Faith and trust

Tuesday Devotional: 1 John 5

Read 1 John 5:1-12bible

If we desire change, we must introduce something that has the power to create change.  If we desire a radical change, we must introduce something that has radical power.  We face extreme troubles with insufficient resources, and we desire a change in our limited ability to ultimately overcome and find success. In order to create a change in our limited human ability to overcome the daily trials of this world, we must introduce something so radically powerful and real to give us any hope that the change is possible.  This new agent for change must be more extreme than the obstacles we face if success is possible.

To commit to this process and to hope in this change requires great trust and confidence.  Jesus Christ claims the power to produce the change necessary for overcoming the challenges of this world and providing us with a hope beyond them.  If we approach these promises with anything less than complete submission to their power and reality, we should not be surprised when our progress in this life remains limited by what we try to overcome.  There is no complete healing without complete submission to the healing agent.  If we cannot or will not take the promises of Jesus seriously then we must not seriously hope that we can ultimately be healed.  If we cannot submit to the reality of Jesus Christ’s life on Earth and continued presence in the form of the Holy Spirit, then we must submit to the fact that our problems will remain.

Faith in Jesus Christ is all encompassing.  There is no halfway.  There is no 50 percent.  Faith in Jesus Christ establishes truths that must be foundational, never decorative or supplemental.  These truths include complete submission to his life and death on the cross, complete submission to his resurrection and life in our present age through the Holy Spirit, complete submission to the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit to transform us from sin and self-indulgence to righteous passion and service in the likeness of Jesus Christ.  These truths must be held if the obstacles they promise to overcome shall be in fact overcome. Pretending to take medicine will only result in pretending to be healed.

Bigger Better Baked Goods: the Baker

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For our final post in this series, we’re talking about doubt in the Baker. For the earlier installments, go here, here, and here

The news that my mother was preparing to bake something was always met with exuberant support and joy in our house. My mother is known for her delicious baked goods, so it stands to reason that all members of the household would unanimously support her plans to bake. Now, let’s contrast the reactions when I made such an announcement. When I announced an intention to bake, imagine dramatic orchestral music accompanied by a slow motion montage of all members of my family frantically lunging to prevent me from entering into the kitchen, in hopes of stopping me from proceeding with this catastrophic plan. Where my mother’s plans were met with joy, support and excitement, mine invoked doubt, suspicion and fear. The guarantee of something heavenly emerging from the oven as a result of my mother baking no longer dominated the thoughts of those unfortunate few that heard my announcement. Now the only guarantee is that something was definitely going to go wrong. The question was no longer, “How long will we have to wait?” spoken in anxious anticipation. The now unspoken question was, “How long will we have to wait?” in fearful expectation of disaster.

Why were the responses so different? The answer comes again to “trust.” My family had all the trust in the world in my mom’s baking abilities, and little to no trust in mine. And this trust, although to me clearly biased and one-sided, was not misguided. In fact, it was absolutely justified. My mom possessed a long and illustrious record of producing wonderful creations from the oven. I did not. My mom had proven herself a wonderful baker. I had proven that I had no right to be baking in the first place. Therefore, the fear of what might happen when I began to bake was a judgment call made on nothing except my record. My record of mistakes spoke louder than my record of success.

With each passing year we all hope to be one step closer to our goals, whatever they may be. Regardless of which direction you are heading, everyone is heading somewhere. Regardless of what destination you are striving toward, everyone is striving to attain something. While we can all accept this observation as mere common sense, what we tend to forget is how much we are investing every day of our lives in promises that perhaps do not deserve such committed sacrifice and devotion. To invest so much of ourselves into certain things that make such bold promises and encourage us with such hopeful guarantees, we would be unwise to neglect a look at “the record.” Human beings are amazing creatures that are capable of incredible levels of thought and analysis that not even science can fully account for. We are incredible beings with incredible minds. Our ability to think is what elevates us above the animal Kingdom and gives us an advantage over every other living thing in this world. Yet it is shocking how often we make seemingly blind investments in unsure things. We forget to “use our minds,” constantly unwilling to analyze “the record” of those unfulfilling things in which we invest, repeatedly left astonished by the outcome when perhaps the outcome is not all that surprising.

