Faith-Filled Self Talk

When we’re under pressure, we have to monitor our self-talk. Because the difficulties and challenges we face may well turn our minds onto a negative track. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV).

If we fail to take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, we’ll find ourselves coping with pressure by blaming others, or getting frustrated and flying off the handle, or putting ourselves down. Thanks to our sinful nature, negativity takes over and we begin to take our pessimistic point of view as reality.

The Hebrew Christians were under a lot of pressure. They were being persecuted from two different sides — the Romans and the Jews. Their friends were leaving Christianity. Their property and possessions were on the line — as were their businesses and employment. Their personal freedom was no longer a given. Their very lives were in danger.

Samuel Johnson once said, “It is more necessary to be reminded than it is to be instructed.” Long before Samuel Johnson, the author of the book of Hebrews seems to intuitively understand this, and he reminds the Hebrew Christians what their self-talk should sound like.

These are the things that we still need to remind ourselves of. And we need to do this frequently. Inside our own minds, we have to make sure that we say true things to ourselves — that we say faith-filled things to ourselves — things that are based fully on God’s gracious words and promises.

What are the things I can tell myself when I’m under pressure? Take a look:

  • The Lord is my helper, so I can put aside anxiety and be fearless.
  • Because the Lord is my strength, and death is already defeated, mere mortals can not really damage me.
  • God has give me leaders here on earth who can coach me and mentor me. In other words, I have allies. I need to remember them. If they’re still around, I can find them and learn more from them. And I need to imitate their successful way of life.
  • Jesus doesn’t change. That means his love for me doesn’t change. His promises don’t change. His forgiveness doesn’t change. His patience doesn’t change. His offer of strength and hope doesn’t change. His gift of eternal life doesn’t change.
  • Jesus doesn’t change, so that also means his teaching doesn’t change. What he taught people in Bible times still applies to my life today. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise or tries to introduce strange new teachings.
  • There is nothing better than God’s grace. That grace is mine. Truly mine. And that is a good thing for straightening and strengthening my heart.

“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:6-9a, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to speak faith-filled words to myself. I am sorry when pressures in my life cause me to respond sinfully and with negativity, rather than with faith and hope. Forgive me. And remind me of your words and promises, so that I can remind myself of those same words and promises. I want to take every thought captive and make it obedient to you.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 16, is Ezekiel 30:1 – 31:18, Hebrews 13:1-25 and Proverbs 27:23 – 28:6.

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Faith Over Fear

When trouble comes, do you run away from it, or do you run toward it? Does trouble put you on defense, and cause you to back off, or back down? Or does trouble put you on the offense, and spur you to step up, and step forward?

These are important questions for a Christ-follower to answer. That’s why the author of the book to the Hebrews puts the question to his readers.

The Hebrews had started out early in their journey of faith by being the bold ones. They needed a reminder of this, so that they could rediscover their original confidence and endurance: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering” (Hebrews 10:32, NIV).

The fact was, their boldness had begun to wane, and their faith along with it. Some wanted to make a u-turn and go back to the Judaism they had left. And that’s the whole point of this letter to them. What they now had was superior. Why shrink back from the challenges they were now facing?

Are you sometimes tempted to make a u-turn in life and turn the clock back to a time when you were not a follower of Jesus Christ? Or do you sometimes long for a time when believing seemed easier and you didn’t feel the need to take your faith so seriously — or to exercise it so strenuously? Are the challenges you face to your life of faith causing you to have second thoughts?

Through the letter to the Hebrews, the Holy Spirit reminds us to stand strong in the love and power of God, keep the faith, and claim the crown that Christ has won for us. We are not the kind of people who cut and run.

We are the kind of people who let faith rule over fear. And in the power of him who is faithful to his promises, we endure.

“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39, NIV).

Lord, I repent of the times I allow fear to cause me to want to cut and run, to shrink back and to abandon my faith. Strengthen me by the power of the Spirit through your word and sacraments. Make me bold and remind me that I belong to those who have faith and are saved.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 11, is Ezekiel 20:45 – 22:22, Hebrews 10:19-39 and Psalm 123:1-4.

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Steady, Resolute, Purposeful

God is not two-faced. He also does not waver between two opinions.

God never says one thing, only to end up doing the opposite. A failure to keep his word just isn’t going to happen. When God speaks, it is with integrity and intention.

