I Believe — Kind Of

Bible Reading: Luke 17:5-6

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.   Luke 17:6, NIV

Kim believes that God can work in the life of her friend Robin so that she will trust Christ in the future, so she prays often for Robin and invites her to a before-school Bible club.

Ian believes he can learn a lot about trusting God by spending time alone with him, so he takes ten to fifteen minutes each morning to read his Bible and talk to God in prayer.

You maybe think of “faith” as the decision a person makes to trust Jesus as Savior. But faith is broader than that. Faith includes all the things we believe about God and all the ways we learn to put our trust in him. Faith is what allows Kim and Ian to see what God is up to in their world.

But faith can be shaky. If you’ve followed Jesus for a while, you probably know the feeling: “Lord, I really believe in you and your power. But I’m having trouble trusting you in this mess.”

Mark 9 shows how a father with a troubled son felt unsure in his faith. He begged Jesus to heal his son. “Have mercy on us and help us” (Mark 9:22), the father cries helplessly. Jesus encourages the man to believe in him, because “anything is possible if a person believes” (verse 23). But the confused father sobs piercing words: “I do believe, but help me not to doubt!” (verse 24). Is that dad confused? How can he believe and doubt at the same time? But the statement is reality!

And in Luke 17 the disciples told Jesus they wanted bigger belief in God. They pleaded, “Increase our faith!” But Jesus hinted they didn’t need huge faith. Faith as small as a mustard seed would work, so long as it was faith in him. Then their faith would do the impossible, like uprooting a large tree and flinging it into the sea.

So how do you gain more faith—the faith that recognizes what God is doing in your world? You start by soaking up Scripture. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from listening to this message of good news—the Good News about Christ.” The more you read and remember God’s Word, the more clearly you will see what God is doing. And your faith will grow as a result!

TALK: When have you felt torn between believing—and knowing you needed to believe more?

PRAY: Pray those words to God: “I do believe, but help me not to doubt!”

ACT: God wants to challenge your faith. Think of a way you would like him to work in your life or the life of a friend or family member. Tell God about it. Exercise your faith by praying daily for your request. And watch what happens!



Mountaintop High

Bible Reading: Mark 9:2-13

This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.   Mark 9:7

The knot in Jacki’s stomach tied tighter and tighter during the long ride back to real­ity from the weeklong summer camp put on by her church. “I want to stay up there,” she moaned. “It’s so easy to be a Christian. It’s so cool there. The mountains look like heaven. The Bible lessons are great. Everyone tries to get along. Jesus is so real up there.”

If you’ve ever been to a Christian camp, you know how hard it can be to go home. When Bible lessons, quiet times, and Christian friendships happen so easily, who would ever want to go home?

Peter, James, and John got a taste of church-camp high in a big way. As Jesus’ three closest disciples stared at him in amazement, they saw a bright glow. Then Eli­jah and Moses showed up. It was a touch of heaven, just like camp. Then God’s voice shook from the clouds and the mountaintop experience ended.

Isn’t that the way it is when you get away to a Christian camp or retreat? Great music, a God-charged atmosphere—Christianity couldn’t be easier. On the ride home you might sing camp songs until you’re hoarse. Everything is rosy and bright. But then, thud! Your alarm clock nags you out of bed, the clothes you want are still dirty from camp, and your mom once again feeds you oatmeal for breakfast. You hate oatmeal—though you happily ate it up on the mountain.

Face it: Life is back with all its realities, good and bad.

But wait! Look back at Mark 9:9. There are four figures winding their way back to the valley from that peak experience. Peter, James, John—and Jesus!

That’s a truth you might forget when you slide down from camp, vacation Bible school, or any other spiritual high. Jesus isn’t chained to a mountaintop lodge, a woodsy chapel, or even the youth room in your church basement. He travels with you into everyday life to help you with nagging alarm clocks, grungy clothes, and gloppy oatmeal.

The disciples were no doubt glad to climb the mountain and glimpse Jesus’ glory. Those rare experiences can charge your spiritual batteries—and even permanently change you. The bad news is that everyday life isn’t lived on the mountain-top. The good news is that if you just look around the valley, you’ll find Jesus—hanging out with you, helping you live out the mountaintop glow!

