Do you believe Jesus or believe IN Jesus? Just what is it that you believe?

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Words matter. And ubiquity weakens the meaning.

Take for example our use of the verb ‘LOVE':

  • I love my husband
  • I love chocolate
  • I love to read
  • and my common email/letter closing of ‘love, Maria’

The overuse and cross-categories application of ‘to love’ has so watered down this affectionate inclination that when we are told to love God, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal.

Same with the idea of ‘BELIEVE':

  • I believe that people are basically good
  • I believe in family
  • I believe in luck
  • I believe in love
  • I believe in being the best I can be
  • I believe that 2 and 2 are 4

The Bible takes the exhortation to believe VERY seriously. It actually seems to be a matter of eternal life or death, what we believe. So how should we think about it? Does it matter how we believe or what we believe in?  After all, the half-brother of Jesus taught us “…even the demons believe (in God) and shudder!” James 2:19b

Maybe a more precise question might be: How do we distinguish saving belief and simple factual belief?  And does that preposition IN make the difference?

Blue Letter Bible is the name of a website/app that provides a wealth of examples in how terms are used. In their discussion of the verb ‘to believe’ (Greek verb # 4100 PISTEUO) they consider contexts both in the Bible and in literature preceding and after NT days.  I found these nuanced meanings helpful:

  • to rely on
  • to place one’s confidence in
  • to embrace with joy
  • to make the foundation of your faith

In view of the richer and deeper concept of ‘to believe’ I now make a point to use one of these fresher substitutes. So in lieu of saying: I believe in Jesus, I substitute I rely on Jesus for all my needs.

I used to think many people were Christians when they said with easy confidence, “Oh I believe in God!”

But as I pointed out above, people believe in all sorts of things on a surface or shallow level, some of which are not even real (think – tooth fairies, conspiracy theories and a government that can fix our problems!)

I ask you then, does it matter what we mean by ‘to believe’?  Actually it does matter.  For what we believe and rely on….

Life and death balance

…..determines where you and I are going to spend eternity.

Here’s one example. When Jesus arrived at Mary and Martha’s house after Lazarus had died, Martha berates her friend by postulating that her brother would not have died had he arrived earlier.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

The question then is, does everyone who mouths the words, “I believe in Jesus” receive ‘forever-life’ with God?

Well, I’ll let you decide for yourself by sharing pastor John Piper’s view of belief in Jesus.

“Believing is coming to Jesus to be satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.”

From his sermon on 10th anniversary of 9/11

So I see belief in Jesus to be a reliance on Him as my constant and never-ending source for every need, desire, joy, anxiety, and problem.  He IS my treasure.  He IS my greatest good.  And His presence is rest and peace.  That is belief.

And what we believe in can actually be what we truly LOVE. I’ll let John Piper have the last word tying the two together:

“So the love of money is virtually the same as faith in money — belief (trust, confidence, assurance) that money will meet your needs and make you happy.”

Question:  What is it that you believe or base your life on?

How many hairs do I have on my head?

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Hairs are numbered

Big deal – so God knows how many hairs I have.  I’ve never understood why Jesus even bothered to say that?

But this week, all of a sudden, Jesus’ words as recorded by Luke stopped me cold.  I realized that I myself don’t know THAT fact about my hair.  What else don’t I know about myself? And what kind of God must our creator be to have that kind of detailed knowledge?  And if he is always aware of the minutia of my life, then he must be intimate with everything else about me, to include the really big stuff.

Suddenly it made sense that God cares enough to keep up with everything about me.  Don’t I care about what I fashion? Don’t I feel a sense of pride and affection and a close bond with my grown sons?  And I didn’t create them, I ‘merely’ raised and loved and taught them.

I like this now, that my heavenly Father knows even the tiniest FACT about me before I ever notice.  That feels like love. And in the preceding verse (Luke 12:6) he even says that I’m way more important than sparrows. And the level of care he shows to these common birds is phenomenal.  Not a single one is “epi-lanth-a-no-mai” – that is forgotten, neglected or uncared for.  If that is how our heavenly Father takes care of the animal kingdom, then how much more valuable am I or are you?

Hmm….so how should I treat my neighbor, whom this same God also created?

Jesus is even better than a permanent ‘bail bondsman’!

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Meditating on the HISTORICAL fact that Jesus has lived out the judicial sentence I deserve for my past, present and future crimes against the Holy God.  I have been declared ‘debt-free’.   And Jesus now accompanies me as my SURETY.

Jesus paid my debt

What is a ‘surety’?  “A surety is an individual who undertakes an obligation to pay a sum of money or perform some duty or promise for another in the event that person fails to act.”

Because Jesus is my permanent ‘surety’, I don’t have to rely on my own righteousness. (not that it would ever be ‘good enough’) That means that I can repent EACH time I succumb to those deceptive shortcuts to happiness, aka ‘sin’.

Thank you, Father, that with Jesus grafted permanently in me because of the new birth, I can begin –  again –  to follow You with a pure heart and willing mind.

This is what God calls sincere, upright and blameless. What an amazing deal for us, that He delights in and is pleased with all these PURE-intentioned starts, SINFUL falls, HONEST repentances and HUMBLE willingnesses to pick right back up to follow Him.

