When Failure Causes Doubt

Last time, I wrote about how we create doubt. Because we do! But even if we didn’t, we’d still experience it. Doubt walks hand-in-hand with faith.

We know that God is the great I Am. We know that He is whoever we need Him to be. At least, we’re very confident about that when things are going well.

But something changes when it comes to failure. When we’re facing failure, it’s easy to doubt. We might even think, “Well, God’s not there.”

Even though we’ve never seen God, we depend on Him for everything. So what happens to us “show me” types when bad things happen? Doubt takes shape! Here’s a typical thought progression:

“I depend on God, who I’ve never seen, to get me through life. Now something bad has happened, and I don’t feel like He’s there. And if He’s not there, then who do I depend on? I have to depend on myself. And if I have to depend on myself, then why depend on God in the first place? If He’s even real, that is. I mean, I can’t even see Him!”

Sound familiar?

I’ve dealt with that. I dealt with that in baseball. Nothing’s a sure thing in that game. You don’t ever know. They say it’s a game of failure, but players make their living based on success. I had to depend on so many things to succeed. I had to depend on making the right pitch. I had to depend on the hitter to hit the ball to the defense. And I had to depend on the defense to make the play.

No matter what you do, you have to depend on so many things for it to go right. We really do depend on God for everything!

A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.

Proverbs 16:9 tells it like it is, but sometimes it’s so hard to deal with. We have a certain way that we want things to go, and it may not be the same as God’s way. We know that God sees the whole picture, but sometimes it’s hard to accept His direction. If things don’t go the way we want them to, then we wonder if He’s even there. Some of us even stomp our feet and pout! We say, “I didn’t have it the way I wanted it.”

That’s when you start wondering, “Do I believe in a God who’s not there?” Or you ask yourself, “If He’s real, then why is this happening?” You get frustrated. You decide to be all about yourself. You quit leaning on Him. You doubt Him. You forget to depend on Him.

This kind of doubt is pretty common among God’s people. When you read the Bible, you realize that you’re in very good company!

I will talk about that next time. See you Friday.

The Creation of Doubt

I’ve been writing a lot about depending on God. You might ask, is it possible to have 100% trust in the Almighty God? Absolutely! But at the same time, I think humans are “show me” types. We like to see it before we believe it. That’s why the human journey will always include doubt.

What’s amazing is how much we humans create doubt. There have always been situations where people create doubt, especially among the religions. This has been going on throughout human history. As long as there have been people, there have been sorcerers, magicians, and psychics. There are even mediums who promise to call upon the dead.

We see them in the Bible! King Saul banned them, but when he was really, really frightened, even he visited the witch at Endor. She helped Saul talk to Samuel from beyond the grave. The witch didn’t want to summon Samuel, but she did. Then when Saul went into shock she tended to him. She fed him and restored his strength.

But these days, most of these people are just looking for your money. So they create doubt. They try to get power over you by making it hard for you to know what is true and what is not.

Look at the TV evangelists in the 80’s that stole money from people. Now when we see preachers on the television, we always have to wonder what’s true. Do they even believe in what they’re preaching, or are they just doing it for the money? Talk about creating doubt!

Honestly, though, we don’t need help. We can sow doubt all on our own. Think about those times when everything is going well. It’s very easy in those times to say, “God must love me.” You feel great! You say, “God is proud of me,” or, “You know what? God is shining on me today.”

Then things change. Times come when things aren’t going so well. Now we doubt. Now we say, “Maybe there’s no God. There must not be a God. God wouldn’t let bad things happen.”

I think God looks at that and says, “You’re not really looking at me as sovereign, are you? You’re just trying to make me what you want me to be. You’re trying to make me into an image, or put me in a box. You’re making an idol out of me. And you know what? I’m the living God. You can’t contain me in a box.”

I think this is what Romans 1:18-32 is about. When we ignored the truth of God’s sovereignty, our doubt and mistrust grew. God simply allowed us to experience the consequences. He said, “There’s chaos because you’re looking at me, but you don’t see me. You don’t see that I am sovereign of creation. Instead you’re saying, ‘Well, God is only real if things are going good. God wouldn’t let bad things happen, and since bad things are happening, there must not be a God.'”

I don’t think God ‘lets’ bad things happen. If that surprises you, good! More on this next time.

