the Pharaoh was being troubled by dreams, the cupbearer referred the Pharaoh to Joseph. Joseph interpreted his dreams and the Pharaoh decided to reward Joseph in a big way: So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. “You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.” Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put the gold necklace around his neck. He had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, “Bow the knee!” And he set him over all the land of Egypt.

In all of these amazing scenes Joseph’s example is the “won’t of faith”! When your family and friends turn against you, when temptation strikes to trip you up and pull you away, when you find yourself persecuted for doing right, there is a “won’t of faith”—a refusal to compromise your walk and relationship with the Lord.

Well, it turns out that God just kept rewarding and elevating Joseph to higher positions and responsibilities, because God had a bigger mission for him to do. Joseph was positioned in Egypt by God to preserve his family and the godly line in the nation of Israel during a most devastating famine.

When his brothers, who had left him for dead in a pit, came to Egypt for grain, they had to face their brother, Joseph, in order to save their lives. When they found out that their brother was alive, they were so ashamed.

Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

When you’re in the midst of a great refusal for God’s sake, He is setting you up for a strategic mission and you will enjoy His blessings! When you are in the place God has established for you, you are now ready to serve Him best. When you find yourself in a predicament that has brought you so low that you can only look up, remember God is up to something really good just for you.

 

Lesson 23 - The Man Who Would If He Could!

As we make our way through this Hall of Faith I want to offer to you a faith-lift by illustrating how several ordinary people were able to live extraordinary lives. We saw the “work of faith” was in Abel—work that emerged from the heart! Next we saw the walk of faith illustrated by the only two men who were ever said to “walk with God”—Enoch and Noah! With Abraham we have the illustration of the “way of faith”, because when God called him out of his comfort zone, he obeyed. Then in the life of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we discovered the “wealth of faith” through being blessed and blessing others.

Yesterday we examined the incredible life of Joseph who had all kinds of things go against him. Joseph illustrates the “won’t of faith”, because he refused to compromise his walk with God no matter the circumstances.

Today we come to the amazing life of Moses: By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.

By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the first- born would not touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.

The story of Moses is a phenomenal illustration of the process of maturity. By faith he was hidden as a baby. By faith he refused the lifestyle of Egypt to live with the Jews. By faith he led God’s people out of Egypt. By faith he kept the Passover. By faith he crossed the Red Sea. Moses did these things by faith in His God.

The way to maturity is breaking through the impasses of life—the frustrations and blockages. A baby must breathe or die. He must eat, crawl, and walk. But each of these is a breakthrough. As a child learns to overcome frustration, he grows up. When a child is not given enough frustration or is baled out of it, he is spoiled—emotionally crippled.

Moses was prepared for a great and most memorable mission for God. Even to this day it is celebrated as the Passover. Moses was miraculously spared and placed in the palace of the Pharaoh for 40 years, where he was highly educated in the things of royalty. Then, after killing an Egyptian who was hassling one of his Jewish brothers, Moses fled to the desert, where he learned the principles of herding and caring for sheep and the ways of survival in the wilderness. Then at 80 years of age he was ready—prepared by God—to fulfill his mission to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

Moses illustrates the “will of faith”. Moses discovered that the will of faith in the midst of frustration is the way to maturity. The will to do what is necessary in order to do the things you’ve been called to do, can be found in the life of Moses. There are four observations here that lead to practical application of the will of faith.

#1—FOCUS ON YOUR BURNING BUSH. Moses’ burning bush experience is when God spoke to him to give him direction. God is continually speaking to you through His “burning bush” today—His living and written word. Jesus is the living word and He is also the living expression of the written word. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the spoken word of God”—the life and teachings of Jesus. The written word speaks of Jesus and Jesus speaks to you, when you seek Him with all your heart and listen for His direction. Focus on it by listening and learning and living it! The action step is to REPROGRAM YOUR MIND around Jesus!

#2—FACE YOUR BLOCKAGES. When God spoke to Moses and called him through the burning bush, he responded with several excuses—”I can’t speak very well!” or “The people of Israel will not follow!” or “What will make the Pharaoh acknowledge what I have to say?” So when God speaks to you and calls you to a certain calling, what’s your excuse? What are your blockages? The action step here is to REMOVE THEM the best you can!

#3—FIND YOUR BOOSTERS. Moses’ best booster was Aaron. Without his support Moses couldn’t have accomplished all that he did or matured to one of the most significant leaders ever. You need your friends and family as your own personal boosters—your support team. They become your inner security system. The action step here is to REACH OUT TO YOUR BOOSTERS!

