How Does Faith Work?: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 4

In class one evening a professor made the remark that he thought that the common translation of Habakkuk 2:4 “…the righteous will live by his faith” might be more accurate if translated something like, “…the righteous person will live because of his faithfulness.” [1] I’ll leave it to Hebrew scholars to discuss which is more accurate, but I think even a layman’s research would show there is a strong chance that professor was correct.  As I researched what he said the thing I never could be sure of was if the scriptures meant the righteous will live by His (the Lord’s) faithfulness or his (our) faithfulness. In the end I think the answer is yes in both instances because every covenant depends on both the Lord’s faithfulness (which is never in doubt) and our faithfulness.

Here’s a simple example of how faith gives us confidence and courage. Imagine you are in a deep well and the only way out is a rope dangling from the surface. You wouldn’t try to use that rope if you didn’t believe it would support your weight. You’d be afraid that if the rope broke you’d fall, injure yourself, and be even worse off. But if you had faith that the rope was strong and that it was tied to something that would hold your weight, you’d start climbing. The more faith you have in the rope the more apt you are to use it. Once you begin to use the rope your faith in it will grow because it’s passing the test and it’s supporting your weight. The further you climb up the rope the more your faith will grow and soon you’ll be out of the hole and saved.

Now if you only believe the rope was there and only believe the rope can save you but you didn’t use the rope the rope would be useless. If you didn’t start pulling yourself up the rope to test it, your faith would not become stronger, you would never have the courage to climb the rope, and you would never get out of the hole. In the end believing in the rope, but not using the rope, will have the same result as not trusting the rope in the first place. This is what James is trying to tell us when he says, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

Likewise starting up the rope but not climbing all the way out of the hole does no good. Those who start up the rope but go back down because they lose courage won’t leave the hole, and neither will those who near the top and decide they like life in the hole and go back down. Paul wrote, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) and Jesus said, “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) These and other scriptures show that enduring in our trust in and our faithfulness to the Lord matters greatly.

“Faith comes by hearing…” (Romans 10:17)  Imagine you are looking at the rope dangling in front of you wondering if it was safe, and a voice from outside of the hole began to assure you that the rope was safe. Would that build you trust in the rope? Or, if another person was in the hole with you and told you they had climbed the rope many times, would that build your trust in the rope? We gain trust and confidence from the stories from scripture, the experiences of others and experiencing the Lord’s faithfulness ourselves. Faith grows even more as we exercise it.

To show the interaction of faith and action James wrote, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (James 2:21-23) Offering a son as a sacrifice takes great faith, but Abraham didn’t always have that kind of faith. We can see by some of his choices that his faith was not always as strong as it was when he took Isaac to Mt. Moriah, but as experienced more of the Lord’s faithfulness Abraham’s faith grew. Eventually his faith grew to the point where he knew the Lord would raise Isaac from the dead if he were sacrificed.

When Moses led Israel from Egypt the Israelis were not very trusting of the Lord. Even though they’d seen the plagues He’d sent on Egypt and the miracles He’d done they were still not convinced of His greatness. Not even the parting of the Red Sea and the many other miracles convinced all Israelites of how great the Lord is. Yet some were convinced and they trusted the Lord and we see later that those who did were able to do things and see things that those without faith could not. For example, Joshua and Caleb trusted the Lord and when they went to explore the land of Canaan with ten other men, they were the only ones who saw how good the land was and how easily Israel could conquer the people there and take the land. Ten of the men who went said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” (Numbers 13:31) Caleb and Joshua saw the same things those men saw but they said, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.” (Numbers 14:7) The only difference between Caleb and Joshua and the other ten men was their faith. Caleb and Joshua’s perspective, from a position of faith, allowed them to see and realize things that the other ten could not even imagine. Their trust in the Lord equipped them to have courage the others would never have.

The story of David and Goliath is no different. David saw and understood things that no soldier in the Israelis’ camp could. Remember how David recalled the Lord’s faithfulness just before he fought Goliath. “When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” It was the knowledge of the Lord’s faithfulness that gave David his courage.

Hearing those stories of the Lord’s faithfulness helps our faith grow just as surely as exercising our faith does. It’s only by faith in the Lord that we can enter into covenant with the Lord, and it’s only by faith that we will be able to be faithful that covenant. If we choose to believe and to remain in the covenant our faith will grow stronger and stronger just as Joshua, Caleb, David and Abraham’s did. By knowing how we must use faith and action together, we can understand how it’s true that we are saved by faith but not by faith alone. Some want to say the faith produces obedience that’s not quite true, but faith is what makes obedience and love possible. Obedience to the Lord and loving the Lord are not necessarily automatic consequences of having faith. Faith, love and obedience are so intertwined it’s impossible for them to be effective apart from each other.

