Saved THROUGH Faith!

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8

Let’s talk about faith. We will land on this subject of faith for a week or two and explore the aspects of it. I’ve always liked this verse and as I studied it I found even more reasons to like it. First of all, we can’t even think about our salvation without realizing that it is only given to us by the grace of God. There is nothing that we do to earn it, there is nothing that we do to deserve it. It comes to us as a gift of God through our faith. 

The author of the commentary I read explained that we are not even saved by our faith but through our faith. Now I pondered that for a few minutes on what that could even mean. And what I think is this, if we were saved BY our faith then it would just happen. All we would have to do is to know all about Jesus in our head, to know scripture and to be able to quote it. But THROUGH faith is a heart work. It means that we not only know about Him in our head, but we also know about Him in our hearts. You see even the demons know about Jesus and they know scripture. But when we take those scriptures and God’s word and we work it out in our hearts to put our trust and faith in the person of Jesus Christ that is when we truly have received our salvation and we can know the gift. 

Now don’t get me wrong here, the working out I am talking here is strictly heart works. Not the work we will end up doing for Him, the putting our feet to our prayers and being the hands and feet of Jesus. I am talking about putting your faith to work in your prayer closet or your prayer chair, whichever you may have. It’s taking His word and looking at it and deciphering it, and believing on it. That is what will build your faith, the faith that sustains us, the faith in the person and the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the gift of God, the grace of God that we receive. And it is what leads us to our salvation. It’s His gift! The work is actually done by Jesus in our hearts, we don’t get to boast about it, except to boast in Christ alone! 

TRUTH – God Has His Eye on You!

“Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.” Psalm 33:18 ESV

Fear in this sense of the word is not the fear we talked about last week. It is not the fear that keeps you up at night or makes you have to remember to breathe. The fear this is talking about is a holy reverence. It is knowing, believing God to be who He says He is. And knowing that He holds you, He holds your future, He knows your past, He is your very present. He is creator of the universe and He created you for a purpose. It is knowing that He is the very air you breathe and being grateful for that air and the breath in your lungs. It is knowing that I am His and I don’t think I would survive one minute if I didn’t know He was holding me in the palm of His hand! 

When you “fear” Him, when you know Him, when you desire to follow Him, because you have given your life to Him, you can be assured that His eye is on you!  He knows the stuff of life, the big stuff and the mundane stuff that is making up your days. He is keeping his watchful eye on you. And therefore, you can hope in His steadfast love. Even when you don’t feel Him, He’s there. Even when you don’t see Him, He is there. Even when you aren’t getting it right or you aren’t pulling it together. He is there. Even when you mess up, He’s there, keeping His eye on you. 

I am thinking about my grandchildren when they come to visit. My eyes are on their every move. I can’t take my eyes off of them. I love everything they do and nothing can and will ever change that. Even when they may not be doing things the way their parents want, when they are whiny because they are tired or not feeling well or just want their way. I love them no matter what or how they act. I love to watch them play, I love to snuggle with them. I LOVE when they call me by name. I love everything about them and they will never have need to doubt my love for them. God feels the same way about us. He delights for us to call Him by name and He watches our every moves. 

There is something about that that just gives me courage and it gives me strength and it gives me hope. I know that if God is for me, who can be against me? (Romans 8:31) I know that I will remain confident that I will see His goodness in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13) And I know that His purpose for me will be fulfilled. (Psalm 138:8)

Truth – God Works Things out for Good

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 ESV

This verse is among my top ten of very favorite verses. At first glance someone may think this is just one of those feel good verses and that that’s why it is so loved.  But when you look a little deeper you see that it is not saying that all is going to always FEEL good but that when left to God He will work things out for good. Also, when you look at where this verse lands in scripture you can see that it is not talking about feel good circumstances.  Let’s take a look at the verses preceding. 

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

Do you see what is happening here? Have you ever had a situation so out of control, so big that you just simply did not know what to pray anymore? Maybe you have prayed very specifically in the past and it worked out as you prayed but when it did, it still didn’t seem to work the situation out. I know I have. Now I do believe in praying specifically at times. But I have also become a believer in praying for God to just Be God and for Him to work things out the best way. I am so glad to have Holy Spirit on my side because I know that when I don’t know the best way things need to work out, which is most of the time, that He does. Only I am probably like most people that it’s not until I am at the end of myself and my prayers are “groanings too deep for words” that I call on God to do it His way, to pray for the results that would be good overall not just what would make me feel good. 

