Pick Up Your Mat and Walk!

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Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” John 5:8

In order to appreciate the value of Jesus’ command, you need to consider the culture of the day. Today, although some may feel we don’t do enough, there are limited opportunities for the physically handicapped to work and lead productive lives. In Christ’s time on earth, the handicapped were outcast. They lived off handouts they could obtain from begging.

In the above instance, the man had been crippled for a long time. Probably the only possessions he had were the clothes on his back and the mat on which he lay. The mat was almost a symbol of the only hope in his life. His existence was one to be pitied. There was no known cure for what ailed him (except Jesus), and even if there had been, he certainly couldn’t have afforded it.

Jesus had sympathy for the man, and with the spoken word, the man was healed. Jesus told him to “Get up!” Take his mat and walk. Obviously, this was a gift greater than anything money could have bought.

Whenever I read this verse, this question comes to mind:

What mat am I holding on to today?

This man was holding on to his mat. It had surely become a treasured possession to him. He slept on it, rested on it, and watched the world pass by on it. He couldn’t have imagined facing the day without it. Jesus tells him to pick it up and walk. When Jesus was finished with the man, he didn’t need the mat anymore. It would take faith to trust Jesus and attempt to walk, but the victory was worth it all. Instead of a mat of hope, this man had the hope of Christ!

What would Jesus have you and I pick up today? What are you holding on to tightly as your only hope?

  • Money
  • Health
  • Relationships
  • Hobbies
    • I think Jesus was telling the man to pick up his mat because he wouldn’t need it anymore. He wouldn’t need a place to beg, to worry, to suffer. He needed no more dependence on a mat. He had found the Healer!

      And, I think even today – whatever you are holding on to tighter than your faith, I believe Jesus would say, “Pick up your mat and walk!”

      If we aren’t careful our mats can become our hope rather than our hope being in Christ.

      Our goal should be to trust Him with we trust in most. We are to allow Him to carry our burdens, strengthen our walk and brighten our future.

      Jesus wants to help you – and, the best way He can do this is lead you to trust Him more. Listen for His command to pick up your mat and walk!

10 Considerations for Understanding Biblical Faith

Praying Hands With Bible

Are you struggling to understand faith? 

I have learned to understand faith I have to put it in terms of a relationship. When we speak of a Biblical faith, we are speaking in terms of having faith – trusting – based upon our relationship with God through His son, Jesus Christ.

With this in mind, based on my understanding of Scripture…

Here are 10 considerations of understanding Biblical faith:

1. Faith is defined for us as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1-2)

2. Faith believes even when it makes no sense to believe, not because of the proof before you, but because of the trust you place in the object of your faith.

3. Faith is based on the will of the person in whom you place your faith, not my will. This is huge to understand. You can have faith the person you love most will never hurt you, for example, but whether they do or not is up to their will, not yours.

4. Biblical faith is in a person, the person of God. (God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – they are One.)  Faith is not in me or my abilities, but on God and His abilities.

5. When Jesus used the illustration of moving mountains He was giving an example of the power of God and how we should place our whole faith in Him. He was not talking about the power of my ability to have faith, but rather the power of the One in whom we place our faith. If God’s will is to move a mountain, He will surely move it. You can even ask Him to by faith.

6. When we talk about faith in God then, we are talking about His will, not our will. Again, this is another huge point. This is how Jesus taught us to pray….”Our Father, who is in Heaven – Thy will be done”. Faith is based on God’s agenda, not my agenda. It’s not your ability to move mountains. It is God’s ability. You have no power over God with your faith. Again, it’s not your will to move mountains; it’s God’s will. We can’t command God to do anything regardless of the size of our faith – because, faith is based on God’s will, not our own.