 


[1] Scripture is taken from GOD’S WORD®, © 1995 God’s Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group.

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Christians and Entertainment, what should we be doing on That Day?

I was recently involved in a discussion about the Beatles and their contributions to the world. I left the discussion with some new and some re-evaluated convictions about Christians listening to secular music and in a greater context Christians and how they choose to pleasure their minds and entertain themselves.

I grew up in the 70’s and admired my rock stars. I believed the Beatles had all the answers, the Stones were cool and Dylan had insight that neared genius levels. I went there, did that, bought the tee shirt and partied till I puked (literally). The Beatles wrote about LSD so I took LSD, Dylan was anti-establishment so I fashioned myself to also be. Looking back, I see that my heroes, whose public lives I tried to emulate brought some level of misery for me and all of their followers. You might say that, for me, reality has set in. (Praise God, in the despair that the influence of that culture led me to, I came to know Jesus.)

With the Hippy/rock and roll era came a degree of decadence not seen in the world since Roman and Greek orgies were common. Drug and alcohol use skyrocketed; sexual promiscuity became the norm, and social standards dropped. With those issues came rises in the rates of teenage pregnancy, drug related deaths, divorce, abortion and suicide. I cannot begin to count those that I know who have been and are still being affected by one or more of these problems. Of those of you who of grew up in that era, which of you can count the numbers of friends who died in some drug/alcohol related incident, accident or overdose? For years I idealized the influence that the Hippies and rock n rollers had on me and on the world, I now see the devastation that era has left behind.

So what does this have to do with the well-grounded, mature Christian who is not as easily influenced as millions of teens in the 70’s were? Does secular music or secular movies affect our children or us? Does it matter to God? Paul wrote, “Everything is permissible”, and we must ask how that statement influences how we entertain ourselves and spend our time. Another question we must ask ourselves is do we stop reading at that statement or continue reading to the point where Paul wrote, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:14-33) Does listening to the Beatles, the Jonas Brothers, or Fifty Cent meet the standard that Paul’s statement set? Does what we watch or listen to even matter, because there is Grace after all and God does want us to be happy?

Modern Christians like to think in terms of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. For example some of us convince ourselves that the Beatles singing, “all you need is love” would be appropriate, but Ice T rapping “Die, die, die pig, die! F**k the police!” might not be. If we take an honest look at the “what is appropriate” approach we understand that the standards it gives the Christ follower are ever changing. The definition of “what is appropriate” differs from person-to-person, culture-to-culture and generation-to-generation. In other words the “what is appropriate” approach offers no standard at all that is based in Biblical truth and in the end is not a measure of what is right or wrong Christian behavior.

Modern Christians like to take the Pharisee’s legalistic approach also don’t they? Many Christ followers may say that it’s OK to listen and watch this or that, because there is no law (commandment) against it. That makes for a pretty shallow relationship with Jesus though and it is certainly against everything He taught and teaches through His Word.

Other modern Christians have said “God is an artist and we can learn about God from all art”, but have you noticed that God’s art, (the sunsets, fall leaves, peacocks, etc) is never profane, never vulgar, never sexual and always leaves you wanting more of God? Certainly we can learn some good from some art, however all that is art is good.

It’s easy to believe these approaches are sound, because with Jesus in Heaven and us here on earth we kind of lose our true perspective. He’s so far away and His heartbreak is not evident since we are unable to see the pain in His eyes when we do the things we do. Maybe it would help if we put things in the perspective of Christ being the husband of the church, which of course He is.

If you have a spouse or significant other you might be able to understand what I’m about to say. If I say that I love my wife, yet run off to dance with another woman when I feel the need to dance, is that love? If my wife tells me that she loves me and then entertains herself with my sworn enemies, is that love? If you leave the company of your sweetheart, whom you say you love, to go find pleasure in the company of those who are against your sweetheart, is that true love? What would you think of me if I taught my son to do these things?

Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me”, so those who truly want to love Christ must consider what kind of Christian love it is that runs off to dance with the devil. If love is “not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13) then can we say we love God when we entertain and pleasure ourselves with the music and movies (or even books) made by and about godless men and woman? What will He think of us if we have taught His children to accept that love is self-seeking?

I know that many will come up with well-reasoned arguments against what I just wrote. If you are one of my brothers or sisters who has already done that or is doing that now, I hope you will ask yourself if you are coming from a self-seeking perspective or a God-seeking perspective. You see our relationship with Jesus is all about love. In every decision we make love will guide the approach we take, if our relation with Jesus is what it should be.

