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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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The Good Life

November 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

“For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer.  But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”      II Peter 3:10-12

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  John 10:10

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”   James 1:17

The common thread in these verses and others in the Bible is that God’s plan and intention for us is that we have a good life – a happy and fulfilled life.  Sometimes this promise challenges our faith because life for us at the moment may not seem to be all that great.  And then, we struggle at times because our idea of what a good life looks like and God’s knowledge of what a good life really is don’t line up exactly.

The good life he has in mind for us does not necessarily include wealth, popularity, or even good health, although they may be part of the blessings he bestows on us.  After all, Jesus himself said, “all people will hate you for my name’s sake (Luke 21:17).”   And when the Lord mentions some of his favorite people in Hebrews 11, he says, “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.  They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Hebrews 11:36-38).”

How can both of these ideas be true?  How can we live a good life that does not depend on the circumstances of that life?  Both in the Bible and in our own experience, we find that wealth, popularity, and physical well-being do not equal a good life.  There are too many examples in our own lives of people around us who possess all of those things while remaining the most miserable people on earth.  Conversely, it’s easy to find those who have nothing, as far as we can see, but who are genuinely happy and content.

There is a lifestyle taught by the Lord, however, that leads to happiness and good days no matter what we do or don’t have.  Here are at least some of the elements of it:

Contentment

“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:12-13).”

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction (I Timothy 6:6-9).”

“Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5-6).

Peace

“…let him seek peace and pursue it (I Peter 3:11).”

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18).”

95 times or more in the New Testament alone, peace is mentioned and encouraged.  Much of the conflict in our lives – in relationships, at work, in the church – are only exacerbated because we do not take it upon ourselves to become peacemakers.  How much less stressful would your life be, and how much happier could you be if, at least for your part, you sought to be at peace with everyone?

Honest Work

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil (Ecclesiastes 2:24).”

“…aspire to live quietly and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may…be dependent on no one (I Thessalonians 4:11).”

Those who embrace their work rather than constantly scheming to avoid it know something about the secret of a good life.

Hope

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:16-18).”

“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (I Corinthians 15:19).”

People without hope are people with nothing.  It’s impossible to know happiness and contentment without it.  And so, God gives us something wonderful to look forward to – something that exists and is yours beyond time, beyond destruction, and beyond the unfairness and injustice of this world.  We can be happy living in these days by living for those days that are to come.

Brad

On Sarcasm and Mockery

November 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

 

“The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place.  But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against His people, until there was no remedy.”  II Chronicles 36:15-16

“Judgments are prepared for scoffers, and beatings for the backs of fools.”  Proverbs 19:29

“…knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  They will say, “Where is the promise of His coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”  For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.”  II Peter 3:3-6

To scoff is to speak about something in a scornfully derisive way..

I’m afraid we have become a nation of scoffers – if not a world of them.  It seems that our favorite form of humor is sarcasm and that our preferred method of argument is derision.  If you listen to a political debate, more time is spent mocking the other side than is spent actually taking their positions seriously and answering them.   When I read religious arguments, discussions, and debates, I see the same thing.  We are experts at reducing things to absurdity – and then at acting as if that closes the subject.

The trouble is that anything – even the most serious things – can be made to appear foolish.

When Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was dying on the cross of Calvary, His detractors were busy scoffing, saying, “If He’s who He says He is, let him come down off the cross.”  (Matthew 27:39-44).  They sought to make a fool of Jesus, portraying the ridiculous picture of one claiming to possess the power and authority of divinity, but without the ability to even save his own life, let alone the souls of all of mankind.  The truth of the matter, of course, is that Jesus didn’t want to get down off the cross.  He was there on purpose, and for a purpose.  And the whole world from the day of Creation until now can be thankful that He did it.  But that didn’t stop the mockers from scoring with their one-liner.  One of the strengths of scoffing is it takes a lot longer to answer the statement than it took to utter it.  And we foolishly tend to think that the shortest answer is the best one.  Imagine Jesus on the cross explaining the whole plan of salvation and the reason why He was up there to those who were mocking Him – He knew that they were not really interested in an explanation.  They just wanted to poke fun and justify themselves.

The attitude has always been there.  In the first Scripture I mentioned, II Chronicles 36:15-16, the Lord had sent prophets and warnings to spare the people, but they were so scornful that the warnings did not get through and the only thing left for the Lord to send them was His wrath – when He wanted to send mercy.

Today, too, we must face the jeers of the scoffers.

Scoffing and mockery are powerful debating tools, no doubt.  But they do not undo one iota of God’s instructions.  The only purpose they serve is to harden the heart and will into stubborn rebelliousness against God.

How do you react to Bible teaching that contradicts your beliefs or habits?  Do you examine it and see whether it’s true?  Or do you just dismiss it with contempt?  Are you a scoffer?

Brad

I have included the text of John Piper’s article first, with my comments following.

http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/a-whole-world-hangs-on-a-word

John Piper:

Sometimes a whole world — a whole theology — hangs on a word.

Consider the word “this” in Ephesians 2:8. Does it refer to “faith” or “grace” or both? Is faith a gift of God?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from you; it is the gift of God.

What does “this” refer to? “And this is not from you; it is the gift of God.” What is its antecedent? The question is not settled by the fact that in Greek “this” is singular and neuter, while “grace” and “faith” are both feminine. “This” is just as ambiguous in Greek as it is in English.

Faith As a Gift

But consider these four pointers to seeing faith as a gift in Ephesians 2:8.

When Paul says “this is not from you, it is the gift of God,” he seems to be referring to the whole process of grace-faith-salvation. That may be why “this” is neuter and not feminine.

But more important than that is the way Paul uses the phrase “by grace you have been saved” back in verse 5. In verse 8, he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” Back in verse 5, he said, “When we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him.”