7. Faith is based on the promises and the character of God, not our hopes or desires. We often miss this one. When you struggle with faith, you don’t doubt your ability – you doubt God’s ability. Sometimes we get upset God hasn’t done something we think He should do, but God never promised to do it. He keeps His promises. You can trust His character – without reservation. God is always going to do what is best. If God has promised something you can absolutely, without any reservations, have faith. And, so, you can also know if God hasn’t done it He hasn’t promised He will – or it is not in His timing yet. You may not always understand what God did or why, but you can always have faith He is acting within His goodness and love. 

8. When you pray by faith then, you are praying with the understanding you trust God to do His will in your life, based not on your wishes or desires, but on what He has promised to do. Some things we can always have faith God will do, because he has promised to do them, such as “love you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), “work all things for good” (Romans 8:28) and “never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:8). You can have peace in this world – Jesus promised this. (John 14:27) You don’t have to be afraid. (Isaiah 41:10) You don’t have to worry. Jesus made you a promise. (Matthew 6:25)

We can’t, however, have faith God will heal every sickness, because He’s not promised He will. We can pray He will – and we should. We can hope He will, but we can only have faith in what He has promised to do. And, in fact, God promised we would have trials – He promised we would need Him daily – and, praise God, He also promised throughout all tribulations we can rejoice in our sufferings – and our Heavenvly reward will be worth far more.

9. God is trustworthy – worthy of our faith. I love how The Message Version puts 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” Do what? His will. Faith in the person of God is based then on your trust He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do.

10. When your faith lines up with God’s will, you can absolutely, positively, unquestionably claim by faith God’s will be done. One of the reasons it is so important to know God personally is so we will know His will, so we can know how to pray in God’s will. (Romans 12:1-2)

You can ask God to do anything – and you should. Pray continually. Seek Him continually. Have faith God will keep His promises to you. He will. If you are a believer this should be a huge encouragement to you. The greatest days for a believer are still to come. Eternity will be glorious. God promised. Have faith in this.

Understanding Biblical faith is critical to maturing in our faith. Now, take a minute and read the “faith chapter”, as it has been called. Hebrews 11.

God bless!

7 Questions to Help Process the Emotion of Fear

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I’ve watched fear keep many people from achieving all God would have them achieve. Fear will keep a guy from pursuing the girl of his dreams. Fear fan drive people to the safe side, rather than to assume the risk required to pursue their dreams. Pastors have even refused to address the needed changes in their church – not because it was challenging – but, because they were afraid. (Anyone identify with this one?)

Fear is the enemy of progress. It is the antagonist of pursuit. Fear can be the deadly foe of fulfillment in life. And, fear can be a leader’s worst enemy.

How can we overcome the dreaded fear all of us face frequently?

I don’t know if we can completely get rid of fear – or if we even want to completely – but, I do think we should and need to learn to manage the fear in our life. That’s the hope of this post. It won’t solve your fear problems, but it I’ll give you something to think about next time you’re afraid.

Let me provide some questions to process your fear the next time you are faced with a need.

Ask yourself these 7 questions:

Is it a God-given or a man-made fear?

This is a huge step. Fear is an emotion and God can use fear to keep you from harm. Is what you would be doing against God’s will for you or others? If it’s wrong to do, no wonder you are afraid. God may be trying to protect you. If you are continually making bad decisions in your life, you’ll likely live in fear. You may not even be able to understand the emotion, but in my experience, it’s one way God draws His children to Himself. Failure to walk by faith, which is a sin by the way, can also bring upon the emotion of fear. If you’re fear is from God – obey God! This is your answer – every time.

Is it a rational or an irrational fear?

Consider whether you are basing your fears on fact or fiction. Are you making up the scenario of what could go wrong or is the fear based on real information you have? Our minds can be our worst excuse – if we need one, we will find it. Be honest with yourself here. If you’ve been making up the excuses, it’s time to dismiss them and proceed.

Is it probable or improbable?

The truth is most of what we fear never comes true. Again, our mind is capable of all kinds of worst-case scenarios which keep us from moving forward. We shouldn’t allow fear in things which will probably never even happen stop what God may want to bring in our life. God may have a miracle for you – and, you’re allowing a made-up scenario hold you from it. The fact is you may fail, but remember, failure is a part of building life experience. Unless you know you’re going to fail (which is highly unlikely you would know this in advance), if it’s not sinful, and you feel you’re supposed to – I suggest you move forward.

