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Magnificent Faith

March 30, 2014 — Leave a comment

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” Hebrews 11:1 says. As opposed to belief, I tend to prefer the idea of trust when I think of faith. The emphasis here in Hebrews is certainly confidence in God – “assurance” and “conviction” being the operative words.

When we think of heroes of faith, we tend to think on a grand scale – Abraham leaving home to be a wanderer, Moses parting the Red Sea, Peter walking on water, etc. And there certainly are many examples in the Bible and day to day life to show that human beings are capable of extraordinary acts of faith. But it’s also true that great faith isn’t necessarily big faith. In the Bible we find the Lord praising and even marveling at seemingly inconsequential words and actions that are actually reflections of real and abiding trust.

In I Kings 19, when the Lord appeared to Elijah, it says, ‘And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.”

The Great and Almighty God chooses often to reveal Himself to man in small ways. Is it no surprise that such a God would also appreciate faith that is expressed in small things?

In Luke 7, a centurion asked Jesus to come and heal a servant who was at the point of death. But when Jesus came near the house, the centurion sent friends telling the Lord not to trouble himself to come into the house for, he said, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

At this, the Bible says Jesus marveled at the man and pronounced that he had not seen such faith even in Israel – this Roman interloper outshone them all! And for what? Nothing more than a simple confidence that Jesus had the authority and power to speak a man well from afar.

Actually, perhaps it’s a little more than that. With his words, the centurion acknowledged that Jesus was more than a man with great ability. He is One with Authority – who commands angels and even nature. Like the commander of armies, Jesus doesn’t have to do it himself; he can simply order it done.

On another occasion, Jesus and his disciples were watching as people put their money in the offering box near the treasury of the temple. Several rich people gave large amounts of money – and we can easily imagine how ostentatiously they might have done so. All of those rich offerings were given without a word from the Lord.

But then a poor woman, a widow, came and donated two copper coins worth about a penny. At this, Jesus was moved enough to call his disciples and point out what she had done. “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on (Mark 12:41-44).”

No cathedrals could be built with the money this widow offered. She didn’t even give enough to have her name inscribed on a brick! But Jesus said that what she did was greater than the extravagance of the wealthy, who had actually sacrificed very little with their large offerings.

We can find in the Bible other small things, too, that reflect a big faith.

Prayer – If we return to the believing centurion in Acts 7, his confidence in the Lord is exactly what we’re expressing when we pray. When we bring our burdens before the Lord, we are declaring that we believe He doesn’t need to personally come down and deal with my every problem. Instead, we trust that He can and will manage it. He only has to speak a word, and it will be done. We are saying we believe that God can be at work in my life, and yours, and in someone’s life on the other side of the world – all at the same time and with no problem.

I Thessalonians 5:17 – pray without ceasing

Luke 18:1 – …always to pray and not lose heart

Philippians 4:6 – …do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

If we really fulfill these verses, sincerely praying and putting our trust in God, our faith is great indeed.

Doing your part in God’s kingdom – Think about the widow in Acts 7 again. Why did she bother to put those two mites in? What good did it do? What difference would it make? The work of the temple would have gone on with or without her paltry offering. But she was determined to do what she could.

There was another woman in Bethany in Israel just before the Jesus was crucified. While Jesus was there, at Simon’s house, she broke open a flask of expensive ointment and poured it over Jesus’ head. Some were indignant at such a waste and scolded her for doing it.

But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me… She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her (Mark 14:3-9).”

It is a beautiful thing in the eyes of the Lord when we do what we can for Him, whether it is a great thing or a small thing.

It may be that you are not all that impressed with your personal gifts. Maybe you are discouraged because others seem to be richer, smarter, more talented, more spiritual, or more gifted than you are. Perhaps you wonder what you could possibly contribute that would be of any value to the Lord. But the truth is that whatever you do, if it’s all you can do, is a beautiful thing in His eyes.

Baptism – In Acts 8, when the Ethiopian eunuch came up out of the waters of baptism, he went on his way rejoicing (v. 39). Again, after the baptism of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, he and his family rejoiced that they had believed in God (v. 33-34).

Obviously, baptism is a big deal. It’s a hugely significant point, the very birth of a Christian. But the thing itself isn’t all that monumental. I’ve actually had people come up out of the baptistry with an expression on their face of, “Is that all there is to it?” For all that it means, baptism is a pretty small act. But it’s one of total submission to the will of God, and therefore a magnificent act of faith.

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It has been said that the travels of Abraham can be traced by the altars he built.  In Genesis 12, we read of the Lord calling him to leave his home and go to Canaan.  It says that he went to Shechem and built an altar where the Lord appeared to him in v. 6-7.  Then he moved to Bethel and “pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. v 8” In chapter 13, after he separated from Lot, he went to Hebron and again built an altar – 13:18.  Under the patriarchal system, the altar was the place of worship to God.  Every place that Abraham went, then, he prepared for himself a place and a way to worship his God.

There are a couple places where he lived but didn’t build altars:  Egypt (Genesis 12:11-20) and Gerar (Genesis 20:1-9).  It is more than interesting to note that those places are the places where he sinned.