TALK: What can you and your Christian friends do to make everyday life at home a little more like heaven?

PRAY: Jesus, thanks for being with us at home. We want you to hang out with us on the mountaintop—and in the valleys of life.

ACT: Are you headed to a Christian camp or a week of vacation Bible school, or have you recently been to one? What’s your plan for keeping Jesus close?



Sufficient Grace

Although God is able to heal all diseases and injuries, it’s not always His will to do so. God empowered the apostle Paul to heal many (Acts 14:8–10; 19:12), yet he wrote to Timothy about Trophimus whom he left “sick in Miletus” (2 Timothy 4:20). Likewise, Paul advised Timothy to take medicinal wine for his stomach problem and frequent ailments (1 Timothy 5:23). In this case, medicine was recommended instead of divine healing. Second Corinthians makes reference to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (12:7), which many scholars believe was some type of physical ailment. Interestingly God didn’t remove it even after Paul’s repeated prayers for deliverance. The Lord’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9).

God has His own purposes for granting full healing, partial healing, or withholding healing altogether. In what situation do you need to trust in the sufficient grace of God?



Two Wings

Jesus’ obedience to the Father didn’t start on earth; it was there from eternity past. He was willing to wait 4,000 years, watching the desperate plight of the people He had created, until the Father said it was time for Him to go and redeem them.

And then, in human flesh, Jesus waited again for 30 years, working as a carpenter and learning obedience, before He could begin the ministry the Father had sent Him to undertake.

Finally, He had three-and-a-half years to accomplish everything He came for. And every step of the way, He did nothing on His own, but only what the Father told Him to do.

If I were in Jesus’ place, I imagine I would have asked myself, “What must I do to make sure all this waiting, agony, sacrifice and suffering will result in getting the Good News to every nation of the world in the fastest and most understandable way?”

The Most Effective Way

Reading through the Gospels, I eagerly looked for Christ’s blueprint for this question, but I found none. Then I stumbled upon Scripture portions like this one: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).

In other words, the most effective way for people to understand the Gospel is through relationship. “Love one another” is the greatest of all mysteries that ushers in God’s kingdom.

We don’t really like this answer, because no matter where we live in the world, our biggest challenge is the people we live with. However, Jesus never altered His plan just because we find it hard to love others.

Rules, regulations, procedures and leadership skills are good within any family, organization or body of believers. But in the end, nothing really works unless we understand about loving and caring for one another—and put it into practice.

Two Wings to Fly

But then we run into the problem of finding balance. We often deal with people who exasperate us and test our patience.

At what point do we tell them enough is enough? Do we love them until the end, like Jesus did with the disciples, taking upon Himself suffering and agony?

As a leader, I have sometimes made decisions on the side of my responsibility, stewardship, morality, ethics and radical commitment to evangelical faith—only to find out a few years later that I was wrong and that I should have loved a little longer. This awareness is one of the most difficult things I now live with.

It’s important for us to remember that a bird cannot fly with one wing! It needs two.

Often you hear or read radical messages from me that challenge you to total commitment and extreme sacrifice, asking you to give up everything for the sake of the Gospel and walk away from everyone who holds you back from embracing the cross.

My dear friend, this is all accurate, but it is only one wing of the bird.

The other wing is what God said to Moses when he asked to see God’s glory:

“The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, . . . forgiving . . . “ (Exodus 34:6–7).

If we want to be His children, we too need to love others just as He loves us.

There is not one of us who has not sinned. But I want you to know that love, grace and mercy become authentic only when we fail.

We’re All On a Journey

That was the experience of the woman who was caught in adultery and brought to Jesus so He could judge her according to the Law. He was the only person who ever walked on earth who was qualified to say, “Go ahead and stone her.” But He didn’t. Instead, He showed mercy and sent her away in peace, calling her to sin no more.