And likewise, God is never one to vacillate or hesitate. He doesn’t sit on fences. He is steady, resolute and purposeful.

Jesus’ coming is the proof of this. All of God’s promises were fulfilled in Jesus. God sent his Son, and with this one single action, he said “Yes!” to all our dreams. Jesus is God’s faithfulness in the flesh. Jesus is God’s love personified.

Who is more faithful to his words and promises than Jesus? He went all the way through vicious mocking, brutal beating, unimaginable cross-bearing, and eventually, agonizing crucifixion — all to be able to say his “Yes!” to us and keep his promise to win life eternal for us.

If Jesus unwaveringly did all that, there’s one other thing you can be sure of. Right now, he wants to help you become unwavering in your trust, to stand firm in faith, and to remain steady, resolute and purposeful in your quest for eternal glory.

His faithful love for you is pure grace. And your faithful love for him is pure grace too. You and I did not earn God’s love by anything we’ve done. And you and I do not love God or trust in him by our own power, either. God’s Spirit gets all the credit for that.

It is God who makes us stand firm in Christ.

“But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:18-22, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your faithful love. I praise and glorify you that I can rely fully on your promises. Send your Spirit into my heart through those promises so that I can remain as faithful to you, as you have been to me. I want to be steady, resolute and purposeful in pursuing eternal glory — and I know you are the one who will make me stand firm in Christ.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, August 27, is 2 Chronicles 29:1 – 31:1, 2 Corinthians 1:12-22 and Psalm 103:13-22.

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Is Your Faith Secure?

Do you have anti-virus software on your computer? Is your network behind a firewall?

“Of course!” you respond. “That’s hugely important. Vital, really.”

It’s hard to deny. With as many viruses and hackers as there are in today’s world, it’s crucial. It’s really foolish not to have it.

As Paul wrapped up his letter to the Romans, he encouraged them to build a spiritual firewall against hackers wanting to invade the “network” of the Roman church. He encouraged them to install doctrinal anti-virus to protect their hearts.

The apostle had been around the block a time or two. He knew well that even with intense security, there were many “viruses” and “hackers” who would still try to invade the church, and rob the Roman Christ-followers of their most treasured possession — their faith in Christ.

Today, Paul issues the same strong warning to us. False, unbiblical teaching is a “virus” we can’t afford to allow inside our churches or our own hearts. False teachers are nothing more than “hackers” that want to seek out and exploit the weaknesses in our faith.

Watch out for them, Paul commands. And keep away from them.

Because the Bible has everything we need to know God, to trust in Jesus as our Savior, to find forgiveness for our sins, and to discover the path to eternal life.

Anything else — anything not found in the Bible — is nothing more than a corruption of the truth. It’s a contagion that will threaten the security of your faith!

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them (Romans 16:17, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, August 3, is 1 Chronicles 15:1 – 16:36, Romans 16:1-27, and Psalm 90:11-17.

Lord, protect me and my church from viruses and hackers. Jesus called them “wolves.” Help me to be strong in your word, so that I am protected from the damage that false teachings and false teachers can do.

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A King’s Courageous Faith

King Hezekiah was a rare breed. The thing that made him one of a kind was that he so implicitly trusted God. He trusted God so much that he was willing to demolish all the places where any idols were worshipped.

This kind of focus on one God alone — this readiness to obey the first commandment — had not occurred since the time of David. Hezekiah even destroyed the bronze serpent that Moses had made in the wilderness to save the Israelites from venemous snakes. It too had become an idol, so in Hezekiah’s mind it had to go — no matter that Moses himself had made it.

Whatever came, Hezekiah put God first. Sennacherib, the powerful emperor of the Assyrian empire, threatened the Israelites with utter destruction of their homeland and then deportation. Hezekiah took these threats and put them before the Lord. God would know how to handle Sennacherib, he was confident of that.

I love it when we get to watch a man like Hezekiah in action. He is such an example of a courageous faith. His dedication to the Lord makes me want to be just as dedicated. His willingness to obey God makes me want to be obedient. And his trust that the Lord was with him makes me want to put my entire trust in Jesus that he is with me.

I want to have the courageous faith of a king like Hezekiah.

