Walk by Faith

Faith is believing that God will work. It is much more than simply believing that God has the ability to work. That is how we are to read our Bibles, pray, and live this life. Promise after promise will be brought to fruition in our lives when we apply the Truth in faith!

God is God and that means that He has the resources to work in any way He wishes. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). Part of believing in God is knowing that He is powerful and in control. “The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty… The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness” (Psalm 29:4, 7-8 ESV). God has many characteristics that determine how His power will be used, though. He is just and righteous, merciful and kind. He is loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV). We can count on this because He never changes (Hebrews 13:8 NIV)!

Walking by faith is done out of love for God. Knowing God leads to loving God, which leads to trusting God, which finally leads to obeying God (‘Righteousness and Rewards’ by Matt Chandler). “This is love for God: to keep his commands” (1 John 5:3 NIV).

The kings of Israel, written about in the Old Testament, provide many examples of how following God leads to victory and success and flourishing and rebelling leads to downfall and destruction. For example, one time the Israelites broke the commandments. “Though the army of the Syrians had come with few men, the Lord delivered into their hand a very great army, because Judah had forsaken the Lord, the God of their fathers. Thus they executed judgement on Joash” (2 Chronicles 24:24 ESV). There were not many kings who managed to follow God all the days of their lives, but Jotham was one! After noting all the his accomplishments in rebuilding and securing the kingdom, it says, “So Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (2 Chron. 27:6 ESV). This Old Testament principle still applies to us, even though we are now under the blood of Jesus. The difference is that we now have the Holy Spirit to help us live the Law from our heart.

Suffering is a major theme in the New Testament because it is something Christ followers will deal with. Life is not happy all the time. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17 NIV). James focuses on suffering a lot and he was specifying that the suffering does not come from God. God is the giver of good gifts! Paul also wrote about suffering and then said, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). This is one of the most glorious promises given to Christ followers! Everything that happens, either good or bad, to someone who loves God and is called by Him will be used for their ultimate good!

David says, “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing (Psalm 23:1). Jesus claimed to be “The good shepherd” (John 10:11). “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Sheep look to their shepherd for guidance, food, shelter, and protection. Jesus is our leader, protector, and provider.

One of the sweetest promises to cling to says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 NIV). “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). To have faith, it is necessary to believe that God is capable, but it must go further. Walking in faith requires a strong assurance that God will work: our salvation will be worked and brought to completion. We can get to know our good God, live life according to His commandments written on our hearts, live out of security and provision, and claim the verses in the Bible as true for us!

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Spiritual Warfare: The Ultimate Reality

Angels. Demons. These beings are not spoken about too much in churches today (at least not the ones I’ve been in). Pastors and teachers like to focus more on positive edification, rather than talking about spiritual warfare. Focusing on the positive is good, but knowing our enemy and his tactics will help Christians to walk out their faith victoriously. Ask a seasoned Christian who has experienced ministry and they will likely have stories to tell of a spiritual war, of demonic attacks. When I was in high school, my youth pastor specifically spoke about the topic every year. Since then, I have heard more first hand accounts from Christians who were sharing the Gospel in dark places and have picked up bits and pieces about demonic powers and bondage. There is so much I do not know, but one thing I do know for sure: it exists.

The American culture is so loud and “practical” that anything unusual easily gets explained away. Miracles and demonic oppression are mostly invisible because of this fact. It could also be because we have been blinded as a culture to the spiritual reality. There is a spiritual war going on, whether it is seen or not. God and Satan are pitted against each other. God is for mankind and has reached out for a restored relationship with us, offering us life. Satan rebelled against God and now wants to bring as many people as he can down with him to his eternal punishment. Each person is on one side or the other. There is no in between. You and I are either friends of God or enemies of God.

If we are friends of God, then Satan and all his demons hate us. Their goal is to destroy, kill, and create as much chaos as possible before their damnation. Even the people who are on their side will be ultimately destroyed because that is what Satan does.
Satan does not have total power, though. God is more powerful, as Creator, and is perfectly able to keep the chaos in check. In fact, we see in Job 1:6-12, Satan has to ask permission to sift Job.

In 1 Peter, the character of the devil is given, along with plenty of commands for us in relation it it: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). Something else to note is that, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He is appealing. How else would he get so many followers and lead so many astray, including Christians?

Paul explains this spiritual reality further in Ephesians by saying, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13).

