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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 ruins of Stonehenge lie north of Salisbury, England.  To this day, despite intensive research and discovery, the purpose of this 4000 year old monument remains a mystery.  No one knows for sure why or even how it was built.   The large stones are believed to have been transported from Marlborough downs, a distance of 20 miles while some of the smaller stones (still up to 4 tons in weight) may have been brought from Wales – nearly 160 miles away.

It is difficult to explain how, using primitive technology, such large pieces were moved such great distances.  The project continued for nearly 1000 years and required the labor of thousands of individuals.  The sheer scope of the effort suggests that Stonehenge was hugely important to the ancient people of Britain.  But we don’t know why.  The site fell into disuse and disrepair, and its significance has long been forgotten.

gloomy-stonehenge

(from LiveScience.com)

Today, in the former country of Yugoslavia, dozens of monuments commemorating World War II battles stand abandoned and forgotten.   Millions per year visited these sites 30 years ago, but 500 years from now, will anyone know why they are there?  Some of these sites are already beginning to look like ruins and even today they are virtually unknown outside of their own territory.

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In the Bible, speaking of the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus said, “there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down (Matthew 24:2).”  And within a generation, his words came true.  Indeed, the world and all its works continue to pass away (I John 2:17).  Even the great and noble things of this world do not last, nor do the memorials we create to honor them.

And yet we still look in awe at the mystery of Stonehenge and we admire the work of its nameless creators.  I suspect that, if they stand, the monuments in Yugoslavia will evoke a similar response many years hence.

More than the monument, though, the legacy of Stonehenge lives in the people – the descendants of the ancients who built it.  The culture that created Stonehenge is one of the building blocks of the English-speaking world that exists today.

In the same way, those neglected monuments to World War II represent a generation that sacrificed and suffered greatly and that, for good and for ill, shaped the world as we know it.

And for us, too, that is what will ultimately last.  Not the projects completed, houses built, or possessions obtained.  None of the physical creations will be remembered, but the ideas, the interactions, and the character that shapes our works will also shape our futures.

Quiet Aspirations

December 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

I Timothy 2:1-2 – “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

I Thessalonians 4:9-12 – “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing… But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

II Thessalonians 3:11-12 – “We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”

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Nike advises us in their commercials to Find Your Greatness.   Television shows like The Voice and American Idol have become the aspiration of multitudes of bedroom musicians hoping to find their big break and attain stardom.  And Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and countless other social media allow us all to market ourselves and help us feel like we are bigger fish than we actually are.

When I talk to young people, and even to those who are older, most have a strong inner drive to “do something that matters.”  We like to think that we are engaged in something important; something that is going to help shape the world.

But the thing that matters is not reaching the top of the heap.  It’s not being in a position where you can control outcomes and have a great deal of influence in the lives of others.  It isn’t being “great,” or notorious, or a star.  The really important thing is living a life of personal integrity.

In the Bible, we are encouraged to “aspire to live quietly and to mind (our) own affairs.”  To seek to mind our own business, and to let others mind theirs.  It’s interesting that those words are found in the middle of a discussion on loving one another – and doing so more and more.

We tend to think of love in terms of what we do for others.  But love also consists in letting others alone – allowing them to make their own decisions, manage their own affairs, and to enjoy the fruits and consequences of so doing.

Further, our ability to do really big things is only enhanced when we focus first on finding peace, stability, and order at home.  Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).

We grow weary of corrupt politicians who tell us how to live our lives while their own are scandal ridden.  And we rightly scoff at pastors and religious leaders who preach one thing and do another.  But the same principle applies to you and me.  First let us learn to manage ourselves and our own responsibilities.  Then we may, perhaps, have clear insight to help others.

Brad

Genesis 31:49

I’ve seen these words, as you have, used as a sign of romance or friendship, with the two halves of a locket divided between two people.    As beautiful as that sentiment is, it is almost exactly the opposite of what prompted the statement in the Bible.

In this story, Jacob, Laban’s son in law, had just fled with his two wives, 11 children, and all of his herds and livestock to go back to his home in Canaan.  Jacob’s wealth represented the best of what had once belonged to Laban.

The two men had spent the previous twenty years trying to find ways to trick and take advantage of one another, with varying degrees of success.  Now Jacob is leaving while he has the upper hand.

Laban rightly accused Jacob of having stolen his household idols.  Actually, Rachel had stolen them without Jacob’s knowledge and now Laban failed to find them among Jacob’s things.

In righteous indignation(as he thought), Jacob said, “What is my offense?  What is my sin, that you have hotly pursued me?  For you have felt through all my goods; what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two…  If the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed.  God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.”

Mizpah

Admitting defeat, Laban said, “the daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine.  But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for the children whom they have borne?  Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I.  And let it be a witness between you and me.”

It is in that context that Laban says, ‘The Lord watch between you and me, when we are out of one another’s sight.”  It is not a benediction; rather, it is a threat.  Notice the next few verses:

“If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.  This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm.  The God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.  So Jacob swore by the Fear of his father Isaac.”   (Genesis 31:50-53).

So, the next time you see someone wearing half a locket, remember that the saying means, “I don’t trust you and I am calling on God to keep you accountable for not cheating me!”