On “The Day of the Lord” when we stand before Jesus, we will no longer believe that listening to our favorite secular music, reading a best selling novel or seeing the newest greatest movie is so important. At that moment all we will see is the opportunities that we lost and the examples we failed to set. We will find that our heavenly rewards and crowns have been lost. Only then will we see that Jesus could care less that some awesome riff or a suspenseful moment in a movie enthralled us. I believe that at that time, on that day, we will completely understand the pointlessness of our quests to find pleasure, when compared to what He has called us to do. On that day we will fully comprehend who it was we served when we engrossed ourselves in the “art” of those who are against Jesus.

Be Relevant, Love Jesus
Steve

How is competition of Christ?

I just want say a word about living in peace.  Really it goes against everything we’re taught.  We grow up in America where competition is fed to us like a mother’s milk is fed to babies.  If you had brothers and sisters you probably felt compelled to compete with them for everything.  As a result many feel that they can’t rise to the top, without walking on others.  Some have the unspoken opinion that they only succeed when others do not. This competitive attitude makes us critical of others, aggressive, judgmental against those who appear weak or in need. It makes us arrogant, uncaring and cold hearted, unwilling to lift others up.  It’s a lie we’ve all been taught all our lives

Here is why competition is not of Christ, when we compete somebody loses. When we are superior, somebody is inferior.

We should ask ourselves what it matters if we’re better and richer than anybody we know, but we lose our souls.  Jesus teaches us that the first will be last and the last will be first.  There are so many references to peace in the Bible that I couldn’t read them all at one time.

Life is not us against them, life is us and them.  Success is not rising to the top on the back’s of others, success is rising to the top together with mutual respect and help.  All for one, one for all.

Our prayer for each other and ourselves:  Father teach us to continually bless each other in deed and in prayer.  Teach us that true success comes when we learn to put others before ourselves.  Give us your wisdom and heart Oh God.  Makes us feel silly if we look down on others.  Destroy that lie, in us, that competition is good.  Heal us and destroy those ungodly strongholds we’ve been taught.

Matthew 5:9

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Philippians 2:3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

Galatians 6:4Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else…….

Mark 9:50
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.

Acts 10:36
You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Colossians 3:15
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.

James 3:17
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

Pot Smoking Christians

I used to feel that smoking pot was OK.  But as I’ve grown to love the Lord more, I’ve realized it’s just another of those lies the devil would like us to believe.  Pot, is very insidious and lulls you into a false sense of spirituality.  More accurately, it lulls you into a sense of false spirituality.  It’s a false spirituality that is kept in the confines your mind and rarely results in the action that Christ centered Spirituality demands and manifests.  It sings to us that sweet, sweet song that everything is OK.  It sings songs of false comfort to us, saying you need me to relax or God made me it must be OK.  You tell yourself, pot makes me think, aren’t I wiser because of because I smoke marijuana?

Marijuana masters our minds and addicts us to inactivity.  In truth marijuana separates us from God and those who love God.

Satan makes you think you must get high, and then uses guilt and idleness to keep you from assembling with other saints.  For Christians, it may be the worst drug of all.  Pot seems so harmless, presidents, senators, many people in lofty positions have tried it.  We tell ourselves, they did it why shouldn’t I.  Quite simply, you should not smoke marijuana because you belong to Christ.  In so many places He asks us to “be self-controlled and pure”. We are told that if we do not follow the laws of our government, we are rebelling against God.  We are told not be intoxicated, one only smokes pot is to get intoxicated.

Getting high is just wrong for the Christian.  Anyone who says differently is a liar and is not guided by the Holy Spirit.  Those who listen to that person are not Christ followers they are followers of a fool who will separate them from the Creator of Joy and Happiness.  God gave us an incredible brain and mind.  It can’t be improved it with marijuana.
God calls you to do great and mighty things; you’ll never accomplish those things if you are stoned. Free your mind. Hear His voice.

No Compromise

“We are susceptible to heretical teachings because, in one form or another, they nurture and reflect the way that we would have it be, rather than the way God has provided, which is infinitely better for us. As they lead us into the blind alleys of self-indulgence and escape from life, heresies pander to the most unworthy tendencies of the human heart. ”
… C. FitzSimons Allison, The Cruelty of Heresy

So often the things that lead us from the Lord seem so harmless. We say to ourselves we can do this or that, believing that our faith and walk will not be affected. Devils whisper in our ear that we can watch this movie, listen to that music or spend our money on this thing. We are led away from the light so slowly and deliberately that our eyes adjust to the darkness without us even knowing it happened.

Paul writes in 2 Timothy. “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”

Remove the compromises from your life. Pray the Lord will adjust your eyes to the Light. Be noble. Be holy. Be useful.

Peace, Steve

No Faith? Or? Is it, they just don’t get it?