We so often demand spiritual perfection from our fellow Christians, forgetting that each of us is on a journey to become more like Jesus. This journey takes time, and people will frequently fall short. But instead of showing love and compassion, we judge them. Those whom God has pulled out of the deepest pit and shown the most mercy often become harsh, unbending and merciless toward their children or younger believers.

My dear friend, please don’t let your discipleship and militancy drown out kindness and mercy.

Let us remember to fly with two wings: total commitment and unconditional love. Then the world will understand the Gospel and come to know the Savior.

K.P. Yohannan



Repenting from Sin

“‘Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God.’” Joel 2:12-13

The first word of the first sentence of the first sermon Jesus ever preached on earth was this: “Repent.” Repentance is a key not only of our salvation, but also of continuous victory over sin as we live for Christ each day. Repentance is more than simply acknowledging our sin—knowing that we did something against God. And it’s also more than remorse. We can know we did something wrong and feel bad about it, and still not repent.

Repentance is not a feeling or a regret. Repentance is an action, a sincere and intentional turning away from sin as a result of an understanding that it was wrong. The word repent in the New Testament is the Greek word, metanoia, which is a compound word with two meanings—of time and change, which may be denoted by after and different. So the whole compound means to think differently after. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought that is different from the former-thought. It is a change of mind and change of conduct, or a change of mind and heart.

The Bible’s teaching on repentance is a radical turn from one way of life to another. With our sin, regardless of how we came to repentance, true repentance must result in a definitive change. It may include sorrow, regret, remorse – these feelings are consistent with a heart that desires to turn away from sin – but true repentance is an action. When it comes to sin in your own life, as you discover it, or it is uncovered, do you repent from it? In Christ, you can.

God, right now, I repent of my sin. I turn away from those things that I know are against You and Your Word. I choose to turn my head and heart from that which I know displeases You and instead pursue Your way in those areas of life where I am tempted and have given into temptation to disobey You. Forgive me, and help me to live for You in every facet of my life. In Jesus’ name, amen.



The House of the Lord!

Psalm 122:

It is perhaps easy to think of the gathering of God’s people for church as a routine event. We get up, get ready, get the kids in the car if we have a young family, and turn up to church once more. There are some songs. There is a sermon. And it can all feel very much like a standard pattern, and perhaps—even—not always as exciting as we had hoped. After a while, a dose of cynicism may creep in, too, if we are not careful. We have come across people in church not behaving as they say that they do, or not being who they claim to be, and it can leave us with a sour taste in our mouth.

But this psalmist has a quite different attitude.

“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”  (122:1).

What was it that gave this attitude of joyful enthusiasm to gather together with God’s people in God’s house?

  • He had a vision for the purpose of God for God’s people (122:3-5). “Built as a city that is bound firmly together.” Surely he, like many others, knew that God’s people were not always this idyllic. But he looked back to the purpose of God for God’s people, and forward to what God’s people would be in time to come. If you are finding it hard to engage with your local church, perhaps you should first start to ask yourself what sort of theological vision you have for church. We are not solitary Christians. The New Testament knows nothing of a Christian who is not also a committed part of a local church. There is this vision for the church as a “city,” indeed a place of authority and safety, “thrones for judgment.” This is not just the building down the street. This is the church as God means it to be for the expansion of the kingdom.
  • He prayed for the peace of God’s people (122:6-8). This “peace” is much more than a mere absence of strife, as good as that is when it is not a sign of the absence of conviction. No, this peace is not merely avoidance of difficulties, or the lack of a warlike spirit; this peace is wholeness, completeness, salutary health. So this psalmist not only has a vision for the kingdom purpose of the gathering of God’s people, he also himself is actively seeking that good. He prays for it. He seeks it: “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.” Perhaps if you are finding it hard to engage with your local church in any committed way, it could be that you are not actually yourself prayerfully committed to the good of that church. We each have a part to play in church. It is a body. Everyone of us is needed. Seek the peace—the health, the good, the effectiveness, the wholeness—of your local church.

 

Next time someone says to you, “Let’s go to church,” think of this psalm. Think of all the people in the world who do not have a local church which they could call home. And rejoice; be glad. It is good to be a part of the house of God!



