Foundations of Faith

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
-Hebrews 11:1

 Everyone is hoping for something. It could be a miraculous healing, a raise at work, or even just hoping to get through another dark day in the grip of depression. Whatever it is, we hope for what we believe we need in this life. At least, we think we do.

It doesn’t seem to make sense at first glance, but the Bible tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” When we hope for something and it doesn’t materialize, does that mean that we lack faith? It can be frustrating to see so many verses telling us that God will give us what we ask for and then have so many requests go seemingly unanswered. How does this mesh with the inerrancy of the Bible and the faithfulness of God to His promises?

In my life I have seen time and again that I really have no idea what I hope for. Sure, I hope I win the lottery, I hope my next book destroys sales records, and I hope that I find that elusive thing called happiness one day. But are those dreams really the basis of my hope? I have found that the things I dream of tend to be more possible ways my true hopes can be fulfilled.

Winning the lottery, for example, seems like a legitimate hope that I share with millions of people. But why? Do I actually just hope to win the lottery, or is there a deeper desire buried under those mysterious and ridiculously hard to predict numbers?

It’s not the numbers, I really couldn’t care less about them. It’s the stability and security that winning that jackpot would provide. We want to be able to take care of our families and enjoy life without the constant stress of financial worries. If someone offered you $300 million, would you be disappointed that it didn’t come from the lottery? If you would, go ahead and turn down the offer and send them my way….

Faith isn’t about money, but that example leads us to a deeper discussion. When we struggle and feel that we’re losing faith, what is it that we’re struggling to believe in? Is it the very existence of God? Do we question whether or not He really has the ability to affect the world and our lives in a dramatic fashion? I’ve had more than my share of crises of faith, but I don’t remember ever doubting either of those two points.

Lately I have started examining my doubts in more detail when they creep up, trying to determine exactly what I’m struggling with. Initially I thought I was questioning whether God really cares about me. I know He’s real and I know He has the power to change everything with a word, but it seemed that He had no interest in fixing anything in my life. But I kept digging.

It turns out when it came down to it, I didn’t really doubt His love for me, either. So why did it feel that way? I knew He had a plan and I knew He didn’t want me to suffer more than necessary, I just didn’t know if I could handle it. That is what I found myself doubting at the core: whether or not I could handle the road that He had set me on. It wasn’t God I doubted at all, it was myself. Sometimes it’s just easier to pin it on God because we live in an age of self-actualization that tells us we can do anything we put our minds to. Questioning yourself is a great sin in our world, while questioning God is considered being practical and enlightened.

But faith is the assurance of things hoped for. The conviction of things not seen. Faith is trusting God even when we don’t trust ourselves and knowing that His plan for us is greater than any of our personal and often petty hopes and dreams. Does the Bible promise us whatever we ask for? Yes, it does. The problem is that we so rarely know what we really want that the words we pray don’t match up with the true desires of the new heart we have in Christ.

I’ll still probably pray to win the lottery once in awhile (never hurts to ask), but I do so knowing that God knows why I’m asking and He will work to fulfill my needs at their foundation, not just with the possible method of fulfilment that I suggest.

What do you hope for? Spend some time asking yourself why you pray for certain things and find the basis of those requests. Then compare the answers you find with the promises of Scripture and see how God has been rewarding your faith, in many cases without your knowledge!

Reclaiming Right

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

-Galatians 6:9

 So many people want to do what’s right in the world, it’s a wonder we can’t seem to figure out which way is up as a society. Kids don’t grow up wanting to be the bad guy. They don’t dream of being a CEO that closes a plant and puts thousands of people out of work, or of being a money-hungry lawyer protecting criminals from prosecution.

They want to change things. They want to make a difference.

But somewhere along the way, we all get lost, even if only for a while. We get jaded and cold and we start to lose faith in the world we once dreamed of. We forget our childlike ideals and replace them with perceived adult responsibilities.

Eventually, we just get tired of trying to fight the current and do the right thing. This is where phrases like “that’s just how the world works” or “business is business” come into play. We decide that “nice guys (or girls) finish last” so we have to become what the world portrays as successful. With every step we take down that path, the dreams we had die and it gets harder and harder to see the world as we once did.

