Doubts

The Stirrings of a Lively Faith

Having doubt visit you is not the worst thing in the world. The visitation of doubt is not sin; it becomes sin when you allow it to take up residence in your life and erode your trust in God. If the greatest believer that ever lived up to his time, John the Bapstist, had doubts, you’re going to have doubts too, and you’ll be okay. Doubts in the believer ought not to be, but they are; sometimes they are the stirrings of a lively faith. As Dag Hammarskjald said, “Bless your uneasiness as a sign that there is still life in you.”

The Journey: Luke 7:18-19

John called for two of his disciples, and he sent them to the Lord to ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

When the New Testament talks about doubt, it primarily focuses on believers, not unbelievers. The presupposition is, you have to believe something before you can doubt it; you have to be committed to it before you begin to question it.

John the Baptist, last of the Old Testament prophets, forerunner to the Messiah, cousin of Jesus, came to a place where he had some serious doubts about the Lord. John had done his job by boldly announcing the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah, but for all his faithfulness, he ended up in prison, condemned to death, and naturally began to wonder if he had got it all wrong about Jesus.

John had doubts, and in a sense, that was okay. In fact, Jesus says, “I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John.” (Luke 7:28, NLT) So how is it that John can doubt and still be a great believer, especially since Scripture tells us not to doubt? It is because John’s doubt wasn’t from unbelief; it was from belief. His question implied that he believed but his circumstances had caused some confusion. So he asked, “I believe you’re the Messiah; am I wrong to believe that?” The very fact that he asked Jesus indicates that he had not lost his faith; it was still stirring.

Having doubt visit you is not the worst thing in the world. The visitation of doubt is not sin; it becomes sin when you allow it to take up residence in your life and erode your trust in God. If the greatest believer that ever lived up to that time had doubts, you’re going to have doubts too, and you’ll be okay. Doubts in the believer ought not to be, but they are; sometimes they are the stirrings of a lively faith.

Among the many Bible references on doubt, one in Luke 12:29 is especially instructive. In the King James Version it says, “Seek not what you will eat or drink, neither be of doubtful mind.” The Greek word for doubtful is interesting; it is meteorizo. (We get our word meteor from it.) Meteorizo means, “to be suspended in midair.” Jesus was saying, “Don’t get hung up on this!” In other words, keep yourself firmly planted in what you know; keep coming back to what you believe.

Like John, your expectations of Jesus aren’t always going to be met—and doubt will pay you a visit. Like John, you are going to be surprised by difficult and unexpected circumstances—and doubt will come calling. Like John, you live with an incomplete revelation of God’s ways and God’s plan—and doubt will show up once in a while.

So what should you do when doubts comes knocking? Jesus says,

Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. (Luke 7:22, NLT)

In other words, there are two remedies for doubt: One, you go back to what has been heard. You plant yourself firmly in the unassailable witness of the Word of God. Two, you go back to what has been seen. You plant yourself firmly in the witness of the faithful. The words and works of Jesus, recorded and verified, are the answer to your doubt.

Then Jesus added one more thing, “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” (Luke 7:23, NKJV)

When your Messiah doesn’t meet expectations—and there will be times he won’t—don’t get offended! Even though your circumstances may seem like Jesus is not in charge, just remember: He is, and he never makes mistakes.

But neither does he always explain himself, so keep your uneasiness in check.

Are you experiencing any doubts about Jesus? Go back to what the Word of God says, lean into the witness of those did not waver in their faith throughout history, and then simply offer God the greatest gift you could ever give—your trust!

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, I believe, but sometimes I doubt. But on this day, I confess that my faith overrides my doubt. You are my God, and I will always go with trust in you.

Love Your Enemies! You’re Kidding, Right?

Do It - Your Reward Will Be Great

The kind of love for an enemy that Jesus requires of us is not so much something of the heart; it requires mainly something of the will — that which we have to will ourselves into. Agape level love with your enemy is in fact a victory over what comes instinctively to us by nature: anger, resentment and retribution toward hurtful people. But agape love belongs to the true disciple of Jesus, and it is the one and only weapon in the disciple’s arsenal that is able to conquer all. Jesus proved it!