Can anything be done to diminish the risk?

We should attempt to diminish fear through planning and preparation as much as possible. There is nothing wrong and everything right about being prepared. I’m not motivated by fear, but I have an alarm system at my house. (And, one of my father’s pistols he left me when he died!) If your fear is based on a lack of preparation, get busy developing the systems and strategies to help you succeed. Ask for help if you need it.

Is what I’m fearing necessary or unnecessary?

Is this something you must address? If it’s a conflict you’ve been avoiding, for example, the fear will only get stronger the longer you wait. The earlier you face the fear the more likely you’ll get positive results. Sooner or later, the fear must be faced. What better time than now? If it’s not really necessary, and there is no pressure upon you, you may not have to face this fear. I once jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. But, if you don’t have the desire – don’t do it.

Is the fear personal or impersonal?

Are you afraid of your abilities or the reaction of others? Do you wonder if you have what it takes? It’s only natural a challenge would create an amount of fear – even a captivation with fear. Every act of courage means you ignore an aspect of fear. Don’t let your insecurities keep you from achieving your dreams.

Are you satisfied with the status quo?

I know it’s a hard question, but if fear is keeping you from moving forward, and you’ve answered the other questions, this may be the one. You need to strongly consider the repercussions of giving into your fear. It may mean you stand still. It may mean you go backwards. It may mean you never realize the dreams you have for your life or the calling God has placed upon you. Are you willing to live with this reality?

Have you allowed fear to keep you from realizing all God has for you?

5 Suggestions for Ridding Your Life of Fear

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Most of us live our lives with some kind of fear. It is probably uncontrollable to a great extent. We live in a very fearful world. Every week seems to have new issues which can make us afraid.

The title of this post may be a bit misleading – fear may always be with us.

But I think it should be a challenge to have less fear of this world in our life. This is certainly true if we are obedient to the commands of God.

What would it be like to live your life apart from fear – or, at least, with less fear?

Here are some points of understanding which can help us become less afraid of the unknown situations of life:

Life can be uncertain –

There are lots of unknowns in the world. This fact alone makes people afraid. Most people would prefer to know the outcome of a situation and yet many times, probably most of the time, we do not get that privilege. Most of the horrifying experiences of my life seem to come upon me suddenly. We tend to want the expected to occur, but we should always be prepared, at least emotionally, for the unexpected.

Fear is an emotion and not necessarily a reality –

Someone actually defined fear as a felt reaction to a perceived danger. We innately have the ability to respond quickly to danger. Sometimes we can feel that a situation is going to be scary before it actually is. Our reaction to the sense of fear often determines how well we handle the situation.

We must keep ourselves from allowing negative scenarios to build in our mind. People often take a fear and begin to build scenarios in their mind of what might, could, or is going to happen. Most often these scenarios are irrational. When the emotion of fear begins we must analyze its rationality and if it is based on an unknown occurrence we must dismiss it as strictly emotion and not reality.

Sometimes we must face our fears in order to receive victory over them –

We can’t allow fear to alter God’s plans for our life or steal our joy. We should not be too surprised if in our weakness and fear God encourages us to be strong. When Elijah was hiding out from Jezebel because he was terrified, God sent him back to face her again. (1 Kings 19) Elijah had to go back before he could go forward. God will often allow us to face our fears as well.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What fear do you need to face before you can get on with your life?
  • Is fear holding you back from moving forward in some area of your life?

There are two consistent themes in the Bible. We are to walk by faith and we are not to be afraid. I think those two themes are related to each other. It takes doing the first to accomplish the second.