#4—FOLLOW THE BASICS. Moses followed the Lord simply and basically, step by step, one day at a time. He stayed with the basics. On your way to maturity you must follow the basics. The action step here is to REMIND YOURSELF TO KEEP DOING THE BASICS!

Follow the life of Moses and you will find the will of faith. The will of faith is the willingness to be content with God’s preparation in your life no matter how long it takes and then a willingness to do what He calls you to do no matter how impossible it seems. God wants to do great things in this world and He has chosen to do great things through those who have the will of faith to participate.

Are you willing to do great things with God as your partner? God has great things for us. Unfortunately, much of the time we’re like the caterpillar that watches a butterfly fly by and says to himself, “You’ll never get me up in one of those things”, when God had exactly that in mind all along! The will of faith. Think it over!

 

Lesson 24 - The Man Against All Odds!

As we make our way through this Hall of Faith I want to offer to you a faith-lift by illustrating how several ordinary people were able to live extraordinary lives. We saw the “work of faith” was in Abel—work that emerged from the heart! Next we saw the walk of faith illustrated by the only two men who were ever said to “walk with God”—Enoch and Noah! With Abraham we have the illustration of the “way of faith”, because when God called him out of his comfort zone, he obeyed. Then in the life of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we discovered the “wealth of faith” through being blessed and blessing others.

We examined the incredible life of Joseph who had all kinds of things go against him. Joseph illustrates the “won’t of faith”, because he refused to compromise his walk with God no matter the circumstances. Yesterday we dealt with the life of Moses. Moses illustrates the “will of faith”. Moses discovered that the will of faith in the midst of frustration is the way to maturity.

Today we come to the life of Joshua. Although the writer of the book of Hebrews doesn’t mention Joshua’s name here, he does identify one of the great events in the life of Joshua—the conquest of the city of Jericho. It says: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. (Hebrews 11:30)

Joshua took over the leadership of the Jewish people after Moses and found himself against all odds. He was to lead God’s people into the land of the Canaanites. The Canaanites were deeply into prostitution (both male and female) and child sacrifice. They were into all sorts of corruption. They were known as a brutal people. Battle after battle Joshua continually was against all odds. “And Joshua captured all these kings and their lands at one time, because the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel” (10:42).

As the children of Israel came to the land of Canaan, twelve spies were sent on a mission into the land of Canaan. Upon their return only two of the spies had the faith to believe that the children of Israel could take the land, empowered by God. The other ten came back with a very negative report, not believing God had given the land into their hands. Because of their unbelief, the children of Israel had to wander in the wilderness until that generation of unbelief had died out.

When it came time to finally enter the land of Canaan, Joshua was the man placed to lead his people to first conquer the city of Jericho. Joshua was an experienced military leader, but nothing in all his military training could have prepared him for God’s plan to take Jericho. It would require a lot of faith to complete his mission.

 

Jericho is considered the oldest known inhabited city in the world. Around 1400 B.C. Joshua laid siege to the fortress city. The armies of Israel surrounded it so that no one could enter or leave it. This was the plan: For six days the army was to march around the city once each day while the priests blew their ram’s horns. The priests with trumpets went first, then the priests that carried the Ark of the Covenant, then the army. The only sound would be the sound of the horns; no one could speak a word. Then on the seventh day, they would encircle the city seven times in the same manner, and then when Joshua gave the signal, they would shout with a great shout. It was at that moment the walls would fall flat, so they could capture the city.

What a battle plan! I keep thinking how tough it must have been to pass along to his highly trained generals and officers just what the plan was to be. “Are you kidding me? What kind of plan is that?” Talk about a battle that was against all odds! Well the truth is that it is a battle plan that could only be accomplished by trusting in the power of their God. Joshua was successful because he followed God’s battle plan to the very last detail. By building a wall of faith with his people, he was able to bring down the walls of Jericho.

To sum up Joshua’s life listen to one of his most memorable challenges to the people: “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

Frequently, you may find yourself against all odds. So what must you do?

#1—RESPOND TO THE LORD. Fear (reverence, respect, bow in awe, etc.) the Lord. JUST DO IT!

#2—RISK SERVING HIM. Joshua was there at the Red Sea crossing. He saw that the waters didn’t part until someone stepped into the water. God isn’t going to do a thing until you put your foot in it. You have a mini Red Sea crossing of your own.