Hezekiah is a great reminder too that when I fall short (as I often do!), Jesus is the ultimate king. There’s truly no one who is a king like Jesus. He held fast to his Heavenly Father, and he kept all his commands. And he did this for us!

The Heavenly Father was with him. Christ’s crucifixion and sacrifice wins forgiveness for me when my faith wavers. His resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand show me that my faith in Jesus will ultimately be rewarded with my own resurrection and victory.

“Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook” (2 Kings 18:5-7a, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, July 9, is 2 Kings 18:1 – 19:13, Acts 27:13-44, and Psalm 82:1-8.

Lord, send me your Holy Spirit through my study of your word and my reception of the sacraments, so that he may build up my faith to be like the faith of Hezekiah. And where I have failed to trust as simply and singularly as Hezekiah, forgive me through the merits of your Son, my one and only King, Jesus.

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Four Qualities Produced By a Vibrant Faith

Every now and then we come across people in the Bible who are not prominent in the Biblical record. Though they play only a small role, a description of them reveals that they are people with a vibrant faith.

One of those was a man named Cornelius. He was a soldier in the Roman army, a commander. And he was a man of faith.

I love the way this man is described as he lived out his faith. The four items that were characteristic of his faith are good for us to know, and think about for ourselves.

Cornelius was…

  • Devout. He was devoted to God and a man of piety. His mind and heart were drawn frequently to God.
  • God-fearing. He held a deep respect for God born of his love for God, a love itself born of God’s love for him.
  • Generous. He gave abundantly to those who were in need as soon as he became aware of their circumstances.
  • Prayerful. Prayer was an important, vital and regular part of Cornelius’ walk in the faith.

“At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (Acts 10:1-2, NIV).

Lord, give me your Spirit and the amazing faith-qualities that you gave to Cornelius. Where I have fallen short, I ask for your forgiveness. Thank you for Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Knowing that I am loved faithfully and forgiven constantly only motivates me all the more to desire the qualities of a vibrant faith that Cornelius possessed.

Our Bible reading for Monday, June 15, is 2 Samuel 23:8 – 24:25, Acts 9:32 – 10:23a and Psalm 74:1-9.

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Leaders AND Followers

Judges, chapter 19, features one of the most horrific accounts in the entire Bible. It is very tough to read.

You know it’s not going to end well when it starts with a man who serves God (as a Levite), and he has a concubine. And as you read on, you’ll notice the language change. He can’t seem to decide whether she is his kept-woman or his wife.

Bad decision follows bad decision. And the ending is truly tragic in every sense of that term. I’ll let you discover the outcome through your reading.

What I want to do is go back and focus on the very beginning of this tragedy, and the seven words that initiate it…

“In those days Israel had no king” (Judges 19:1, NIV)

Ironically, the previous chapter starts with the same words, and while that chapter is not quite as tragic as chapter 19, it doesn’t feature acts of great faith and devotion to the glory of God, either. Clearly, there’s a theme here!

Seven words. Yet those seven words are indicators that faithful Christian leadership is critically important to the story of God’s people. More than that, Christian leadership is shown to be vital to the faithfulness of God’s people.

In today’s world, authority is constantly under question, and even humble, faithful, men of God are carefully scrutinized. Not that this is entirely a bad thing. We all require accountability. But in a culture like ours, we also need to occasionally step back and be reminded of the importance of humble, faithful Christian leadership.

And, by the way, there is critical importance to humble, faithful Christian followership as well! No leader can lead without willing followers.

Of course, no Christian leader is exempt from sin. Each one has his weaknesses and his faults, just as the judges of this Old Testament book did. But those leaders fulfilled the vital role of guiding God’s people forward in times of severe testing, trials and, oftentimes, leading them back to God after serious stumbles in their faith.

This Levite in chapter 19 is a perfect example of the depths to which God’s people will fall without faithful Christian leadership. The Israelites were unwilling to follow God as their King. That’s the sad truth here. And it’s still sometimes the sad truth today.

So God gives human leaders as his agents — his “kings” — to shepherd people with him and for him. These leaders are worthy of honor and respect.

We serve the cause and the glory of God when we follow godly leaders faithfully.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, May 14, is Judges 18:1 – 19:30, John 8:12-30 and Psalm 60:5-12.