There are many examples of how this spiritual warfare plays out in every day life. Something to note is that people and what we see are not the enemy, but against the spiritual enemy. The most general form of demonic power would be blindness to this spiritual reality.  Materialism, accomplishments, and surface level are what people focus on, never stopping to ask if there is something more. Anything odd, in a good way or a bad way, is often explained away or simply ignored. Another way this is seen is how people desire to fill every minute with entertainment and productivity. It’s all distraction from the spiritual reality. There are also very specific attacks on people who are pushing back the darkness bringing many to salvation. Multiple Christian leaders have told stories of waking in the night to find a demon in their room. What woke them was a heavy weight upon their chest which was severely hindering their breathing. After commanding the demon multiple times in Jesus’s name, the weight would lift and the demon would leave. In between these two extremes would be demonic strongholds and opposition to us seeking Jesus or living the life He asks us to. These are varied and common. (And also things I don’t know much about, so I recommend you read a book about them to find out more.)

Not only did Paul explain the spiritual reality in Ephesians, but he also told us how to fight in the war. He describes a suit of armor. When these things come, we are to “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people(Ephesians 6:14-18).

Did you notice that “Be alert,” “Be sober-minded,” and “Be watchful” are the attitudes that we are to have? How can we make sure to stand firm if we don’t even know there is something pushing us? We are commanded to be aware of this war to watch for where the attacks are happening. After explaining the suit of armor example, Paul says twice to pray. The first time, he says to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph. 6:18). The second time, he applies the whole war and armor analogy to how we should be thinking of our fellow Christians: “Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18).

My youth pastor specifically said not to ascribe too much credit to Satan and demons because that could become worship. As children of God, we have a mighty King who we can look to constantly for our security, for eternity! We have been commanded to have a certain attitude and mindset and to stand, though. Understanding that the enemy does want to destroy our lives and our witness will help us to recognize an attack when it comes. When we have recognized it, we can stand firm and pray to Jesus for help and freedom.

2017: A Review

“Hindsight is 20/20.” That is the main reason why I like to take some time at the end of each year to look back and see what I learned. This year, I am amazed at how many dreams came true. 2017 was good. Of course there were struggles, but I was usually able to look past them in the moment.

A big thing that made this year so good was that God was proving His goodness to me all year. He gave me the grace to see the good in the hard stuff and placed me in community with gracious, caring people over and over and over again.

  • I took Music Appreciation with fantastic people and we had the best teacher. They, along with other friends, made school a joy.
  • I got my first “real” job: as a biology tutor. And then got another fairly consistent part-time job.
  • I finally got my driver’s license. It was a huge step toward adulthood for me.
  • I bought a piano: a gift straight from God. (Ask me about the story behind this one.)
  • I visited family friends in South Carolina for a week and a half in the summer. While there, I learned more about what God-centered family and community looks like. (And I learned to cook better, which was the whole goal of the trip.)
  • I was able to make friend- and adventure- time a priority over the summer.
  • I took a day trip to Virginia Beach with my brother and some friends. It was a blast, until it was time to drive home. (Would never do this again.. lessons learned.)
  • I got to take Chemistry with my brother and completed my associated degree.
  • I learned how to let my friends and family be there for me through the hard stuff, and got more involved in my Bible study group.
  • I changed churches.

So to say a lot of big things happened might be an understatement.

Sometime near the beginning of the year, I felt drawn to a verse and I wrote it in the beginning of my journal:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

If that doesn’t describe 2017, I’m not sure what does. The Lord really has proven His heart to me this year. He has shown me that He is the Good Shepherd by providing, protecting, and leading. He has been gracious and gentle in the way he led. He has been gift-giver in ways that I could not provide for myself. He has been a guard over my heart and mind so many times when I needed protection.

So this year, I’m thankful for much. Most of all for the friends I’ve made and the way that God drew near.

The Dream of Marriage: Waiting, Trusting, and Letting Go

In looking back through my journal entries from the summer, I found this:

“Help me remember Your goodness and be patient-  WAIT.  How strange that I’m learning to wait during a season when You’re giving me so many long-desired gifts…”

I could see God’s merciful and gracious hand in so much this past summer. I was truly blown away at how many good provisions were made for me to walk in- many were ones I had dreamed about for years. Yet, there were places that I wrestled with God. Anxieties threatened to overtake my body on many occasions so that I was left to cry out to the Lord seemingly constantly. At the time, it was very frustrating, though I could see how it was drawing me closer to God. This was one verse (of many) that was given to me during that time:

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” (Hosea 11:12)

The big thing that was being broken up in me was my strong desire for a serious relationship/ marriage. I was reading through ‘Passion and Purity’ by Elisabeth Elliot. It is the hardest book I’ve ever digested. Strong emotions were brought up by each tiny chapter. The main point that stuck out to me was that God may not have marriage in our individual plan.. if so, will we say, “Yes, Lord”? Elliot included this quote in her book and its truth struck me:

“The fair new petals may fall, and for no visible reason. No one seems enriched by the stripping.