Why fight it? I believe that all of us have at one time or another felt that every time we try to do the right thing it backfires on us and we get hurt. We lose our families, our jobs, our homes, or our self-respect. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem to make sense to keep trying.

I think the people of Galatia must have been feeling that way. Paul wrote to them and stressed the importance of perseverance. He told them not to quit and promised them a reward if they pressed on. But he qualified it. He did not promise them instant gratification (as today’s culture does) or that they would receive whatever reward they wanted (again, that’s a worldly thing). Instead he promised that “in due time” they would reap their reward, “if we do not give up.”

If you’re going through these trying times and have talked to anyone about your struggles, I’m sure they have told you not to give up. Just as I’m sure that you wanted to throw a rock at their head for saying something so trite (I’ve actually tried that, it never ends well). But this time, consider the source. Paul suffered greatly for doing the right thing. He was imprisoned, shipwrecked, run out of towns, and even stoned. Yet he didn’t give up. He spoke with the assurance of one who had seen God, and that gave him the faith to keep pushing through obstacles as he waited on his “due time.”

Most likely, Paul died in prison, but I promise you this: he died with a smile on his face. He knew his reward was at hand just as he knew that it was worth every bit of persecution he ever faced. Doing the right thing wasn’t easy, but he persevered and gave us an example of how we are to fight for what is right despite all of the opposition; we fight no matter the cost.

It is okay to feel like the world is against you because honestly, it pretty much is. What isn’t okay is to give up and give in to the pressure to become more worldly. Just as Paul fought until his due time, we must fight until ours. If you fall, get back up. If you tire, recharge yourself and keep going, and if you just can’t stand any longer, go to your knees. Ask God for strength and wisdom and He will provide it. He will get us back in the fight because it is Him and His truth that we are fighting for.

We do not lose unless we quit. If Paul pressed on through everything he endured, why wouldn’t we?

Overcoming Ourselves

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
-James 4:7

 Human nature can be an ugly thing. It’s easy to watch the news, scroll through Facebook, or watch people walking around in the store and see that we have some issues as a society. But if we’re honest with ourselves, examining our own thoughts and feelings can be just as disturbing.

Temptation is something we deal with every day and something we must fight consistently if we truly want to be Christ-like in our daily lives. Unfortunately, it can often seem like a hopeless battle and leave us feeling more like failures than fighters.

I want to share a few biblical ways to fight temptation and overcome our own tendencies. These can be addictions, anger issues, lack of self-discipline, or even the language we use.

I know these tips work. They are based on Scripture and I have seen them work in my own life.

I also know that we are all human, and we will not be able to apply them perfectly. Backsliding is to be expected, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over every losing battle. Try to keep in mind that we’re looking at the long war here—the only way to lose is to lay down our weapons.

Memorize Applicable Bible Verses

One thing I’ve learned in my roller coaster ride of faith is that how well I’m able to act like the man I want to be is directly tied to how much time I spend in God’s Word. Not just short readings (although any kind of reading helps) but pulling verses out and committing them to memory.

These verses can become a mantra in times of temptation, giving you an anchor to keep from slipping over the edge. You would be amazed how often verses that you have memorized will randomly come to mind through the course of an average day.

If I’m feeling lazy and avoiding getting some work done, Colossians 3:23 may pop into my head (“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”). When I’m upset and start to complain about someone I hear that still small voice in the back of my mind saying, “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (Proverbs 26:20).

I tried several ways to focus on Scripture memorization, but nothing really kept my focus until I found a great app for my phone. Since I put Remember Me on my phone, I’ve become much better about adding verses to my spiritual repertoire.

And no, I’m not getting paid for that recommendation, I just truly believe it’s a great product!

Pray, Pray, and Pray Some More

What do you do when someone you don’t want to deal with walks into the room and makes eye contact with you? Do you go sit down alone and hope they’ll just leave?

No, you grab a friend and start a conversation. Typically, the person you’re trying to avoid is too intimidated or otherwise discouraged from approaching you.