The Journey: Luke 6:35-36

Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

Quite often, Jesus’ commands aren’t the kind that can be automatically or easily carried out; they require careful thought and great exertion of the will in applying them. So it is with this case, loving our enemies. For some, this command is just humanly impossible, so it is ignored altogether. That is too bad! For others, they ignorantly try to apply Jesus’ words well beyond what he intended. That is also too bad.

Christ’s followers would do well to accurately think through this law of love and then strategically live it out in their relationships. If they did—on both accounts—the world would be a much different and better place.

There were four different Greek words for “love” that the Gospel writer Luke could have chosen to capture Jesus’ words regarding the Christian’s response to his enemies. Luke didn’t choose storge—which meant “family love”; he didn’t choose eros—which meant the “passionate love of irresistible longing”; he didn’t chose philos—which was the warmest Greek word describing love of “the most tender affection”. The word used here for “love” was agape. That word referred to an “unconquerable, benevolent, invincible, reconciling kindness” kind of love.

Now in the case of loving an enemy, that kind of love is not something of the heart; it requires mainly something of the will — something we will likely have to will ourselves into. Agape with your enemy is in fact, a victory over that which comes instinctively to us by nature: anger, resentment and retribution toward hurtful people.

Agape love belongs to the true disciple of Jesus. It is the one and only weapon in the disciple’s arsenal able to conquer all. Someone has rightly said, “It belongs to the children of God to receive blows rather than to inflict them. The [loving] Christian is the anvil that has worn out many hammers.” The law of agape love, fully embraced and obediently lived out, is that powerful!

Now people have tried to apply this teaching to promote pacifism in international relationships. That’s a nice try—and not a bad idea whenever possible. But foremost, the enemy Jesus has in mind is the one we meet in our everyday life: A spouse, a sibling, a classmate, a co-worker or a neighbor. You see, it is much easier to declare peace between nations than it is to live a life where we never allow bitterness, anger and retribution to invade our personally relationships.

Jesus is saying that when we practice this law of love on a personal basis, we make breaking the cycle of bitterness and retribution possible where it really counts: In the real world of our daily lives. Moreover, in so doing, we actually catalyze another law, the law of reconciliation.

Reconciliation! That is at the heart of why Jesus came to earth—to reconcile God and sinners, and to reconcile sinners with one another. Think of all the fractured relationships that would be reconciled if we would choose to obey the law of love.

Not only that, but in living out this law of love, we become like God—something that truly honors and pleases the heart of our Father. That’s what Jesus said: “You will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35, NLT)

That is a pretty compelling reason for choosing to express this unconquerable, benevolent, kind, invincible, reconciling agape love—especially toward people who least deserve it. It is who God is, it is what God does, it is when we are most like God, and it is what his Son asked us to do:

You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. (Luke 6:36, NLT)

So, love your enemy just in case your friend turns out to be your enemy and your enemy turns into your friend.

To what enemy do you need to extend unconquerable, benevolent, invincible, reconciling kindness? Go do it, it is what you were created to do!

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, I want to do what you have created me to do: love—even to love my enemies. Give me the want to and the will to do what I, as your true child, must do.

The Real Gold Standard

What if you actually began to live your life by the Golden Rule in every waking moment? What if “do to others as you would like them to do to you” became your “gold standard” for life? It would literally turn your world rightside up. And what if enough of us got together and bound ourselves to this rule for living? These twelve words Jesus prescribed Planet Earth would literally cure everything that ails it – polarized politics, government gridlock, persistent racism, homelessness, poverty, the breakdown of the family – you name it! Naive thinking, you say? People will take advantage of our kindness, you say? Won’t work, you say? Hmmm, I guess Jesus didn’t know what he was talking about.

The Journey: Luke 6:31

Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

It has been called “The Golden Rule.” It is the ethic of reciprocity, the basis of all human rights. You can find its roots in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18 & 34) and it appears in various forms in practically every culture and religion known to man.

The Golden Rule is so universally embraced, at least in theory, because it originated with God. A dozen words, delivered by God to you, me, and all of humanity, that would literally change everything about Planet Earth that ails it!

So what if we actually began to live our lives by that ethic? What if the Golden Rule became our “gold standard for life”? Can you imagine how life on the earth might change if enough of us got together and bound ourselves to this rule for living? Think of how your own private world would drastically improve if you treated everyone as you would want them to treat you!