Scripture teaches that we are merely sojourners and travelers on the earth – Hebrews 11:13-14.  As we travel through life we need, like Abraham, to be erecting “altars” everywhere we go – signs and reminders that, no matter where we find ourselves, we took time to remember God.

In our Families.  Raising godly children is not something that just happens.  However, having children does.  Many enter into fatherhood and motherhood without purpose and without a goal.  As a result, their training and discipline of their children, if it happens at all, is done haphazardly and without purpose.  Even Christians are sometimes no more specific in their plans for their children than, “I hope they grow up to be faithful.”  For the most part, if you’re just hoping, they probably won’t.

The Bible gives us several principles for raising children:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” Proverbs 22:6.

“…do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” Ephesians 6:4.

How can you bring your children up in the training and admonition of the Lord if you are not living yourself in the training and admonition of the Lord?  We need to be building altars to God in our families.  That is, we need to make home a place where God is remembered and respected and given a central place.  If we don’t, how can we hope for our children to grow up to serve God?  On one of the altars Abraham built, he offered up his only son, Isaac, at the command of God.  How do you think the unflinching obedience of his father affected the young boy? When Joshua exhorted Israel, he said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord –  Josh. 24:15.”  He had built an altar – making it known that God was not an optional addition to his family.

Some altars we can build:

Does your family have a time they study the Bible together?

2 Tim 1:3-5

3          I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day,

4          greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy,

5          when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.”

2 Tim 3:14-17

14         But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,

15         and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16         All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

17         that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Do you have a time besides mealtime when you pray together?

1Thes 5:16-18

16         Rejoice always,

17         pray without ceasing,

18         in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Phil 4:6-7

6          Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;

7          and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

What place does gathering with other Christians have in your family?

Heb 10:23-25

23         Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

24         And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,

25         not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

What part does God play in your normal, everyday conversations?

Deut 6:5-9

5          “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

6          “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.

7          “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

8          “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

9          “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

If the Lord has a constant place of honor and involvement in the fabric of our family life, then we won’t have to merely hope that our children will grow up to be faithful.  We will instead have the assurance that we are, indeed, bringing them up in the training and admonition of the Lord, and that, even when the children have left the home, He will be a permanent fixture in their lives and our own.

Brad

An Old New Man

November 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

Col 3:9-10

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him…”

There is an exciting image painted in the pages of the New Testament.  That image is the idea that you can, at any time, be recreated, setting aside the person you once were and becoming the person that you, and the Lord, want you to be.   Jesus assured us that it can happen at any stage of life with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).   We are told that we can exchange the guilt of sin and its consequences for a refreshed, free spirit with an eternal hope.   We are promised that we can cease our old habits and put on new ones.

But there is a harsh reality that confronts us as we consider these promises.  It is difficult and painful to truly change – at any age.  And it often becomes more difficult and more painful the older and more established in our ways we become.   Aside from the difficulty of breaking old habits, there is also the challenge to our pride of admitting that we spent so much time in the dark.  There is also the humbling experience of finding those younger than you further along toward the goals you want to reach.

I’ve had that experience recently, in a secular sense.  Although I enjoyed the training I received with the Army, I was sometimes discouraged to see that I was older than many, if not most of my sergeants and even older than the commander of my company, a Captain.  In fact, I was only a few years younger than our Battalion Commander – a Colonel.  I looked around at my peers in rank and they were, most of them, half my age.   And I was forced to recognize that I am pretty old to be a new soldier.  If I had started at 19, like most of them did, I would obviously be much further along than I am now.  Sometimes I feel like I started too late.

That has made me think a little about how it must feel to become a Christian as an adult, or how it must feel to only begin taking your faith seriously later on in life.   I was talking with a young man recently who told me that he was discouraged at the fact that when he went to church everyone else seemed to have a ready knowledge of where things are in the Bible and a firm grasp on the stories in the Old and New Testaments and the messages of the different books.  Although he grew up in the church, he admitted that he had spent several years not studying, not praying, and not really taking his faith seriously.   Now, in his late 20s, he feels behind the game, wondering if he’ll be able to reach the maturity he aspires to.

I wonder how many others have the same thoughts.   I know of several who think that they’re too old to really change their ways or learn any new tricks.

But God promises that it can be done.  Not that it’s easy; it isn’t.  But He has created all of us with a remarkable capacity for renewal.   You can put off the old man.  You can see yourself in a new way.  You can be recreated with new habits, new knowledge, new dreams, and new hopes.  And you can start anytime you’re ready – the sooner the better.

Romans 6:1-7

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  For he who has died has been freed from sin.

Romans 6:11-14

Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord… …Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Here, the Lord tells us what He did when you were baptized into Christ.  He says the old man was crucified.    He tells us how you can see yourself now:  considering yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.   He reveals what you can do now.  You are empowered to use your life for righteousness instead of sin and you are freed from the dominion of sin through the grace of God in Jesus.

Does that mean all of that is easy?  Certainly not.  The curbing of old desires and development of new character is described in various places as work, striving, toiling, combat.  But being an old new man or woman in Christ is not cause for shame or discouragement.  It’s a reason to rejoice at the new lease on life you’ve been given.

Brad