We can use the same technique when we feel the ugly side of our humanity creeping up. If you’re talking to God, it becomes very difficult for Satan or the flesh to get pushy with you. Granted, they may still try, especially when you’re just starting this practice. It will take some time to get used to focusing on God and ignoring the problems the world is throwing at you, but I promise it gets easier.

The Bible instructs us to pray incessantly (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and this is a great way to start developing that habit!

Be in Community

I confess, I haven’t been to church in months. I haven’t had a home church since I moved here over a year ago, and I have consistently found excuses to not look for one. On this last tip, I am telling you what I know to be true, from the perspective of one who is failing to follow it.

We are not meant to be alone. God said it about Adam before He made Eve (Genesis 2:18), and Jesus reiterated it in Matthew 18:20. Luke told us the first Christians believed it (Acts 2:46) and Paul confirmed it (Romans 12:16). I could list more, but you get the point.

Being alone all the time is an invitation for temptation to come (1 Peter 5:8). Your mind can spin out of control with no one around to help you rein it in. If you’re prone to depression, anger, or addictions; you know the feeling of being trapped in a whirlpool of your own thoughts pulling you down.

Community is there to help that. Having a few trusted friends, mentors, or sounding boards can go a long way to keeping you on the path you want to be on. These people are also instrumental in getting you back on your feet when you backslide. Encouragement, support, and the occasional reprimand when necessary are all things that only a strong Christian community can provide.

You’re Not Perfect, and That’s Okay

At the end of the day, we’re all human. We will all slip and make mistakes no matter how hard we try to be the new creation that Christ has made us. There is no 100% solution to fighting our sinful nature, at least not short of the final victory!

That’s okay, God understands. The harder thing is for us to accept our own faults and get back up after falling. Don’t let the cycle catch you. Don’t give up your fight.

Follow these three tips consistently and you will see change, I promise you that. There is always a new day on the horizon and a chance for us to get better. With faith and commitment to these ideas, we can all become the people we want to be through Christ!

 

 

 

 

Negotiating Freedom from Ourselves

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
-Philippians 4:6

We live in an expensive world. Keeping a roof over your head, clothes on your back, food on your table, and transportation available is not cheap. Heck, if you live in Michigan you can easily pay more every month in car insurance than your vehicle is worth! Whether you’re doing it alone or with a family, the expenses will pile up much faster than the income appears.

At this point it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and wonder how you’re going to make it through another month. You watch the news and see a world descending into chaos and that just adds another form of stress to your already sleepless nights. Nothing would be easier than to give up hope and resign yourself to a life of hopeless misery.

How do we overcome this stress? I recently heard stress referred to as your mind holding you hostage. It seems an apt metaphor, as well as one that holds more weight when I mention that this line came from a former FBI hostage negotiator (Chris Voss, who delivered an excellent Google Talk on negotiating here). Wouldn’t it be nice to have a trained hostage negotiator settle our internal disputes?

If stress is our minds holding us hostage, it stands to reason that the best way to deal with it is through negotiation (I personally prefer this to releasing a SWAT team into my brain). How do hostage negotiations work? The hostage taker issues their demands and the authorities attempt to defuse the situation and bring everyone to a peaceful and swift resolution.

Our human nature is full of demands. They seem reasonable at first: a nice home for our families, a car that doesn’t require weekly repairs, or enough money to eat out once in a while. The culture we live in has taught us that these are perfectly normal expectations; it’s almost as if we deserve these things just for living. But when our minds’ take our spirits hostage, destroying our peace and ramping up our anxiety, these are the demands they provide.

We cannot break ourselves free of these demands anymore than we could dig ourselves out of our own graves. We need a negotiator.

Thankfully, Philippians 4:6 tells us where to find one. If I take these demands and stressors to God, He will settle the differences between me, myself, and I. Those sources of stress and anxiety are given to the ultimate hostage negotiator and He calms the situation, provides us with a better solution, and restores our peace. We are freed from our own chains by the One who knows our needs better than we do.

