Archives For Faith In Crisis

Jesus Loves You!

Alyson Kieda —  February 12, 2014 — 4 Comments

God’s Amazing Love/flickr/Creative Commons/Paul Dallgas-Frey

Some of the finest and dearest people I know struggle with believing that God loves them. They believe that they are far too sinful, too unlovable, or too unworthy to be loved by God. They have received Jesus as their Savior but still doubt that His love extends to them. They have no trouble believing that He loves everyone else, but they just can’t fathom the idea that God could possibly love someone like them—someone so undeserving.

Once upon a time, I was one of them. I struggled with my sinfulness, with the ugly words I spoke and with the ugliness inside me. How could God love me, I reasoned, when I failed to live up the standards of what a Christian should be?! I was such a lowly worm.

Thankfully, I now have complete assurance that God loves me—even me! Why? Is it because I’m sinning less and growing more like Him? Nope. Is it because I’m serving in my church? No, not even that. Have I done something to deserve His love? No and no again.

Even though I’m a Christian, I continue to sin. I am totally undeserving of God’s love. Yet I know that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8). That’s the key. God loves us because He chose to love us—not because of how lovable we are but because He is the God of love. He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us, to pay the debt for our sins (past, present, and future) that we could never pay. Because of what He did, I am considered righteous in His eyes.

It’s a simple yet profound truth that so many fail to grasp—or believe. But I know it’s true. The Bible tells me so, and the Spirit inside me confirms that truth: Jesus loves me. And if you have received Him as your Savior, He loves you too!

despitedoubtw_650x220-recorded-onDoubts are a common struggle for many who have embraced the Christian faith as well as for those who are still considering faith. Doubts are those nagging questions that plague us when life’s struggles push us to wrestle with the hard questions about what’s true and good and really matters.

On Wednesday, February 5, 2014, RBC Ministries Webinars hosted Dr. Michael Wittmer in a live webinar event: “Doubt: A Friend or Foe of Faith?” Dr. Wittmer shared his insights in a lively conversation with our hosts Tim Jackson and Dennis Moles. Many who attended the live event learned practical information on how to struggle well with the doubts that plague us during times of struggle and heartache. Things like:

  • Understanding the difference between “objective” and “subjective” doubt
  • Understanding the difference between “sincere” and “insincere” doubt
  • How doubt can hinder our growth in the faith
  • How doubt can enhance our trust and dependence upon the God of the Bible

In keeping with our ministry commitment to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all, we are making the content of this webinar available without cost or obligation to you and anyone you’d like to share it with.

To listen to the audio recording from the webinar, click the link: Doubt: A Friend or Foe of Faith?

To download the PowerPoint from the webinar, click the link: Doubt: A Friend or Foe of Faith PPT.

To get a free sample download from Dr. Wittmer’s book, click the book title link: Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith.

For a free download of a RBC booklet by Dennis Moles, one of our hosts, click the title link: Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The Truth About The Bible.

For further resources on understanding more about why we doubt and how we can handle it from RBC Ministries, click the link: Doubt.

Does God Really Care?

Alyson Kieda —  February 3, 2014 — 3 Comments

 

Nature’s Tranquility/flickr/Creative Commons/judecat (ready to ring in the New Year)

I believe in God the Father and in His Son Jesus Christ my Lord. I hold to the promises of the Bible, and nothing can sway me from those beliefs. But I admit that sometimes I’ve doubted God’s love and His motives.

I’ve wondered why some of my prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears, particularly a certain heart-wrenching prayer I’ve been praying continually and persistently, in varying degrees of intensity, for decades. If it’s true that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16), why won’t He answer this earnest prayer?!

Over the years, I’ve gone through a confusing jumble of thoughts regarding this: Maybe God doesn’t really answer prayer; perhaps I’m not praying hard enough; maybe something needs to change or I need to learn or do something before God will answer; maybe this is a trial God wants to use to purify and refine me. Is this my “thorn in the flesh”? Perhaps God’s answer is “no!” In the beginning, I even wondered if God really is a God of love who cares for His children.

I’ve learned a lot about God through the decades, and He has purified and continues to purify and refine me. And I’ve seen God answer many of my prayers—sometimes miraculously. I’ve grown to trust and rely on Him more for everything I need; and He has become the first love of my life. I know that He deeply loves and cares for me, yet I continue to struggle with the same prayer request . . .

But now my doubt is not as frequent or as despairing. I have the assurance that God will answer my prayer. I’ve learned that I will never fully understand His ways. (All of us this side of heaven see dimly—1 Corinthians 13:12.) And I’m learning to “be still, and know that [He is] God” (Psalm 46:10).