God has a plan even when our fear tells us that He doesn’t –

Since fears are an emotional response and emotions are not always reliable, fears will often cause people to lose their trust and dependence on God. At the same time, God will often use fear to draw people to Him. Most people grow best when they are being stretched by life. God often uses faith-stretching events; times when people are most afraid, to grow and mature His people. One time Jesus made His disciples get into the boat, even though He probably knew as the Creator that a storm was approaching. Faith tells us that God’s plan is secure, even when our fear says otherwise.

As we grow more in love with God, we fear less –

Perhaps the greatest secret to overcoming fear in the Bible is found in 1 John 4:18, which says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Perfect love casts out fear. If ever a person could perfectly know the love of God he would never have to be afraid again. Whenever we run from the challenges of life, God has to wonder why. He must wonder “Am I not enough? Do you think this is too big for me?” As we grow in our love for and our trust in God we will be better able to live our lives in a confident assurance that God is in full control.

To continue to mature, as believers, we must be working to rid our life of the fear which keeps us from completely following and trusting in God.

What is your greatest fear you would like to overcome?

10 Tips for Recovering from Major Disappointments in Life

Disappointment

Sometimes life throws curves at us that take the wind from our sail. If we aren’t careful we can allow the injury to haunt us for life; never regaining what we have lost.

Have you lost a job recently? If you’re not careful, you will falsely assume that you could never get as good of a job again.

Have you had a business failure? If you’re not careful, you’ll keep yourself from ever taking a rid again.

Did you suffer from divorce? If you’re not careful, you’ll believe you can never recover or receive God’s grace.

Did your spouse have an affair? If you’re not careful, you’ll never risk intimate love again.

The Devil loves when you doubt yourself.

What steps should you take to get back on track and succeed again after a major disappointment?

Here are 10 tips to consider during the recovery process:

Reconnect with God. This is always a wise idea, but it becomes a necessity at times like this. Times of disappointment can cause us to emotionally pull away from God. Our faith may still be in tact, but our daily trust waivers. We may know God is able, but we have a harder time trusting Him to do what needs to be done. (I preached about this issue HERE.)

Evaluate your life. Use this time to reevaluate the decisions you have made in life and what got you in the situation you are in today. Are there changes that you need to make? If so, be willing to change. If you did nothing wrong in this case, release yourself from responsibility.

Create some new dreams. Don’t allow past mistakes to keep you from discovering your passions in life. Keep those creative forces going in your mind so you’ll be ready when the next big opportunity comes along. Give yourself permission to believe the impossible. God does.

Call in the advisors. Others can usually see things we cannot see. They approach our life from a different perspective. Give someone you trust, who has your best interest at heart, access to the painful part of your life…and the freedom to speak into your life.

Don’t take your pain and anger out on others. It doesn’t make things better (usually worse) to hurt others because you are hurting. Innocent people shouldn’t be subjected to the wrath of your pain.

Take a break. Don’t expect to recover immediately. Your situation and the emotions and struggles because of them, probably didn’t start overnight and they will not end overnight. Give yourself time to heal.

When it’s time, be willing to risk again. Yes, you may get hurt again, but just as life is full of disappointments, it’s also full of joy and discovery. Remember that everyone is not the same and every situation is different. Don’t hold your past experiences against others who weren’t even there or against a future that hasn’t come.

Don’t let failure or disappointment define you. Be defined by God’s love for you and His plan for your life.

Do something. Rest yes, but at some point, just do something to stay busy and occupy your mind. It’s true that the “idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. If you lost your job, find somewhere to volunteer until you find another job. If you lost a relationship, find non-sexual relationships through church or civic activities to keep from being alone. If nothing else, start journaling as a way to release your thoughts. Do something.

Get back in the game. Choose your next steps carefully and don’t keep repeating the same mistakes, but at some point it will be time to enjoy life again. Life was not meant to be lived on the sidelines.

What steps do you have for receiving from disappointment?