See you Tuesday.

Dependent on God

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” Mark 10:21-26

Whenever you read this passage about Jesus and the rich young man, you always stop and say, “Wait a minute, are you telling me to go give away everything I have?” Am I right? It’s a very challenging passage.

I don’t think that’s necessarily what Jesus is saying. He’s just pointing out that it’s hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom. It’s not impossible. I have to remind people of this all the time. You’ve got to understand the context. The eye of the needle was obviously not an actual needle, right? It was a gate. Jesus was standing near it, so He pointed over to it. The gate was not that big. It was just the right size for a small cart, and Jesus was saying that a camel could get through it, but it would be very difficult. It would not be normal.

It wasn’t normal for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven, because rich men didn’t realize that they were dependent on God. They thought they didn’t need God. “What do I need?” they would ask. “I’ve got a house, I’ve got fine clothes, I’ve got security, I’ve got servants, I’ve got people that make my food. Why are you saying that I need God?” Because in that day, that’s truly what people thought! Rich men were called lords, they were called kings, and they said, “I don’t need God.” Or in the case of Caesar, they even said, “I am God!”

Jesus looked at the rich young man’s heart and saw this. This young man had kept all the commandments, and now he wanted to know what he had to do to have eternal life. Perhaps he thought entry to the Kingdom was something he could pay for. I guarantee you he would have paid for it! Suppose God said, “Okay, give me a thousand dollars.” The young man would have said, “Here you go.”

But that’s not what God said. He didn’t say, “Here’s what you have to give me.” He said, “I want you to give everything up.” Whoa.

Maybe that young man only thought he kept all the commandments. Maybe Jesus was telling Him that he broke the first commandment, and that’s “you shall have no other god before me.” Maybe, because that young man was so wealthy, he couldn’t see that he depended on God.

“That’s right,” Jesus said. “I want you to give up your fake god! You are not dependent on me as your God, and if you want to be in the Kingdom of Heaven, you have to be dependent on me for everything. You have to understand that all your money, everything, even every breath you take, is only there because I allow it to happen. If I want to take it away, I’ll take it away.”

That’s what happened between Jesus and the rich young man.

I truly believe that God gives, and He takes away. I have a reverential fear of that. I understand that He could take away everything in an instant. God could ruin me financially, and I’d have nothing. He can do that at any time. And so I truly want Him to know that when I tithe, when I donate, when I give money in service of His Kingdom, it’s because I’m saying look, first and foremost, I know this isn’t my money.

Do I believe I’ve been blessed with money? Absolutely! I have financial prosperity, there’s no doubt. I don’t deny it. But I also know it’s not mine. It all belongs to God.

See you Friday.

A Rich and Childlike Faith

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”

And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:17-22

Coors Field in Colorado has a really awesome bullpen. For me it was a cool place to sit and think. One day while I was sitting there in study and prayer I read this passage, and then I literally just asked Jesus about it. I honestly didn’t know if that rich young man is me.

Right before this passage, the Bible tells us that people were trying to bring their children in to be blessed by Jesus and the disciples were telling them to get away. Jesus saw that and said, “Hey! What are you doing? You don’t block these kids from coming to me!”

Jesus told the disciples, “These kids are the center of the Kingdom of God. They are It. Their kind of faith is what this Kingdom is built on. You want to know how to be saved? You want to have eternal life? Then be like them. You need to have childlike faith.”

After blessing the children, Jesus left. It was then that the rich young man chased Him down in the street saying, “Wait! What must I do to be saved?”

I think this young man heard Jesus say that we must have childlike faith to enter the Kingdom, so he ran after Jesus to ask Him about it. “I’m not a child,” he said. “So what do I need to do?” When He heard that, Jesus told him, “You know what to do. Keep the commandments. Don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, and so on.”

When the young man said, “I’ve done all that,” then Jesus said, “Right. So go, and sell everything you have.”

Do you see what was happening here? Jesus was helping the young man understand how to have childlike faith. What is that? What is the faith of a child?

Children don’t have anything. They’re totally dependent on their parents. My sons say, “Dad, I’m hungry,” and they expect me to give them food. “Dad,” they say, “I’d like to have this toy. Go buy it!” They think money is made on trees. They tell me to take that card thing of mine and swipe it, because they think that’s all I need to do. They haven’t learned yet about the adult world.