I’m fretting and squirming less and trusting more as I rest in His loving arms—and wait.

So maybe you’re like me and have had your share of struggling with doubts. Maybe you’re there now. Join us for our webinar on February 5, 2014, at 1:00 p.m. with Dr. Michael Wittmer on the topic of Doubt: A Friend or Foe of Faith? I think you’ll find help in understanding and embracing our journey of faith through doubt to trust. Click the title of the webinar above to register for the free webinar.

 

graceandtruth-hfml

Growing spiritually isn’t something that just happens naturally, even for faithful followers of Jesus. It must be cultivated. And frankly, in the frantic and hurried pace that most of us live, it’s simply not easy. Even when we say we want to, knowing what to do to grow consistently in our faith is a struggle. So what does it take to develop and practice spiritual disciplines?

How do we, as followers of Christ, develop the discipline to keep growing in our faith without falling into the trap of obligation and monotonous routine?

On Wednesday, January 15, 2014, RBC Ministries Webinars hosted Dr. James Wilhoit in a live webinar event on “Growing in Grace and Truth.” Dr. Wilhoit shared his insights in a lively conversation with our hosts Dennis Moles and Katy Pent. Many who attended the live event learned practical information on how to passionately pursue God and maintain that pursuit for a lifetime of growth.

In keeping with our ministry commitment to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all, we are making the content of this webinar available without cost or obligation to you and anyone you’d like to share it with.

To listen to the audio recording from the webinar, click the link: Growing in Grace and Truth: Developing and Practicing Spiritual Disciplines.

To download the PowerPoint of the webinar, click the link: Growing in Grace and Truth PPT.

To get a free sample chapter download from two of Dr. Wilhoit’s books on this critically important topic, click:

For further resources on spiritual formation and discipleship from RBC Ministries, click the link: Spiritual Disciplines.

A Christmas Carol

Tim Jackson —  December 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

Christmas Tree Topper Star–flickr/Creative Commons/Wilson Hui

I recently rewatched the 1984 made-for-television film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ famous 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. It was at a movie night that I host for the men at my church. We watch movies and then discuss the issues raised by the films that challenge, encourage, or discourage our journey into becoming the men God calls us to be.

What struck me was a scene early in the film that set the tone for the rest of the story. It’s the first place the ghost of Christmas past took Ebenezer Scrooge—back to a dreary boarding-school classroom where a boy sat alone with his books on Christmas Eve.

Why was he there? And why was he alone?

Ebenezer’s father had sent him to the boarding school because he blamed Ebenezer for the death of his mother. She’d died during childbirth. As an adult looking back, Ebenezer rationalized to the ghost that this rejection justified his compensation of hiding in his books—a decision that would eventually lead to a heart increasingly incapable of giving or receiving love.

Over time Ebenezer solidified his withdrawal from any and all relationships that held the potential risk of pain, firmly entrenching him in his miserly management of money and stocks devoid of human compassion under the guise of “it’s business.” His ill-placed commitments led to a level of cruelty and hard-heartedness that left him where he began—alone with his ledgers as his only companions on yet another Christmas Eve.

How sad! Not just for Ebenezer Scrooge (whose name has become synonymous with miserly and misanthropy in the English language) but for all who follow his path of a life dominated by the fear of rejection and pain.

The truth that stuck with me that night as I walked outside into the wintry blast was this: People who are a pain are in pain. Turn back the pages in their story far enough and eventually you will find a painful situation they’ve been running from all their lives. And it’s not until they face it in the presence of love and grace that they can break free from the chains they’ve woven in life that have kept their hearts cold, hard, and dead.

Fortunately, in A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens doesn’t leave Ebenezer there. There’s a resurrection, a transformation of heart that required supernatural intervention. And he ends up on his knees praying for the opportunity to be a different man.

Transformation always happens that way. It comes through seeing our painful past, recognizing how we first attempted to survive that pain on our own, owning how the subsequent series of choices forged a lifestyle of control and avoidance that insured our safety from that pain . . . and our loneliness. It’s through brokenness that we come to the end of ourselves and turn in desperation to the only One who can remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26).

The real carol of Christmas is that the Transformer of human hearts, Jesus, has come as a humble baby in a manger, not to condemn those whose hearts have been hardened by trying to survive in a hostile environment, but to offer a way out, to rescue us from ourselves that we might share in His life (John 3:17).