7 Ways to Sleep More Soundly each Night, Even During Sleepless Seasons

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If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Proverbs 3:24

Years ago when we were in business, Cheryl and I went through a difficult season in life. We had had such success, but times got hard. Dealing with employees, cash flow, banks and trying to increase sales so we could make payroll made for many sleepless nights. It was distressing. I was frustrated. And, because I couldn’t sleep, I was less productive during the day.

I’ve grown a lot since these days – and from these days and I’ve come to believe, unless there are health reasons why you cannot, we should be able to rest at night. I wish I had known then what I know now.

Over the years, I have learned a few secrets of sleeping better each night.

Here are 7 ways to sleep more soundly each night:

Exercise during the day

Sometime during the day, make yourself physically tired. Exercise not only works the body – it frees the mind. It helps you prepare to relax. There’s a power in physical activity which cannot be ignored. I try to exercise at least 5 days per week. During the sleepless days of business I mistakenly thought I was too busy to take the time – which was foolish on my part.

Eat healthy foods in adequate quantities

I’ve learned, for example, greasy foods don’t set as well on my stomach. You’ll have your own foods which don’t make you feel as well as you could. Also, if you eat too little you’ll wake up hungry. If you eat too much you won’t settle peacefully. Find the right quantity of food and discipline yourself to eat the right amount. This usually means eating until you are satisfied, but not stuffing your stomach. And, eating early enough for food to settle. We even find walking after we eat helps us rest better. Finally, for this point, staying adequately hydrated seems to help me sleep better. 

Put your day to bed

This is huge. For me it means reviewing my day and preparing for tomorrow. I spend a few minutes reflecting on what took place, what I can change and what I can’t, and then looking over my calendar for the next day. It mentally says “This day is over. A new day is coming.”

Be consistent

Even on weekends or when I’m out of town I keep pretty much the same schedule. Occasionally I’ll need to “catch up” on some sleep, but most of the time I’m in bed and out of bed  (without ever using an alarm) at the same time each day. Once it becomes a habit it’s not so bad – even getting up early. Seriously. We moved time zones in the last few years and there was another adjustment to make. Now my goal is 7 hours sleep a night. I can tell a difference when I don’t get it.

Invest in good bedding

Don’t be cheap when it comes to your mattress or bedding. I’ve learned you get what you pay for with this expense. Shop for quality, as well as price. There are mattress experts. Rely on them.

Write it down

Journaling can be a release from the day. Share your thoughts, concerns, fears and dreams. Get them off your chest then lay them to rest. (No rhyme intended, but it works.)

Pray

End with a release to God. Regardless of how stressful the day was give your burdens to the Burden-Bearer. I’m not trying to be cruel – just factual, but if worry is keeping you awake at night, you have a faith issue bigger than a sleep issue. I certainly did in the hard business season. Remember, Gid is on His throne – even as you sleep. (If you fall asleep while praying God won’t mind. Didn’t you enjoy watching your children fall asleep?)

There will always be exceptions when you still can’t sleep – sickness, sick children, etc., but it shouldn’t last long without impacting the rest of your life. And, if necessary, see your doctor. The older I get the more I realize how important sleep is for overall health and productivity. 

Try some of these and let me know how they work for you. I’m praying you learn some secrets for better sleeping.

Do you ever have trouble sleeping? What tips do you have?

If I Have Faith, Why Haven’t I Been Healed?

Praying man silhoutte

If I have faith, why haven’t I been healed? How do we answer this question when it’s asked by a loved one with cancer? When it’s asked by parents who’ve lost a child? How do we answer it for ourselves, when we find are wheeled in for surgery or otherwise suffering?

This question is one of about a dozen questions addressed in the new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments by my friend John S. Dickerson. Today’s blog is an excerpt from the book and is part 2 (part 1 available here).

Yesterday we examined how Paul the Apostle was never healed (in this life) from his “thorn in the flesh,” which included physical, emotional and spiritual chronic pain. Today we find encouragement in more Bible heroes who suffered severely, even while having the highest and strongest faith.

Paul wasn’t the only spiritual giant who found God’s strength and joy right in his suffering. Many of Heaven’s choice servants spent months or years in prisons, and not because they were being punished by God.

