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Doubt and Unbelief

December 17th, 2013

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”  Mark 9:24 NIV.

Belief is a faith-decision that reinforces your conviction about truth.

My thoughts and comments today are about “doubt and unbelief.”

Doubt is not uncommon; questions and uncertainty afflict us all. Believing isn’t as always easy as you wish. Circumstances conspire against confidence in what you believe, usually at inopportune times. Unanswered questions, past disappointments, discouraging opinions, ambivalent feelings, or other factors – inside and around you – present a challenge to unwavering conviction.

In some moments, doubt and belief may briefly co-exist. It may be helpful to think of doubt as a temporary condition, prelude to the more settled disposition of unbelief. Doubt may evidence you are processing your desire to believe; unbelief occurs when you surrender to your doubts.

Mark relates a story of a weary, distraught father who brought his young son first to the disciples to be healed, and then to Jesus. Read Mark 9:17-27 NIV. The father’s request was simple, “If you can do anything . . help us.” The need was real; the father was hopeful. Yet doubt lingered. He faced a consequential moment of decision. Doubt is an unsettling feeling; belief is a faith-decision that reinforces your conviction about truth. Moments of doubt do not disqualify you, unless you cling to them even in opposition to truth.  

Jesus’ response was equally as simple, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Your decision to believe is important. This man was honest. He knew that belief and faith are not matters you can fake. His response describes the emotional ambivalence every one has felt in some situation. “Immediately, the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.’” Mark 9:24 NKJV/NIV. His expression of anguish and emotion reveals the inner struggle between belief and unbelief. Yet, he professes his strong intent to believe even while confessing his struggle. See Hebrews 11:6 NLT.

Your will alone may not overcome disbelief, unless fortified with the enduring Word of God and your faith. “Help me overcome my unbelief,” elicits God’s assistance every time. Across the years, I have observed that people get this backwards, tending to “believe their doubts,” rather than truth. Both doubt and belief are choices one makes. The good news is this: God gives you the power to choose. Such choices are not made in a vacuum, but in the broader context of your humanity, history, and circumstance. I have become convinced that you do not really choose what you believe; you choose who you believe and that ultimately determines what you believe. Choose to believe God and His Word, whatever the confusion of your feelings at the moment.

You might recall Peter’s brief experience of walking on water. See Matthew 14:22-33 NKJV. On nothing more than Jesus’ words, he bravely began his miraculous walk, until “he saw that the wind was boisterous . . afraid and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” Matthew 14:30 NKJV. Peter’s courage was, in a moment’s time, overwhelmed by his misinterpretation of reality.

Like the distraught father, he struggled with belief and doubt. Safe and sustained as Jesus took him by the hand, Jesus asked, “Why did you doubt?” The word, “doubt,” comes from a descriptive, Greek word, “distazo,” which means, “two standings.” The word indicates trying to hold two contradictive ideas. See James 1:6-8 NIV. The place to rest your doubts is trusting firmly in the truth of God, in His character and Word. You can choose to believe God even while dealing with doubt.

My prayer for you today is: do not doubt the whisper of truth God speaks to your heart.

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The Privilege of Prayer

September 16th, 2013

“Say to this mountain, be removed . . and not doubt in your heart!” Mark 11:23

The power of faith is the essential partner to the privilege of prayer.

My thoughts and comments today are about “the privilege of prayer.”

Ever wondered why something that costs you nothing, takes as little or as much time as you choose, and can be done anytime or anywhere, but still finds few people who regularly take advantage of its opportunity and possibilities? I have wondered. Why do we all pray much less than we could and should? For amazing things to happen, all God requires is that you pray and believe. Prayer is a high and holy privilege.

I wonder about the apparent indifference and frequent neglect of prayer. Do we think we can handle life by ourselves? Are we not convinced that praying makes any difference? Do we save prayer and faith for only those really bad things, really big things? Your answer to those questions may expose the problem. Imagine having a trusted friend who wants and waits to talk with you whenever you need, yet you rarely approach them when you really need help. Sadly, many do that to God.

A lot of excuses are made for not praying – busyness or not knowing how or what to say. But are those reasons or excuses? A person makes time for what they think important or beneficial. Conversing with others never seems to be a problem, and prayer in its simplest form is honestly conversing with God, then listening for His impressions within your heart.

I think the real issue may simply be a failure to trust that God hears, that God cares, and that God will act on your behalf. Prayer is normal and natural to the way that God created you; you have the need for companionship and communication with your Creator, your Father. The Bible’s wise counsel is simple enough, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 NLT.