Re-read verses 27-43 and you will get a glimpse of the kind of things that would happen:

  • You would encourage and edify even those who irritate you!
  • You would pray for those who hurt you!
  • You would offer reconciliation to those who have injured you!
  • You would do good to those who have done bad!
  • You would be generous with everyone—friend, foe, and those in need!
  • You would criticize others less and work on you more!
  • You would be kind even to those who are ungrateful and evil!
  • You would prove yourself to be a true child of the Most High in thought, feeling, speech and action!

What would happen if you did that? The world would be a much better place, that’s what!

Sounds like a good plan to me! How about you? So how about you and I, even if no one else will, give it a try. It is in our power, you know. Like Samuel Johnson said, “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.” But not only is it in our power, we have a Father in Heaven who will empower us, because he is rooting for us to show ourselves as his true sons and daughters.

It is much easier, especially with this “rule for life” to be a hearer of the word only, and not a doer. You and I live with a fallen nature that is self-centered, easily offended, and prone to hurt others in order to protect ourselves, yet we are called to live out the immutable values of God’s kingdom. We cannot do that on our own; we need God’s help. But he has promised to help. So take a moment to ask for divine assistance, and then look for ways to live out the Golden Rule in your every waking moment today.

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, you have called me to a daily ethic that I really don’t want to live out, at least in my more selfish moments (and there are quite a lot of those). So I come to you for help with me; help me, cleanse me, change me, and give me a power not my own to live as you would if you were in my place.

Healthy Unspirituality

Offer God An Accurate View Of Your Utter Helplessness

When God finds people with a right understanding of their own desperate spiritual condition, he has found the stuff upon which he can build. Perhaps that is the most basic and the very best building material—the “solid rocks”, if you will—upon which Jesus can build his church. (Matthew 16:18, NLT) That is what we might call healthy unspirituality—an accurate view of one’s utter helplessness and complete unworthiness before God—and God can use that!

The Journey: Luke 5:8

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.”

What was it that Jesus saw in Peter? What attracted the Lord to this coarse fisherman? Peter was crude, sometimes rude, usually inconsistent, and short-tempered. He had the habit of speaking before he thought, and as a result, on more than one occasion, Jesus had to clean up Peter’s mess. Yet there was something in this flawed fisherman that the Lord admired; the basic raw material that he could use to mold Peter from a “little pebble” into a “solid rock” (Matthew 16:17-19)—the take charge kind of guy who would become the first leader-preacher-spokesman for Christ’s church. (Acts 2:14-40)

What did Jesus love about Peter? I think it was Peter’s healthy view of his own unspirituality. Peter was a sinner—and he knew it! He didn’t try to hide his flaws, he didn’t think and act like he was hot stuff, he didn’t treat others like he was better than they were—God’s gift to humankind. No, Peter’s reaction in Luke 5:8 to his first encounter with Jesus says it all: Peter was a fallen, flawed, dirty-rotten, unworthy sinner—and he knew it.

That is called humility, by the way, and it is something that is quite precious to God. In fact, in Peter’s own words, written decades later, we learn that God finds our humility irresistible:

And all of you, serve each other in humility, for “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”(1 Peter 5:5)

Contrast that with the arrogant Pharisees that Jesus encountered throughout Luke 5. These prideful leaders were upset with Jesus because he was neither giving them their dues nor doing things according to their methods. Most revealing was their reaction to the calling of Matthew and the subsequent dinner party for his tax-collecting ilk at his home:

But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?” (Luke 5:30, NLT)

Jesus’ answer was classic, and it, too, was quite revealing: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” (Luke 5:31-31, NLT)

In other words, when God finds people with a right understanding of their own desperate spiritual condition, he has found the stuff upon which he can build. Perhaps that is the most basic and the very best building material—the “solid rocks,” if you will—upon which Jesus can build his church. (Matthew 16:18, NLT)

That is what we might call healthy unspirituality—an accurate view of one’s utter helplessness and complete unworthiness before God—and God can use that!

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, search me, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Fame-Worthy

Let God’s Grace Spill Out Of You

How did Jesus become famous? He was full of the Spirit’s power and overflowing with God’s grace, that’s how! Maybe you were expecting a different answer, but the best way to attain the kind of fame that really counts is by allowing the Holy Spirit to empower you and then just going about your day exuding the grace of God in every circumstance. And because we live in such a graceless world, when one of God’s servants spreads a little Divine grace around, people will notice them. Get filled with the Spirit to the point that his grace is spilling out of your life and people will begin to talk about you, too!