Perhaps a person takes the guarantees of a job at face value: that to accept a new position will ultimately bring about happiness. While the job may produce forms of happiness, there are typically caveats in the promise, where happiness will ultimately evolve into promises unfulfilled. Perhaps you or your family might begin to enjoy certain perks of the new job, like luxurious vacations provided by a competitive salary, fulfilling the promise of happiness. While these vacations most certainly bring about happiness, enjoying these relatively short-lived experiences of bliss tends come at the cost of long working hours and decreased family time. While this might not always be the case, it is widespread and tragically common. With such a predictable outcome, why do we continue to fall for the trick? Perhaps buying the latest and greatest merchandise keeps you going to work every day, putting forth the effort that you do. Perhaps it is the promise of acceptance and value that you will feel once you purchase said merchandise that keeps you working so hard. After months of working and saving, perhaps you finally buy the thing which you have striven to attain for so many months. This feeling is noticeably satisfying, and the joy of possessing your new “precious” gives you a feeling of such joy and delight that, at that moment, all of the toil was worthwhile, and the promise was fulfilled. Unfortunately, what you find, time and time again, is that as your “precious” begins to age, and a new “precious” becomes known to you, the journey to attain “precious 2.0” begins all over again. Day after day, month after month and year after year we chase the uncatchable and grasping for the unattainable.

With the knowledge of such repeated dissatisfaction it is shocking that so many of us continue to fall for this scam. These motivations to strive and pursue certain things, whether a career or material desires, are based upon the same assumption: that if we seek these “pots of gold” with our greatest passion and ability, we will ultimately be satisfied when we find them. Yet, something rather illogical and inconsistent is observed when we view the pursuit of these things with the same rationale that my family used when questioning my baking ability. My family was not judging me because they had anything personally against me. My family loves me deeply, but they judged my record as Nathan, the infamous cake buster and cookie burner. Their hesitation to trust was based on my past failures.

Why do we continue to live for things that are proven to disappoint us? When we consider what sin is at the center of the human heart, the answer is clear. At the heart of sin is a belief that we know best what will truly satisfy us. However, what sin ultimately produces in us is an addiction to a counterfeit satisfaction. In an attempt to satisfy our cravings, we are eventually consumed by them, left with little that truly satisfies. While jobs and “things” might tend to take more than they give, in the process of chasing them we see that even slight or temporary gratification provides us with such a “high” that we continue to chase. When asked to choose between low, yet prolonged, levels of excitement versus high, yet fleeting, validation of worth, most people would choose the latter.

All of us deeply desire or even need to be something bigger than we are, to be in a better situation than what we now find ourselves in. We spend our lives seeking to satisfy these inner desires, yet without complete success or satisfaction. We throw ourselves at the feet of those who promise to deliver us this sought-after satisfaction but are repeatedly confronted with the realities that the promises were simply words and the desires remain unfulfilled. At the mere utterance of a newer and more successful plan to deliver our deepest dreams, our ears perk up like a dog hearing the clinking of the food bowl. We are so quick to say, “Yes, Yes, Yes!” without stopping to ask,“Why, Why, Why?”

For many years, I saw the Bible as a legal textbook, an unnecessarily long document of laws, regulations and standards that loomed ominously over my head in judgmental condemnation. I viewed the writer of this book to be someone so perfect that to expect such a standard of living out of a regular person like myself was clear evidence that this “God” was too perfect for me to have anything in common with, or too clueless to realize my limited potential. However, this view changed as I read through the Bible in its entirety for the first time. To my surprise, what I found was not what I initially assumed I would. I found was a heart-breaking love story of a father that knows that his children can do so much more if they would only trust his voice and follow. What I found were children, people, who think they can do things on their own but tend to find themselves making long and painful detours which often lead them back to where they originally began, scarred, broken and more hopeless than before. What I found was a father who, over thousands of years, has proven his promises to be true. What I found was a God telling me that I have the potential to become something more than I am now, and in a place more satisfying that I now find myself. This God I found had been trying to prove to me that I can trust his promises, and that all he wanted to do was bring me into the true fulfillment of my heart, satisfying in the way that he intentionally designed.

My new reaction to God’s word was not unlike my family’s reaction to my mother announcing that she would soon be baking a cake. My mom has proven herself time after time to be a competent baker so, naturally, we all looked forward to the finished product.

On a much larger scale, God is no different. He has a long history of making good on his promises. Not one of them has been left unfulfilled. He promises to create something in us that is bigger than we hoped for, and better than we could have ever expected. The question is, have you looked at His record to deliver on such promises? And if you have, what is stopping you from trusting in Him and eating His cake?

Bigger Better Baked Goods: Ingredients

pen-and-paper_400x295_39When I was young, my mother would ask me if I would like to assist her in the kitchen as she baked. Perhaps she invited me to share in some quality time, which I am truly blessed to have shared. Or, perhaps she invited me to instruct me in the dos and don’ts of baking that she, one day, hoped I would use in my own kitchen. If this were the case, she unfortunately failed miserably: my oven and pans were the cleanest parts of my apartment as a bachelor. Sorry mom.