 

At some point in every individual’s walk with God, the question of unanswered prayer surfaces. It often erupts after we’ve passionately poured out our hearts to God about a desperate situation that we know needs His divine intervention and correction to literally save the day.

But then He doesn’t show up. Or at least not like we expected Him to or in the way we thought He would. And that’s when we struggle in our search for reasons as to “why” He didn’t answer like we thought He’d promised.

Didn’t He hear me? Doesn’t He know how important this is? Doesn’t He understand how much we need Him? Doesn’t He ask us to pray for anything in His name and He will give it to us? So what’s the catch?

Prayer invites us deeper into both the mystery and the madness of the journey of faith more than just about anything else we may encounter in life. It pushes us deeper into the heart of our great God who loves us more than we will ever be able to fully grasp and yet who responds . . . or doesn’t respond . . . in ways that can drive us to doubt or even the brink of despair as we cry out, “Why God?”

Larry Crabb has wrestled with these kinds of questions about prayer himself, and he shares with us what he’s learned along the way in his journey with God. Watch and listen as Larry responds to questions about unanswered prayer and the purpose of prayer.

I hope you find these videos helpful.

If you’re a church leader—from pastors and elders to small-group leaders, Sunday school teachers, and everyone in between—please join us for a repeat of our popular “Leading in Prayer” webinar this Thursday evening at 7:00 PM EDT with Dr. James Banks as our guest, along with Dennis Moles and myself. You can register at: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6281720287662468096

Our Prayers Count

Jeff Olson —  July 18, 2013 — 1 Comment

One of the many encouraging stories about prayer in the Bible is found tucked near the end of the New Testament book of James. As the half-brother of Jesus wrapped up his letter, he encouraged his readers to pray in their time of need (James 5:13).

Being familiar with the Old Testament, James pulled an example out of the life of the Jewish prophet Elijah to illustrate prayer.

James reminded his audience of the time Elijah earnestly prayed for God to withhold rain for three and a half years—and not a single drop fell on the land (5:17). After that time passed, he began praying for rain to return, and God opened up the heavens (verse 18).

Two things encourage me about James’ use of Elijah’s dramatic story. First, he starts out by saying that Elijah “was a man just like us” (James 5:17). In other words, he was an ordinary guy—just as human as we are.

It’s only a few words—“just like us”—but it carries a truth that counters a familiar lie that can diminish our prayers. The lie can come at us in this way:

Alright, those kinds of prayer may have worked for one of those Bible guys, but not for an ordinary person like me today.

James would beg to differ. He wrote that Elijah is no different than any of us. It doesn’t matter when or where we live, our prayers matter and can be just as effective as any follower of God—even as effective as someone whose prayers held back rain for three plus years.

A second thing that lifts up my heart about Elijah’s story is that our prayers play a significant role in what God is up to. Sure, the God who made this world didn’t need Elijah’s prayers to stop the rain that triggered a severe famine that brought a wicked ruler to his knees. And God could have started the rain again without Elijah’s prayers, but He invited Elijah to be a part of what He was up to, to partner with Him in what He’s doing in the world.

Sometimes we may be tempted to think that our prayers make little difference, if any at all.

Don’t believe it!

Our prayers do count for God’s kingdom agenda!

Prayer Changes Me

Tim Jackson —  July 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

I must confess that I often go to God in prayer to ask for things that I want Him to change. Good things, mind you, but nevertheless my hope is that God will make happen what I am convinced is best. But since I’m incapable of making them happen, I ask God to do what I can’t do myself.

And, if you’re like me, you probably find yourself doing the same thing.

That’s a good thing. Isn’t it?

Maybe not. At least not the way I’ve typically done it.

I recently read Oswald Chambers’ devotional article “The Purpose of Prayer” from My Utmost for His Highest. He has a different take on it: “We look on prayer simply as a means of getting things for ourselves, but the biblical purpose of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself” (emphasis added).

Prayer-man overlooking waterOswald continues: “The problem is that no one will ever do this until he is at his wits’ end. When a person is at his wits’ end, it no longer seems to be a cowardly thing to pray . . . but as long as you think you are self-sufficient, you do not need to ask God for anything.”

Ouch! Nothing like cutting to the heart of the matter. It’s my independent self-sufficiency that gets in the way of truly “needing” God and coming to Him out of desperation for Him.

Oswald concludes: “To say that ‘prayer changes things’ is not as close to the truth as saying, ‘Prayer changes me and then I change things’ . . . prayer is not a matter of changing things externally, but one of working miracles in a person’s inner nature.”