The Journey: Luke 4:14-15

Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

People want to be famous these days, but for mostly for the wrong reasons. Celebrity has ascended the throne as the latest false god of our culture, and her worshippers would do just about anything for their fifteen minutes of fame in her glow—sacrificing their dignity, risking life, limb and reputation, even selling their own soul.

If you think I am overstating my case, just watch any one of the fifty or so reality shows to choose from one any given night now and what you will see is a whole bunch of folks vying for fame—for doing absolutely nothing fame-worthy. If that doesn’t do the trick, turn the TV on to a talk show or listen to the callers on talk radio offering their mindless drivel, hoping, I suspect, to get their brief spot in the spotlight. Or just watch the evening news as a reporter brings an on-location piece, and as the cameraman pans the scene you’ll witness at least a half-dozen goofballs pushing their mugs into the camera. Feeding the cravings of these fame-addicts, unfortunately, is a mindless media all too happy to oblige, treating these folks as if what they are doing or what they have to say will actually add something of value to our world.

Now don’t get me wrong; fame itself isn’t bad. In fact, it might surprise you that fame of the human variety is mentioned a great deal in the Bible. Do a word search on your favorite Bible program by typing in “fame” or “famous” and you will see a long list of men and women who achieved renown in Israel. No, fame isn’t all bad, but there is a better way to achieve it. Just notice how Jesus attained it in Luke 4.

The setting for this chapter is the launching of Jesus’ public ministry. He has been baptized in both the Jordan River and in the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21-22), which was followed by forty days in the wilderness resisting the temptation of the devil (Luke 4:1-13). Now ready to launch his ministry as Israel’s Messiah in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14), Jesus went into their synagogues to teach the Word, heal the sick, and deliver those who were oppressed by demonic spirits. And, we are told, wherever he travelled, Jesus utterly amazed the people of Israel:

News about him spread through the whole countryside. (Verse 14)

He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. (Verse 15)

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. (Verse 22)

They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority. (Verse 32)

All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” (Verse 36)

And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. (Verse 37)

How did Jesus become famous? He was full of the Spirit’s power and overflowing with God’s grace! That is probably not what you were expecting, but it is the best way to attain the kind of fame that really counts. The right way to fame is by allowing the Holy Spirit to empower you and then just going about your day exuding the grace of God in every circumstance. And because we live in such a graceless world, when one of God’s servants spreads a little Divine grace around, people will notice them.

Get filled with the Spirit to the point that his grace is spilling out of your life and people will begin to talk about you, too!

Whether you get noticed or not, ask the Holy Spirit to fill you today—and then let grace overflow from your life. I’m guessing people will notice, since there won’t be much grace coming from other sources. Most importantly, heaven will notice—and you’ll add to your fame there.

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, fill me with your Spirit today. Whether people notice me or not, I pray that they will notice you because of me. If there is any fame that is to come my way, let it be because I made you famous.

Yes, Master!

Enslave Your Feelings To Your Faith

True discipleship demands that you give your faith the authority to rule your feelings. That is what Jesus is asking of you today. Allow the Spirit of God to foment holy discontent with the emptiness and barrenness of your life. Then take your feelings and enslave them to whatever faith is requiring of you. And simply, purely, quickly and completely obey. That is true discipleship.

The Journey: Luke 4:5-7

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.” Simon replied, “Master, we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.”

From the very moment Jesus first called him to follow, Peter demonstrated what it meant to be a true disciple. In so doing, the response of this very first disciple established the essential benchmarks for would-be disciples in every age.

To begin with, Peter exhibited a fair amount of holy discontent with his current experience. Peter could have rejected Jesus’ command to recast his nets, and we would have understood that response. He had worked hard the previous night. He had already tried what Jesus was suggesting, with no results. He had “been there, done that.”

Yet Peter was ripe for something new; he wasn’t satisfied with the way life had been working out for him. Despite his best efforts, past experience had left him empty; the old way hadn’t worked. So to keep doing the same thing yet expect different results would have been pure insanity. Peter wanted more, so he was willing to let go of the past and risk the adventure of something new in order to follow Jesus.

As Peter’s experience demonstrated, both literally and figuratively, you cannot set sail for new horizons of faith and stay tethered to the shore of what you know. Holy discontent calls you to let go, and set sail!