#3—REPENT. Clean up your act. God will not work as well without a clean heart—a heart that is bent toward Him. So change your mind about where you are and turn toward God.

#4—REMOVE THE GODS OF YOUR FATHERS. Put away all other gods—your personal, relational, material and religious gods.

#5—RECOMMIT TO CHOOSE HIM ABOVE ALL OTHERS. You make your choices.

When Joshua was against all odds at Jericho, he only had to do a few simple little things. They walked around the city a prescribed number of times, blew their horns, and shouted. His part was simple and God’s part was the most complex. You do the little things and God will do the large things—you, the possible and God, the impossible. You do your part by faith that God will do His part.

When you are up against a wall of frustration or fear, turn it into a wall of faith! When you do, God will shatter the walls of frustration and fear and strengthen your walls of faith! Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods of your society, the gods of your religiosity or the gods of your making; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. How about you?

 

Lesson 25 - Actions Speak Louder Than Words!

As we make our way through this Hall of Faith I want to offer you several real-life examples of a faith-lift. In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews this is illustrated by many key characters—Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua. Now we come to a most surprising person who is listed as a Hall of Fame person of faith. This one is very different. This one is a woman, but not any woman. This person of faith in God is a prostitute by the name of Rahab. It says: By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.
Rahab was very instrumental in the destruction of Jericho and the siege of the land of Canaan. When Joshua sent spies into the land, it says: So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there.
Here’s how the story unfolds: It was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men from the sons of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” And the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. “It came about when it was time to shut the gate at dark that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.”
To sum up, Rahab hid the spies and lied to the king’s men about it. So, she hid them on her rooftop until the king’s men left the city and the city gate was shut. But before they went to sleep, she asked for a commitment that she and her family would not be harmed in the battle for Jericho. They agreed and told her to make certain to place a scarlet thread in the window.
Rahab confessed her faith in the Lord and said: “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”
The next morning she let them down out of the city through that window. After letting them down out of her window, Rahab tied the scarlet cord in her window and no one in her home was destroyed when the children of Israel took the city of Jericho.
James used Rahab to illustrate his major point of the balance of faith and works. He says: You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. Her faith in the Lord was clear and her works that demonstrated her faith was when she risked her own life in order to hide the spies from the king’s men.
Rahab was a harlot. She used to manage a place called Rahab’s Rest Stop! HOWEVER. And this is the great HOWEVER of God. God used her for His great purpose. No matter what you have done in the past or are now doing in the present, God will accept your faith. Her works proved her faith conclusively.
Do you ever feel that your past or present lifestyle holds you back from being used by God? Rahab had a very colorful past, but when she was given an opportunity from God, she seized it. Note that she seized it by her faith in the God of Israel and the proof of her faith was clear through her works.
The pendulum swing is between faith on one side and works on the other. Many are into faith alone. Others are into works alone. But there must be a union of both faith and works. It’s like a rowboat with two oars—one is faith and the other is works. If you insist on using only one of these oars, you’ll just go in circles—you’ll go nowhere.
So how does Rahab’s story help you to demonstrate the balance of the two?
FIRST—No matter your past or your present situation, God will honor your genuine faith.
SECOND—God will honor your genuine faith when He can see your faithful works.
THIRD—God will honor your genuine faith and faithful works by using them for His purposes.
FOURTH—God will reward your genuine faith and faithful works with personal protection for you and your family in the worst of times.
Rahab demonstrated the works of faith—the fact that faith and works are never alone. Martin Luther put it this way: “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.” In other words, the work of faith is the only faith that works! All other expressions of faith without works are simply empty.

Lesson 26 - Ordinary People - Extraordinary Results!

As we make our way through this Hall of Faith I want to offer you several real-life examples of a faith-lift. In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews this is illustrated by many key characters—Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua. Now we come to a most surprising person who is listed as a Hall of Fame person of faith. This one is very different. This one is a woman, but not any woman. This person of faith in God is a prostitute by the name of Rahab. It says: By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.

Rahab was very instrumental in the destruction of Jericho and the siege of the land of Canaan. When Joshua sent spies into the land, it says: So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there.

Here’s how the story unfolds: It was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men from the sons of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” And the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. “It came about when it was time to shut the gate at dark that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.”