Prayer is the means God gives you to personally experience His nearness, to communicate your love, thankfulness, desires, needs, or questions, and to see His caring and faithfulness in your life and situations. Jesus assumes you would appreciate the powerful, practical privilege of prayer. God’s expectation is forthright, “Pray without ceasing . . men should always pray, and not give up [doing so].” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NKJV/Luke 18:1 NIV.

The power of faith is the essential partner to the privilege of prayer. The Bible inseparably connects those. “Assuredly, whoever says to this mountain, be removed . . and does not doubt in his heart! . . when you pray, believe. .” See Mark 11:22-24 NKJV. “He who comes to God must believe . . He is the rewarder of those who seek Him.” See Hebrews 11:1/6 NKJV. Believe in Who God is – powerful, faithful, wise, caring, and compassionate.

Practice prayer to know God’s heart and trust His will and wisdom for you, not just believing that God will give you whatever you wan whenever you want it. Is that really how you expect prayer and faith to work? I think faith is the very practical sense of trusting that God will give you what He knows is best for you and serves His purpose in yours and others’ lives. Read 1 John 5:14-15 NIV.

My prayer for you today is to seek every occasion to draw closer to God in prayer.

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Make Room for People

September 9th, 2013

“Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman.”  2 Kings 4:8 NKJV.

What you make happen for others, God will make happen for you.

My thoughts and comments today are to “make room for people.”

Be careful; without realizing it, your life can become too small, or too busy, or so self-centered that you have room only for yourself. That lifestyle is selfish, unsatisfying, and eventually lonely. Making room for other people is an intentional lifestyle issue. The Bible is clear; “Therefore as [you] have opportunity, do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:10 NIV. Jesus promised that whatever good you do for others is credited as being for Him, but also warned that neglect of others is negligence toward Him. “I assure you, when you did it to the least of these . . you were doing it to Me . . when you refused to help the least of these . . you were refusing to help Me.” Read Matthew 25:34-46 NLT.

In the Old Testament, there is an otherwise anonymous lady who lived in Shunem, a small, unspectacular village. But the Bible described her as, “notable.” Read 2 Kings 4:8-10 NKJV. Of the many words to describe a person; I think “notable” may be one of the best. Blessed are those who make room in their heart and home for others.  This woman can be described as “notable” because room for others in her heart and life provided a spare room in her home. “Let’s make a little room for [this holy man of God] . . and furnish it with a bed, a table and chair, and a lamp.” (Verses 9-10 NLT). She provided for his comfort, and more. From her practical furnishings – “a bed, table, and lamp” – I suggest three simple applications. She provided Elisha room for rest, refreshment, and revelation.

Make room for people to be rested. For those spiritually and emotionally drained from the cares of life: their struggles, failures, sorrows, or regrets, make room in your heart and life where others find shelter recovery. You can be a living example of Jesus’ invitation, “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened . . and you will find rest for your soul.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV. Proper rest renews vigor, hope, and fresh resolve in a person’s heart.

Make room for people to be refreshed. For those with a soul hunger for forgiveness, acceptance, friendship, understanding, hope, or practical help, make room in your life where others are refreshed in spirit. Your welcome and invitation to them becomes Jesus’ promise, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6 NKJV.

Make room for people to receive revelation. For those where questions and doubt have darkened their spirit, make room in your life for them where light and illumination reveals truth and hope. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world . . Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father . . children of God . . [who] shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life.” See Matthew 5:14-16 NLT/Philippians 2:15-16 NKJV.

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes Me . . whoever gives even a drink of cold water to one of the least of these because he is My follower will certainly receive a reward.” Read Matthew 10:40-42 NLT. A friend of mine explained that principle, “What you make happen for others, God will make happen for you.”

My prayer for you today is that your heart and home are open to God and others.

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Overcoming Doubt

January 30th, 2013

God’s Word and character persuade trust and dissuade doubts.

“I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” Mark 9: 24 NIV.

A child does not begin life with doubts. They believe; belief is natural to them. Unfortunately, life soon teaches you to doubt, because there seems little about which you can be steadfastly sure. Doubt is a choice you make. You learn to doubt by experiencing people and things that are not trustworthy. You learn to doubt what you hear. Promises are made and broken. You learn to question authority; authorities are not always right and slow to admit when they aren’t. Doubt begins early and grows until stopped.