With holy discontent nudging his soul, Peter quickly subjugated his feelings to his faith. He was tired, his muscles ached from a night of tossing out and dragging in those heavy Galilean fishing nets. He had worked his fingers to the bone picking out the weeds, untangling the tangles and mending the rips that caused by snagging rocks instead of fish. To make it even worse, there was nothing to show for all that effort. Peter just wanted to get to the local pub, unwind with his buddies before heading home to crash for the night, catch a few winks and then get up early the next morning to go through the same routine yet again.

Peter had neither the physical nor emotional strength for another fishing expedition. Yet there was just something about this amazing man named Jesus who had the audacity to asked Peter to do what he had already been doing that caused his faith to rise. In that moment, Peter made a life-altering decision to grab his “want-er by his will-er” and do what Jesus had commanded.

True discipleship demands that you give your faith the authority to rule your feelings.

That’s what Peter did. He simply obeyed. That’s the bottom line of authentic discipleship. Peter was willing to take Jesus at his word and just do it. Without argument or delay, he took action, and the result was a miraculous catch. Suddenly where there had been emptiness and barrenness, there was fullness and fruitfulness—the reward of obedience.

That is what Jesus is asking of us today. We must allow the Spirit of God to foment a holy discontent with the emptiness and barrenness of our lives. We must take our feelings and enslave them to whatever faith is requiring of us. And then we must simply, purely, quickly and completely obey. That is true discipleship.

If we will just do that, a miraculous provision of holy contentment will be ours!

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, whatever you ask me to do, I will do it!.

Who Ya Gonna Worship?

What You Worship Is What You Will Serve

When Satan tempted Jesus to worship him in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus blunted the offer with, “Worship only the Lord your God and serve only him.” Interestingly, Satan had said nothing about “serving”, but Jesus knew that at the heart of all temptation is the issue of worship. He also knew that what you worship is what you will serve. Whatever Satan gets you to worship, you will be obligated to serve.

The Journey: Luke 4:5-7

Then devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

In these opening verses of Luke 4, Jesus faces an all-out assault from Satan, who throws three different temptations at the Lord. In each temptation, Satan tries to entice Jesus to find a shortcut to fulfilling the will of God—which is the usual pattern the Enemy employs in tempting you and me as well. With each temptation, however, Jesus countered Satan with an accurate understanding and correct application of the Word of God—a pattern we that we, too, must employ in order to have victory over temptation.

Especially revealing is how Jesus countered Satan in the second temptation, which was to worship Satan in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world. Here Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13, which says, “Worship only the Lord your God and serve only him.”

Interestingly, Satan had said nothing about “serving”, but Jesus knew that at the heart of all temptation is the issue of worship, and that what you worship is what you will serve. Whatever Satan gets you to worship, you will be obligated to serve—and as Jesus famously said elsewhere, you cannot serve two masters. (Matthew 6:24)

If you put your needs and wants ahead of God’s provision (the first temptation—Luke 4:2-3), you will worship at the throne of self-reliance. If you put your plans ahead God’s agenda (the second temptation—Luke 4:5-7), you will worship at the throne of self-actualization. If you skew God’s Word to justify your behavior (the third temptation—Luke 4:9-11), you will worship at the throne of self-indulgence. When you worship anything or anyone other than the Lord your God, you will find yourself serving self, which is simply serving Satan’s purposes in disguise.

What is it that you are worshiping and serving right now? Wherever your dependencies and loyalties are answers that question. Give that some honest thought!

If you are like me, you probably need to get some help with your dependencies and loyalties about now. But the good news is that you have Someone who can help you in your temptations. Hebrews 2:18 reminds us, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” And Hebrews 4:16 goes on to say, “So let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

R.A. Torrey said, “The reason why many fail in battle is because they wait until the hour of battle. The reason why others succeed is because they have gained their victory on their knees long before the battle came … Anticipate your battles; fight them on your knees before temptation comes, and you will always have victory.”

How about we go right away into God’s presence and get some much-needed help!

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, I am in a fierce struggle with temptation, but I want to serve only you. I don’t want my desires, the world’s pull, or the false promises of the Enemy to sidetrack me from your calling upon my life. So help me, strengthen me, steer me away from temptation and deliver me from the Evil One.