To sum up, Rahab hid the spies and lied to the king’s men about it. So, she hid them on her rooftop until the king’s men left the city and the city gate was shut. But before they went to sleep, she asked for a commitment that she and her family would not be harmed in the battle for Jericho. They agreed and told her to make certain to place a scarlet thread in the window.

Rahab confessed her faith in the Lord and said: “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”

The next morning she let them down out of the city through that window. After letting them down out of her window, Rahab tied the scarlet cord in her window and no one in her home was destroyed when the children of Israel took the city of Jericho.

James used Rahab to illustrate his major point of the balance of faith and works. He says: You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. Her faith in the Lord was clear and her works that demonstrated her faith was when she risked her own life in order to hide the spies from the king’s men.

Rahab was a harlot. She used to manage a place called Rahab’s Rest Stop! HOWEVER. And this is the great HOWEVER of God. God used her for His great purpose. No matter what you have done in the past or are now doing in the present, God will accept your faith. Her works proved her faith conclusively.

Do you ever feel that your past or present lifestyle holds you back from being used by God? Rahab had a very colorful past, but when she was given an opportunity from God, she seized it. Note that she seized it by her faith in the God of Israel and the proof of her faith was clear through her works.

The pendulum swing is between faith on one side and works on the other. Many are into faith alone. Others are into works alone. But there must be a union of both faith and works. It’s like a rowboat with two oars—one is faith and the other is works. If you insist on using only one of these oars, you’ll just go in circles—you’ll go nowhere.

So how does Rahab’s story help you to demonstrate the balance of the two?

FIRST—No matter your past or your present situation, God will honor your genuine faith.

SECOND—God will honor your genuine faith when He can see your faithful works.

THIRD—God will honor your genuine faith and faithful works by using them for His purposes.

FOURTH—God will reward your genuine faith and faithful works with personal protection for you and your family in the worst of times.

Rahab demonstrated the works of faith—the fact that faith and works are never alone. Martin Luther put it this way: “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.” In other words, the work of faith is the only faith that works! All other expressions of faith without works are simply empty.

Lesson 27 - The Best Part Of Christmas

The space-time event in history of the birth of Jesus is filled with so many highlights. And everyone has his or her favorite thing to share about the Christmas story. Jesus was born on time and in the little town of Bethlehem according to the many ancient Prophets.

What fascinates me most about the birth of Jesus is how it all came about through a variety of unlikely players. The Jews very carefully kept track of their genealogies as they relate to the godly line of the Messiah. In Matthew the genealogical record is most likely that of Joseph’s and the genealogical record in Luke seems to be that of his Mother Mary.

What is so amazing is that after all of the care to follow each step of the way of the Messiah’s godly line, God purposefully inserts some very unlikely people. Let’s call these skeletons in Jesus’ closet. A skeleton in the closet usually has to do with the uglier side of our family line. Jesus had 7 skeletons in His closet that all have a potential ugly side. Let’s look at each of them:

FIRST—Mary, His mother. Mary was a sinful woman just as any other woman on the planet. She was an admitted sinner and was surprised at the choice of the angel to create the Messiah through her. This is the least ugly of the 7 skeletons and yet was a definite application of the grace of God to choose her. She clearly recognized that she personally was in need of the Savior she was to birth.

SECOND—David. Although we know David is known as a man after God’s own heart, he was guilty of horrific sins. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and then set in motion the plan to have her husband, Uriah, killed in order to cover up his sin.

THIRD—Abraham. Remember, Abraham was a Gentile and God chose him to be the father of a new nation altogether—the people of Israel. Abraham’s life was not a clean one, even though he was to be the father of all who believe. Two different kings brought Abraham’s wife, Sarah, into their harems, because out of fear Abraham lied to each of them, saying that Sarah was his sister. What a horrible and shameful way to treat Sarah.

Even though David and Abraham were miserable sinners, Jesus the Messiah is known to be the son of David, the son of Abraham and proud of it. Then, within the genealogy of Jesus in a culture where genealogies were mostly dominated by men, there are four women, probably all Gentiles, who are included in the godly line of Messiah Jesus.

FOURTH—The first woman is Tamar, the Canaanite daughter-in-law of Judah. She resorted to deception, prostitution and even incest when she was unable to have a child. She tricked Judah into having sexual relations with her and she had twin boys, Perez and Zerah. Tamar and her son, Perez, both are included in the godly line of Jesus—both part of His sacred family tree.