Romans 8:3-4  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

God’s constant provision as seen in the Wizard of Oz

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Scarecrow from Oz

The local movie theater shows kids’ classics for free in the summer.  Accompanied by my granddaughters I relived this childhood favorite for the first time on the big screen. Startling were the illustrations of how God provides in the moment. I don’t mean to say that He is actually invoked and evident in L. Frank Baum’s cinematic version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  But seeing the scarecrow use brains he didn’t think he had to guide Dorothy and the others in escaping the Wicked Witch of the West and her winged monkeys and guards brought to mind life lived walking with Jesus. One could almost call this film a parable of the Christian life.

I’ve been meditating this summer on the stunning promise from our Jehovah-Jireh in Romans 8:32 – Since He (God) did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?  That’s enough provision to settle anyone’s heart.

Yet……I perversely WANT to see – ahead of time – all the provision I’ll ever need, IN PLAIN SIGHT!  But that is not the way God has set up this world. He is training us to trust Him, to lean on Him moment by moment, to live by faith in who He is, to treasure Him as our greatest provision.  Time and time again, God exhorts us to be content with Him as our greatest good.

Viewing again this vintage film drove home in a gentle and nostalgic way the futility of worrying about the future.

The lion, tin man, scarecrow and Dorothy had NO idea what circumstances would be like just around the corner.  How could they have anticipated that the guards who worked for the evil witch would rejoice to see their tyrannical sorceress melt away?

Witch melting

And when the ‘Wizard’ inadvertently departed Oz without Dorothy, she had no need to worry about what to do next.  For Glinda, the good witch, appeared with all that was necessary at the opportune moment.

So, too, is our God and Father always with us, to provide just what we need in the kairos moment.  Psalm 23:1 – The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not lack a thing! 

Isn’t our God amazing in how He uses EVERYthing to teach us.  That’s a love that never stops!

‘The Big Fall’ into sin – again!

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I noticed the contradiction for a couple of days and named it. Preached it, even.
Then I fell for it.  And sinned big.  (Like in those days before I had heard about God’s biblical plan for wives.)
But back to truth.  Here’s the insight:
“It makes NO sense to believe in the sovereignty of God over every molecule AND worry about how I want my day to go.”  That is irrational and stupid.
But it’s been that kind of week.  I’m going out of town on Monday and the days were filling up.  I WANTED to do X, Y and Z and I saw only limited windows of time open for me to take care of those ‘important’ things on my list.  And I panicked.  Even though I know better.  Even though God patiently sets up this lesson time and time again so I can trust Him.
This past Wednesday, the day of THE BIG FALL, I even comforted myself remembering that God has ALWAYS provided in the past.  Without fail.
Not enough time
And yet…the banner over me was NOT ENOUGH TIME, so I grimmed up and grew hard.  Our conversation through dinner prep and on into the meal took on a combative edge.
That was when I found myself dishing back to him in like manner, feeling fully justified.  Just like during all those selfish years, when I would rationalize – “If he’s allowed to play the dramatic, then I should as well!”  But you know how THAT always ends.
Sin is a shortcut to what SEEMS like a good idea in the moment.  But it never satisfies.  Emotion short-circuits clear thinking. Praying to God didn’t occur to me in the midst of feeling sorry for myself.
So, how did it all end?  My husband chose the ‘mature’ card of love and softness toward me.  Having put as many chores as I could between my eventually wanting to absorb the cool mountain air of an evening in the Smokies I sat down next to him in silence.  He let no more than a minute go by before turning to me. His question drew me out, back to the truth of how much we love each other.  The humble features and pleading eyes showed me how much his heart has grown Christ-like since our last ‘raise your own barricades’ skirmish.
That glimpse and the remedial lesson in trusting God’s provision were worth the pain!
1 Corinthians 13: 7 (Love ….. )  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Self-sufficiency is a lie!

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Bigger Barn

I am like the rich fool who believed Satan about storing up stuff for future needs instead of trusting God.

In desperation, I pray.  God comes through.  

Relieved, I thank God.

But with the very next breath, I perversely tense,  “Rats!  There’s X situation tomorrow and I’m going to have to BE VULNERABLE and NEED God.  I just wish I could see the resources ahead of time, (look out the window at my BARN.)

Here’s the lie:

Either I provide for myself, or I trust God.

(and Satan paints self-sufficiency as less anxiety-producing)

The truth is, I CAN’T provide for myself.  That’s a false assumption.

Real life: 

Either neediness WITHOUT God, or neediness plus the God who promises to provide with me

Dear Father, help me repent not only of fear-thoughts and worry but also of not wanting to NEED You!

Psalm 40:17 I am poor and needy, yet the Lord takes thought and plans for me. You are my Help and my Deliverer. O my God, do not tarry!

My adornment

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Braided hair

Braided my hair this morning. Took 4 minutes.

More challenging than working those fingers blindly behind my head was God’s exhortation to spend ample time setting my heart, my disposition, my inclination to line up with the FACT of who He is:

  • Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe
  • Holy God
  • Redeemer of inward-oriented Maria who, still captivated by the world, is a lover of pleasure and comfort
  • Author and Finisher of my faith
  • Good Father

Finished dressing, relieved that He knows me so well.  And desiring to please Him.

1 Peter 3:3 Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear.

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