My sons are totally dependent on me for every single thing, and that’s how we are to God. We are His children, and we are totally dependent on Him for everything. That’s what Jesus was trying to teach the young man.

I don’t necessarily think God tells every rich man to go and give away all of his money and possessions. In fact, the ministry of God depends on people with money. You need money to push the Gospel. Without financial support, Bibles wouldn’t be printed, and missionaries wouldn’t survive. Ministries wouldn’t get built and people wouldn’t be served. Spreading the Gospel depends on donors with money.

But I do think Jesus challenges us by asking, “Hey, look, would you be able to be totally dependent on me?” That day in the Colorado bullpen, I think He told me, “You need to think about that, because you’re paid a lot of money.”

I truly believe it is God’s will to prosper you. But this story asks us an important question, and it’s one we have to think about. Are you that rich young man?

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Humble Abundance

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Abundant life? What does that mean? For most of the people in the world, it means something different than it means for you and me.

For most of the people in the world, abundant life simply means a life that is not in need. It doesn’t mean that you have millions of dollars. It means that you don’t need to find food, or water, or a place to live. You don’t need to find a job. You’re not homeless, sick, or starving. Your basic needs are met.

For most of the people in the world, abundance is a pretty humble proposition. If you have enough, plus a little extra, then you live in abundance.

Suppose you could go around the world and ask people, “What does abundance mean to you?” A lot of them will tell you, “It’s having a home. I don’t care if it’s a 600 square-foot home. It’s a home. Even in a tiny home, my family is safe. We don’t have to live on the streets. Abundance is a water filter. Or a well filled with clean water. When our water is safe to drink, my kids aren’t dying of dysentery. Abundance is a job! With a little income, we have food on the table. With a little extra, my kids can go to school. That’s abundance. I know what it’s like not to have those things. When I have them? And my family’s safe? That’s abundance.”

Sometimes Americans have trouble grasping just how much we have. We’re so accustomed to abundance that we don’t recognize it! Instead we define abundance by how much we can buy.

Focusing too much on what we can buy can actually kill people. When we get caught up in buying more stuff, we don’t think about the people that need our help. And we need to think about them, because without our help, they die.

I’m not saying that you should never buy anything for yourself. I’m not saying that at all. Like I said last time, it all comes down to what you have in your heart. God searches your heart. He knows your heart. Do you have a heart for helping those in need?

If our drive, our heart, our focus, is simply to make sure we have what we need, then we have the wrong heart. If we’re always saying, “I want this and I want that, and I know I could live without it but I’m going to get it and I’m going to get that too,” and we don’t have a thought for anybody else, then we have the wrong mindset.

An abundant life is so much more than having a lot of consumer goods. We think “abundance” and we see dollar signs. I think that’s America. But abundance can mean something really different in other parts of the world. Let’s learn to think about abundance in a new way. What if abundance is humble? What if it is having enough, plus extra for somebody else?

Jesus said He came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly. He gave us the message, He gave us the example, and He gave us that quality of life when He was on earth. When He ascended, these things didn’t leave with Him! He gave them to us. He teaches us to live by them. And when we do, people see Him! It’s our awesome calling to represent Him and reflect Him into the world!

Now, I know what you’re asking. How do you know when you have enough? At what point do you begin steering some extra to the people who need you?

This is where reverential fear can help you. More on this next time. See you Friday.

A Lottery Prayer That Works

I began this blog in 2011. Can you guess the top search term that lands readers here? It is “lottery prayer that works.” That phrase has shown up within the top search terms literally every week of this blog’s existence.

If that’s why you are here, then let me help you. Look at this awesome promise that Jesus made before He was arrested and crucified:

Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do. John 14: 11-14

What do you think about that? Jesus said that we will do greater things than He did, and that He will give us whatever we ask in His name! I think that’s awesome!

But even in the world of believers, there’s a lot of skepticism about this promise. We will receive anything we pray for? Really? You hear people say, “Oh really. You’re telling me that if I pray, ‘God, I want a Mercedes Benz,’ then all I have to do is believe, and I’ll get it?” Or, “I can pray to win the lottery, and if I really believe I’m going to win, then I will?”