Both doubt and belief are choices you make. You can find supporting evidence for either, but you cannot do both. Doubt comes naturally; belief only comes spiritually. Doubt feels safe; belief seems risky. Doubt looks at circumstances, and questions God; belief looks at God, and questions circumstances. Doubt protects you from disappointment; Belief promises you God’s faithfulness. Doubt rehearses excuses to expect little; belief rests on God’s promises to expect much. The choice is not easy, but it is yours to make.

Mark’s Gospel tells of a father who brought his son to Jesus for healing. Read Mark 9:20-27 NIV. His desperation made him want to believe that Jesus could heal his troubled son. The worried dad conditioned his request on Jesus’ ability, ”If you can do anything . . help us.” Jesus refocused the dad with his choice to believe, “Everything is possible for him who believes!” The issue is never about what God can or cannot do; His power and authority are unchangeable. The issue is what you will or will not do. Will you choose to believe or doubt? Your response should be as honest as his, “Lord, I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” He will help you; He will not do it for you, nor can anyone else. The choice is yours.

Anyone, even the best of people, can be infected with a similar attitude that troubled Thomas, a disciple of Jesus. After the crushing disillusionment of Jesus’ crucifixion, Thomas doubted his friends when they reported Jesus was miraculously alive. That was contrary to everything he had ever known and believed possible. When told, he responded with a mistaken certainty, “Unless I see  . . and put my finger into the print of the nails in His hands and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” John 20:25 NKJV. Thomas was as my friend, Kenny, described all of us, “prone to believe our doubts and doubt our beliefs.” Foolishly, we feed our doubts and starve our beliefs. He could believe but only if he would choose to believe; belief is a choice you make, as is doubt. Don’t battle your doubts; choose to believe.

Jesus’ response was so much different than mine or yours would likely have been. With kindness and understanding, Jesus invited Thomas to do exactly what would persuade his trust and dissuade his doubts. Read John 20:26-29 NKJV. It’s just my assumption, but I don’t believe Thomas ever reached his hand to touch Jesus’ hands or side, in spite of Jesus’ invitation. The living Christ standing before him with all the authority of Heaven was overwhelmingly convincing. Listen to Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That’s where you and I will walk most of the time – between seeing or believing. The more the Word of God abides in you, belief strengthens and doubts weaken. See John 15:5-7 NKJV. Seek the company of people who encourage your faith. See Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT. Belief is the strongest posture to combat doubt.

My prayer for you today is that your heart will rest sure in God’s Word and character.

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Simple Faith

November 28th, 2012

Simple Faith

Faith is not an option but it is a daily choice.

“Now faith . . is the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 NKJV.

Life cannot be successfully navigated without simple faith, but that is not as simple as you might first expect. Life can become complicated. Faith is not an option but it is a daily choice. Everyday you are faced with diverse matters in which faith is required. Life would be very lonely without choosing to have faith in people. Yet you will struggle because faith in people can be sadly disappointed on occasion.

There is a common level of faith that is natural. You were created to have faith; God made you that way. A child trusts their parent; a spouse trusts their mate; people believe what they’re told, until there are enough times when faith seems disappointed. The desire to believe and dream is innate until life is allowed to strip it away a little at a time. God alone is capable of never disappointing, and circumstances will test even that bedrock truth at times. That’s when you choose faith.

The Bible says, “Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen . . by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. But without faith it is impossible to please God for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that he is the Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:1-2/6 NKJV. Read those truths again, slowly. Faith is that simple, until you cloud it with needless doubt or complicate it by dubious reasoning. Faith rests upon proven confidence that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do. Read Romans 3:3-4 NIV. Such confidence is experienced only by the one who chooses “faith . . believes that God is and is the Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Faith in God, His Word and character, does not fail; people fail to have faith. Faith is always from your heart, only rarely from the mind. See Romans 10:8-11 NKJV.

When told by other disciples that they had seen Jesus after His Resurrection, Thomas, a disciple of Jesus,  espoused the tired, old idea that “seeing is believing.” His conclusion? “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands, and put my finger where the nails were . . I will not believe it.” John 20:25 NIV. That is not a satisfying way to live. Imagine how much of life you miss. Thomas was wrong; “Believing is seeing.” See 1 Corinthians 2:9 NKJV. You have two clear choices. Choose faith, believing and expecting God to be God. Or choose faith of a different persuasion which believes only what you can see for yourself. The latter will not work out well for you.

Let me remind you again, faith is not an option but it is a daily choice. “Therefore we do not lose heart . . while we do not look at the things which are seen, but [we look] at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NKJV. There is more for your life than first appears. “Jesus Christ, whom having not seen, you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:7-9 NKJV.

My prayer for you today is that your faith releases glorious and inexpressible joy.

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