What I’m still learning—and Oswald reminded me of again—is that prayer is the continual practice of dragging all of me—the good, the bad, and the ugly—into God’s presence and inviting Him to bring healing and restoration to my internal brokenness.

God desires to empower me and you, in all our weakness, to change the world. He invites us to see the world as He does, to hear the anguish of the suffering, and then to move forward in His strength and courage to engage, in His name, the desperate needs we see.

I’m still in the process of learning the power of Paul’s affirmation: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Let’s get on our knees and bring our self-sufficient weaknesses to God and invite Him to transform us into children who reflect His compassionate strength to love like no other can. That would sure shake things up in my world . . . and I bet in yours too.

Sweat

Tim Jackson —  July 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

Earlier this summer, I took off a week of vacation to work on a serious roofing repair project on my house. The weather was promising—mid to upper 80s with minimal chance of rain—so I went for it.

Our house is about 50 years old and suffers from lessRoof repair project than optimal ventilation under the roof. Years of trapped moisture compromised the 4 x 8 sheeting, so it all needed to come off on the lower portion of the roof.

I’m currently a desk jockey, so 12-hour days up on the roof for 6 days was a radical change for me. I like working with my hands and I’m familiar with carpentry and the construction trades (that’s what I did earlier in my career), but I had to get used to the sweating again. Temps on the roof hovered between 110-120 degrees Fahrenheit, quite a change from an air-conditioned office.

I drank a lot of water, worked a lot, and sweat a lot. Looking down at my gloves reminded me of God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3:17-19, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Sweaty glovesSweat physiologically documents the overwhelming evidence that life is hard.

But sweat is not just physicality, it’s also a matter of theology. We sweat not merely because of high temps or rigorous activity. Sweat is a predictable result of a God-inflicted curse. It’s a reminder from our Creator that we can’t make life work on our own—no matter how hard we try.

Yes, we have been given skills, tools, and energy to deal with the brokenness of this world. And we need to utilize all of them. But we must never assume that we can pull off anything on our own. Sweat is a good reminder that we must rely on the One in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). It calls us to invest in the hard work of partnering with our Creator-God with every fiber of our being while we follow and trust His lead in creating beauty amidst the brokenness that surrounds us every day.

Last week, Tim Jackson and I were privileged to host the webinar Leading in Prayer with our special guest Dr. James Banks. James is the pastor of Peace Church in Durham, NC, and the author of three books: Prayers for Prodigals, The Lost Art of Praying Together, and Praying the Prayers of the Bible.

During this live event, we discussed how ministry leaders and pastors could grow in their personal prayer lives and lead the churches they serve to grow in that area.

One of the questions from our listeners that we did not have time to talk through during the live event was this: “Do you have any advice on how to teach children and youth to pray?”

Here are some things that my dear friend and former pastor Doyle taught me about teaching kids to pray.

Teach their parents to pray. Moms and dads are the most influential people in the lives of their young children. If we take the time to teach parents to pray and then encourage them to pray for and with their children and teens—if we help parents create a culture of prayer within their homes—it will go a long way in creating a culture of prayer in our churches.

Model prayers that are accessible and understandable to children and youth. Never underestimate the influence a child’s pastor has on the child. If he prays prayers that are accessible and understandable, it not only shows children that they can pray, but it also teaches the children and youth something about God. It shows that, through the person of Jesus Christ, He is accessible to them. They don’t need flowery or theological words to communicate with the God of the universe.

Make corporate prayer an expectation in the youth and children’s ministries. It is very important to teach and to model good prayer habits. But if we want to take prayer to the next level, we can invite children and youth to pray. Teach them that prayer is an integral part of the Christian life. Invite them to pray for each other. Have special times of prayer where the pastor and other ministry leaders go into the children and youth ministry time and pray over the kids.

These are just a few ideas, but the main thing is to involve children and youth in the church’s prayer life.

I will never forget the day Pastor Doyle called all the children of the church to the front of the sanctuary during the pastoral prayer time. As they gathered at the front, he asked them to sit down and then told them that one of their friends had gotten very sick and needed their prayers.

He not only invited them to pray with him for their friend, but he also held out the mic and asked if one of them would like to pray. Up shot Caleb’s hand. Caleb was 10 and had suffered from the same illness that now plagued his friend.

The next moment Doyle did something amazing. He handed over the mic to a 10-year-old. And with his pastor beside him, Caleb prayed this simple prayer. “Lord, I know what Dallas is going through, and I know that Guillain- Barre sucks (yes, he said sucks . . . in church . . . during the pastoral prayer). Please touch him, be with him, and heal him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”