I’ve been thinking of things people have said to me that have left me scratching my head wondering where their faith was.

One person told me not to email them prayer requests, because, by the time they checked their email, the prayer was answered. Seems to me that God cares nothing about time. Just pray, He knows before you pray what you will pray for. Think of it this way, to Him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. God, who made the sun stand still, is able to post date your prayers. Just say your prayer and have faith.

I was told that witnessing and handing out Bible tracts in the Bible belt doesn’t work because every one in the Bible belt thinks they are saved anyway. I suppose the person who said this, doesn’t believe the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those who live in the Bible belt. HMMM, I’m certain the Holy Spirit is able to as He pleases. God spoke to Balaam through the ass he was riding, he can also use you, me and Bible tracts. Have faith.

How about those that visit a church, worship somewhere or go to a prayer meeting and then say “I didn’t feel the Spirit there!” I’m fairly certain God didn’t give us the Holy Spirit to make us high. If you’re looking for a feeling, smoke a joint. If you want to worship God, petition Him with prayer or gather at a church, then just do it. God is present, whether you feel Him or not. If you have been born again the Spirit dwells in you. When you stop being judgmental, the Spirit will flow and you’ll see the joy of the Lord was present the entire time. It’s not where you are at or who you are with, it’s you, have faith.

I guess my all time favorite example of no faith are the guys who think one Bible translation is from God and others are not. Using their mis-guided logic, shouldn’t we only pray in Hebrew and read the Greek text? I guess they don’t think God is powerful enough or loving enough to protect the meaning of His holy Word so that His children won’t be led astray. He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, and He will do it using whatever translation is available. Have faith.

Two people came to church one night and were allowed to teach on healing. They actually had booklets stating the exact prayers we must pray to to get healing for specific ailments. Again I must say, HMMM. Where in the Lord’s prayer did they find these prayer formulas? The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. He heals who He will and He doesn’t do it according to some man-made formula. Just pray, believe He is able, forgive others and have faith.  One more thing about this, the pastor who invited the formula healers loves to preach against legalism in the church.  What’s more legalistic than formula prayers?

Jesus said “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” To me it seems that we over-think things way to much. God is able to do anything. He’s the Creator of Heaven, earth the seas and everything in them. He loves us more than we have words to describe. He loves us more than we can even start to imagine. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” Why is it so hard for us to believe that He will use the most simple prayer, any Bible, any church, any person to do His pure and perfect will in our lives? Just have faith in our Father, like a child has faith in its mommy. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Have Faith.

Be noble. Be holy. Be useful. Be relevant. Steve

WYSIWYG

WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Any computer geek will recognize this acronym. Any older person will recognize the phrase from the old Laugh In comedy show as the catch phrase of Flip Wilson’s Geraldine character.

The Apostle Paul could have used this phrase in some of his writings. Paul wrote “Yes, when Christ died, he died to defeat the power of sin one time—enough for all time. He now has a new life, and his new life is with God. In the same way, you should see yourselves as being dead to the power of sin and alive with God through Christ Jesus.” Here the Holy Spirit of God directs Paul to tell us how we should view ourselves. Very clearly he’s saying that we should not see ourselves as an addicted person, a person who’s depressed, a person who can not forgive or as person who can not conquer any sin. We should instead see ourselves as we really are, and that is in Christ we are “more than conquerers”. What you see is what you get.

Many might say “I’ve tried that, it just doesn’t work for me”. Paul would tell you to keep at it. He said. “…brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” The many might still say “it just doesn’t work”. And to that Paul says “Those who live following their sinful selves think only about things that their sinful selves want. But those who live following the Spirit are thinking about the things the Spirit wants them to do.” In other words, are you really thinking about the high things or are you allowing your mind to wander into darkness. What you think is what you get.

Here’s an example, there are people I know who can’t seem to quit smoking. They can’t understand why they can’t, but if they would just listen to what they say, they might have a better insight. Here’s just a few of the things I’ve heard them say. “It’s just not that easy”. “Some people can easily quit, I’m not one of those people”. “I NEED a cigarette”. “I’ve tried, I can’t quit”. “It’s just the way that I am”. “I guess I’m not as strong as others”. Haven’t we all heard those word’s come from ourselves and those we love. It’s so easy to see that those who say these things have settled for defeat. This defeatist thought process can also be applied to anger, depression, addictions, negative attitude or any other sin. What you believe is what you get.

Don’t settle for less. Encourage those around you to expect more. We should all lift each other up. We do it by reading the Word of God and learning the way of the Spirit, by praying, by appreciating even the smallest blessings and by rejoicing in all the He has given us.

Be noble. Be holy. Be useful. Be relevant.
Peace, Steve