Whenever I was in the kitchen with my mother at the initial stages of the baking process, it always seemed unlikely that the unappetizing mixture of egg yolks, milk, sugar and flour could amount to anything more than the sludge that stared back at me from the mixing bowl. “This is going to be the cake?” I would ask myself. But, to my surprise, each and every time, what eventually emerged from the oven was a beautiful and always delicious product that I wasted no time in enjoying. The reason behind my doubt was that what I saw in the mixing bowl did not share any resemblance to the cake I had concocted in my own imagination. The cake in my imagination was a picture of the finished cake on the cake-mix box, with absolutely no likeness to the cake-mix in the bowl. These two things were completely different in my mind. Placing them side-by-side it would seem illogical to assume otherwise. What I saw in the bowl was unformed and unrealized cake. What I saw on the picture was formed and completely realized. The mixing bowl seemed to me less than desirable, while the image of the cake, whether in my mind or on the box, taunted me with sweet delight. One I had no interest in. The other had my undivided attention.

This line of thought is not much different from the way we tend to view ourselves. One look at our personal traits or characteristics and the “hand that we have been dealt,” what we tend to see is something undesirable or unrealized. Perhaps we see some growth and some potential but, in the end, we come away disappointed by the all-too-real “cake-mix” and no sense of a “cake.”

Successfully, confidently approaching the impossible is like seeing the finished cake that everyone wants to try first. However, what we see reflecting back to us in the mirror is not so much the cake everyone wants, which is the dream fulfilled or the impossible made possible, but rather the cake mix that no one takes a second look at.

While it is possible to find joy without succeeding in all of our dreams, and it is equally possible to find happiness while not achieving every goal, we try desperately our entire lives to improve ourselves or our situations. We always want more and we always want to be something different. Yet, we are consistently, and quite abruptly, brought back down to earth by the reality that there are some things that we can do and many things we cannot. At some point we take a look at the ingredients intermingling in the mixing bowl and say to ourselves, “This just doesn’t look good. This just doesn’t look like cake.”

Now let’s allow our imaginations to run wild a bit and imagine that the ingredients in the mixing bowl had lives all of their own and the presence of mind to assess their respective states. If an egg or a grain of sugar were shown the picture of the finished cake on the box and were told that soon they would become that picture, there would naturally be suspicion racing through their minds that becoming “the cake” was unlikely or even impossible. At this point, we are fortunate to have access to the foresight of the baker with the entire baking process in mind. For example, when I doubted my mother and the sight I saw in the mixing bowl, she reassured me that what I saw was simply the first step of the process and, with delicate care and patience, we would ultimately come to realize the fruits of this labor with a delicious cake. The question for us is, “How can we know that what we see in the mirror every morning has any potential to become something that we might not have the ability to envision?” One possible answer to this question is in the perspective of God toward his creation.

God is a creator God who, after each of the seven days of creation in the Genesis creation account, always uttered the same words: “it was good,” and ultimately, on the seventh day, “it was very good.” What we read in the Bible is the story of a God that desires more than anything to see his creation reach the full potential for which it was originally designed, According to the Bible, the motivating factor behind God’s creation of the world was to share the love and unity experienced in the triune relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit with a creation of willful participation. The attainment of the seemingly impossible exists entirely with God. The desire and the ability to do more than we think we can began with God. We were built for more, and therefore, in us is always a longing for more.

The Bible expresses throughout scripture that in order to share in this “creator power,” one must willingly participate in the relationship with God that requires the element of trust or, faith. However, perhaps we, like the cake, might doubt the state of things as we see them, or doubt the direction in which God is leading us.

God’s expressed desire is that we have faith in his ability to control any situation from beginning to end. This notion of trust, although quite shallow in comparison to the actual trust in and proficient ability of our creator God, reminds me of a show that my family used to watch when I was younger living in Singapore. Living overseas has many benefits but, unfortunately for a small child, certain entertainment sacrifices have to be made. First and foremost, TV will inevitably be different. Your favorite shows from back home out of reach in your new home, and the shows you are able to enjoy are typically third-tier entertainment back where you came from. However, this presents one with the opportunity to stumble upon TV shows that, at home, you would not have given a second glance. One of these shows my family began to enjoy was called “Sledgehammer.”

The story revolved around a police detective, nicknamed “Sledgehammer” who, for most of 30 minutes each week, went around making a mess of a situation. But, come the end of each episode, Sledgehammer found a way to be the hero. As a result of his constant bonehead antics, there was little trust on the part of his colleagues or friends that he would ever amount to anything or achieve his objective. However, before heading off into each mission, Sledgehammer always left the audience with his tagline of choice: “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”  While Sledgehammer clearly did not deserve the trust of those around him, God has left us with a 3,000-page autobiography that provides us with reason upon reason why we can, with all confidence, trust him. So, trust him, he does actually know what he is doing.

When it comes to our ability to foresee our potential or purpose, our position is not all that different from the ingredients in a recipe.  As ingredients, we lack the proper perspective to know who we truly are in God’s design of us and why we were created in God’s design for us.  To acknowledge these simple truths is the beginning of true life as we were created to live.  To deny them is to remain under-developed and hopelessly incomplete.