On a more serious level, though, when we consider the Bible we find that God does exactly that.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’, says the Lord (Romans 12:19)”

“Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.  This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering —since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grand relief to you…(II Thessalonians 1:4-7).

Even today, the Lord is indeed watching between you and me, and between you and me and every person we interact with on a daily basis.  When we take advantage of the weak, He knows.  When we accuse someone wrongly or when we react with anger instead of kindness, He is keeping track.

Instead of the romantic sentimentality that is often associated with this verse, let’s take the warning seriously and do all things, every day and every time, as if we were doing it in the presence of God (Colossians 3:33-35).  For, actually, we are.

Brad

tree-trunk

Chinese Wood Carver Zheng Chunhui Wins Guinness World Record for Giant Carving.

One tree trunk, four years of work.  Here are the results.

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

Taking time to Ponder

November 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening.”

-Genesis 24:63

I was reading in Genesis last night the story of the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, and this line jumped out at me.  Isaac went out to meditate in the field.  He is a nomad, living in a tent, far away from civilization.  There are few, if any, books available to him.  No telephone, television, or internet.  No texts, tweets, emails, Facebook statuses, or voice messages to respond to.  No one at the office is looking for him.  He’s single, so he doesn’t have any children running around underfoot demanding his attention and he has none of the responsibilities that go along with marriage.  I imagine that, even in the hustle and bustle of the camp, most of us would feel pretty alone with our thoughts.  So, why did he need to get away in order to meditate?

More importantly, if ancient Isaac had to separate himself from the humdrum of his relatively spartan existence to meditate, then it is all the more vital that we clear time and space for ourselves sometimes to just stop and think.

Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.  Proverbs 4:26

“Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.”  Psalm 119:27

Meditation is not the same thing as studying (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14).  Pondering has to do with thinking through the things you have studied and experienced and forming complete ideas about things – especially about the things God is revealing to you.  It takes time.  And most of our schedules don’t have room for it.

Even when I do try to just stop and think, if I am at home or at work, people assume I’m just zoning out or that I have nothing to do, and so they feel free to interrupt.  It’s no good to sit at the computer, because the whole world of the internet is right there, calling my name.  My phone accompanies me even to the great outdoors – I’m almost never completely out of reach and alone with myself.

Maybe Isaac was on to something.  Maybe, every once in awhile, toward evening it would be good to lay the phone on my desk and head outside, where no one else is, and just think.

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

Modest:

1.        Placing a moderate (avoiding extremes of behavior or expression) estimate on one’s abilities or worth

2.       Neither bold nor self-assertive : tending toward diffidence (reserved, unassertive)

3.       Arising from or characteristic of a modest nature

4.       Observing the proprieties of dress and behavior : decent.

5.       Unpretentious

Modesty:

Freedom from conceit or vanity.

Propriety in dress, speech, or conduct.

When we talk about modesty, generally we tend to talk about the revealing way some women dress – and that is, or can be, a problem, certainly.  But the problem of immodesty is deeper than the clothing someone chooses to wear.  Modesty is first an attitude, then a behavior.  Like virtually everything else Jesus talks about, changing the action without changing the heart is useless.

The word, “modest,” only appears in the New Testament in relation to clothing:

I Corinthians 12:23 – “…and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty.”

I Timothy 2:9-10 – “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.”

But notice that even there the emphasis is on the attitude, not the clothing.  The clothing is only a symptom, not the main issue.

That is why I say that modesty is a lost grace.  It’s something we barely have a sense of anymore, anywhere, and it is not surprising that the way we dress reflects our lack of modesty in general.  Although the word “modest” is rare in the Scriptures, the attitude is abundant.  Let’s take a deeper look at what modesty is and how it applies to us.

According to the dictionary, modesty is first placing a moderate estimate on one’s abilities or worth.

Romans 12:3 – “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Philippians 2:3 – “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Psalm 8:3-4 – “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

Psalm 84:7 – “Remember how short my time is!  For what vanity you have created all the children of man!  What man can live and never see death?  Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?”

In this sense, immodesty is rampant among us, and it is not confined to pretty girls in short skirts.  We are immodest because we are self-regarding and self-impressed.  We want others to cater to us and think our concerns ought to be foremost, and we engage the bulk of our effort in seeking our own comforts.

Marketing says, “You deserve it.”

Education says, “You’re special.”

My heart says, “What about me?”

And my soul eats it up.  But God says, be careful how you think of yourself and put others on a higher pedestal.

Modesty is neither bold nor self-assertive.  It is unpretentious.

Luke 20:46-47 – “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Luke 14:7-11 – “Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

We rebuke the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, but then spend our time getting the right cars, the right houses in the right neighborhoods, making sure we go to the right schools and wear the right clothes so that everyone will know that we are somebody.  But it’s easier just to talk about modest clothing, isn’t it?

Modesty is free from conceit or vanity.

And then it observes propriety in dress, speech, and conduct.

All of us, not just women, are called to be modest people – unconceited, unpretentious, and humble in our dress, speech, and behavior.  If our heart is right and if we thoughtfully apply that heart to everything we do, wouldn’t we almost automatically be modest in the way we dress, speak, and act?  But if we only try to look modest without actually being modest, it is doomed to fail.  First because it is useless before God anyway, and second because a proud heart clamors to be noticed.

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

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

Knowing God