This is striking. Paul breaks the flow of his sentence in order to insert “by grace you have been saved.” And he does it precisely after saying, “When we were dead, God made us alive.” Why does he insert “by grace you are saved” just here?

Is it not because he wants to make clear the true nature of grace? He made you alive when you were dead — by grace you are saved! This grace is God’s free act of giving life to the dead. By inserting “by grace are you saved” immediately after saying “when you were dead, God raised you,” he shows that this saving grace is not caused by our participation. We are dead when it happens to us. This saving grace is resurrection of the dead.

So when Paul gets to verse 8, one of the reasons he repeats, “By grace you have been saved,” is to describe how we experience this divine miracle of being raised from the dead. He adds “through faith.” “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” In other words, the life God creates by grace out of death is experienced in our believing. Our believing is what this new life does that grace creates. So faith is the creation of grace. Therefore, it is part of the gift in verse 8 that is not from ourselves.

This is confirmed in verse 10 when Paul actually uses the language of “creation” to describe our new life as believers: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” The language of “creation” confirms that when God “made us alive” (verse 5), we were not part of the cause.

Things that are created do not cause their creation. The existence of a new believer is a “creation in Christ Jesus.” And that confirms that this new believing is part of the gift in verse 8. Our faith is a gift of God.

Finally, consider that Paul says the same in Philippians 1:29 — that our faith is a gift: “It has been given to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Literally: “It has been given to you to trust him.”

A Different World

So when Paul says, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you, it is the gift of God,” part of his meaning is that our faith is a gift of God. It is a divine creation. It is the work of grace when we were dead. It is not “from ourselves.” Therefore, our faith is the mark of being chosen by God. He chose to give us faith.

A whole world — a whole theology — hangs on a word. “This is not from yourselves.” “It is the gift of God.” That is, faith is not from yourselves. Faith is a gift of God.

To believe this changes everything. You live in a different world if you believe this. We will be discovering the wonders of this world for all eternity.

My thoughts:

I want to preface my comments with saying that I generally like reading the things John Piper has to say.  He does an excellent job of pointing us to God in love and trust.  And he challenges his readers to fight against the sinful addictions we all deal with.

In this particular article, though, I don’t think his conclusion is correct.

Piper says, “Sometimes a whole world – a whole theology – hangs on a word.”  Indeed. And when it does, more often than not, it is wrong.  By the mouth of two or three witness every word should be established – a principle laid down several times in the pages of the Bible (Deuteronomy 19:15, Hebrews 10:28, Matthew 18:15-17, Matthew 18:19-20, II Corinthians 12:1, I Timothy 5:19, John 5:31-34, I John 5:6-7).  This explains why the Lord gave us not one or two, or even three gospel accounts, but four – an abundance of witnesses by which we may be assured in our understanding of the story of Jesus.

However, when we take just one verse, or as Piper suggests here, one word, we are led to subjective interpretation and we are easily led astray.

Consider what is missed when Piper tries to force Ephesians 2:8 and Philippians 1:29 to say that faith itself is a gift – a conclusion, by the way, that is hardly necessary or even the simplest explanation of those texts.  The simplest and most sensible explanation is that “this” refers to salvation in Ephesians 2:8.

John 6:27-29 – Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.  For on him God the Father has set his seal.  Then they said to him “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he has sent.”

Piper says faith is God’s work.  Jesus says it’s your work.

Mark 16:16 – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

II Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

God wants all to repent, but only gives some the ability to do so?  That doesn’t make sense, does it?

Romans 10:13-18 – For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  But they have not all obeyed the gospel.  For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Paul says here where faith comes from – from hearing the word of Christ.  Not a magical infusion of faith from God.

Romans 11:20-23 – “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith.  So do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.  Otherwise you too will be cut off.  And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.”

These verses give “He gives and takes away” a whole new meaning, if Piper is right!   For the Gentiles stand, Paul says, through faith.  However, he also says they should fear lest they be cut off again.  Does God give faith, then take it away?

Romans 4:18-25 – In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was abut a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”   But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Hebrews 11:13-16 – “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledge that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  if they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

I Peter 2:7 – …the honor is for you who believe…

So, on the one hand, there is praise and honor from God for those who live by faith, which is a little odd if faith is God-imparted, isn’t it?  And on the other, there is condemnation, rebuke, and anger for those who don’t believe.  Strange, isn’t it, that God would be angry at those who refused to believe if faith or lack thereof is entirely the Lord’s own doing?

——

Now, why is all this important?

Piper says it changes everything to believe this.  He says you live in a different world if you believe this.  I agree.

If you believe that faith is something God infuses you with rather than something that is developed through examination and study of the word of God, your motivation changes from seeking God and finding out his will to waiting for God to come and find you.  That can be a comforting thought, I suppose:  If the Lord wants you then he can come and overpower your rebellious, foolish heart and completely turn it around.  Through no effort of your own, you can become a saved, faithful follower of Jesus.

But, if that’s true, then the opposite is also true.  If faith is God’s gift, then unbelief is God’s fault.  Believing this theology changes the Lord into an incomprehensible puppet master who destroys his own creation at a whim  It changes the wrath of God from divine justice into a cruel farce.

No, it is your work to seek him and believe in Jesus – Acts 17:27, John 3:18.

It is your responsibility to grow in faith and in the grace and knowledge of Jesus – Ephesians 4:11-14, II Peter 3:18.

It is your charge to keep the faith and hold on till the end. – Colossians 1:23, II Timothy 4:7-8, Hebrews 3:6, 14.

Hebrews 3:12 – it is your job to keep yourself and others from developing an unbelieving heart.

Luke 18:8 – “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Brad