The main thing I want to note and I have to remember about our key verse here is it is not saying that all things are going to feel good all the time. First there is the element “for those who love God” and then “He will work all things together for good”. I have often said sometimes things have to fall apart before they can get better. Unfortunately a lot of us check out during the fall apart stage. There are people who have turned their back on God because they couldn’t see Him during the fall apart stage of things. But during the fall apart stage is when you have to keep laying things at His feet and you hand it all over to God with groaning that are too deep for your words and you say “take care of it Lord, it’s yours.” 

When things get to the fall apart stage, don’t give up, don’t walk away, just keep laying It at His feet and let Him work things out for good. When you don’t know what to do anymore is when He will come in and make something beautiful of the mess. Our job is to love God and then to ask Him to use us, to use whatever good came out of our mess for His good and His glory according to His purpose! 

Truth – God is With You Even in your Difficulties

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2 ESV

Have you ever been in a situation that was just overwhelming? Are you now? This verse speaks to those times in life. The times that you just aren’t even sure what to pray because you don’t know what a good result would be. Or the times that you know where the diagnosis will end and you would love to pray for healing but it is doubtful that that will be the end result. It is a comfort to know that even though you feel like you are walking right into a rushing river that He will be with you. 

This verse also may speak to me because probably my two greatest fears would be drowning or being burned in a fire. I am somewhat of a chicken I will admit to that. That’s why I like the simplicity of the way the NLT puts this verse. 

“When you go through deep waters I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up-the flames will not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2 NLT

Also note that this verse starts with “when”. It doesn’t say “if”. Trials are sure to come for us all. Life on earth is not perfect. We can know that trials are going to come for the believer as well as the unbeliever. The difference is we have our God to walk with us through the trial. Personally, I can’t imagine going through life without God to walk with me through the waters. I like that this verse in the NLT puts it plainly “you will not drown”. I have had things that were so overwhelming to me I thought I was walking through a raging river. I had to remind myself breathe in, breathe out. Or at least I felt like I had to anyway. But to know and to stand on the truth that He is with me no matter what it is a comfort to know that I will not drown in the trial. 

There is another point here. This text was encouragement for the Jews who were in exile. They were there because of their own disobedience to God. They had not followed God and had sinned and because of it they were now exiled in a foreign land. Yet God in His tender love and mercy was promising them that even though life was not going as they had planned, He was going to be with them. He would be with them in spite of their disobedience because they belonged to Him. This text doesn’t say if you do everything right I will go through the deep waters with you. There is no distinction. You see if you belong to Him, He is going to go with you wherever you go. If your trial is from your own making or if it is just circumstances of life or sickness, He will be there. If you can’t see Him, ask Him to let you see Him. 

Many times if I am going through a hard time, and I don’t feel Him, I will ask Him to let me see Him and He will. Several years ago I was going through a sad time, and I determined to myself to look for something beautiful every day. I remember getting in my car to go to work one day and it was very foggy, gray and dreary. I had the thought, “well Lord, I don’t know how I will see anything beautiful on my way to work today.” Well just down the road I was stuck in traffic and I looked over at a field that had these silos and buildings in the distance and the sun was trying to burn through the fog. It was a most beautiful picture as the sun burning through made that fog shine a beautiful shimmery silver and the buildings were silhouettes against the backdrop. I know I am probably not explaining it well. But I remember smiling because I knew this was my something beautiful for that day. If your heart is heavy or just as a good practice. Ask Him for beautiful, Ask Him to let you see something to remind you that He is near you. It may be in a sunrise or a sunset, or a baby’s laugh or a gentle breeze. I know He is with me just because He says it in His word, but if I ask Him then I look for Him, He will let me see Him and feel Him too. 

God has a Plan for You!

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

This is one of those verses that is written out for graduation congratulations and baby announcements. I remember finding this verse very early in my walk with Jesus. Of course back then, I thought that if God had a plan for me and it was for my “welfare and not for evil” then it would mean that I should have a life of no pain whatsoever. Well, that was pretty immature and unrealistic thinking now wasn’t it? I do believe the verse to be true though I know I have not always consulted with God for His plans for my life. I have to say that I am blessed beyond what I could hope for but I don’t think I have always helped God along by seeking His plans for me as much as I have asked Him to bless my plans for me. I wonder sometime what my life would have been like if I had consulted with Him all those many years ago for what His plans for me were. Rather than going my own way and expecting Him to bless me. He did bless me in spite of my old stubborn self. But I do wish I would have earlier on asked God’s direction for my life rather than just go my own way and expect Him to follow. 