God, Our Strength

[Jesus] said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:40 (NIV)
 

One day as I was traveling toward my home town, I was unable to see our small farm due to the heavy fog. But I knew it was still there. In the same way, when we are in difficult situations and unable to see God’s presence, God is still there. 

TODAY’S PRAYER

Dear Lord, in all the difficult situations we experience in our lives, help us to firmly trust in you. Amen.

 


Excess Baggage

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with ?perseverance the race marked out for us. – Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
 

One day when I was looking for a particular pair of slacks, the closet was so full I could not find them. Much to my surprise, I could not remember the last time I had worn half of the clothes in the closet. That day, they seemed to me like excess baggage. I decided then and there to clean out the closet and donate the clothes. The closet is much more orderly now.
My overflowing closet resembles what sometimes happens in our lives. In our hearts we may store up envy, resentment, bitterness, and hurt — excess baggage that keeps us from becoming the people God wants us to be. Today is a good day to free our hearts from everything that does us harm and to seek a genuine relationship with God.



Strangers Welcome Strangers

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. . . . Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Leviticus 19:33–34

When my husband and I moved to Seattle to be near his sister, we didn’t know where we would live or work. A local church helped us find a place: a rental house with many bedrooms. We could live in one bedroom, and rent the others to international students. For the next three years, we were strangers welcoming strangers: sharing our home and meals with people from all over the world. We and our housemates also welcomed dozens of international students into our home every Friday night for Bible study.

God’s people know what it means to be far from home. For several hundred years, the Israelites were literal foreigners—and slaves—in Egypt. In Leviticus 19, alongside familiar instructions like “Respect your mother and father” and “Do not steal” (vv. 3, 11), God reminded His people to empathetically care for foreigners, because they knew what it was like to be foreigners and afraid (vv. 33–34).

While not all of us as followers of God today have experienced literal exile, we all know how it feels to be “foreigners” on earth (1 Peter 2:11)—people who feel like outsiders because our ultimate allegiance is to a heavenly kingdom. We are called to create a community of hospitality—strangers welcoming strangers into God’s family. The hospitable welcome my husband and I experienced in Seattle taught us to extend welcome to others—and this is at the heart of being the family of God (Romans 12:13).
 
God promised the Israelites they would always have enough food to eat if they remained faithful to Him (Leviticus 26:3–5). Because God promised to provide for them, He commanded them to provide for the poor and the needy. God gave various harvest laws (Leviticus 19:9–10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 23:24–25; 24:19–22) to enable the poor to “work” for their food with dignity without having to resort to begging or stealing. We also see this compassionate law of gleaning in the story of Ruth (Ruth 2).


The Line Of Respect

“Show proper respect to everyone.” 
1 Peter 2:17

Conflict can often play a positive role in marriage—especially when it helps maintain lines of respect. Suppose I work at my office three hours later than usual on a particular day. I know that my wife is preparing a candlelight dinner, yet I don’t call to let her know I’ll be late. As the evening wears on, she wraps the cold food in foil and puts it in the refrigerator. When I finally get home, I don’t apologize. Instead, I sit down with the newspaper and abruptly tell her to get my dinner. You can bet there would bean argument that night! She would rightfully interpret my insensitive behavior as insulting and would move to defend the “line of respect” between us. Her strong feelings would be totally justified.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Suppose she knows I need the van at 4:00 P.M. for some important reason, but she deliberately keeps me waiting. Perhaps she shopping with a friend. Meanwhile, I’m pacing the floor at home wondering where she is. It is very likely that she will hear about my dissatisfaction when she gets home. Even though the offense was minor, the line of respect has been violated.

Some things are worth defending. At the top of the list is the “line of respect” between husbands and wives.

Just between us . . .

• When was the last time we had a fight that was good for our relationship?
• Have I crossed your line of respect recently?
• How will upholding the line of respect improve our marriage?

Dear Lord, we want to show respect for each other, but we confess that we’re too often self-centered and insensitive. Forgive us, Lord. Grant us Your grace as we defend the mutual rights that are the foundation of our affection. Amen.