Joseph, who God used to save nations, spent 13 years as an Egyptian prisoner and slave—while God was delighted with him.

Zephaniah, God’s chosen prophet, spent a good chunk of his life in a Babylonian prison (present day Iraq). The same goes for Jeremiah, who suffered rejection, slander and loneliness as well as literal imprisonment while doing exactly what God had asked him to do. God even told him to expect the rejection.

Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, was chosen by God to declare that Messiah had arrived. Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest person in the history of the world. What a privilege! And then John spent the rest of his life imprisoned by Herod Antipas, who eventually beheaded John as a party favor for a niece.

The apostle John spent lots of time in Roman prisons and jails.

Many of the first Christians got arrested and thrown in jail, simply for believing in Jesus. This practice continues today in parts of the Middle East, northern Africa, China and other areas, where the idea of “problem free Christianity” insults the most faithful believers of our era.

Peter was imprisoned again and again.
Paul’s singing friend Silas shared his jail cell.

In the early years after Christ rose from the dead, it became so common for believers to get thrown into prison that the early church made it part of its culture to visit jailed Christians who couldn’t make it to the Sunday gathering.

These imprisonments meant the loss of all earthly possessions. Believers “joyfully accepted the confiscation of [their] property, because [they] knew that [they] had better and lasting possessions.”

Jesus warned Christians in one church, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution…”

Like Napoleon Bonaparte, John the disciple was sentenced to live his final years on a secluded prison island. From there, John wrote the final book of Scripture, Revelation. (John the disciple is different from “John the Baptist,” above, and keep in mind, he was “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” so no need to doubt Christ’s love for you when anymore in your own suffering.)

From Introduction to Conclusion, God’s people in the Bible are persecuted and jailed. Imprisoned on earth, but anticipating their escape into a better land with God. Peppered between those bookends we read stories where God does miraculously heal or instantly deliver from pain. God invites us to ask for such miracles in prayer even today. And I have seen Him perform those dramatic miracles. But, many strong believers today, including Joni Eareckson Tada, and recently Dr. Wayne Grudem, have not yet had a miraculous healing from pain or difficulty.

And we must face the reality that even the believers who did get miraculous healings (such as Lazarus, raised from the dead as described in John 11), those folks still eventually died earthly deaths. They left this earth knowing that death is not an end for the believer, but a beginning to a better life that actually is problem-free.

Here’s where we must gently but insistently course-correct many of our American brothers and sisters in Christ: Scripture focuses on our certain rescue in the future, not on present pain-free living now. (This can be a difficult concept for folks like us, who live in an age of immediate gratification.) Sure, some of God’s people got miraculously freed from their prisons. But the majority more closely followed the pattern of Paul, who prayed for healing three times (2 Corinthians 12:8), and then lived the rest of his earthly life with a painful “thorn” impaling his flesh.

It’s often the same today. While all believers will eventually be set free from our prisons, pains or thorns, we do not always gain immediate freedom or healing. This is why it’s called faith, a persistent belief that Jesus will break us out and that He will sustain us until His return. A faith that continues to believe, no matter what.

Find comfort in this list of spiritual super heroes. Their sufferings declare:
​When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not alone.
​When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not unspiritual or lower-class in God’s eyes.
​When you feel like you’re in a prison, you’re not unloved by God.
​When you find yourself in prison, God has not forgotten you.
​When you find yourself in prison, and you choose to cling to faith in Chirst, you can count yourself in the company of Scripture’s spiritual heroes.

Like Paul, writing with his “thorn in the flesh,” you can declare in Christ:

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.”
-2 Corinthians 4:8,9

This blog is an excerpt from John S. Dickerson’s new book, I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments. It’s written for times of suffering in life–to encourage you and help those you love build a Biblical theology of pain and suffering. Get free sample chapters by sending an email to: Friend@IAmStrongBook.com or visit IAmStrongBook.com.