“And the first step into the realm of giving is a like surrender–not manward a Godward: an utter yielding of our best. So long as our idea of surrender is limited to the renouncing of unlawful things, we have never grasped it’s true meaning: that is not worthy of the name of “no poluted thing” can be offered.

“The life lost on the Cross was not a sinful one–the treasure poured forth there was God-given, God-blessed treasure, lawful and right to be kept: that there was the life of the world at stake.”

It was a hard truth to hear, and like I said, it produced a struggle. It made me examine how much I trust the Lord’s heart toward me. Honestly, I found that I didn’t trust Him as much I as thought.

God was so gracious to send people into my life to speak words of comfort and truth to this area when it seemed unbarable. Someone told me, “Most people will meet someone special at some point in their life and get married.” On one level this was a comfort, even though it did not address the possibility of God asking forever singleness of me. Still, the person who said it made a good point that the gift of singleness is usually only for a season of life.

Another encouragement was the current testimony of a godly woman at my church. She shared about how she was being pursued my a kind, incredible man of God and God was/ is very clearly orchestrating the relationship. It is much better than anything she had ever dared to dream of! Hearing her tell of what God was doing renewed my trust that God does love to give the good, great gift of serious relationships/ marriage (in the perfect timing). Also, seeing how God is the center of their relationship renewed my hope that it is possible to stay focused on God and bring Him glory through a dating relationship.

So God is good. Believing that to the core is the key to trusting God with any of our deepest hopes and dreams. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (All things within His will, of course.) And yet, God asks hard things of us and does not contradict His own character. I love this quote by Ruth Stull that Elisabeth Elliot included in her book, “If my life is broken when given to Jesus, it is because pieces will feed a multitude, while a loaf will satisfy only a lad.” When we give up the good in our lives, God can use it in the best way possible to serve others and bring Himself glory. That often will look different than we have envisioned.

The dream of marriage is only one (fairly big) area where I must release my hopes and dreams to the will of God. God has been so gracious in the journey thus far, though! So yes, when God led me to write “WAIT” in my journal, there was a reason. I still have need for patience in the good times. I have need for patience as I wait for the Lord’s will. I also have need for trust in the Lord’s unfailing love and His good, great plan so I can focus on pouring out my life. He is providing day by day what I need for this journey called faith, though, and that is possibly more encouraging than anything else!

Take Heart

Trials will come. We live in a world broken with sin, have an enemy who wants to destroy us, and are also in the process of sanctification. Knowing the reasons why we go through hard things, doesn’t usually make them any easier. The great news is that we are not left alone in our troubles. Jesus has gone before us and we can cry out to our Father God. The Holy Spirit also leads us as we seek Him.

“Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psalm 62:8 NASB).

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NASB).

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10 NASB).

So take heart.

Cast your cares.

He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

“The disposition… to leave the dearest objects of our hearts in the sublime keeping of the general and unspecific belief that God is now answering our prayers in His own time and way, and in the best manner, involves a present process of inward crucifixion which is obviously unfavorable to the growth and even the existence of the life of self.” (T.C. Upham)

We are kept even as we struggle. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28 ESV).

So keep on keeping on. Keep following. Take heart because you are held, loved, and cared for.

 

Growing in Grace

My life has been in upheaval quite a bit so far this summer. (And it’s only nearing the end of June!) My goal has been to just go with it and keep taking the next step. And it’s worked. I’m actually starting to thrive off the busier, all-over-the-place-ness that is my schedule. It seems like God is teaching me a million things right now, but a big one is being willing to step out and into what He wants for me. That often means leaving my anxiety behind/ acting in spite of it. One of the ways my anxiety manifests itself is in relation to other people. I tend to keep my distance and not engage because of that. If people come to me, that is usually okay because I actually genuinely love people a lot.

