Worship Now

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
    for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;
    proclaim among the nations what he has done.

Psalm 9:9-11

Now’s the time to worship Him. Now’s the time to lift up the name of Jesus and praise Him. Now’s the time glorify God for His goodness and grace. Don’t wait until this pandemic is over. Don’t wait until the economy fixes itself. Don’t wait until everyone is healthy and all the hard times have passed.

We have an opportunity to do something now that we cannot do in heaven. In eternity we will not be able to worship the Lord in the midst of hardship and pain. There will be no hardship and pain. In heaven we will not be able to lift up the name of Jesus in the midst of uncertainty and struggle. There will be no uncertainty and struggle.

Right now is when we get to glorify the name of Jesus regardless of our circumstances. Right now is when we get to declare the goodness of God in the face of all the hardship we face. Right now is our chance. Don’t let it pass!

Now is the time to declare our trust in God. Now is the time to declare that He is worthy of our lives no matter what. Now is the time to sing our lungs out about how amazing God is, slow to anger and abounding in love. Let’s not wait for things to return to normal before we lift up His name!

And I’m not just talking about gatherings on Sunday mornings. Yes, we will gather again eventually. But let’s not wait for that. Right now, in our alone time with the Lord, let’s exalt the name of Jesus. Let’s renew our worship of the Only One who is worthy. Let’s sing our song to Him in the secret place as a congregation of one to an audience of One.

We have an opportunity to do now what we won’t be able to do for eternity. We get to worship Him in the midst of this trial. Let’s not miss this opportunity. This kind of opportunity doesn’t come around very often. Let’s make sure we take advantage of it!

Worship now Church!

Season of Uncertainty

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:5-8

For we live by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

Doubt and uncertainty are not the same thing. Too often, especially in the church, these two terms get muddled together as if we are talking about the same things. But they are very different. Doubt is the antithesis of faith, whereas uncertainty is a natural part of faith.

That feeling we are all feeling right now is uncertainty. Uncertainty is that feeling of not knowing and not being able to predict with any reasonable accuracy what will happen next. We don’t know what will be closed. We don’t know what the governor will order to be shut down. We don’t know when schools will reopen. We don’t know if our friends and loved ones will get COVID-19. We don’t know how all of this will play out. Not being able to see what’s next is the soil where faith can grow. This is why we walk by faith and not by sight.

Uncertainty is very different than doubt. Doubt isn’t just being uncertain about when schools will reopen; it’s not trusting that the school board will make a wise decision. Doubt isn’t just being uncertain about what the government will keep closed; it’s not believing they have our best interest in mind. Do you see the difference?

When we translate this into our relationship with God, the difference between doubt and uncertainty is glaring. Having moments of uncertainty in our faith just means we don’t have all the answers. It means we still have a lot to learn about how God operates in the world and what part our sin has to play in the outcome. Uncertainty is a normal and natural part of a life of faith, but doubt is not.

The Bible never celebrates doubt. It never says that doubt is normal and natural. In fact, it says the opposite. It says that doubt is destructive and corrosive to a life of faith. Doubt isn’t just being uncertain about various aspects of the Christian life; it’s calling into question the nature and character of God. Doubt causes us not to trust that God is good, loving, and kind. Doubt causes us to not trust that God is forgiving, just, and gracious to us. While uncertainty questions circumstances, doubt questions God’s character. In humility, uncertainty admits our limited understanding while doubt tries to put God on trial.

It’s been popular these days in some Christian circles to celebrate doubt, but this is toxic to a life of faith. Faith is more than believing in God. Faith is more than believing a set of theological truths about God. Faith is believing God. Faith is trusting in the nature and character of God. It is believing in His goodness and faithfulness to us. Faith is trusting God, whose goodness is unchanging, even when our circumstances change.

We are living in a season of uncertainty. But uncertainty doesn’t have to lead to doubt. Uncertainty can be the rich soil where faith blossoms. Faith is choosing to look at the world through the lens of trust when our physical eyes can’t yet see. When we let uncertainty lead us into doubt, doubt soon becomes cynical unbelief. Cynicism is a sure sign that the roots of doubt have dug into a person’s heart.

I have found that seasons of change bring uncertainty, but they also bring upgrades. Birthing is like that. Pain and uncertainty precede new life. Last fall, my 2005 Honda Accord broke down. I had so many good memories in that car. It was harder to let go of that car than I thought it would be. But God gave me an upgrade. God provided for me a much better car that has greater seating capacity and more power. This car analogy is just a shallow example of a deeper truth. The pain and uncertainty led to an upgrade. Good Friday preceded Resurrection Sunday. This is what God will do if we let Him.