FIFTH—The next woman who was also a Gentile, Rahab. She made prostitution her livelihood. As we saw yesterday Rahab risked her own neck to hide the spies of Israel when she lived in the ancient city of Jericho. Because of her faith and action on God’s behalf, He agreed to spare her life and the lives of all her family during the battle of Jericho. She became the wife of Salmon and the mother of a godly man named Boaz. Boaz was David’s great-grandson. By this marriage Rahab was inserted into the Messianic godly line that would produce Jesus.

SIXTH—The next Gentile woman, a Moabite, was Ruth. Although she was a former pagan and a Moabite, having no right to marry an Israelite, God’s grace brought Ruth into the family of Israel, and through Boaz into the royal line. She became the grandmother of Israel’s greatest king—King David.

SEVENTH—The final Gentile woman who was surprisingly in the godly line of Messiah Jesus is Bathsheba. Now get this! She entered the godly Messianic line through adultery with David. Their first son died in infancy, yet their second son was the great King Solomon, who was successor to David’s throne.

As you can see the story of Christmas has some amazing surprises in it. These undeserving, Gentiles not Jewish, people were inserted into the godly list solely and completely by the grace of God.

So, in the birth of Jesus the Messiah, the skeletons in the closet turn out to be all about grace—amazing grace! This is the story of Christmas: That God’s Messiah has come to deliver whoever will come to Him. This is truly what the Good News is all about. Jesus accepts and loves anyone and everyone—no matter your origin, ethnicity or religious beliefs. Jesus proves His love and acceptance by including four sinful women in His family tree. By the way, this means Jesus accepts you and loves you unconditionally, too. So, this Christmas celebrate your brokenness, your ways of falling short, the many times you’ve missed the mark. Jesus simply overlooks all of your negative stuff and wants you to accept His light into your life that you might be whole.

Now, that is a Merry Christmas!

 

Lesson 28 - God With Us

The Christmas story is so frequently rehearsed and yet still Jesus’ name is strangely missing from many presentations—especially in the marketplace. People make the connection between Santa Claus and Christmas trees with Christianity and this mistaken connection spills over to Jesus. But the birth of Jesus is so not what Christmas has become. There are so many ways to approach the birth of Jesus, but I want to suggest four observations that have been resonating with me and a few friends lately.

FIRST—Jesus came to dwell among us—TO BE WITH US: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “GOD WITH US”). (Matthew 1:23) GOD WITH US! Christmas is all about God wanting to come down here and make Himself at home with us.

SECOND—Jesus called a few TO BE WITH THEM: He appointed twelve that they might BE WITH HIM. (Mark 3:14-15) Jesus set out to accomplish the work God, the Father, had asked Him to do—to be with the few the Father brought to Him and to teach them about His name. Jesus said: “and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26) Imagine that! The love with which the Father loved Jesus can be in us and Jesus be in us at the same time!

THIRD—Jesus continues TO BE WITH US TODAY. Jesus shares with us the plan for continuing to dwell WITH US today: “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home (our dwelling place) with them.” (John 14)

Jesus also shares with us how He will show up and make Himself known among us. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will show up in their midst.” Jesus will show up as a few of us gather in His name. He still is inviting a few for Him TO BE WITH THEM today!

You see, Jesus through His Spirit is present WITH US right now and welcomes us. After seeing how the Gentiles (the non-Jews) readily believed Jesus enough to follow Him, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. (Acts 10:34-35)

Paul speaks to this same thing, when he was speaking in the marketplace in Athens. He said: “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ (Acts 17:24-28)

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, Jesus gave His disciples one final command to make disciples of all nations and cultures. He envelopes this command with these words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” Then he said: And surely I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, to the very end of the age.” (MT 28:19-20) He doesn’t say I will be with you again someday. He says “I am with you always—right now on into eternity!

This is the mystery that has been revealed through the coming of Jesus. It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. Literally the mystery is Christ among y’all. This is just another rendition of “Where two or three are gathered together in my name”.

Jesus came as Immanuel—TO BE WITH US and HE IS STILL HERE WITH US today, therefore:

  • We don’t have to ask Him to be with us! He already is!
• We don’t have to ask Him to bless us! He already has!
• We don’t have to look for Him! He is invisible, but dynamically present!
• We don’t have to conjure Him up through powerful charismatic experiences! He is the one who has powerfully come to dwell WITH US! • We don’t have to be anything other than we are! He wants to dwell with you just as you are!