Those are good questions! But my question is a little different. My question is, “Why do you ask for those things?”

Why? That question stands in advance of every prayer.

I believe it is God’s will to prosper you, but prosperity doesn’t always mean money or property. God can prosper you with a healthy family, or peace at your job. There are so many ways that God can prosper you! In the end, though, they all have one thing in common. It’s an issue of the heart.

God looks at the heart of all people. Men and women alike, He looks at your heart. If you sit there and say, “God, I pray for a million dollars,” I’m going to guess that the first thing God’s going to ask is why you want a million dollars. If you want a million dollars so that you can be rich, then I don’t know if He’s going to prosper you in that way.

Jesus promises to answer your prayer and give you what you ask for because “that’s how the Father will be seen for who He is in the Son.” That’s the context of His promise. God will give you what you ask for because you are doing His will.

I pray for finances. I really do. I pray for them, and I believe I’m going to get them. I can’t necessarily tell you why God grants my prayers, but I can tell you the reasons in my heart for wanting finances. I can see all the good that I can do with them.

I think God looks at your heart when it comes to everything. If your prayer is birthed in sin, it will never happen. Why would God answer prayers birthed in sin? I believe God answers prayers that are birthed in the hope of bringing grace and faith and power. I believe God answers prayers that are birthed in the desire to empower people to believe in Him and love Him. If that’s your reason for asking, then yes, I fully believe that you’re going to receive what you pray for.

In other words, if you’re going to do God’s will with those lottery winnings, then pray for them with all your heart!

I’ll say more on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Bring Grace Home

There are so many wonderful things to say about grace. I frequently write about the freedom that comes with grace because it’s awesome. Grace frees us from sin! Grace frees us from slavish obedience to rules! We are free, because Jesus helps us with our sin. We are free, because the Spirit guides us and advises us. Do you see what this means? We don’t have to be afraid. We have help!

Think about that. Grace frees us from fear!

When your family is founded in grace, there is no fear in your home. Instead there’s freedom. Your kids are happy, your husband or wife is happy, everyone is growing and thriving, and you are living righteous and loving lives. People will look at your family and say, “Man! What are you doing? We want that too!”

I mean, who wouldn’t?

But then they ask, “What rule did you make? What law did you give them, that they live so well?”

That’s not the right question! That’s legalism. When people don’t understand grace, they think about dropping a Bible verse and making a rule with it. But that’s not me. I’m not a legalistic father who wants to drop a Bible verse on my sons when they’re not doing right. I want them to know grace.

I can hear you saying, “But Jeremy, does that mean you never discipline your children?” Not at all. It means I don’t use anger to control them.

We parents want so much to let our kids express their emotions. But have you noticed that we only really encourage it when those emotions feel good to us? We don’t get mad at them for being happy. We don’t get mad at them for laughing. We don’t get mad at them for being joyful. We don’t even get mad at them when they’re sad and crying.

But when they get angry, we get mad at them!

This is backwards. It makes no sense to tell them, “I’m going to get angry at you for being angry.”

Obviously we don’t want our kids to be angry. But it happens. What do they learn from us if we respond with anger? Nothing! It’s a vicious cycle.

I think our anger comes from trying to control our children. We want to control them so that we can control how we react to them. This is typical of legalism in the home. An angry child is not a reason to get angry. In fact, I think responding with anger is the worst thing you could possibly do.

Why not just accept them and be with them? You can acknowledge that there’s something going on. Maybe it’s something that you don’t know about. Maybe there’s something troubling them. Whatever it is, getting angry with them won’t help either of you. But grace can transform the situation. Grace says, “How can I help you? How can I love on you? How can I make you feel better? I can see that you’re having a bad time. How can I be here for you?”

When you do that for your child, then all of a sudden a bad day can become a good day. Now in their bad day, you’re not just someone else pounding on them. You are with them as a loving help to them.

I’m far from perfect, but I try not to get angry at my sons for getting angry. I let them be angry. And then we talk about it.

This is the difference between grace and legalism. My family loves and laughs and thrives because I didn’t give them a rule. I didn’t give them a law to live by. I gave my family freedom. My wife and I brought grace into our home and we are happy. With God’s grace, we are really truly free!

See you Friday.