Proven Faith

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel… “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 

David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

1 Samuel 17:8, 10-11, 26, 28-29, 32

Faith in the Living God and courage to do what He’s called you to do often looks like arrogance and conceit to those who live consumed with fear and doubt. David did not have faith in his own abilities; he had faith in the God of Israel and God’s ability to use David. People with this kind of faith come across as arrogant to those who struggle to trust God and don’t believe God can use them for great things.

But David had more than faith in God and confidence that God could use him. He had experience in trusting the Lord and seeing the Lord use him.

Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

1 Samuel 17:33-37

It wasn’t just that Eliab struggled to trust God. It wasn’t just that Eliab doubted how God could use him (In other words, he didn’t have an identity grounded in the Lord). But it was also that Eliab didn’t have experience trusting in the Lord in difficult situations and seeing the Lord come through for him. David did.

For David, this wasn’t blind faith. This was proven faith. God had proven Himself faithful time and time again as David stepped out in faith. Goliath simply represented the next step of faith, not a “giant” leap.

The problem with many of us is not that we don’t possess “giant level” faith. The problem is that we haven’t been taking the smaller steps of faith behind-the-scenes when no one else was around. We haven’t been taking the smaller risks to trust in the Lord and see Him come through. This is what prepares us for the day of battle–the day where giant faith is needed.

In other words, the real issue isn’t that we don’t have the faith to face a Goliath. The real issue is that we haven’t been taking the smaller steps of faith to go after a lion or a bear. We haven’t been willing to take those risks when we were in charge of sheep, and we wonder why we can’t take charge of an army and face a Goliath.

David was full of faith and confident in how God could use him because of all the risks he took leading up to this moment. Goliath was simply the next logical step. What seemed impossible to the rest of the army just seemed reasonable to David.

It’s not blind faith that makes the impossible seem reasonable; it’s proven faith. Tested and proven faith–faith that’s been seasoned with real experience–is what is able to face down impossible situations. Proven faith is something that grows in the life of a person willing to continually take risks that require trust in the Lord. It’s a lifestyle, not something that is mustered up in a crisis.

Stepping up and stepping out with proven faith will often look arrogant to those who have confused doubt with humility. For too many Christians, humility looks like uncertain timidity, waffling doubt, and the fear of what other people will say. But is that the humility we see Jesus live out? Is that how we would describe Jesus? Timid? Waffling in doubt? Afraid of what people will say? No way! And yet Jesus walked in absolute perfect humility.

What David did to face down Goliath took tremendous humility because it required him to trust not in his own strength and ability but in the Lord. So what looked like an act of arrogant conceit to his brother was actually radical humility on display. This teaches us that radical humility may, at times, look like meekness, yet at other times it will look like bold courage. David’s action was radical humility in bold courage form. David had to trust that the Lord would come through for him. He also had to trust what the Lord said about him. He had to trust that God could use him powerfully. David risked his life based on that trust. That’s true humility.

I’ve seen this same accusation of arrogance and conceit in the Christian community launched against people stepping out in proven faith and bold courage for the name of Jesus. We have whole churches, and sometimes whole denominations, full of Eliabs. Timid uncertainty–waffling doubt–is not humility. Most of the time it’s a symptom of unbelief.

Eliabs mask their fear and unbelief by calling it prudent wisdom. They only want to do what seems reasonable, measured, safe. Is that how the New Testament describes the life of following Jesus? Safe? Reasonable? Measured? Not even close.

I don’t want to be an Eliab. I want to be a David, don’t you? I want to walk in bold, proven faith. I want to step out and take risks for the name of Jesus regardless of the whispers and gossip it creates around me. I want to lay my life down and trust the Lord. I want to believe what He says about me in His word, and I want to trust Him for big things. Don’t you?

It doesn’t start with Goliaths. It starts with sheep. It starts with lions and bears. What risk is God asking you to take? What steps of radical faith is He requiring of you in 2020?

The One Who Doubts

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:5-8

It has become popular to celebrate “doubt” in Christian circles as something that should be embraced and welcomed. It is a cliche at this point to say, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith.” Believers are encouraged to embrace their doubts and live with them as a sort of conversation partner with faith.

That all sounds great, and I am sure it is comforting to those who have doubts. The only problem with it is that it is the complete opposite of what scripture says and how Jesus lived and taught His own disciples.

This verse in James does not have nice things to say about doubt. It is not something we embrace. It is something we fight against. It is not something that acts as a conversation partner to faith. It is something that erodes faith. I have cast out a spirit of doubt in more than enough deliverance sessions to know that doubt is a demonic tool of the enemy.

We need to clarify what we mean when we are talking about doubt. Doubt in this James passage is the opposite of belief. When we ask the Lord for something like wisdom, we are commanded to believe and not doubt. This Greek word translated as “doubt” is the same word translated as “waver” when describing Abraham’s faith in Romans 4:20, “he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.” So we see that when scripture talks about doubt, it is talking about unbelief.