Lord, for those roles in my life where I am a leader, help me to lead humbly, faithfully and patiently, for your purpose and your glory. For those roles in my life where I am a follower, help me to follow humbly, faithfully and patiently, for your purpose and your glory. Forgive me for my sins, my weaknesses and my faults, whether leading or following. May the blood of your Son, Jesus, wash me clean, and prepare me for a new day of leading and following. Most of all, may today be for me a day of following Jesus!

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Promises that Do Not Fail

Joshua had lived a long life. He had been with Moses while the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. He had been Moses’ successor to lead the children of Israel across the Jordan to occupy the Promised Land.

And in all that time, Joshua learned one thing for sure.

God keeps his promises. When he says something will happen, it will happen. And it will happen without fail.

That’s exactly how we got a Savior named Jesus. And it’s also how we received forgiveness, spiritual life and eternal salvation.

Kept promises. Just like the ones God made to Joshua — and later kept — when he led the Israelites across the Jordan into a land flowing with milk and honey.

“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed” (Joshua 23:14, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, May 3, is Joshua 23:1 – 24:33, John 3:22-36 and Psalm 55:12-23.

Lord, thank you for making promises to me. And thank you for fulfilling all the promises you have made. I especially thank you for the promise of a Savior, and the perfect fulfillment of that promise in Jesus, your Son, my Savior.

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Stages in the Journey

As we come out of our spiritual “Egypt” and go on our way to the “Promised Land,” we all go through stages in our journey of faith.

When we start out, everything in Christianity is new and different. We leave behind the familiar territory of our slavery to sin.

And there are times, like there were for the Israelites, when that old way of life seems to call out to us with an irresistible siren’s call. Much as we know this new life is right, we still sometimes miss aspects of our old life of slavery.

But as we go deeper into the new territory, we learn more things about God. We come to know, as the Israelites did, just how patient, gracious and giving our God is. We begin to grasp his laws and commands. We see that each day he will give us our daily bread. And sometimes he will grant his blessings in wondrous ways, far beyond our comprehension.

And as for us? We remain sinful, even as we are drawn each day by the Spirit to live more fully in our new identity as children of God. There will be stages of pride and rebellion, of reversal in our faith, then repentance. There will be battles. And there will be wanderings.

But always, always, wherever we wander, whatever battle we are currently fighting, there is our faithful and forgiving God. And there is his word, pointing us back to him.

One of the reasons I love writing this blog is that it gives me the opportunity to record the stages in my own journey.

How about you? Do you take time to reflect and meditate on the stages in your journey of faith in Jesus? Do you take time to step back, and get up on the “balcony” of your life?

Doing so will give you time for repentance, for gratitude, for joy and for enjoying God’s faithful love.

“Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages…” (Numbers 33:1-2, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, April 2, is Numbers 33:1 – 34:29, Luke 9:10-27 and Proverbs 8:22-31.

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Over-Promise? Not God!

An angel named Gabriel came with a message for Mary. She would be the mother of the Messiah. This was an amazing statement. Because the Messiah would also be the Son of God. And he would be the Savior of the world. And a King whose kingdom would never end.

Quite the promises! Mary was astonished at the words that fell from the angel’s lips. First, she was troubled in her heart. Then came bewilderment. Had this guy never heard of making promises you can’t keep?

After all the amazing and confusing things that Gabriel told her, there was one phrase that seemed to turn the tables for Mary.

For no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37, NIV).

Gabriel’s reminder to Mary was that when God says something, you can bank on it. That’s a reminder we also need, isn’t it? We especially need that reminder when it comes to having a Savior named Jesus.

We hear so many confusing, competing, “promise-the-world” messages in our world today. So we don’t always know what we can bank on and what we can’t. We sometimes feel much the way Mary did — astonished, bewildered and confused.

And let’s face it. A time or two we’ve probably even been guilty of this ourselves. We’ve sent messages that confuse or over-promise.

What Gabriel wanted Mary to know — and you to know — is that God cannot over-promise. No word he speaks to you will ever fail.

You can bank on that. Even better yet, you can bank on him.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, March 14, is Numbers 1:1 – 2:9, Luke 1:26-38 and Psalm 33:12-22.

Father, thank you for giving me your words and promises. I love knowing I can rely on them. I get great peace from having somewhere I can go and be perfectly confident in what’s being said. Most of all, thank you for Jesus. He is the One in whom I confidently find forgiveness and salvation.

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