However, as long as we have breath in our bodies it’s never too late to ask God for direction for our lives. This verse was originally written to the exiled Jews in Babylon. They probably thought their life was over as they were exiled in Babylon and they probably many times felt forgotten by God. This was encouragement from Jeremiah to them that God had not forgotten them and that He had a future in mind for them. This can also be applied to us. I know we all may go through seasons where we wonder if God has forgotten us. 

Friends let’s be encouraged today that this is a truth we can stand on. God has a plan for our future. This plan is for hope and it is not for evil. What are you hoping for? Do you feel stuck like you are in your own type of exile? Do you feel like you have made a mess of God’s plans for your life? Turn it over to Him and ask Him to lead you and guide you into your purpose and plan. We all still have work to do here which means God still has a plan for a future and hope for you! Whether you are young or old, whether you are healthy or sick, whether you are able to run miles every day or bedridden, if you are still here, I believe God has a plan for you. I heard of a woman once who was bedridden and she started a business from her bed sending out encouragement to people all over the world. It started with just some simple notes she wrote to people she knew. Her writing was so touching and her delivery was so special that people began to ask her to send things out for them to other people that they wanted to encourage. She was laying in bed asking God if He had forgotten her and she got the idea to bless a few people if for not other reason to make herself feel better and her small business grew from the idea. How cool is that!

Lord, I pray that you will show us our future and hope. God as long as there is breath in my body I know that you have a plan for me. I pray that you will reveal that plan to me as I walk in it straight to my future and hope! 

Truth – Nothing Can Separate

This week I want to look at some of the truths we can stand on. Last week we looked at fear and ways to overcome it. Well the best and most sure way to overcome fear is to know truth. 

I have heard it said before that if you feel distant from God you are the one who moved. I do believe that to be true. But I can tell you there have been times in my life when I had a hard time feeling God’s love. When that happens it is usually because I am in a season of despair or maybe a season of sin where I am not living my life like I should. I know this too, though I never want to feel that way again. I like feeling God’s love surround me no matter what I am going through. There is a knowledge that once I became His then His love was always there for me. And that is a comfort to me. But when I am walking in close relationship with Him, I don’t just know it in my head, I feel it in my heart. 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

In Romans we read about God’s Everlasting Love. God loved us so much that He gave us Jesus. When you let that thought sink in, it can overwhelm you. Especially as a parent, to think that God would willingly give His son to die on a cross for us. I can tell you I have a lot of people I love but I don’t know anyone I would be able to sacrifice one of my sons for.  But God…

“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?” Romans 8:32

God gave us Jesus to die on the cross to prove His love for us. And with our acceptance of that love, we can be assured of His love for us. No matter what. I love the way Romans 8:38-39 read in the NLT

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below-indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NLT 

No matter what we’ve done, no matter what our attitude, no matter what we come against, whether it be something we got ourselves into, or just life circumstances. No matter what is happening in your world right now, you can be assured of His love for you. That’s a truth! If you don’t know what the next step is, if your fear is about something that may happen today or if you are worried about tomorrow, nothing can separate you from God’s love once you are His. 

I hope you are standing on that truth today. I hope that even if your future is uncertain and you are only knowing it in your head today that you will pray for God to let you feel it in your heart! And I know He will do it. I know because He has done it for me. 

I Will Fear No Evil

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

I will never tell you that fear or anxiety is a choice. They are overwhelming emotions that can cripple you and make you not be able to think straight. You can go through physical changes associated with fear such as increased heart rate, digestive issues, shortness of breath, chills or increased sweating, and even trembling. Once when I was going through a particularly fearful situation, I would find myself thinking literally, “breathe in, breathe out” just to try to steady my breathing. It’s a hard thing to go through. And for me, it usually is a season that I am having trouble seeing how it could possibly work out for any good. But even though we can’t choose whether we are going to be anxious or fearful about a situation we can choose to fight and find ways to combat the fear. 

The passage from this well known Psalm addresses walking through a dark valley. David calls it the valley of the shadow of death. I am not sure if David was thinking of his own death, if he was going through a season of loss in his life, or just a season of very difficult circumstances but calling it the valley of the shadow of death makes us think of very hard times. However, David makes a declaration, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” David was recognizing God’s presence with him even in his darkest valley. Friends that is the first step in combatting fear is to recognize the presence of God in your circumstances and asking Him to go with you through the valley. Yesterday, I gave other tips on staring down the fear. I know for me when I am going through a particularly hard season of life, I have to put God’s word so in my face that it is literally every where I turn. For me personally, it is my only way through. 