Yet, there has been a bit of a slight of hand in the language used today in the church. Many people who celebrate “doubt” are meaning to say “uncertainty.” They want to create room for the Christian not to be certain about everything. And I whole-heartedly agree with that intention. In the life of faith there are many uncertainties that will never fully be resolved until we are in eternity. The apostle Paul affirms this reality to the Corinthians when he says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”(1 Corinthians 13:12).

Uncertainty is a lack of knowledge that, when addressed humbly, leads to intellectual curiosity, pursuit of God, and a kind of soul rest in the presence of mystery. However, doubt is a lack of trust that often leads to distance from God, a skeptical attitude, and a cynical outlook. Doubt demands knowledge before trust while uncertainty acknowledges trust as the gateway to greater knowing. Doubt comes with accusations while uncertainty comes with an admission of our own limitations.

So while we can and should admit uncertainties, we should reject doubt as described in the Bible. Doubt in the Bible is unbelief and is toxic to our life of faith. The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind“(James 1:6). James does not celebrate the Christian who doubts as “normal” and “natural.” Instead, he makes it clear that a person who lives in doubt “is double-minded and unstable in all they do“(James 1:7). These are the words of scripture, not my words.

But we really shouldn’t be surprised by James’s words. Jesus was no less combative toward doubt. After causing the fig tree to shrivel up, Jesus said:

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Matthew 21:21-22

His words to Thomas were even stronger:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

John 20:27

So if we struggle with doubts, we should not embrace them. We should not celebrate them. Doubts are also not an opportunity for us to feel shame, self-condemnation, or self-pity. They are, instead, an opportunity for repentance. Doubts need to be acknowledged not so that they can be conversation partners with faith but so that they can be surrendered and removed. Cancer cells are not partners with healthy cells. They are toxic invaders that need to be found and removed.

Most of the time, underneath a particular doubt or area of unbelief, is a wound of the heart. Until that doubt is acknowledged as both real and unwanted, the wound underneath can never be exposed and healed. Doubt is not a problem of convincing the mind but of healing the heart. This is why we need to ask God for wisdom. We need His wisdom in eradicating doubt from our lives.

Unbelievable Unbelief

So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness,

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Hebrews 3:7-8, 12-13

In God’s Kingdom, unbelief causes us not to be able to enter in. For that first generation of Israelites, unbelief caused them not to be able to enter the Promised Land. So they wandered in the desert until a new generation emerged. Speaking of this unbelieving generation of Israelites, the writer of Hebrews says, “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19).

How do we get to this place of unbelief?

First, sin begins to lie to us about ourselves and about God. Sin either makes us feel shame and guilt–which makes us want to separate ourselves from God–or begins to make us feel like God is holding out on us. In the end, sin, if not repented of quickly, begins to erode our trust in God. Our doubts begin to creep in and God no longer seems trustworthy. This is “sin’s deceitfulness.”

This then leads to a hardening of our hearts. Thick walls of doubts and deception begin to form around our hearts as a means to protect it. If we are in relationship with someone (a spouse for instance) and they don’t seem trustworthy anymore, then we build defensive walls around our hearts in order not to get hurt. We do the same with God.

These walls–this hardening of the heart–form a stronghold in our feeling and thinking. Strongholds are fortifications of intricate lies that have been woven together. We are lied to by the enemy and told that these strongholds will keep hurt out. But what they keep out are things like faith, trust, hope and experiencing the love of the Father.

People say, “I just can’t feel God anymore” and they make the statement as if it is some indictment against God…as if He somehow distanced Himself from them. But this confession is a self-indictment about the self-protective walls we’ve allowed to surround and harden our hearts.

Unbelief is sin. Unbelief is rebellion. Unbelief is a choice. Often, it is the by-product of a hundred little choices. And it is very different than uncertainty. A life of faith is full of uncertainties. But a life of faith is also full of trust, full of hope, full of love for God, full of intimacy with God. Unbelief separates us from God.

Just as unbelief kept the Israelites from entering the Promised Land, it keeps us from entering God’s Presence. Unbelief keeps us from experiencing and encountering the Holy Spirit. Unbelief keeps us from entering into the gifts of the Spirit. I know because I lived in that specific unbelief for years.

We, as the American Church, have to stop celebrating unbelief as if it is a natural and inevitable part of following Jesus. It’s not! Uncertainty is a natural and inevitable part of the faith journey, but unbelief is not. Not distinguishing between the two is harmful to the process of discipleship.

Compared to our Christian brothers and sisters on the continents of South America, Asia, and Africa, North American Christians are steeped in the sin of unbelief. And the first step to ridding ourselves of sin is repentance. The proper response to our unbelief is not to accept it as “normal” but to repent of it and renounce it in Jesus’ name.