Sharing the love of Jesus is hard when fear keeps you from striking up conversations  with your co-workers or walking across the room to a group of people. Unlike other times in my life, right now, this is a battle worth fighting. I know so many people who are great at reaching out to people and making them feel accepted. I’ve benefited from this on many, many occasions. It is one of the best feelings- to be drawn out and have someone be interested in you and your life! I want to offer that gift to the people I come into contact with. (Er, the ones I could be coming into contact with…)

Walls must come down; having open hands is necessary. As a Christian, I have received love, grace, and forgiveness, and still do receive them daily. Why would I feel the need to protect myself when I belong to God? Letting what had been given to me flow freely to others is the only way to actually experience the freedom those gifts were meant to give.

As the person who likes to stand back and observe, this all means I need to step forward and be the one who speaks, pursues relationships, and acts kindly toward others. It means I stop worrying about what someone will think of me if I say or do something. It means that I start acting more and observing a little less. It means that I look beyond myself in action taken and words spoken.

Yet, I cannot count how many times I have done the opposite when the opportunity arose. I have been glued to the ground, unable to open my mouth, left conversations unfinished, and far too often have not even been able to make eye contact with people. All because of my anxiety. It’s so frustrating and heaps shame on me. In those moments, I have to accept the grace to not engage just as readily as I would need to accept the grace to overcome and engage. I have to take to heart God’s power and love in a whole new way just so I don’t drown in guilt. Second, third, and hundreth chances are the way God rolls, though, because He’s not keeping track. Thank goodness!

Money Talk

I’ve heard that my generation doesn’t want to address the topic of money. If I’m being honest, a year ago, the thought of managing money as an adult seemed so daunting that I, as well, wanted to let it be. But money “runs the world” as they say and it can not be ignored. I started reading a book about money, took an Economics class, and did a lot of writing in my “money book.” It is still complex to me, but it doesn’t seem impossible anymore.

My first introduction to money management came through Sunday School when I was about 7 years old. I don’t recall what the lesson was about, but afterward, we decorated paper wallets that had three envelopes stapled on. There was a saving envelope, a spending envelope, and an envelope for tithe. That Sunday School teacher will probably never know how much that one craft shaped my viewpoint on money. It was used for years and I still use a different form of that envelope system.

Becoming an adult makes the saving and spending envelopes become more compartmentalized, though. There are regular payments and bigger items to save for. It also seems like wish lists grow, as well. I don’t believe it is possible to keep all of this straight without writing out a budget. (Even then it can be hard to keep all the numbers straight!)

Financial advisors are always suggesting that people save a good chunk of their money. I have rarely had a problem putting this advice into action. In fact, I have taken it too far at times. Taking an Economics class redefined the way I view money though: it is meant to be spent. I learned that if you put money into a savings account, you lose money long term. That blew my mind. I’m not arguing against saving here, though. It is wise to have some money put away in case of an emergency or ready to use if an incredible opportunity comes up. I am saying that there should be a balance between saving and spending. (Also, investing savings might be a better place for your money than the bank.) A good way to look at savings is as putting away money to spend in the future on something bigger\ better\ needed. At the same time, we should not place our security in having money in the bank. God provides for us as we walk the road He is leading us down.

Spending money can leave our wallets so quickly. In the American culture, it seems like everywhere we turn someone is trying to get us to buy something. Magazines, websites, and even social media show off enviable items to us. They show us the life we want. No wonder so many people are in debt! If we bought everything that caught our eye, we would spend far more money than we possess. I have a running wish list, but I have been trying to not focus on what I don’t own as much. Elisabeth Elliot offered wise words when she said, “By trying to grab fulfillment everywhere, we find it nowhere.” I try to spend money on experiences versus things (such as a cup of coffee that is gone in an hour! When it gives space for conversation with a friend, things change a little.). An experience will enrich me. So buying a piano or a camera is valuable, because they will be used to create experiences and grow my talents. Travelling or seeing a play are also experiences worth spending money on. Clothes on the other hand may not usually hold as much importance to me because I already have enough of them.

The tithe category can also be called giving. The New Testament actually replaces the Old Testament %10 rule with what we feel led to give. (Which often would end up being more than %10– which is probably why so many people stick with the number in black and white.) We give because it is God’s money and we are simply stewarding it. This category actually effects the attitude toward all the other categories. It opens our hands so we hold our money more freely; makes us more willing to give to others in love. It also gives money meaning. We see that we can make a difference in someone else’s life and give to organizations that will share the love of God. Giving to our local church should be a priority, but beyond that there are so many opportunities! 

I hope my generation will invest time into thinking through how they will spend their money. It is just another area that we have been given to steward. Creating a budget is a lot of work at first, but money will enslave us if we don’t make conscious, sometimes hard, decisions about how we will spend it.