Now let me also say that if the fear and anxiety are so overwhelming that you are experiencing some of the physical changes that I mentioned, or if you find yourself sinking into a depression that seems deep and dark, please don’t just try to combat it yourself, but call a friend or call in the cavalry and seek out a Christian counselor. I have mentioned things that have helped me to combat fear and anxiety this week, but I have also sought out counseling in the past when I needed the re-enforcement to get through the dark seasons. I implore you to make sure it is a christian counselor. First of all, if you are a child of God, you will want to speak on spiritual matters and a Christian counselor will be able to identify, but also their therapy will ultimately point you back to the word as well. 

The only way we can say “I will fear no evil” when we are walking through dark valleys of death and sorrow are to walk through them with Him. Maybe your valley of the shadow of death is literal, maybe you are experiencing a season of loss. Maybe you feel like you are in the valley of the shadow of death, because you aren’t just experiencing one loss of a loved one, but several. Maybe your valley is dealing with your own mortality because of an illness, maybe it is a season of dark despair of poor choices, your own or someone close to you, maybe it is a diagnosis, maybe it is financial loss, whatever your valley is look to the Shepherd and ask Him to walk through it with you! If it is your own poor choices, He may use His rod and staff to get you back on track but He will use it gently. 

Sweet Lord, walk with us through our darkest valleys, remind us of the tools you have already given us that we may say I will Fear No Evil!  Amen

From Fear to Courage

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 

Have you ever had a situation that you were in that was so totally beyond your control? There is nothing you can do to sway it one way or the other, you simply have to wait and see how it will play out? Sure you have. We all have. I am in that type of situation right now. And while it is a very uncomfortable position to be in, I can also sit in a position of peace in it. IF I am leaning close to Jesus. 

In this passage, Joshua was taking over the reins from Moses who had just died. Moses had been the leader of the Israelites for a long time, he had led them out of Egypt into the wilderness. He had led them through the wilderness. He had been the Israelites lifeline to God as their leader. He had governed them and taught them. He was God’s voice to them. Moses was a great leader and I can only try to imagine how Joshua must have been shaking in his sandals as he was taking over from Moses to lead and to continue this journey into the promised land. I can only imagine that he needed some encouragement to take the next steps. And that is what he received straight from the Lord. Verse 1 of this passage says that “the LORD spoke to Joshua”. These passages are straight from the LORD to Joshua. Surely hearing a word directly from the LORD bolstered some courage in Joshua. 

Well my friends isn’t it so cool that we can go to God’s word to bolster our courage as well. When we are at the end of our ropes, the end of ourselves, the end of I don’t know what to do next and the only place left to go is to Him is unfortunately when some of us finally hand it all over to God and ask Him to lead. I want to be the person that asks Him to direct my steps every day and not end up at the end of myself. I do try. But sometimes we end up there anyway. This is when we can take verses like this and we can realize that no matter how our circumstances and our situation plays out if we belong to Him, He will go with us wherever we go. We don’t have to be frightened because our strength and our courage come from Him. Friends when the way is scary and unsure, when we do not know the next step, when we do not know whether to go right or left or straight ahead. When we don’t know what the future holds if we know who holds the future, we can keep walking it out. 

When I get shaky and scared and don’t know what’s next I also try to pay attention to what is my background noise. What am I letting in that lends to the fear. I try hard to make sure that I am putting in thoughts that are good, lovely and pure. I will listen to sermons and teachings on podcasts, I will listen to praise and worship music. I will try to make sure that God’s voice in my ear is louder than the sounds of the world and of Satan that will lend to my fear. When you are afraid and you can’t seem to shake the fear, stop and pay attention to what you are allowing in. Go to His word and take verses like this and put them in front of you. Make a playlist on your phone of songs that remind you of God’s promises. Listen to a sermon in your car or at work. You may not hear every word as you work but what you are doing is silencing the background noise and when you put the good things in, it will surprise you how much stronger and more courageous you feel as you wait for your next step. Be strong my friends. 

Do not be Dismayed

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 

Have you ever had something unfold for you that was tragic and such a hard time, yet you felt so enveloped in God’s peace and His direction that you knew He was right there with you? Even though you knew you should be afraid, you should be panicking, you should feel like you were falling apart but you couldn’t. 