A friend in Jesus recently said it this way: Jesus became like us so that we might become like Him and He came to live WITH US for a time so that we might live WITH HIM for eternity. And guess what? Eternity starts the moment you realize that Jesus is Immanuel and you decide to follow Him.

Now to me, this makes Christmas the merriest of holidays! GOD WITH US started 2000+ years ago and He continues to be WITH US today. This is why I talk to Him throughout the day. This is why I am in a constant conversation with Jesus asking a very simple question, “What do you have for me today, Jesus?” And when I ask, He shows up. And when I don’t ask, I don’t see Him or even think of Him. Since I know God is WITH US, I am so much more at ease about my day. GOD WITH US! Think it over!

 

Lesson 29 - Looking For Jesus Every Day

OK, so Jesus says “Where two or three gather together in His name, He will be in their midst”, but is there any other indicator about seeing Jesus at work in your life? I think there are a few helpful guidelines in finding Jesus at work around you.

FIRST—Jesus is focused on those in need, therefore look for Jesus as you are able to show concern for and offer help for the needy around you. This is where His heart is. He even says that when you feed, clothe and love those in need, you are actually ministering to Jesus, Himself.

SECOND—Jesus is focused on children, therefore look for Jesus to be hanging around them. Children do see things differently and say things innocently from the heart.

THIRD—Jesus doesn’t make appointments; He will show up unexpectedly. If your day is interrupted, look for Jesus to show up in that interruption. Instead of being annoyed with your schedule being interrupted, look for Jesus there. In examining the life of Jesus you will see that He walked in and out of people’s lives on His calendar. Although there are a few times Jesus initiates encounters with people, most of the time people seek Him out personally or on behalf of loved ones. In either case, when Jesus encounters a person in need, His touch is always healing and life-giving. None of these encounters were on anyone’s appointment book. Each was an interruption to their daily routine.

If you are met with irritations or troubles, look for Jesus to show up through these. I have found that some of the most irritating people I know have been used by the Lord to teach me something I really needed. Look for Jesus to show up in the midst of your troubles, too. It’s not that Jesus causes us these irritations or troubles; He is always present to use them for our benefit.

You see, the reason why you can find Jesus around you throughout your day is that Jesus is relentlessly searching for children and childlike faith, those who are in need and those who are caught up with irritations and troubles. And He uses all of these players and situations to grow us up spiritually.

In the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke Jesus offers three stories about His relentless search for those who are lost—the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost child—the prodigal son. All of these illustrate the primary theme of Jesus’ day every day. He is out to seek and to save or rescue those who have lost their way.

 

No matter what the touch of Jesus accomplishes in the life of a person, there is always the same result. Each and every person comes to the point of repentance. “Repentance” gets a bad rap. Most think of repentance as a highly emotional decision—a dramatic conversion experience. Now, repentance may include such emotion, but basically repentance means to change your mind about something or change your direction—turn around. It is usually referring to turning back to God—getting back on track. I like to think about it as simply coming to your senses.

There is an interesting encounter with Jesus that Jesus actually initiates. It’s when Jesus met a tax collector by the name of Zaccheus. Let’s look in on what happened: Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord!
Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

NOTE that Jesus invites Himself to lunch at Zach’s house. And even before they made it to his house for lunch, there is an immediate change in the heart of Zaccheus. It’s amazing to me how quickly Zaccheus wants to rectify his wrongs against the people he had over-taxed. He repented. He came to his senses about what he was doing.

I see this all of the time with people. When they encounter Jesus, there is a dramatic coming to their senses about material things, about their family responsibilities, about their finances and about their sense of mission. This initial response to an encounter with Jesus indicates a genuine heart decision to follow Jesus.

Now note what Jesus’ response was to the changes in Zaccheus. Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:1-10)

When you’re looking for Jesus every day, you will find Him actively seeking those who have lost their way. What Jesus wants from you is to be aware of His activity, cooperate with Him in His many encounters with people around you and to do whatever you can do to advance the conversation of Jesus in the marketplace. You see, when you are looking for Jesus every day, you begin to partner with Him. To be a partner with Jesus is to participate in bringing people to their senses. By the way, your life will begin to make more sense, too.

So, seek for Jesus and you will find Him every day. He is setting up all kinds of random appointments every day. All He wants you to do is to show up!

Lesson 30 - A Faith-Lift's Part

In order for a faith-lift to be effective, you need to understand who does what and when. A faith-lift includes God’s part and yours.