Another great principle that Mr. Voss states repeatedly: Never be so certain of what you want that you’re not open to something better. That makes so much sense I want to go through Proverbs a few times and see if it’s in there. We believe we know what we want, but our view is limited. We are being held hostage—bound and confined while our earthly minds make demands and endanger our well-being. There is no way that we can see the big picture from this position; we can’t even see what’s outside this room!

That is why we allow God to negotiate for us. We cast our cares on Him and trust him to provide for us whatever it is we need based on His perspective outside our walls, where a much bigger picture is visible.

Don’t be anxious. Don’t let your human nature hold you hostage. Take what you think you need straight to the negotiator and trust Him to provide what you actually need.

Even the best negotiators have bad days. Luckily we have access to the one who has never lost, so why not trust Him?

When Life Needs a Reset Button

“Everybody’s got a blank page
A story they’re writing today
A wall that they’re climbing
You can carry the past on your shoulders
Or you can start over.”
 – “Start Over” by Flame feat. NF

 First, if you’re not familiar with the song quoted above, I strongly encourage you to check it out.  NF is a great semi-local talent who is starting to blow up now, and for a Christian rapper from Gladwin, Michigan, that’s not easy to do!

Well I promised that I was going to get this blog going again, so here I am.

Eight months later.

Better late than never, right?

Life, as so often is the case, got in the way.  Work picked up, which was great.  Then work slowed down, which was less great.  Somewhere lost in the middle of the ups and downs was my motivation and my goals.

It’s made me think about how many times in my life I wished I could just hit the reset button and go back for one more try at something.  Have you been there?  I bet you’re either nodding your head or lying right now.

How many times has life ran us off course, only to catch our breath months or years down the line and say, “Wait, I meant to <fill in the blank>.”  The thing is, we still have the ideas and dreams, we just kind of forget to do follow through on them.  We get so caught up in living that we forget to live.

When I went to college, I wanted to be a writer.  When I left college (the first time), it was to be a writer.  After I got out of the Army, I decided to get back to writing.  Then when I lost my job, I decided to start a freelance writing career.

That’s a lot of writing time.  Or at least a lot of supposed-to-be-writing time.  Turns out, other than a few short stretches in there that resulted in a novel (Early Release), a collection of short stories (The Words in My Head), and the first generation of this blog (jtmichelsen.wordpress.com), my writing was largely confined to what I needed to do for work and school.

So, this past summer, I started writing again.  You may have seen that post, it took so much out of me it’s taken me eight months to recover….

But I finally realized something: life doesn’t get in the way, I just drive off the road (figuratively, I’m really cutting back on that when I’m actually driving).  I tried to put my finger on whatever it was that took me off the path I wanted to follow, and the only thing I could find to point at was a mirror.  There was absolutely no reason for me to stop writing.

Now I’m hitting the reset button.

I’ve jumped back into more serious writing and have a semblance of a freelance career going already.  Part time is better than no time.  But now comes the fun part: the time when my self-doubt decides to start whispering in my ear and distracting me.  I know I can make it, and I know I must stick out the hard times, but I also know my history.

That’s where the song I started this post with comes in.  Because I, like all of you, have a wall to climb.  I have a story that somehow has more chapters to write still.  But I can’t do either of those things if I’m carrying my past around.

I choose to start over.

And in case you’re in the same boat and wondering how you can start over after everything, let me share with you the second part of that chorus:

“Regrets, no matter what you’ve gone through
Jesus, He gave it all to save you
He carried the cross on His shoulders
So you could start over.”

It always comes back to that.  Honestly, every time I sit down to write one of these posts I tell myself I’m not bringing God into it.  The fact is, my faith is so battered and bruised that I feel like a fraud sharing words like this.

But when I sit down at the keyboard and start typing, it always comes back to Jesus.

Truthfully, it doesn’t matter what kind of faith you have.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, what your intentions are for the future, or how you feel at this exact moment.  Long before we were born, Jesus carried that cross and gave His life for ours, and there is no other way for us to have the freedom to start over.  Now we can live without life getting in the way.

I guess life does have a reset button, but we can only reach it from our knees.