I had a situation like that. Several years ago, my precious mother in law had fallen and broken her hip. Her life changed forever in that moment as up to that point she had lived alone and cared for all of her needs, and her home and even ran a business of rental houses. She was 85 by the way. After the fall she had surgery and went through rehab and they had released her to return to her home to live. She was on a walker but she desired her same independent lifestyle she had had in the past. What we didn’t know was that it was more difficult for her to get her food and drink, that she basically just skipped it much of the time and within a couple of weeks she was becoming weak. Her friend called me as she lives in another state and told me I needed to come. My husband had just been there a few days earlier to check on her, other people and family were checking on her and up to this point she seemed fine. But she was becoming weak and dehydrated and until it got to a certain point we didn’t realize how weak she was becoming. My husband was going out of town on business so I was the one who needed to go. 

All the way to her home, I prayed for the Lord’s guidance and that the Lord would direct my path when I got there. And I am also not exaggerating when I tell you that is exactly what He did. You see, I am not a nurse and never felt called to be one. I was able to handle my children when they were sick or injured but I have never been one you would want to call on in a medical crisis. It is simply not my gift. This situation may not have scared someone else, but I was petrified. Yet I really did not feel the fear, if that makes any sense. When I got to her home it was becoming apparent she could not live alone anymore as caring for her personal needs was too overwhelming for her. Now for me, when there were decisions that had to be made with my parents, I have 3 sisters and we were able to make any decisions together. My husband was not able to be there and my husband’s sister is dealing with health issues that are serious and overwhelming to her and her husband. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I was very afraid. I was about to have to help make decisions for someone’s life that I quite frankly had no idea where to start.

I won’t go into the entire story in the essence of time, but I can honestly say that God orchestrated the whole thing. Over the course of the next few days I truly felt the Lord leading and taking me by the hand and leading me to each next step. There were things that happened in those days that were hard. There were things that were scary for her and for me. But the way it unfolded could only have been God leading the way for her future well being. 

Something I learned through this, and unfortunately I tend to have relearned through other crises in life, is that when I get to the end of myself and I have no clue where to go next, when I lean into the Father and let Him take the reins I can usually look back and see where he was guiding. On rare occasions, like this one, I am aware enough to feel His presence during the crises. I wish I could tell you I did this always. But I have to remind myself of times like this when He guided the course of events so as not to panic about what I may be facing when fear starts taking over. He has walked with me before and if I let Him He will guide and uphold me with His righteous right hand again. 

Thank you Lord that You are with us. That we really do not have to be dismayed, we just have to lean into You and let you show us our next step. One step at a time. Please help us to feel your hands holding us up. 

No Fear

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7 

This verse has always been a sort of a go to for me when dealing with fear. Paul was addressing Timothy’s timidity and shyness at proclaiming the word when he gave him these words but they truly do say so much more. Yes, I can get timid and worrisome over what others think of me when I write or teach or speak but even more than that is where my mind starts to go when I start worrying about the future and what may happen. I love this verse because of what God does give us is much more than what He doesn’t give us. He gives us “power and love and self-control.”

First we have to remember that fear and anxiety is never from God. When I wake up in the middle of the night and start worrying about the future, or just about things I have absolutely no control over that is when I know I have let Satan into my thoughts. It’s so hard to shut those thoughts and fears off after I have let them creep in. But what God does give me is the power to shut them off. The ability that He gives me to shut them off comes from the self-control that can only come from Him. 

Let’s look at other translations of those words. The ESV says self-control; the CSB says “sound judgment”; the NKJV says “sound mind”; and the NIV says “self-discipline”. In commentary I read: 

“God has given us a sound mind: The ancient Greek word here had the idea of a calm, self-controlled mind, in contrast to the panic and confusion that rushes in when in a fearful situation.” 

So while all of these words are different in the different versions, they are all saying the same thing. When your mind is calm and self-controlled your judgement will be sound. You can make decisions more clearly. However, if we aren’t careful we could put too much self in it because of the words self-control and self-discipline. But while we have to exercise it out ourselves we truly can only have this type of self-control when walking hand in hand with the Holy Spirit. 

Fear is a liar, Satan is a liar. God is a god of order and control, not of chaos and confusion nor fear. I wish I could tell you I will never allow mind to be wrecked with fear over the unknown again, that I would never feel the quickening and shortness of breath that creep in when I let my negative thoughts take over. I can tell you I don’t want to. But I am learning. I am learning where to go to put those thoughts away. I am learning to ask God to take control of those thoughts. I am asking Him to replace them with good thoughts. I am asking Him to calm my thoughts and my fears. And I know that I can only have self-control when I am leaning in so close to Jesus that I let His thoughts take over mine. 

Oh Lord, take over my thoughts today. Help me to put away the negative thoughts and to exercise the power and self-control that You have given me.