We visited a study group this morning where the topic was atonement. Now that’s a big word, but it actually is quite simple. It’s the term that means reconciliation—especially between God and man. Through Jesus man can be reconciled with God. Through Jesus we can experience atonement—be at-one-ment with God. Every religious system has atonement as its ultimate goal.

The group discussion revolved around the grace of God—God’s undeserved love toward everyone in the world. Grace is divided into two—common grace and specific grace. Common grace is what everyone on the planet enjoys—the sunshine, flowers, mountains, beaches, the love of another, the breath of life and the joy of children. Once you accept the reality of common grace that is extended to everyone, then you can either acknowledge God or not. When you acknowledge God and His grace, you then have the opportunity to receive it or reject it. In other words, if you want the love of God and all of its fulfillment and eternal satisfaction, you can have it. And if you don’t want anything to do with the love of God, you will not be forced into it.

There are always two sides to every story and it is no different with mankind. There is God’s side and your side—God’s part and yours. His part is unconditional love and acceptance of you just as you are. Your part is to actually receive this love for yourself. This is easier said than done. You see, everything you hear and see in this world will communicate just the opposite to you. The most common communication about man’s possible relationship with God is that man must do certain things to appease God—to do enough to earn the love and acceptance of God. This performance message is promoted by all kinds of religious groups as well. The result? You feel the stress of having to perform and the guilt of not performing well enough.

So, how do you counteract this constant flow of wrong information? You have to remind yourself of God’s unconditional love and acceptance. That’s the Good News of Jesus! In order to remind yourself of God’s love and acceptance, you have to employ personal discipline—to transform your mind and heart with the Good News message. If you are able to do this, you will enjoy a sense of peace that will give you a faith- lift and get you through any situation you may face.

I’ve come to realize there are only two kinds of pain—discipline and regret. You choose which it will be. If you discipline yourself you will make progress toward what you want to accomplish. If you don’t discipline yourself, you will sit in a pile of regret.

There are many you might want to discipline in order to bring about a faith-lift. For instance, if you want a faith-lift, why not begin with exercising discipline in the area of peace. Peace is the direct result of the Good News of Jesus. There are two kinds of peace—peace with God and the peace of God.

When the heavenly host appeared with the angel announcing the birth of Jesus, they said: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men.” When the disciples were first sent out by Jesus they were to take the peace with them and give it away to those they found in the various villages who were leaning in. The first thing Jesus said to His disciples when He met them in a room after the resurrection was “Peace be with you.”

I love the passage that says: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus the Christ.” (Romans 5:1) Or later in the letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:13) And, then to the followers of Jesus in Thessalonica: Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. (II Thessalonians 3:16)

Now if you discipline yourself to read and meditate on the many passages that speak of peace, this will make a great contribution to getting another faith-lift. However, there is one more passage that I like to use personally and share with others. Disciplining myself to do what this passage teaches has really served me and others well in giving us a lift.

Here it is. There are three things that require your discipline. FIRST—Do not be anxious about anything. Did you get that? In order to work on your faith-lift, you must discipline yourself to stop worrying about everything! Worry gets you absolutely nowhere. But it is so easy to get caught up in the swirl of worrying, as if you could do something to control the situation.

SECOND—but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Instead of worrying, discipline yourself to pray about everything! Note that you are to ask God while being grateful—with thanksgiving. Then, note you are to present your requests—desires—what you want—to God. Tell God what you want. Discipline yourself to take all of your requests or desires to God. Just by offering up your desires to God indicates a surrender of your control and giving the matter over to Him. Remember, God already knows your desires before you ask them. What He wants to know is whether or not you are willing to present them in surrender before Him.

After the first two disciplines—(1) do not worry about anything, instead (2) let your desires be made known to God, there is a major result: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. You will experience the peace of God and it will be the kind of peace that is beyond belief. It will be incredible! Your part is to discipline yourself not to worry and to take your desires before God. Note that this peace that you are given will guard your heart and mind. Why is this so important? It’s because your heart and mind is where your worry resides.

THIRD—The 3rd discipline is to fill your mind with the following:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. The discipline here is to fill your mind with all things, true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable excellent—all good things.

The result? The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. “Practice these things” means to discipline yourself by thinking on these things. That’s your part! Then, the peace of God will be with you. That’s God’s part!

Are you in need of a faith-lift? There are only two kinds of pain— discipline and regret. You choose! Discipline yourself in the things that produce the peace of God or you will find yourself in endless regret. In other words, you can live in peace or in pieces.

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